Written by Lynette S. Moran, Deacon (Clergy), Bethel United Methodist Church
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
And if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
The leaves are turning. I remember the dumbfounded looks on the faces of my college friends that first northern winter when I asked, “How do leaves turn? Like, upside down?” As a Texan who grew up near the coast weather never really ‘turned,’ unless you mean from nearly unbearable to pleasantly mild. This my 7th fall up north, I’m still taken aback by the turn. But my first thoughts aren’t about pumpkin spice or fall festivities. Instead, I often first think of the homeless.
We are coming into a very difficult season for those living without secure, warm housing. Every cool breeze that hits the chimes on my front porch reminds me that this season brings light awe-inspired thoughts of beauty for me but also heavy concern for others. This year, with COVID-related unemployment and a downturned economy, more families are living on the brink, cutting corners where they can—including clothing budgets and heating bills, even if shut-off moratoriums are in place. With school remote, not only are children faced with additional educational challenges if homeless (no wi-fi, no place to work) but also no warm respite at school from the cold nights on the street or in the car.
Chapter 58 Isaiah focuses on fasting and the Sabbath. God says to the Israelites that fasting without heart, without letting the lessons of fasting seep into the rest of their lives, is of the darkness. But to rise into the light, to live with the glory of God at your back, is to honor the Sabbath, work for justice, and care for others. The challenges to address homelessness are many and varied. There are immediate needs of warming hands and hearts through coats and developing relationships with people who often feel quite isolated. More than that, the work of justice means unshackling the oppressed, as we see in this Isaiah chapter. Hard conversations about how we care for veterans, the unemployed, children, those struggling with addiction and/or mental health, and more need to occur.
When I say these sorts of things inevitably someone responds, “but aren’t the poor always going to be among us?” My reply is I can’t speak to the socio-economic statuses of eternity, but I do know we are called to spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed. In Isaiah 58 the Lord tells us that is where righteousness and the light can be found. And so that is the way I try to focus and go.