As the people of God, we cannot cling to institutions, to politics, to systems which no longer work. We cannot try and recreate something which no longer exists. In this new reality, as the people of God, we are called to be repairers of the breach, to make our communities livable once more.
May 30, 2021
God Has Got Work For Us to Do: Faithful Disciples
Isaiah 58: 6-12
Pastor Heather McColl
Isaiah 58: 6-12 (Common English version)
Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly. Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.” If you remove the yoke from among you, the finger-pointing, the wicked speech; if you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon. The Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in parched places. He will rescue your bones. You will be like a watered garden, like a spring of water that won’t run dry. They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account; the foundations of generations past you will restore. You will be called Mender of Broken Walls, Restorer of Livable Streets.
Our Scripture for this Sunday continues the worship series which we have talked about over the last few weeks, that theme being: how our faith impacts every aspect of our life. For us as the people of God, there is no separation between what we experience and say during worship and how we work to bring about the Kingdom of God for the rest of the time. They are connected. They are intertwined. One influences the other. As Christ’ representatives, we know that we are called to show the world who we believe God to be through our love for one another. And we can’t have love, we can’t have peace without justice.
Which brings us to our text for today…Isaiah calls the people to be repairers of the breach. He calls the people to make their community livable again. He calls the people to restore, to rebuild, to renovate. In Isaiah’s plea for justice, he calls for the people to mend the walls and make their community whole once more.
For us to understand the importance of this call to be repairers of the breach and how it relates to the work of justice-making for all of God’s people, we need to take a look at its context. In this section of Isaiah, the people have returned to Jerusalem. They are trying to figure out the now what…(Sounds familiar doesn’t it?) We can certainly relate to this feeling of not knowing what’s next, especially as we continue to emerge from this post-pandemic experience. Everything has changed. Our institutions have either adapted to this new way or they have accelerated their decline. What we thought impossible before all this has now become a way of life. Day in and day out, we find ourselves struggling as strangers in this weird yet familiar experience.
This is exactly what the people of God were also experiencing when they returned from Exile. Like us, they soon discovered nothing was the way that they remembered it. The Temple no longer existed. The cultural landscape was completely different than before. In this familiar yet different experience, the people of God were having to piece together an existence. It was frustrating. It was scary. It was overwhelming. It really did feel like everything was broken.
So they did what people have done in situations like this since the beginning of time. When everything is turned upside down, when nothing is familiar, when everything is different, people always cling to the familiar. We cling to the comfortable. We always go back to what we used to know. And for the people of God at that time, the familiar, the comfortable, was their spiritual practices. In the past, these had always brought the people closer to God. In the past, these practices always made God real in their midst. In the past, these practices always seemed to make the community better. So the people made the assumption that these familiar, these comfortable practices should work now in this strange weird existence, right? What’s that saying…the very definition of chaos is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So is it any surprise that we learn God is not responding to the people’s religious practices as God has done in the past? Isaiah points out to the people that the reason why their religious practices aren’t working now is because they are using them to try and recreate something which no longer exists. They are using their religious practices to try and bring back an institution which is no longer valid in this new existence. They are clinging to the familiar. They are holding tightly to the comfortable. And in doing so, they had closed off their hearts and minds to the movement of God’s spirit.
Isaiah tells the people through their religious practices, they were trying to put God in a box, to control God, to contain God. The people were trying to make God fit into the boundaries which the people had decided and not allow God to stray from outside of those boundaries at all.
And as we all know, God doesn’t play by our rules. God doesn’t stay confined to our boundaries. God doesn’t limit the movement of the Spirit to what we deem is right.
So when Isaiah pointed all this out, when the people realized that the familiar, that the comfortable, that the way we have always done it wasn’t going to work in this new reality, they complained to God. They complained that God was ignoring them when they fast. They complained that God was not holding up God’s end of the covenantal agreement. They complained that God was not doing what God is supposed to do to make everything better in their community.
And what happens next is the beginning of our text.
God responds to the people’s complaints. “God notes that the people’s fast had not changed them. It simply had become a ritual centered around the individual’s wants and needs. It did not reflect the wider community connection. The people’s spiritual practices had not become avenues which opened the people’s hearts and minds to the wider vision of God’s Shalom becoming a reality here on Earth for all of God’s people, which is the whole point of spiritual practices in the first place.
In response to the people’s complaints, God changes the narrative. God redefines the people’s spiritual practices…”Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?”
With this change of narrative, with this shift of focus, with this redefining of the spiritual practices, God is inviting the people to see that “The fasting acceptable to God is not just about the relationship between the individual and God. The fasting acceptable to God seeks “justice and generosity day in and day for all of God’s people, not just a select few. It is a daily fast from domination, blaming others, evil speech, selfish behavior, entitlement, and blindness to one’s privilege.”
Or let me say it this way…As we emerge from this post-pandemic experience, it would be so easy to slip back into the way things used to be because we are all craving that supposed “normal”. But this time of reflection, this time of quarantine, this time of being able to step back and seeing the whole picture, shows us that the way things used to be were not working then, and they will not work now.
Too much has changed. Too much has shifted. Too much pain and brokenness has emerged and we can no longer ignore it.
In this new reality, as the people of God, we are called to be repairers of the breach, to make our communities livable once more. We are called to repair the breach which grows wider every day between the haves and the have nots. We are called to repair the breach which grows wider every day between those who benefit from systems which oppress and those who do not. We are called to repair the breach which grows wider every day between those who know they have a place at the table and those who have been told that they do not.
As the people of God, we cannot cling to institutions, to politics, to systems which no longer work. We cannot try and recreate something which no longer exists.
In this new reality, we are called to open our hearts, to open our minds to where God is moving in and among us, to where God is inviting the waters of justice to roll down. We are called to follow God’s example and change the narrative, to redefine our expectations, so that we can be ready to do the work which God has for us to do.
Because as Isaiah points out to the people back then, he reminds us again today that our faith, our religious practices, even our communities of faith have never been about us. They have always been about God’s grace, about God’s mercy, about God’s justice flowing down so that all will experience the Kingdom of God here on Earth just as it is in heaven. May it be so.