Meditation on Isaiah 58:1-12
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Ash Wednesday 2021
I was blessed to speak with a friend this week who serves as the director of performing arts for children and youth at a Florida church.
The after-school program has been inactive for about a year because of the pandemic. Mary Lou is mourning not being able to be with the 50 or more children and youth in Kids Klub, whose hearts and lives are touched by this very personal ministry that builds self-esteem, joy, and hope in Jesus Christ.
Instead of being defeated by all the negativity in the world, Mary Lou decided to use her gifts and talents to help others from the safety of her home during this time. She and her longtime friend, Suzy Moore, have been sewing masks with the fabric that would normally be used to make costumes for community theater and Kids Klub. And not just a few masks—thousands of them, supplying nursing homes, schools, even the Navajo Nation when they learned of their need and great poverty, leaving them especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Suzy and Mary Lou, not wishing to make a profit off the pandemic, have been offering the masks for free to those in need.
That got me thinking, how could we help others, outside the church? What can we do, now, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic? For God calls us to care for the poor and not just be obsessed with our own hardships and inconveniences. Too often we have seen the pandemic as a reason to complain and argue, engage in political debates, rather than to be what the Lord has always called us to be—peacemakers, builders of the Kingdom, reconcilers, healers, and repairers of the breach, as the Lord speaks through Isaiah in our OT reading today.
Ancient Israel had some of the same problems we do today; they were focused on their own difficult situations—and what they had lost. They kept looking back and longing for what used to be. They lost hope, though Jeremiah promised a future with hope, that Israel would prosper and not come to harm. Yet, the Israelites wanted to appear holy and pious through their acts of penitence, without confessing and repenting from their sins before God and without seeking to right the wrongs in their society. They couldn’t see beyond their own needs and desires to find it in their hearts to help others. While they prayed, they weren’t listening for God’s response. For if they had, they would know that God was calling them to act and reveal their faith by living it, every day, not just on a holy day set aside for a shallow, public exercise of religion.
There are promises here for those who serve the Lord by caring for the poor and breaking the yoke of oppression, unjust systems in our society. Here are some of the promises as we seek to serve the ones the Lord will call the “least” of his “brethren”—and tell us that when we help them, it is the same as helping him.
We will be healed.
We will bear witness to our faith and our “light shall rise in the darkness.”
Our mood will be lifted—our “gloom will be like the noonday.”
We will know God more and our relationship with the Lord will be stronger. Hearing God’s voice, the Lord will guide us continually. That means we will be on the right path and make righteous choices.
When we call upon Him, when we cry for help, God will answer us!!
He will say, “Here I am,” the very words that God’s prophets used when they responded to His call.
Listen… There’s more…
God will satisfy our needs in parched places. We are in parched places, now, aren’t we? Many of us are still isolating in our homes, waiting on vaccines and a healthier community in which to live. This is a promise God will keep, if we care for those in need and don’t neglect those whom God brings to our attention to serve. Because if we open ourselves to be used by God to help others, God will bring us people to help and show us how.
God will make our bones strong—that’s the promise of health and longevity
This is my favorite part of this reading. “And you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.” We are all longing for spring, and we can imagine the beauty of our watered gardens, growing and producing flowers and fruit. That’s the promise of the Holy Spirit dwelling with us so that we bear the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, self-control…
And with “ancient ruins shall be rebuilt,” I hear the Lord pointing to our opportunity now to move ahead and take what we’ve learned from this crisis and rebuild the Church, grow the Body of Christ. We can only do this if we are future minded and eternally focused, setting our hearts and minds on the things above. Let’s not dwell on the memories of pain and disappointments. Grieve for your losses, but then let go of the hurts.
We have an opportunity to share the gospel through our acts of kindness and faithfulness that go beyond the boundaries of family, friends, and neighborhoods. Let us also look for ways to help outsiders, strangers, and others in need, such as my friend, Mary Lou, sewing thousands of masks with her friend, Suzy to give to others–free of charge, not seeking to make a profit off the pandemic. Let us witness to the mercy and generosity of our God who didn’t withhold His only Son but gave him up for the sake of the world God so loves.
As we seek to labor with Christ and mend what is broken between God and human beings and human beings with each other, we shall be called repairers of the breach!