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Devotion Isaiah 58 - Sabbath rest

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Isaiah 58
The Message, Eugene Peterson

"Shout! A full-throated shout!
Hold nothing back -- a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people-
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

"Well, here's why:

"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.
You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

"This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your loves will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places --
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.

"If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don't use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God's holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing 'business as usual,'
making money, running here and there --
Then you'll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I'll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I'll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor, Jacob."
Yes! God says so!


In this passage the prophet Isaiah takes God’s people to task for their violation of the Sabbath rest.

Swen Eriksson, our Denominational Minister, shares an experience that is familiar to many of us. He says: “Every day on my way to my place of work at the offices of Mennonite Church Canada, I pass the “Red River Oxcart”, at the entry of Assiniboine Park. It is a large sculpture of an ox pulling a Red River cart. This is a memorial to the settlers of the Red River Valley.

This morning as I looked at the ox, I became aware that there was something familiar about him. His head is down, his eyes straight ahead, his body is straining as he pulls mightily on his enormous load.

[Eriksson continues] I have seen that look before, the head down, the earnest straining; I have seen it in pastors and I have more than once, caught that look in the mirror. It comes from pulling a heavy load for a long time without stopping for rest.”

Zing! That hit home! As I was thinking about that image, I knew that I have seen that look as well in many faithful church members who give, give, give. Week in and week out many of you sacrifice time and energy away from family and your personal interests, and you give it to the church out of love for Christ.

This is the time of year when most of our energy have been used up, and we need a break. This is why God gives us the gift of Sabbath rest; time out of the harness, when we slow down our heavy work for a while; and we enjoy some time of rest and renewal.

The rhythm of work and rest, day and night, waking and sleeping, summer and winter, is God’s natural way of teaching us that there is a right time for everything.

There is a time to invest our energies in the work and the calling that we have from God. A time to sow and a time to harvest that which has been sown.

And there is also a time to be quiet, to rest, to relax, to slow down from being busy. A time to tune out the loud noises in society that demand our attention, our time, our loyalty. A time to listen to God, and to trust that God’s work of creation and regeneration continues, even when we are not busy. A time to watch the grass grow, and  see the butterfly land on the flower. This is a time to get closer to the source of our strength and our life. It is a time to reconnect with God who is the center of our being. A time to recharge our spiritual batteries.

Eugene Peterson calls this the rhythm of grace, when we rest and God goes to work. When we rest God begins His work – without our help – and great and wonderful things happen because God sets them in motion.

As we journey into the Summer we want to encourage one another to find moments of rest, and solitude, away from the business of everyday life. We want to make room for God to restore our tired souls. When we are well rested and grounded in God, our lives will indeed be glowing in the dark.

Let us Pray

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