By Greg Paul
“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? 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. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:6-12 NIV).
These powerful words from Isaiah challenge us to lift up our eyes from our own immediate concerns, so that we may catch a glimpse of God’s vision for ourselves and the people we are trying to lead.
Here, God himself proclaims that the work of justice – releasing people from oppression, feeding the hungry, opening our homes to the homeless, restoring dignity to people who have been humiliated by life – is true worship, the “fast,” or religious observance, that He chooses. It’s not optional. It’s who and how we are supposed to be the people of God.
“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,” God asks incredulously, a little earlier in the passage, “only a day for a man to humble himself?”
What a challenging word for our church culture, in which the bulk of congregational and leadership resources are bent toward producing the best possible service on Sunday morning!
In my experience, ordinary members of typical congregations are generally further ahead on this matter than church leaders. Perhaps that’s because church leaders are already maxed out trying to respond to the needs of our “normal” congregants (and other constituents), and the mere thought of trying to engage a huge issue like the abuse of children is just plain exhausting.
God has an encouraging word for us: the work of justice is not just how we’re supposed to worship, it’s also where we’ll find our own healing. You’ve probably heard the analogy of the church-as-hospital: wounded people come to church, get all healed up, and then they’re fit to go out and reach the world. Except it doesn’t happen much, does it? We never seem to get quite healed enough.
Maybe that’s because it’s not God’s version of the Church. It is counter-intuitive –it is downright mysterious! But God’s promise is that if we take our own wounds out among people who are themselves wounded, our “own healing will quickly appear.”
He promises, too, that we will have the kind of impact we so hope for: rebuilding ruins, effecting reconciliation and creating new homes for ourselves, and for those who have had none. In fact, if we went deeper into the passage, we’d find that it is wounded and oppressed people we’ve been reaching out to who will be the builders. Redemption!
This is true worship.
This is our own healing.
This is real hope for all of us.