Your Healing Shall Spring Up Quickly


Awake??? Okay, just checking.

I don’t want anyone to miss the fierce urgency of the morning text which begins with this trumpet blast and crescendos into a full symphony of the Divine Word calling the people to worship in spirit and in truth, and contrasting it with false worship centered on eloquent words and solemn ritual that are empty of any action. I don’t want us to miss it, because it’s every bit as relevant today as it was then. Bitter division among the people. Religious hypocrisy. Majoring in the minors. Rife injustice. God commands the prophet to startle the people into awareness about the poverty of their faith. A reading from the prophet Isaiah in the 58th chapter, reading verses one through twelve in two sections. Listen for God’s word to us.

[ISAIAH 58:1-5]

Most people around the world and in the United States trust business to “do what is right” more than they trust any other big institutional sectors. That’s the key finding in a report by the giant public relations firm Edelman, according to an opinion piece reprinted in the Denver Post recently. [Nicholas Goldberg, the Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2023]

Respondents rated business 30 points higher than government on ethics, and 55% say they trust business to do what is right as compared to 50% for non-governmental organizations (including faith-based ones), 43% for media and 42% for government.

That means the Church fares worse in the hearts and minds of people than the folks who brought us climate change denial, promoted tobacco and opioid use, and engaged in deceptive financial practices bankrupting ordinary American workers. Okay, business has done a lot of good stuff too, but even the columnist questioned what these high-minded NGOs have done that compares unfavorably with the excesses of corporations?

Our text doesn’t parse it so finely by category. The people are all responsible for the state of the nation. They’ve all participated in the quarreling and fighting that has frayed and torn the national cloth. They’ve all preached justice and equitable treatment, and donned sack cloth and ashes (aka anguished hand-wringing and offering “thoughts and prayers”), without actually doing anything different. Friends, we can debate till the cows come home whether or not America is a “Christian” nation, but it doesn’t matter until we demonstrate with our private actions and public policies the justice and kindness God requires. And just in case there’s some confusion about what this is, the prophet continues in the voice of God:

[ISAIAH 58:6-12]

The word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

A familiar religious trope involves “If. . . then” calculations.

If you do this, then God will do that.

If you believe, then you will be saved.

If you forgive others, then you will be forgiven.

Besides the obvious impossibility of the “ifs” at least some of the time, this formula flies in the face of the truth that lies at the heart of the universe and human life: that God created in love; God’s love for the creation is unconditional; and God’s love is transformational; that is, God’s intentions for creation will be accomplished–it will be on earth as it is in heaven.

So when this text talks about the light breaking forth and healing springing up and ruins rebuilt, the prophet is speaking less prescriptively (“If…then”) and more descriptively (doing what God requires results in abundance and thriving for all).

When we live into the demands of Christian faith, caring for those in need, sharing resources, welcoming without judging and treating others with the same regard as we wish to be treated, we will experience a foretaste of the world as God intended it. Full of light; whole and glorious; generous and generative. Where did we ever get the idea that religious obligation is onerous; that its true benefits will be realized only in an afterlife? The prophet makes no mention of heaven, but instead describes earth as a garden of delights with streets that are safe and fun to travel.

Is that the way you picture Christian faith, and Christians? As “repairers–not creators–of the breach? As sources of light that illumine the despairing darkness of the world?

If you watched any of the NFL playoff games you might have seen a surprising ad, with contemporary photos and a voice-over commentary that ends as a surprising reference to Jesus.

“Jesus was wrongly judged. Jesus was a refugee. Jesus welcomes all to the table. And the tag line:  He gets us. All of us.”

At least two of the ads will be shown next Sunday during the Super Bowl and are part of a 3-year, billion dollar campaign designed to “introduce people to the Jesus of the Bible.” I’ve seen a couple of the ads which are quite moving and compelling. Naturally I was curious to discover the outfit behind these ads and learned that it’s a group of Christian business folks, with the largest contributor being David Green, founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby. I’m pretty sure Jesus is laughing at me because I long ago concluded that my faith bore no resemblance to “those people.” And come to find out that they are putting their money where their mouth is to witness to the Jesus I have devoted my life to following: the Jesus who welcomes all, including the outcast, refugee, and fat cat; the Jesus who gets us because he was one of us, and went to hell and back to demonstrate the Divine love that can never be overcome.

I’ll be interested in hearing your reactions to the ads and how they too might be a source of healing and restoration that moves the needle on our national malaise toward reconciliation.

Recently I was privileged to see the powerful stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird playing here. The themes of racial hatred, justice for all, and the profound ambiguities that are part of coming of age all strongly resonated.

Tom Robinson is pronounced guilty. Atticus Finch discovers he does not know his neighbors and friends as well as he thought he did. He faces his son’s judgment and his own inner turmoil at the outcome. His nightly reading from the Bible is from Psalm 30:  “. . .though weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes in the morning.”

Somehow, those words catch hold of him as he faces the terrible prospect of telling Tom’s wife and family that he has been shot and killed by vigilantes. “Joy will come in the morning,” he says to Calpurnia, a wise old Black woman who works in their household, to which she replies, “Sure, taking its own sweet time. . .”

Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice. . . to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house. . . then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly. . .

For me, this text shines a beacon of light that generates hope. The mission to which the Church is called is so comprehensive, so difficult, with only incremental change that it is easy to grow discouraged, and even cynical about what good any of it does.

Yet with unmistakable confidence, the prophet proclaims the promises of God that will be fulfilled as God’s people practice what we preach. One role of the church is to serve as a way station, a temporary shelter on an arduous justice journey that will not end throughout our lives. At that way station we are reminded of the big picture: God’s redemptive love that changes the basic calculation of life.

We’re connected to God and to one another. Our well-being depends upon the well-being of others, and together we are beauty and truth and light.  Our lives and actions have meaning and a purpose: we are part of the healing and restoration of all creation.

At that way station we are nourished at a Table that also offers a foretaste of the world God intends. A Table and meal hosted by the “good shepherd,” who cares for each of the flock. A Table where everyone is welcome, and the food is delicious and nutritious and multiplies without ending.

Thanks be to God!