This sermon is the final in a series for Black History Month focusing on themes of liberation, freedom, and justice. The prophet Isaiah is known for speaking a strong word to God’s people . . . to “check themselves” and pushing them to look forward to be all that God had made them to be. Isaiah 58 is no exception. Here, God – through the prophet – chastises the people for going through “church rituals” but failing to truly honor those things that are most precious in God’s sight – God’s people. Contrary to what we sometimes hear, the word of God shows us that God has deep concern for freedom, liberty, and justice and helping those in need. We see in this text that these things are God’s priorities. And, further God’s priorities represent our possibilities. What God accomplishes, God most often accomplishes through God’s people. That’s us. So Isaiah is challenging and chastising the people. Stop focusing on ourselves – our rituals and routines tare sometimes empty. Instead, look at the possibilities that God has planted inside us to serve his priorities of liberation, freedom, lifting oppression, and helping those in need.
Check Yourself (v1-5). In these verses, Isaiah strongly criticizes the church and God’s people. The church is engaging in ritual fasting/worship that is supposed to bring them closer to God and to please God. But, they are empty rituals. The evidence that they are not sincere? How does the church treat other people? God says, “Don’t act like you are doing things to show your love for me one minute, and when you stop, immediately go and treat people poorly.” Do we do that?
• In reading Verses 1-5, what rituals were the people doing to appear to get closer to God?
• What are other rituals that we do to get closer to God?
• What were the people doing that showed that they were not really getting close to God?
• What are some of the things that we do that might show that we have a similar lack of sincerity sometimes? How do we come out of worship? Prayer? Devotion?
Transition (v6). The remaining verses in this chapter represent for me a profound and poetic listing of God’s promises, our possibilities and God’s priorities. The whole chapter pivots at Verse 6. In the first five verses we are focused – as we often are on our own behavior. This leads to shallow and self-centered thinking. Verse 6 opens us up to God’s priorities and our possibilities. Hopefully, God awakens our ears from some of our simple and self-centered ways to the profound possibilities for upliftment of a people.
• What are the principles that we see that are important to God in Verse 6?
• Do we see how far and distant these are from a self-focused way of thinking?
Priorities and Possibilities. One of the important points of this sermon is recognizing that God’s priorities reflect our possibilities. In other words, when we see something in the bible that is clearly important to God, it needs to be something that is clearly important to us. His priorities are our possibilities. Much of God’s mission is accomplished through you and me—God’s people.
• Can you think of some bible verses or bible personalities who were sent to fulfill god’s priorities? Reflect for a moment on this principle. How does it make you feel to know that God’s priorities also reflect our possibilities?
Priorities and Possibilities. For the balance of this lesson, focus on the (1) priorities /possibilities of God and (2) promises of God. Below is a list of the priorities of God and possibilities of God’s people as reflected in this text. Reflect on them and circle two or three that are particularly important for you because you need them in your life or because you like to help others with them. Discuss
* Loose the chains of injustice
* Set the oppressed free break every chain
* Share food with hungry
* Shelter the homeless
* Clothe the naked
* No malicious talk & finger pointing
* Not neglect family
* Satisfy needs of oppressed
* Honor the sabbath
Promises. Finally, below are a list of promises the Lord makes to us in the fulfillment of his priorities. Review and reflect on the list below and circle two or three that are particularly important to you. Discuss
* Light will break forth
* Healing will appear
* Righteousness goes before you
* Lord will guard your rear
* God answers our cries
* Light will rise in darkness
* Lord will guide us
* God will satisfy our needs
* God will strengthen us
* Will be like a garden
* Our people will be rebuild
* Our name/legacy will be known
* We’ll find joy in the Lord
* We’ll feast on God’s inheritance