Read 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.


From Rev. Scott Thayer, Bethany Memorial Church (Disciples of Christ), and Chaplain, Bethany College

                Today’s Lenten passage from Isaiah addresses the soft, vulnerable underbelly of religious life.  After hearing an especially challenging sermon, a parishioner said, “That preacher’s left off preachin’ and gone to meddlin!” We all say something like that when the Word of God comes a little too close to home, don’t we?  Isaiah’s words are strong and they are timeless.  They apply to all religious ceremony, tradition and ritual.  Our practice of religion falls short of God’s holy expectations whenever it does not result in loving relationships with our fellow human beings.  There is always a horizontal, practical aspect to true worship.  There is “a fast that God chooses,” and that is a kind of religious practice that seeks not just to bring adherents to heaven, but to bring heaven down to earth.  As we worship together with our neighbors and friends this Lent, may we aspire to the kind of religion that pleases God, not just ourselves.

O God, may my religious expression lead to a closer connection
both with you and my neighbor.