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Let your light shine

By Mike Ruffin Sometime in the fifth century BC, not too many years after Jewish exiles returned to Judah from Babylon and several hundred years before Jesus was born, a preacher delivered a message preserved for us in the fifty-eighth chapter of the biblical book of Isaiah. The preacher told the people that when it came to worship, they were missing the point. As with all preachers in that day, this one believed so strongly that he was speaking for God, he could actually quote the Lord’s words. So he presents the following words as if God is speaking them about the people: Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God (v. 2). These words display some holy sarcasm. God says that the people act as if they want to know and do what God wants them to be and do, but they really don’t. They ‘worship,’ God tells them, only for what they think they can get out of it. Their focus isn’t on God, but rather on themselves. God particularly addresses their practice of fasting, which is the giving up of something (food, for example) for a period of time in order to become more aware of your dependence on God. Speaking through the prophet, God tells the people that their fasting is meaningless (as are their other worship practices, no doubt) because they keep on mistreating and oppressing people. Then God says, 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 (vv. 6-7)? The fast God wants, God says, is for God’s people to help the helpless, to lift up the downtrodden, and to liberate the oppressed. If the people would do that, God tells them, ‘Then your light shall break forth like the dawn’¦’ (v. 8a). Real worship focuses on God, not on ourselves. We truly worship when we worship in order to show our love for God, not in order to gain something for ourselves. And we truly worship when our love for God leads us to love other people, especially those whom life has beaten up and beaten down. Put simply, if you go to the church, to the synagogue, or to the mosque, and then go out into the world to hate, oppress, misuse, abuse, manipulate, or take advantage of people, you aren’t worshiping. The fifth-century preacher told the people that if they’d care for those whom the world disrespects and disregards, then their light would shine in the world’s darkness. You may have one of those candles in a jar. As long as you leave the lid off the jar, the candle burns just fine. But put the lid back on the jar while the candle is burning, and the flame is immediately extinguished. That’s because oxygen fuels the fire, so without oxygen, the fire goes out and the light gives way to the darkness. Love fuels our fire and keeps our light shining. If we give in to selfishness, hate, and cruelty, then we give way to the darkness. But if we keep loving in ways that lead us to serve, give, and share, then our light will keep burning brightly. We overcome darkness with light. We overcome hate with love.

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