The Fast I Choose

The Fast I Choose
Isaiah 58:1-12
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
Ash Wednesday – February 22, 2023

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 judgements,
   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 rearguard.
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.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

As we begin this season of Lent, we will be exploring the theme of seeking. We will explore how seeking shows up in scripture and in our lives. Seeking for God, for love, for relationships, for grace, for forgiveness, and many other ways. In our scripture today, the people of God are seeking God but She is not showing up. They wonder, “Why are we fasting, but God does not see us? Why do we humble ourselves, but God does not notice?” The people are doing the tasks that God has asked but not following the heart of God in doing them. They are fasting. They are worshiping. They are tithing. But they are missing something crucial and therefore missing God in the process. God is not showing up. 

So finally the prophet Isaiah shares how God responds to these people’s cries. God says, “You are looking in the wrong places – here’s what it looks like when I show up. The bonds of injustice are loosened, the thongs of the yoke are undone, the oppressed go free, bread is shared with the hungry, the homeless poor are brought into your homes, and you clothe the naked. You are doing all the things that look good to others but you are missing out on my heart, my heart is with the oppressed whom you continue to trample on and ignore their pleas. Do these things and you will find me! Then I will enjoy your worship.”

A note of caution: God’s words here are not another list of items to check off to somehow earn closeness to God. We draw closer to God when we do these things because God is love, and as Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public.” What we find in this passage is that there is no separation between paying workers fairly and the life giving presence of God. There is no difference between feeding people who are hungry and God showing up in the flesh. There is no difference between making sure everyone is safely housed and us meeting God face to face. There is no difference between dismantling systems that oppress people and God dwelling right here in our midst.

This is not about earning God’s presence. It is about waking up to what God’s presence actually looks like. It is why the prophet casts this vision because when you do the work of justice, then you will call and the Lord will answer, then your light shall rise in the gloom, you will be watered like a garden, and your ancient ruins will be built up. Because when we meet God in the work, we draw close to God and reap the benefits of the beloved community that cares for all of our needs. 

So are you ready to seek God this Lenten season? God has told us where to find Her. So when we fast, may it be to move closer to the poor. When we worship, may it be to break down the barriers between us. And when we tithe, may it be to feed the hungry and house the unhoused. This is what God desires for us. A world where all can flourish. And this starts with us. Let us seek after God this season.

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