Betsy, our associate for hospitality, asked if she could talk with me. She was visibly upset. "I think that I cost the church some key members," she said. "Mrs.______ came in to register her daughters for the youth retreat. The deadline was two days ago, and we could usually have accommodated her, but the registration is full."
"Don't you know who we are?" challenged the irate mother. "We are probably the biggest givers in the church. We surely deserve some favors." "But," replied Betsy, "I would have to tell two other youth who have signed up early that they can't come." "Do what you have to do," was the reply. "We are very active members."
I immediately called this mother and said that I needed to talk with her. I sat at the kitchen table. They were very nice people and good friends. I began, "I heard something today that I can't believe came from your mouth. Did you really say that we should put your daughters on our retreat list ahead of two other youth? Did you really say that you should get extra favors because you give a lot of money to the church? That is not why you give to the church, is it?"
The mother started to cry. She realized that this was not the kind of person she wanted to be. We hugged, shared a prayer, and the matter was over.
Isaiah had a similar problem. He spoke to the congregation, "Did you really say, 'Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?'" "Do you really come to the Temple, give your offerings, and say your prayers to give you an advantage over others?"
What does God have to say? "Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice: ...Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?"
The Gospel for this Sunday reminds us that we worship and pray and share our wealth, because we are the salt of the earth.
Remind us, O Lord, as we prepare for worship, that we praise you not for points. Let our salt be restored for the sake of others. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Isaiah 58:1-9a (NRSV)
1 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.
2 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.
3 "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.
4 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.
5 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?
6 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?
7 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?
8 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.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.