Bruce Stanley, president / CEO – One Sunday morning when I was on the road preaching, my wife Melissa was attending a church service here in Raleigh by herself. She was heading back for home, traveling down a dip in the road near downtown, when BAM – a car ran a light and slammed into her passenger front fender. The driver who T-boned her got out and immediately apologized, saying, “It was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention and I went through the red light.”
An officer arrived and interviewed a few bystanders – one of whom claimed she’d seen the accident and it was Melissa’s fault. The officer shared her statement with both drivers, and the man who’d hit Melissa changed his tune. He told the ofﬁcer she was at fault. The incident is placed into the hands of insurance companies. Both drivers exchanged information. While grateful to be unhurt, Melissa was shaken literally and ﬁguratively by the accident.
A couple of weeks later, she was out in the yard on Saturday afternoon working in the ﬂowerbed when the man who’d hit her pulled up in the driveway and hopped out. He called to her and asked, “Do you remember me?” Apparently he’d been doing research online because he said to her, “I had no idea you were a pastor’s wife. I know I’ve done wrong, and I need you to forgive me.” He apologized with an “I am so sorry,” hopped back into his car, and off he went.
Did Melissa forgive him? Of course she did. She is Melissa, kind of heart and gentle of spirit. Even without an authentic indication of contrition beyond an awkwardly offered apology, she would have forgiven him. But if you were really sorry, how about a phone call to your insurance company? How about a check in the mail?
Isaiah 58 reminds me of this driveway encounter, which I glimpsed briefly through the den window, and it cautions me that I too have been and sometimes am still that guy. I come rolling up to the house of God, and announce myself: “Here I am! Remember me?” and then I begin the “Blah buh Blah buh Blah. I am sorry, forgive me.” And off I go. And surely God must be thinking, “Not only do I hear you, but I also see you. Your talk and your walk are not exactly the same.”
Isaiah proclaims that God doesn’t want this kind of show time from us. As if – we say this is the fast we have chosen.
Is it only a day we have chosen to humble ourselves? Is it only today that we bow our heads like a reed, and lying about in sackcloth and ashes? No. The fast I have chosen is this: Loosen the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, and untie every yoke. Share your food with the hungry and provide refugees with shelter. When you see the naked clothe them. God is not interested in our self-serving proclamations of piety or our outward displays of holiness. God is interested in actions. If we are truly sorry, truly repentant, there will be visible fruit of that faith. Isaiah says only when we commit to providing for the poor and the hungry, commit to freeing persons who are oppressed and discriminated against, only when we commit to the sojourner and refugee in our midst will God hear our cry. When our walk matches our talk, then God says will our glory shine out.