Larry's sermon focused on Isaiah 58, Yahweh's description of what true fasting should look like. The opening verses set the scene:
Isaiah 58.1-3aThe people "seem eager for God," eager to "know [God's] ways" and be a "nation that does what is right."
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
However, when the people fast and humble themselves God doesn't seem to notice or care. Why? Why does God seem indifferent to their fasting and religious piety?
Isaiah 58.3b-5God is unresponsive because the worship of the people has become disconnected with the affairs of the economy: "[O]n the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers." More, the worship of the people has become disconnected with the practices of peace-making and reconciliation: "Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists." God's call is clear. Worship isn't to be an isolated and insular practice. Worship isn't just about bowing your head during Sunday morning worship services or singing praise songs. Worship--true fasting--must be connected to economic justice and the practices of peace. Here is what true fasting--true worship--should look like:
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isaiah 58.6-7True worship: loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, break every yoke, share food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter, clothe the naked, and do not turn away from your own flesh and blood.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
And if we do this, Larry pointed out, God makes an absolutely astonishing promise:
Isaiah 58.8-9Here am I.
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
You know where that phrase comes from, right? It comes from the beginning of the book where Isaiah has a theophany and receives his commission from God:
Isaiah 6.1-8Here am I.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:“Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
It's a crazy reversal. In Chapter 6 Isaiah makes himself radically available to God. "Here am I," he says to God. But in Chapter 58 this flips. There it is God becoming radically available to us. "Here am I," God says.
And when does this happen? It happens when God's people engage in true worship, when our fasting becomes connected with loosing the chains of injustice, sharing food with the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless and clothing the naked.
When we do these things God says to us,
"Here am I."