3/22 Lesson

Is this the Kind of Fast I have Chosen?

Beloved, we enter the fifth week of our advent series today. Up to this point, we’ve taken a look at the complexities of sin, the obstacles, and comforts that stand in the way of our relationship with God and God’s call for us to have broken hearts and repent in light of these things. Today we will dig into what true fasting looks like, what God is asking of us in a season of emptying and being filled. Our passage for this morning is out of Isaiah 58. Before you read it please watch the Bible Projects overview video on the 2nd half of Isaiah to get a better picture of where in the bigger narrative our passage finds itself.  

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TzdEPuqgQg&t=206s – Isaiah Overview Video

       It is in this comparison of the servants and the wicked that we find our passage for this morning. A back and forth between the actions and consequences of the two groups. Chapter 57 uses the language of God removing obstacles out of the way of his servants and yet the wicked find themselves tossed about like the sea.  The people of Israel have returned from exile at this point and reestablished the temple. They are conducting religious ceremonies, including fasting and believe themselves to be the servants and not the wicked.  In Chapter 58 we get a bold declaration from the prophet to God’s people that their actions find them in the crowd of the wicked and not the servants for they chase after the performing of ritual rather than the building of God’s Kingdom.

This is what the word of the Lord says. Isaiah 58:1-11.

“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?’ “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? “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.

      The Prophet declares the rebellion of God’s people. They fast and they do their religious ritual, they go to the rebuilt temple. They are past the exile and yet they see no reward for their religious obedience. They ask God why have we fasted? Why have we humbled ourselves? God’s reply is jarring, “is this the kind of fast I have chosen?” People simply going through the motions, denying themselves of certain things for their own perceived holiness and yet oppressing others and fighting amongst themselves. God then speaks of a sacrifice that is for the less fortunate, for the oppressed. Not simply surrendering something that seems noble to give up but giving in a way that is for others.

     This passage comes to us at a fitting time, as we both continue on our Lenten journey and as we find ourselves in our homes during this shelter in place order. Will we give up some freedoms and comforts so that others may be safe? Or will we complain about all the things we could be doing if it weren’t for the social distancing practices? Will we be giving of our time, our energy and some of us our money and wages so that the at-risk population can be delivered from this pandemic? Or will we flood social media with posts about how this whole thing is God telling those who are not as holy as we are that they need to get their act together?

      The choice is ours beloved, will we choose to be servants or wicked? Kingdom builders or self-righteous ritual observers? In his book, Dwell: Life with God for the World, Barry Jones using breathing as a metaphor for spiritual disciplines. Much like breathing is both inhaling and exhaling, so too we are called to a concern for individual spiritual health (inhale) and concern for missional work of the church (exhale). Often one side is overemphasized when a balance of the two is needed. We will be all about the work of the church and not feed ourselves, thus we will suffocate, or we will only seek to only build ourselves up never breathing out into God’s mission. Then much like lungs that can’t exhale properly the CO2 (pride) builds up inside of us poisons us from the inside. SMALL GROUP QUESTION: Which side comes more easily to you? (Breathing in) individual spiritual growth or (Breathing out) Missional work?

      Our passage for this morning asks if a fast is only a day for us to bow our heads like reeds and lay in sackcloth and ashes? These are all visible signs of fasting in the bible, they are meant to show inner sacrifice. Sackcloth is itchy and uncomfortable; ashes symbolize destruction and bowing is a sign of humility. But when they are only signs, when we treat them like proper table etiquette, like things we’re supposed to do, then they are a symbol of nothing. Beloved the book of Isaiah gives us amazing prophetic words about the coming of Christ and also about His kingdom. But do we treat our salvation, and spirital lives like they are building toward something? Like they are for anything other than ourselves? Below is a short video by Acton Institute, which aims to show us that our salvation is not just for ourselves but for the life of the world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=112&v=f-9RwTz6t90 – All is Gift Video

Small Group Question: Do you often think of your salvation and spiritual growth as being for more than just you? I’m not asking do you care about others, or do you think we should evangelize and do missions. I’m asking do you studying God’s word, and practice spiritual disciplines because God will use that for the sake of others? Do you see your salvation as a gift God has given so that you can be a gift-giver to the world?   

          Beloved, many of us have chosen to fast from something that may now seem minor in the face of everything else going on. Pray that God would show you how to empty yourself for others. In the way, we spend our time. In the messages, we share and portray to the world through social media. In the way, we interact with our neighbors. In the shopping choices we make. Will we say this is the kind of fast that God has chosen, to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke. 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. Only then, beloved, will our light break forth like the dawn! Below is a link to a song of reflection, as you listen ask God to give us his heart for others. To make us servants and gift-givers for the life of the world.  Point out to us the empty symbols in our lives, and the oppressed around us who need their yokes broken. Beloved, God has given us an opportunity to actively be for others with every decision we make in the coming days, let us be for others.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-QbiRg4reo – Isaiah 58 by Collin Campbell