6 Sep 2023

GOING TO CHURCH VS. BEING CHURCH: Isaiah 58, Jesus, and Shabbat People

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Isaiah, Ministry, Mission, Worship

Good evening from the Land by the Bay. Some Sunday evening reflections on the important matter of being the people of God.

On this Day, God’s Family joins hands around the globe. People who look like Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Nigerians, Mexicans, Russians, Syrians, Jews, red, yellow, black and white but have been made One Family by the death and resurrection of the Son of David, King/Messiah Jesus.

We are all Saints by the washing of the blood and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit being graciously brought into the holy presence of our Abba by the Spirit. We, not I, stand together before the Throne of Grace to praise the Lord of all nations thru the King of Israel, the Son of David, the Son of Mary. We are surrounded by Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Israel, Miriam, David, Peter, Paul, Mary, Huldah, Phoebe, Junia and millions more who join us in thankful praise. Do you have eyes to see? ears to hear?

A text that often comes to my mind for hearing the Spirit of the Lord is Isaiah 58. Those who imagine the “Old Testament” to be legalistic or ritualistic have never listened to it. Jesus taught the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah is more concerned with worship in “spirit and truth” than many seem to be today. Sometimes we seem to love the idea of worship, its “acts” like singing songs, the fasting (vv 1-2) but it is only self serving. In fact, gathering in worship is sometimes ego driven thus occasion for fighting (v.4). It is a way to further one’s own economic status.

But Isaiah says it is far easier for church people to go to church than to BE the church. Singing songs, even acapella, and fasting is nothing, if it does not make us come out looking like, smelling like and loving like Yahweh. If our songs and worship “acts” meant anything then why are we not “loosing the bonds of injustice?” (58.6), why are we not setting the captives free? (58.6)? Why are we not behaving like incarnations of Yahweh to those around us?

Jesus quotes a line from Isaiah 58 in his Jubilee manifesto in Luke 4. Most are aware he quotes from Isaiah 61. But when he opened up Isaiah to the proper column in the synagogue scroll, the column “next door” would have Isaiah 58. And Jesus took a line from that column and added it to his scripture citation, Isaiah 58.6, “let the captives go free.” This naturally fits with Jubilee itself.

A central point of the Sabbath is the divine grace of setting people free (Deut 5.12-15). If we have encountered the Redeemer God in worship then how could we not become redeemers ourselves?

Those who fast, those who worship, will love their neighbor in deed not mere word. So Isaiah says we will take the poor into our house, we will feed the hungry and cloth the naked. This is what Yahweh does (Deuteronomy 10.17, read verses 12-22).

Indeed our Lord, who knew this text intimately, echoes Isaiah 58 as the basis for judgment on the “Day of Judgement.” In Matthew 25.35 our Lord says,

for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
and I was naked and you clothed me.

This is stuff straight out of the Law of Moses and Isaiah, long before Jesus. Isaiah said true worship is

sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the homeless into your house,
seeing the naked and clothing them
…” (58.7, cf. Deuteronomy 10.17f)

Sounds a lot like what Jesus said.

Worship is supposed to transform us into what we are. We are a multinational, multiethnic, multilingual (cf Rev 7.9-10) … FAMILY before God. The family is a family of little messiahs (anointed ones) bringing the Kingdom of God (enacting God’s will on earth as in heaven) to the aliens, the poor, the needy, the hungry, the suffering, in short being Year of Jubilee people, being Sabbath People, and thus setting the captives free.

Worship makes us redeemers. Worship makes us Exodus people.

Worship is never about me. Worship is about God transforming me so that I can sacrifice myself for your benefit.

No wonder folks would rather go to church than be the church.

But may the Spirit that gives life to every living thing give life to God’s family to be Jubilee in the fallen and hurting world around us.

Pray for Eyes to see and Ears to hear what the Spirit is saying today. Read Isaiah 58 today. Marinate in it.


One Response to “GOING TO CHURCH VS. BEING CHURCH: Isaiah 58, Jesus, and Shabbat People”

  1. JT Says:

    We see in Isaiah 58 that the “fasting” of the people did not please the LORD. Apparently, their fasting was more for their own for pleasure, and at the expense of their workers. The LORD admonished them, reminding them that the fast he had in mind was supposed to cause them to notice the less fortunate and tend to their needs – a form of true worship. God reminds them of the blessings he brings when they remember to care for the oppressed. The chapter concludes with a reminder to honor the Sabbath instead of “going your own ways and doing your own pleasure.” Again, a reminder of blessings for honoring the Sabbath (by honoring God) rather than stepping back from it.

    We the children of the Stone-Campbell tradition preach Law of God Nailed and is not for us today. “We are free!”. Yet, we are not free from law; we have been made free from the penalty of our law-breaking. We preach about precepts, principles and patterns. A “pattern” in biblical fasting reveals “eyes off self” – “eyes on others”. True worship. Ceasing from our labor on the Sabbath not only complies with the finger of God’s hand as written in the stone, but also sets up a regular, consistent pattern for taking eyes off self and putting them exclusively on the Creator. His Law is Truth. His Word is Truth. His Spirit is Truth. Resting (ceasing) each Sabbath follows the pattern He commanded, setting the tone for worshipping in spirit and truth.

Leave a Reply