“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 him, 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.” - Isaiah 58:6-9
Fasting is a spiritual discipline of clearing our hearts and minds so that we can concentrate more fully on God. The religious elites of Isaiah’s day loved to fast and ensure that everyone knew they were fasting - and that they were holy because of their religious practices. But God isn’t impressed with our religious practices, our going to church, our prayer or our Bible studies if our lives don’t intentionally reflect His.
God gets very practical here. The fasting He desires from us is to loose the chains of injustice, to break the oppressed free, share our food with the hungry, provide people with shelter, clothe the naked and not neglect our fellow believers. All of these characteristics reflect the compassion and heart of our God. In fact, they are proof that our spiritual commitments are real and that we value what God values.
Our world has a great deal of injustice and oppression. We witnessed this again last week with the death of George Floyd. We cannot shut our eyes to the realities of injustice in our society if we call ourselves followers of God. If our hearts are not broken like His heart is broken over such events (and there have been many such events) we simply don’t have His heart. The marginalized and oppressed, the hungry and the homeless all matter to God.
As a matter of fact, don’t ignore the promises that God makes to those who care about the things that God cares about. “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.”
Those are amazing promises. They are promises our country needs at this time. They are promises the church desperately needs. And they are promises each of us need individually. When we live out the character and heart of God and we cry for help, He will say, “Here am I.”
It is easy to find reasons not to address issues in our communities or nation. But God’s people don’t stand idly by when there is injustice and oppression or deep human needs. It may take prayer and creativity to know how to respond but to respond is to be like Jesus. One thing all of us can do is to pray against the injustices, oppression of our world. But there are many practical things we can do as well. What we do may be different in differing circumstances but act we must.
Father, forgive me and forgive our nation for too often not speaking up when injustice and oppression are present. Forgive me and forgive the church for not meeting needs around us that we could meet. Help me to not only believe the truth but to walk in truth. Keep me from a false religion that is not worship of you at all. May my commitment to you be genuine in spirit, in truth, and in action. Amen.