A Story from the Front Lines: Some Pandemic Thoughts from Isaiah 58
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday (Isaiah 58:6–10, NRSV).
I stumbled across the above passage in a book I was reading about God’s heart for the refugees and displaced in the world. It struck me that too often we only read a portion of the verses above. In all of my years following Christ, I usually hear people quoting or preaching on the portion about fasting to break the bonds of injustice and set the oppressed free. Rarely do I hear the sections about sharing your bread with the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless. As I was pondering the above section of Isaiah, I was reminded of the story of a friend of mine who pastors in Great Falls, MT, Rick Mazaira. The following is in his own words:
When COVID hit us on March 19th I had a dream (I’m not a dreamer at all) of my father & grandfather speaking about the storms they faced as sailors. They said you must turn the ship into the storm, full speed ahead; if you turn, you will be broadsided and capsized. If you make the turn back to harbor but do not beat the storm, the boat will get swamped from the stern. The stern is not designed to take the pounding of waves. If you are in the harbor, the cargo you carry will be expired. Not being a “dreamer” type, it took a few days of prodding from the Holy Spirit before it dawned on me, God was talking about the church. We mobilized and started to deliver meals to vulnerable people in lockdown; we then were asked to deliver meals to the food insecure school kids. With these meals, we reported back to the school that all internet access is not the same. So, we started to deliver homework packets. All the while training all that would join us in praying for the needs of people we were communicating with. Then 2 Non-profits and 6 churches joined in, and we became the Red Cross response in our city, a COAD. All safe, masked, and honoring the mandates of our city – we are now an essential part of the recovery here and have seen a harvest of the people we served from not just the meals and aid but the prayers for healing and salvation. People have been moved by what God was doing. In the midst of this pandemic, biblical justice was releasing people from fear, and we realized we were in the midst of a revival we never prayed for.1
What strikes me in the story above, is that the church is doing exactly what God was asking Israel to do in this passage in Isaiah. They were helping to feed the hungry. They were pouring themselves out for the sake of those who were unable to get out. As they ministered to those who were vulnerable, they began to see more people join them, and they began to see a revival. People began to see the compassion and love of Christ through what that church was doing. They pointed the bow of the ship into the storm and moved ahead.
The above story is meant to serve as an encouragement in the midst of these troubled times. It is not meant to make anybody feel guilty, but I hope and pray that it serves as a good place to start thinking. It appears to me that the pandemic is going to be with us for a while longer. I would like to encourage you to think about how you can get involved in helping those who need help and are most vulnerable. Where would God have you pour out your time and talents in helping those most in need of help? Maybe you are already doing something. However, no matter if you are already doing something, or you want to start, please let us know what is happening and how God is using what you are doing.
Grace and peace to you all!