Isaiah 58, which I posted yesterday, strikes at the core of what our work is about, and, I believe, what all of us who call ourselves Christ-followers should be about. The first thing that strikes me about this passage is its message that the good-intentioned religious practices of the Jewish people fall on deaf ears. Because they aren’t “practicing what they are preaching,” God is telling them that their prayers aren’t getting off the ground.
It was true then, and it is true today... We grow more concerned about church attendance and outward signs of moral holiness than we do about people. The outside world knows us more for our judgments than for our grace. A few months ago, I read a blog post about a woman who shared about her abortion and her healing process at her church. After church, another unmarried woman came to her – eyes shining with tears – and said the most heart-breaking words I can imagine: The reason I got an abortion was because I was a Christian. Some of us would respond to her statement with judgment, hardness, anger and revulsion, but if we look deeper we would see the truth behind her words. In many fellowships, she would be shunned for her sin.
She imagined it easier to deal with the secret burden of guilt and shame than the public one.
We parade around solemnly, calling down judgment and wrath on our culture. But aren't we supposed to be the aroma of Christ; instruments of grace and mercy? God makes it perfectly clear here that holy living isn’t what His Kingdom is about. So what does God care about? In these passages it seems to be most basically about justice – about restoring and rebuilding lives so that each individual knows his or her indescribable worth.
This doesn’t require moving to the other side of the world, friends. It does take getting out of our crystal cathedrals and going out onto the dirty streets… under the bridges, into the bars, and behind the bars. It might take giving a hug to the homeless or a hand-up to the down-trodden. It might mean rattling the status quo within our churches… there’s a lot of things it might look like, but there’s one thing it will always look like.
It will always look like Jesus.