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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 58:1–12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. (NRSV)

If you simplify the language a little bit, this text could be straight from the mouth of a parent of a toddler. Beneath the shoulds and shouldn’ts here is an underlying question of why? I find myself asking my toddler that question all the time. It usually goes like this:

       “No no, put that marker down! That’s permanent!”
       [Giggles and writes on the wall.]
       “No no, those are daddy’s scissors!”
       [Giggles and grabs them anyway.]
       “No no, that’s not food!”
       [Giggles and tries to eat it anyway.]
       “Why? Why would you do that?”

The answer, of course, is simple: She’s two. That’s what two-year-olds do. They test boundaries. They try new things. When they get into something dangerous or messy or unbelievably and incredibly frustrating for their parents, it’s because they don’t know any better.

Do we know any better when it comes to how we demonstrate our connection to God? Our connection to each other? That’s what this text is all about. The prophet speaks of empty religious practice. The prophet calls for substance behind these actions: justice, care for others.

I think in these divided times even our outrage has become performative, at least for those of us with no real skin in the game. We point our fingers and speak our own small evils, even when we have a good point, and we remain divided. More bricks torn out of the structure of how we all used to agree to live together. Who’s going to rebuild these ruins? Who is going to repair this breach? Restore these streets? No one but us. Not without God.

Gracious God, in this parched place give us water to cool our overheated souls. We are weary of all the nastiness flooding through these chasms between us. Give us the patience to repair the breach together. Amen.

Written by Alex Wirth, Minister for Evangelism

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