Isaiah 58: 1-10
I have to admit that when I first started reading this passage of Scripture, I thought of those wonderfully compassionate and ever so loving people who parade around the streets carrying placards that say, “Turn or Burn” or “One Way, God’s Way, My Way.” I also thought of Fred Phelps and his incestuous tribe who caravan around the country proudly clutching signs that say, “God Hates Fags.” I also thought of people like Pat Robertson who blame everything on the sins of the world. Did you know that one of the reasons that Hurricane Katrina happened is because Ellen is from Louisiana and she has her own show?! Interesting.
By the time I made it to verses 3 and 4, though, I wanted to stand up testifying, shouting, “Amen, Isaiah! You preach it!” While I am not much for giving someone a bullhorn and asking them to shout out the sins of the people, I am interested in why it seems like sometimes our prayers don’t quite accomplish what we want them to. For me, and thanks to my friends who have pointed this out, I know that I frequently make a plan and then pray for God to love my plan as much as I love it. Frequently, I find myself saying to God, “I have fasted and you haven’t honored it, I have humbled myself and you haven’t even turned your head!” Me, me, me…
When I got to the second half of verse three, I had an amazing humbling experience: “Yet on the day of fasting, you do as you please.” I had to stop right there. I do as I please. I do as I please. Yes, I do as I please and call it God’s will. A lot. As long as no one gets hurt, it is God’s will, right?! While I have no workers to exploit, and I don’t strike people with angry fists, I do as I please. Isaiah’s words challenge me even further: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” What does it mean to fast, then? I have tried emptying myself of the world. I have tried filling myself up with things holy. I have tried depriving myself of food, of excess, of all those things that I perceive to be hindrances to my relationship with God. So what else is there?
Isaiah says that fasting is “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” and “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” and “when you see the naked, to clothe him.” What does that look like for me? What does it look like in Muncie or Hartford City? What does it look like in 2007? Sometimes I want to say, but I am one woman, what can I really do? I wrestle with this question daily. Where do I fit in to the solution of these problems? Again, it seems to be a circle. I get love, I give love, I get love….Sometimes the love only comes from giving it?
Verse 5: “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself?….Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” Obviously, fasting is a lifestyle. Do I live a fasting lifestyle? Not so much, it is becoming painfully clear.
In verses 8-10, I see hope. Once we (it is a collective mandate) begin to fast like this, to pour ourselves into others, our “light will break forth like the dawn” and our “healing will quickly appear” and “the glory of the Lord will be [our] rear guard.” Pouring out is filling up? Our rear guard. That just struck me. So I have to go out and do this type of fast, this Jesus love and grace thing, and then the Lord will come behind and bless it? I have to have faith? Going out ahead? How do I know if what I am doing is the right thing if the Lord doesn’t come along until after I’ve done it? As the rear guard? What does it mean to be our rear guard? Hmmm… I’m scared, but Isaiah promises that if we spend ourselves on the hungry and satisfy the oppressed, then our light will rise in the darkness. I’m still scared, Isaiah was just a human like I am. He could be wrong, right? Okay, I know he isn’t but it sometimes feels better to think that it’s possible.
Matthew 9: 14-15
Maybe that is why Jesus and his followers don’t have to fast, as the disciples of John understand fasting, while he is with them. They are already fasting in the way of the Lord. They are living the lifestyle not just giving a day of fasting. They are giving to the hungry, freeing the oppressed, and taking care of the needy. Jesus says, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” Perhaps Jesus is saying that when he is gone, the disciples will have to be more disciplined in order to accomplish the same type of Kingdom lives. To display Jesus’ love will be more difficult once he is gone. They should revel in their lifestyle of fasting while he is there to empower them. Why don’t I feel empowered? I just feel confused.
I think I might being feeling a bit Lent-y now. Thanks, Pastor.