Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-9a
Isaiah opens today’s passage speaking about a people who appear to be in search of God. They appear to be seeking God and to be eager to draw near to God. The people are fasting and ask God, ‘have you not seen it’? Isaiah goes on to explain how the fast they are choosing is far from pleasing to God. They may be skipping the food, but they are not drawing close to God. Instead they exploit their workers and quarrel and fight amongst themselves. Their fast is only lip service to God.
I believe this problem persists to this day. Some go to church every Sunday morning but are not engaged in worship. They consider their day or week ahead during the message, they nod off during prayer time. Even though they were only physically present, they still ask God and others, ‘Didn’t you see me in church’? Isaiah asked if a fast consisted of only bowing one’s head and wearing sackcloth. We could ask, is Sunday only for warming a pew and standing and sitting when everyone else does?
Isaiah goes on to describe the fast that is pleasing to God. It is one that loosens the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke, one that sets the oppressed free, one that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. It is a fast that draws one close to God so that one is transformed to be more like God, to be filled with compassion and to be moved to act on behalf of the lost, the least, and the lonely. It is a fast that takes place in the heart, not upon the lips.
This too must be how we practice our faith. We cannot preach compassion on Sunday morning and then turn our backs on those in need. We must be moved to engage those who are struggling and are in need. We cannot worship God on Sunday morning and then exploit our workers on Monday. We cannot lift our voices in praise on Sunday and then curse and gossip at the restaurant on Tuesday. The faith we practice on Sunday and each day as we read our Bibles and say our prayers must be the same faith we live out every moment of every day. It must be so. May it be so today and every day.