“A Day Acceptable to the Lord”
Epiphany 5, February 9, 2014
“A Day Acceptable to the Lord”
Text: Isaiah 58:3–9a
Have you ever been in a position where you had something to say, but those who you needed to say it to, those who needed to hear it didn’t want to listen? I think a lot of us feel that way when it comes to the folks in Washington. It is easy to run into that at work, when you have a good idea or a concern, and the boss or bosses don’t want to listen to what we have to say.
As God’s children, we have a way of letting God know what we are thinking and feeling, and that is through worship, prayer, and praise. These are the ways we use to bring our cares and concerns to our heavenly Father.
Unfortunately, it happens too many times that we think our worship, prayer, and praise is something that we can do to influence God and get Him to do what we want. Such is the behavior described in our Old Testament Reading for today. Israel trusted in their fast days as a means of motivating God to answer their prayers and petitions. You know, “If we do this, then God should do that.”
God responded in this way, “Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” (v 5c), and clearly His answer is “No!” God labels Israel’s “days of fasting” as unacceptable to Him. This leads us to ask, What, Then, Is a Day Acceptable to the Lord?
The people of God back in Isaiah’s day made a great big deal of showing how good they were at loving the Lord. They approached Him daily with their worship and rituals and they put on a good show. But their hearts were not in it. The prophet Isaiah was called by God to preach boldly some serious law at them. God was mad. Israel had talked themselves into believing they were a righteous nation and an obedient people and expected God’s deliverance and blessings. They were talking the talk, but not walking the walk. It is a sad day when God calls you a hypocrite.
If you weren’t able to pick it up from hearing it read, the folks in Israel 2800 years ago were fasting more than the law required, because they thought that would earn brownie points with God. Only one day of fasting was required, and that was the Day of Atonement. Isaiah’s hearers, in their show of piety, thought they exceeded what the Lord expected of them. Doing more fasting, they thought, was evidence of their devotion to the Lord, and they didn’t understand why God wasn’t responding to their cries for deliverance. “Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” (v 3a). Surely, such a display of faith and obeying should move God to bless and prosper them, right? The Israelites thought that a day acceptable to the Lord was a day filled with their rituals and acts of worship. This is how they thought they should be able to make their voices heard by God.
The prophet is highlighting how shallow the faith is of the people of Israel when they think God would be closer to them while they were going through the motions of worship. No, the Lord declares, this is not “the fast that I choose…”
How often does such an attitude get into our relationship with the Lord? We deceive ourselves into believing that our good works and pious deeds earn extra credit before God and thus motivate Him to hear our prayers and grant our requests. You know what I mean. You ever say to God that you should get what you pray for because, “I go to church and put an envelope in the plate and I went to Bible Class last week and helped with the potluck.” We try to use the good stuff we do as bargaining chips in exchange for God’s blessings. We sometimes think we can rely on our good works to get our voices heard by God.
A day acceptable to the Lord is not a day filled with show off fasting and empty worship, but a day of self-denial. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” (vv 3b–5).
No, a day acceptable to the Lord is a day of saying “No” to our own desires. It is a day of confession. It is a day of rising each morning to claim the promises of our Baptism. It is a day when we seek strength through His Word to live the new life purchased and won for us on the cross of Christ. It is a day of faith and trust that rests not in ourselves but in the grace and mercy of almighty God.
This day, and every day, should be a day we know we are saved only by God’s love and generosity. Remember last week? “You are a winner.” And we should reflect that love this way. Being gifted by God means we should spread it around, share it. God says this in the text today, ” Vv 6–7: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 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 him…” John said to us in his Gospel, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:17–18).
How often are we guilty of putting great emphasis on our relationship with God and dismissing our relationship with our brothers and sisters? Are our conversations about church services an evaluation as to the quality of our worship or do we look in here and ask, “Having heard the Gospel, how am I doing, how am I serving?”
As members of the Body of Christ, we, like Him, are “not to be served but to serve.”
A day acceptable to the Lord is a day when we display the ingredients of brotherly love. This is a day we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, but we put each other first. We should not seek to be first but to be last.
Such a day of self-denial was accomplished first by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. When our Lord willingly went the way of the cross without retribution or revenge, He offered up to our heavenly Father an acceptable day. The day that Jesus was crucified was the day He won forgiveness and salvation for us. It became a day on which all self-reliance would give way to faith and trust in His sacrifice.
Such a day of self-denial can be achieved each day, not by our efforts, but when we cling to Him. Through our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, He offers to us the victory He has achieved over the sins and desires that are deep inside here. That includes our sins of thinking we are better than we are, thinking we can get God to bless us more if we do the brownie point thing. A day acceptable to the Lord is a day when we set aside all that selfish stuff and receive the new life He offers through His death on the cross and His resurrection.
One more thing. Israel was called and gathered to be a “light to the nations.” Part of the threefold promise to Abraham was that through his descendants, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The Gospel for this Sunday emphasizes our shining role. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:14–16).
Now God places us in our church, our community, and our jobs to display His will and His works. Through the stuff we do that pleases Him, we are to be a light shining in the midst of darkness, offering hope and healing, redemption and renewal to a wandering and wayward world.
Our voices are heard by God as we place our trust in the gift of grace God has given to us in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross and His resurrection. God assures us that He is not one who is far off and out of reach or out of touch, but He is near to us and stands more ready to answer our prayers than we are ever ready to ask them. He hears us and listens to us, not because we are so good, but because He is so good. What comforting words are proclaimed to us at the end of this text! God says, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, “Here I am.””(v 9a)