by Isaac S. Villegas
Feb 9, 2014
In Isaiah 58, the people try to get God’s attention: “Why do we fast,” they say to God, “but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” (Isaiah 58:3)
But God’s turns the question back on the people, and asks them about the cries they ignore, the people they refuse to acknowledge, to pay attention to, to listen to — the people they refuse to see and hear.
“Look,” God says, “you serve your own interest…and oppress all your workers.” (58:3). “Look,” God says, “you fast [but then] quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist” (58:4). “Look,” God says, “you hide yourself… you hide yourself from your own kin” (58:7).
God confronts the people in their sin of hiding themselves from the pain of others, the sin of refusing to see and hear, of covering their eyes and ears, the sin of willed ignorance. So God tells the people, again and again in this passage, to look, to see, to notice.
[personal story; not for the internet]
We hide ourselves, hoping someone’s eyes don’t break through our barricades and call us into a relationship we’ve been able to live without. We hide ourselves, hoping that we won’t find ourselves face to face with someone who lives in a world we would rather not see.
When I’m driving in a city not my own, in D.C. last week for example, and I’m stopped at a traffic light, waiting to take a left turn, and I notice a guy with a cardboard sign, I hide my eyes from his, refusing to let our eyes connect, because I don’t want to be drawn into his world: I don’t have time, I have to get somewhere, I have responsibilities. So I give him a couple dollars as quickly as I can, so I can go on, with my drive, with my life, without him and his world getting too close to mine.
“Share your bread with the hungry,” Isaiah prophecies, “and bring the homeless poor into your house” (58:7). Share your bread, your kitchen table and your dinning room; share your house.
I confess, I’d rather hide, I’d rather keep my life to myself, for the most part, and share what I want with who I want to share it with, a selective group — with you, sometimes, because I know you and I trust you.
“Share your bread with the hungry…and bring the homeless poor into your house” (58:7).
The Christian life involves learning how to see and hear, how to open our ears and eyes to experience God’s life among us, and in our hearing and seeing, to welcome God’s life at our tables and in our houses. The Christian life is a refusal to hide from God, a refusal to guard ourselves from the people God loves, because when we hide, we cut ourselves off from the God who surprises us with grace, the grace of a world we didn’t expect, the grace of a connection, the surprise of knowing and being known, of seeing and being seen, of hearing and being heard — of strangers becoming friends, of relationships restored, of enemies reconciled. That’s God’s grace at work in our world, and in our lives, if we refuse to hide ourselves.
This is why we are committed to nonviolence. Because violence is a way to hide, violence is a refusal to let God surprise us with grace. Violence is a form of hiding — behinds guns and bombs, behind militarized borders, hiding behind threats. Violence is the enemy of God’s grace, because it invites us into forms of relationship that cut us off from experiencing God’s grace, from experiencing God’s grace as it transforms our lives: the surprise of repentance and conversion, the wonder of enemies becoming friends, the mystery of God’s grace undoing our resentments, God doing the impossible — changing you and me, redeeming us and them, healing the wounds that lead us to hide, to defend ourselves, to lash out with violence.
At its best, church life helps us unlearn violence and coercion, as we receive the gift of Christ’s peace; in our worship, as we sing and prayer, as we listen for God’s voice, as we speak; in our church meetings, as we learn how to be patient with one another, as we make room for weaker voices to be heard over the louder ones; in our friendships and fellowship, as we refuse to hide ourselves, as we learn how to be seen and loved — to pray that someone’s eyes, someone’s face, will reveal God’s love, a love that enables us to become people we wouldn’t be able to be if we were alone, if we felt unloved, if we, somehow, felt cut off from God’s grace. Church, at its best, is a reminder that God loves us, that God is for us, that God sustains our lives with grace.
At its worst, church becomes another way to hide from the world, from people we would rather live without. Isaiah warns us against this tendency, this tendency to use our faith, our piety, as another way to hide. “Look,” Isaiah prophecies, “you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist.” (58:4) “Look,” Isaiah says, “you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.” (58:3)
If we aren’t careful, our worship can distract us from people, from their lives, from the way our lives depend on theirs, the way our lives should be bound up together, mutually dependant, mutually sustaining.
Our hope is that worship turns our attention to see God, to see what God sees. Our hope is for worship to unveil our eyes, to tune our ears to the sounds of God’s life all around us — for this gathering to give us a sense of God’s life as we go about our days, at home, at work, for our worship to teach us to find God in what seems like a loveless world. Epiphanies of grace.
“Then,” Isaiah tells us, “your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” “Then,” Isaiah prophecies, “you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am” (58:8-9).
Look, God says, because here I am.
Look. I am here.