Pay attention to the tension in your body. Let go of it and any expectations to do anything other than God’s will today. Prepare yourself to hear God’s word.
Isaiah 58:1-12 (NRSV)
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
This spring, my youth group will join several other youth groups for a 30 Hour Famine through which we will raise money to combat hunger in the world. While I think events like these are very important in the lives of young people, my youth rarely do. The experience of selling a high schooler on the concept of not eating for longer than an entire day always makes me laugh. “Just because lots of people in the world don’t have enough to eat, why do I have to give up food?” “Can’t we just donate money to people?” While my youth may indeed have a point that refusing to eat won’t in itself do anything to solve child hunger or food insecurity, I believe they are missing a larger point.
In the above passage, Isaiah unleashed a tirade against those religious people who fast for the sake of being seen by other people. They believe their fasting will make them appear to be better and more righteous, but Isaiah made it clear that such fasting misses the whole point. Fasting is more than solidarity and willing suffering with those who themselves are unable to enjoy the benefits of prosperity. Isaiah clarified that fasting is not only a practice of individual spirituality, but also one of justice. When we enter the experience of those who have nothing, we do so with the goal of taking them with us out of such a horrible condition. This is why when our youth groups share a 30 Hour Famine together, we will spend all day serving the hunger needs of communities in Memphis. Let us daily remember that even our spiritual practices are acts of justice, helping us to sharpen ourselves to do the work of God in the world.
Divine Teacher, move through our individual spiritual disciplines to help us recognize the vast interconnectedness of your grand creation. Help us to see the lonely in our scripture reading, the needy in our prayers, and the hungry in our fasting. Empower us to enter the conditions of those who have nothing and journey with them, with the guiding power of your Holy Spirit, toward wholeness and deliverance. We thank you for your many blessings in our lives, and we ask that you strengthen us to spread those blessings into a broken world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Go with God.