Isaiah 58:1-12 Shout loudly; don’t hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their crime, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 They seek me day after day, desiring knowledge of my ways like a nation that acted righteously, that didn’t abandon their God. They ask me for righteous judgments, wanting to be close to God. 3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see; why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?” Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want, and oppress all your workers. 4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast; you hit each other violently with your fists. You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today if you want to make your voice heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I choose, a day of self-affliction, of bending one’s head like a reed and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? 7 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? 8 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. 9 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; 10 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. 11 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. 12 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.
Several years ago, our Youth Group in Golden did a mission trip to coastal Mexico. They were going to do repairs on a clinic in the aftermath of a hurricane. When they got there, they discovered there was another Youth Group from the USA there as well. Both groups brought food and clean water along with their construction materials. The other group set up to distribute the food, but basically said, “you can’t have the food until you hear our “message”. Our group basically said, “here’s what we offer in the name of Christ. Take what you need.” Which best represented Christ? Isaiah, the prophet, was speaking to Jerusalem in ruins. Many of the people were already in exile in other countries. Part of what Isaiah discovered was that the exiles were maintaining the “rituals” that were so much a part of Jewish life. Things like fasting was something they could do in the absence of the Temple. They would honor that high holy days even though they could not offer sacrifices. Yet, while maintaining the rituals, they were treating each other poorly. They were fighting with each other and using each other for personal gain. It was a sad state of affairs. For me, It highlights a difference between being “religious” and being “faithful.” It reminds me of the description of hypocrites – they are in church on Sunday and on Monday they are cutthroat in business. This section in my Bible it titles “Fasting from Injustice.” There is a clear call in verses 6-7 that the people of God would truly exhibit faithful behavior. They were called to a higher service, a higher level of faithful living. “Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? 7 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?” They were being called to represent their God in all their actions, not just the religious ones. How does the church best represent Christ in the world? Isaiah would begin with basics: Jerusalem’s walls were broken down, and the streets were not safe for people to walk about. I invite you to turn to Matthew 5:13-16. “ “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” We represent Christ as salt and light, two critical components of everyday life. Note verse 13 – the “you” is plural. In English we don’t immediately see whether “you” is singular or plural, but in the original Greek it is clear. It follows on the heels of the “you” in verse 12 where Jesus says, “In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.” Individually, we live out our faith in service. But it is together that we are truly salt for the world. People need to see the church in action. One person may be an exception, but a whole church points to a rule. I have read this section of scripture so many times and hadn’t noticed that this is the first time Jesus refers to God with his favorite name – “Father.” “Father”. It says something about the nature of our faithful living. Our practical steps to addressing needs in our community and world will open doors for spiritual impacts. Christians need to be “salt” for the world – that is, improving life for those around us. Preserving life … enriching life. Jesus use of the name “Father” implies the loving care of a parent – one who is willing to do whatever is necessary to help his children. We need to care for the world around us – the people around us – with that kind of parental care, in the best sense of the image. So, what is necessary in today’s world to help people know the love of the Father through what we do? Food insecurity is one of our biggest issues – here in Thermopolis as well as around the world. A good friend of ours did her student teaching in a school on the east side of Pueblo – the poorest section of the city. Kids would come in on a Monday morning not having eaten for most of the weekend. Most of the time they would come to school without breakfast. 90% of the kids were on free or reduced lunch. They may have had to get themselves up for school because their single parent worked all night and was sound asleep. She quickly discovered that she couldn’t begin teaching until she had addressed their physical needs. Our church is active in several ministries that address food insecurity. Our Food Pantry directly addresses that need. The ministry of People for People, coordinated by the Episcopal Church, is a wonderful ministry. All are church-based ministries. The Backpack Program addresses children’s food insecurities. We address other needs like positive social interaction in connection with spiritual growth opportunities through our Youth Group. It is a community-wide group. The youth do not need to be a part of this church. All are invited. It addresses social needs and spiritual needs. Acceptance is a big part of the strength of that group. It is an attempt to provide a safe environment for youth while offering them Christian teaching they may not be getting at home. We are so thankful for Kati and Amy, as they have seamlessly picked up the group after Ryan had to pull back!! Practical caring takes into account the welfare of the community. What will help this community thrive, and how can the church be involved? This last year the Christmas Tree Auction was held in our Community Federated Church Community Hall. We were thankful for the many people who helped carry this off, including Karen Sinclair. Our Boy Scout Troop 53 donated a tree and raised $875 for Community Fund. In talking with John Gibbel, one of the administrators of the Community Fund, that fund supports various programs in our community. Books for Babies, the Speech Team, People for People, Ralph Witters Elementary School “Lights on” program, 4H, The Children’s Resource Center, and many other community-based programs. 1 John 3:18 reminds us, “Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.” In the words of Isaiah 58:12 - What else can we do to “mend walls” and “restore livable streets” in our community and in the world? As faithful Christians we should always have an eye to how we can make our faith manifest itself in the community. What vehicles can convey our care and open the doors to spiritual impacts. In closing, notice the results of our Salt of Service. In Isaiah 58:8 it says, “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.” Again in Matthew 5:16 is says, “In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus calls us to serve, together, in our community and world. To be salt and light, to be menders of broken walls and restorers of livable streets.