“I’m soooo hungry….”

Thanksgiving Sunday

I continue to be changed by the stories of others at Valley View Presbyterian Church, a predominately African American community. And its no small irony that the most significant community gathering times in story-telling are those when parishoners are invited to share of themselves at length.  It was a Sunday of thanksgiving and ‘testimony’, where we shared the places we could identify the fingerprints of God, his orchestrated movement in our lives. I was struck again by the strength of a community of people who have been systematically oppressed, and landscape of their stories. And, yet again, was moved to tears listening to the character of those who shared, their reliance on God, and their faith and resilience of character in the midst of adversity. The stories are that much more poignant to me in this context.

The last woman who shared some of her story read this passage of Isaiah 58. It’s one for me that has a great deal of history; it reveals the heart of YHWH that beats for the justice and love for the oppressed, the unjust.

Fasting For “Me”

Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,
face my family. . . with their sins!
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

 “The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. . . .
The kind of fasting you do
won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
a day to show off humility? . . .
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

Fasting for Others

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

People of Restoration

“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go. . . .
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

-Text quoted from both the New International Version and The Message

Corporate Fast

In some theological circles in the west, reading the Bible individually on a daily basis is encouraged. It is often seen as a mark of ‘faithfulness’, the extent which one can recite the scriptures. However, part of the unintended consequences of this theology is the individualization of interpretation. This passage is not about “me”, in the literary sense. This is a prophetic statement to the ancient people of Israel, though its prophecy is just as valid and applicable today as then. It is to a corporate body, a community. How does a community fast? By withholding food from the self?

YHWH dispels this very notion at the beginning of the statement. It’s not about “me”, in the behavioral/identity part either: I am not the intended recipient of this message. It’s about how a community of people, oriented towards YHWH’s practice love, care, justice, and their gestures to a society they inhabit. Only when we become a voice of justice will we be a healing people, those who Restore Streets with Dwellings. In the context of western indivudality, this is probably one of the most difficult things for churches to wrap its’ collective head around. We are a group of individuals, not a synergetic community that knows how to interact as a community. This, in my humble opinion, is one of the bigger challenges of the church.

Have you a story about communities that fast? Where are the Repairers of Broken Walls you’ve been a part of?

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~ by Brian Shope on November 22, 2011.

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