A Spirituality of Sharing

Isaiah 58:1-7

A Spirituality of Sharing

August 27, 2017   Feed the World Sunday

 

          On this Feed the World Sunday, the sermon is called “A Spirituality of Sharing.”  It comes from the prophet Isaiah.  His people were complaining that the old ways weren’t working any more.  Isaiah’s people went to the Temple.  They held their sacred fasts.  Eating nothing for days on end, they called upon the Lord.  And nothing happened.  It didn’t work.  And so in verse 3 they cry out to God, “Why do we fast, but you don’t see?  Why do we humble ourselves, but you don’t notice?”  They tried ever harder to get noticed by God—bowing their heads to the ground, wearing the roughness of sackcloth, lying in ashes.  These were religious practices that went back to the Babylonian exile, when in terror and anguish they sought to appease an angry God.  But now in better, more prosperous times, they couldn’t seem to connect with God.  The old ways weren’t working any more. 

          The analogy is imperfect, but we too live in relatively prosperous times, and yet people today also have trouble connecting with God.  For so many people these days, the old ways just aren’t working any more.  And their lament to God is reminiscent of Isaiah: “Why do we go to church, but you don’t see?  Why do we pray and believe, but you don’t seem to care?”

          This hungering for connection with God often goes by the name “spirituality.”  Organized religion is passé; spirituality is cool.  People try all kinds of things to satisfy this hunger—everything from Eastern religions to self-help books, everything from huge megachurches to small support groups.  I’m not trying to be judgmental; these are all fine things to try.  But they do all have one thing in common with the kind of fasting Isaiah condemns:  they’re all focused on me, on meeting my needs and satisfying my spiritual hunger, while one’s neighbor’s hunger goes unnoticed.  “Look,” says the Lord in Isaiah, “you serve your own interests on your fast day. . .  Will you call this a fast day acceptable to me?” God asks.

          Well here, says the Lord, I’ve got a spirituality for you  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?  When you see the naked to clothe them, and not to ignore the needs of your own flesh and blood?  Then you’ll call, and the Lord will answer.

          Your own soul is fed, according to Isaiah, by feeding others.  The eternal is discovered by tending to everyday needs.  The presence of God is found in the daily embrace of the poor, the homeless, and yes, even our own kin.1 This is a spirituality of sharing.  It is not hard to understand or complicated to comprehend; it is just, well, hard to do.  And the farther we are removed from living in poverty ourselves, the harder it is to do.

          A food pantry director once told me about a woman she knew who rented a small, rundown house for herself and her three children.  When a friend’s husband abused her, she let that friend and her children stay with her.  When she learned of another family sleeping in a car, she brought them into her home too.  This woman doesn’t go to church—when would she have time?  If she prays or believes in Jesus, she doesn’t ever talk about it.  But according to Isaiah, her fast is most acceptable to God.  She is one of the most “spiritual” people you could ever find. 

          Sometimes whole churches get in on this spirituality of sharing.  When a small African-American church building in Ferguson, Missouri, got damaged in the unrest there in 2014, the Vineyard Church here in Columbus raised money and sent teams to rebuild that church.  Now that’s an acceptable fast.  I once served a church that was part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network.  Several times a year they fed and sheltered homeless families for a week at a time.  I still remember one church member objecting, “Is this really what our church building is for?”  “Yes,” says Isaiah, “it is. What more holy purpose could a church be put to than sheltering the homeless poor?”  That’s an acceptable fast.  And today at 10 am, this entire building will be set up for food-related ministries—making sandwiches and preparing a meal for Faith on 8th homeless shelter, putting together bag lunches for neighbors at CRC, writing letters to government officials about hunger issues, packaging thousands of ready-made meals for destitute people in Haiti.  “Should we really be doing that instead of having worship?” someone asked me on time.  “No,” I replied, “doing that is having worship.”  That is an acceptable fast.  I’ll hope you will stay for this 10 am worship.

 

          I always feel personally convicted by this text from Isaiah.  When I served at Maynard Avenue, I overheard to neighborhood kids talking.  These were boys I was happy to have play in our yard, but I was reluctant to let come in our house, though they sometimes asked to come inside.  As I overheard them talking that day, they were discussing which people in the neighborhood were really their friends.  About one man, they disagreed.  One of them thought he was too grouchy to be their friend.  But the other child said, “Yeah, but he let me in his house.  We watched TV and he gave me a Mountain Dew.”  That settled it for them.  What I knew is that man had a frightening criminal record, and there’s no way they should go inside his house.  But their criteria for friendship was straight out of Isaiah—he let me in his house, he gave me something to drink.  After that, my door was a little more open to those boys. 

 

          Have you ever had trouble connecting with God?  Are the old ways just not working any more?  Well, here from Isaiah is a spirituality for you:  Is it not, Isaiah asks, to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?  When you see the naked to clothe them, and not to hide yourself from your own needy relatives?

          It is a spirituality of sharing.  Your own souls are fed, according to Isaiah, by feeding others.  The eternal is discovered by tending to everyday needs. The presence of God is found in the daily embrace of the poor, the homeless, and yes, even your own kin. 

          Then you shall call, promises Isaiah, and the Lord will answer.  Then you shall cry for help and God will say, Here I am.  Here I am. 

 

          Here is one last thought for Feed the World Sunday:  After the Dalai Lama delivered a lecture, a member of the audience asked him what the answer to world hunger is.  The Dalai Lama responded, “Sharing.”2  Amen.

 

1 Walter Brueggemann et al., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV, Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 128.

2 The Christian Century (July 12, 2005), 7.

 

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