The “spiritual” aspects of our faith – worship, prayer, study, contemplation – must be undergirded and infused with the deeper realities of compassion, mercy and justice. We work toward the coming of the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven – we don’t just pray for it. The promise God makes is that we will gain the reputation of being people who bring healing to the city and renewal to homes and communities. If we are not doing this harder work, then no amount of prayer or praise is worthwhile or meaningful in God’s eyes.
The text begins with a complaint from the people to God. “Look at us God! We are so faithful in our prayer and worship and spiritual practices and yet you continue to ignore and abandon us. What’s up with that?!?!” Over years and generations the people had shifted the emphasis of their faith on these private and communal practices. The life of faith is incomplete without them. Yet they are not the life of faith. Micah 6:8 summarizes it so well: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” This response comes as a reply to the very same complaints we see in Isaiah 58.
As individuals, families and congregations we may often wonder why things aren’t going better for us, and how we might experience greater spiritual vitality in our lives. One place to look is at our interactions with the world around us. Are we rebuilding shelter and security for people that has been threatened or destroyed (often by our own behaviors)? Are we reconstructing the bridges that enable people to gain access to God’s best for them? Are we restoring the streets where families live, work and play?
Let’s look very literally at these questions as we consider the neighborhoods within a 2 mile radius of the church. Do we even know the people who live there? And do they know us? Do we know the other people of faith who live and worship there?
What are the challenges and areas of need in the communities around us? How can we find out? Do we know people who live and work there well enough to come right out and ask them? How can we gain access to demographic and other data that will give us insights? Who else is working in these areas that can be partners both in understanding and in responding to the opportunities for development toward wholeness?
As we walk into this coming season we seek to discern how God has gifted and called us to serve in the community and world. Why has God placed us here, in this place, and what might God dream for us and through us? The more we lean into blessing the world around us, the more open our lives will become for God’s blessings to flow toward us. The more our worship and prayer will be infused and overflowing with gratitude, love and power.