Sunday, 31 March 2019

Fast Living - Isaiah 58 / Matthew 25

Arrive at an airport like Heathrow and passport control confronts you with a series of barriers channelling you into lanes. Jesus also told a story of a great hall where the people where channelled and separated out. A booming voice is heard declaring the criteria by which they are distinguished - a criteria that confuses them. "When did we see you hungry, thirsty, needing clothing or shelter?" they ask. See that in the Isaiah 58 passage the people are also confused: "Why have we fasted, yet you have not seen it?" was their question.

Isaiah sets out to the people about how they as worshippers of God should live. It says you can't live compartmentalised lives, separating worship and the rest of life. It notes how they fast, yet have oppression and exploitation going on under their nose. This is a serious disconnect: worship should affect everything about your life and set the framework for it. So in verse 6 we see that fasting is not arbitrary denial, but active participation: loose the chains of injustice, untie the yoke, sharing food with the hungry, providing shelter, clothing the naked.

That will get you noticed - not for brownie points from God, but because you will shine out among others. So let your worship weave through the fabric of your life, and let it work out in practical action.

Jesus tells his story to describe how things will be at the very end of time. It has the separation - described as sheep and goats, based on a simple criteria. Note that criteria is stated four times to ensure it hits home with us! It is practical action: hungry fed, thirsty given drink, needy getting shelter and clothing - the same list as Isaiah 58 verse 7.

Both groups are confused and ask 'When?'. The answer is 'when you did for the least of these brothers/sisters you did for me'. In other words some in the sorting hall had received the brothers/sisters positively, opening their homes and resources. They got their passport stamped 'Righteous' and go one way. Others however had left them out in the cold, pushed them away and kept them to the margins. These others did not get that stamp, and are channelled off in a different direction.

How they had received the least brother or sister was how they received Jesus (even if they didn't know it!). The phrase 'least of bothers/sisters of mine' parallels the Matthew 10:42 scenario of the disciples sent on mission into adversity needing the help of strangers. This echoes the chapter 5 'Blessed are those ...' manifesto that sets out joy in hardship for disciples.

For us as followers of Jesus we are called to a life set out in Matthew 5, but this may lead us into situations where we survive by being net receivers of charity. Yet with the resources we do have, we will live as per Isaiah 58: worship worked out practically in our lives, with a clear focus on the oppressed - i.e. living Given Lives. These two strands together I call 'Fast Living' - living for God and not simply accumulating or consuming for ourselves.

For us as church therefore our support for Ely Foodbank is not an add-on, but is core to who we are and how we worship as a church. The same for the Ely CAP Debt Centre: not an add-on but core. We also have a global view - expressed for us principally through support for Sierra Leone. Seeing where people are at the margins for us is core, and goes hand in hand with telling people about Jesus. This is us Seeking to Worship, Seeking to Serve - we can't do done without the other.

We will therefore each want to audit our own life. How do we practice 'Fast Living'? How does that work out in giving over aspects of your life, energy, time, money to the Kingdom task of loosing chains of injustice, untying yokes of oppressed - practically sharing food, shelter and clothing. Does our worship weave through the way we live practically?

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