Warning: I'm feeling a little preachy today, so if you prefer more generic posts about community to my convictions about the liturgical calendar, well, you might want to just skip on over this one.
I grew up in a world where God talked to us.
What I mean is, I grew up in a world that actually talked about God talking to us.
Sure, I was never one of those folks who heard an audible voice from heaven, but I really did “hear” God’s voice through the Scriptures on more than one occasion, and I still do believe in nudgings from the still, small voice of God.
I think it’s fair to say that I don’t live in that world any more, but since my pastor reads this blog as do a handful of other folks from my church, I’ll leave it up to them to correct me. Regardless, it doesn’t seem to me that I hear very many people in my faith community talking about listening in any tangible sense for God’s voice–and actually hearing something worth communicating.
That’s not a slam, by any means. There are lots of ways to believe, to pursue, and to seek God’s wisdom in this life, and my denomination certainly loves Jesus and does a great deal of good in the world by sharing the gospel message.
I’m just not used to hearing messages about God talking to me.
But, crazy as this might sound to some of you, I still believe it. And I think most of my church friends believe it, too, even if they don’t say it out loud very often.
So I decided to say it today, Ash Wednesday.
As of today, we’re marking time in a new season–Lent–a time of fasting, of preparation and contemplation, of discipline and study, of works of mercy. It’s a time of seeking this God who works in the world, who works through us.
Who talks to us.
And here it comes, folks. This is what God has been saying to me, actually, hitting me over the head with it:
ISAIAH 58 & MATTHEW 25*
I don’t know if God is saying “read this” or “do this” or “live this,” but I can guarantee you that God is, at the very least, saying “HELLO! ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION OR NOT?”
You see, it isn’t like there were angels from heaven performing Handel’s Messiah when the scrolls of Isaiah and Matthew descended to me in a dream. Nothing like that.
It’s been more, well, episodic. Let me recap:
Episode 1: In a Bible study one of my super amazing friends is leading on the book of James, when we studied James 1:27 (a real zinger!), we were directed to none other than Isaiah 58. When I read it, it was as if I’d never seen this passage before. Christians tend to talk about the Old Testament being all about the law and rules and regulations, but it’s not, my friends. It’s about caring for people in community, and little did I know that I was only scratching the surface as I began to think through a host of questions: What does it mean to love people? What does it mean to fast? What does it mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus? I may have even said a little prayer at the time: God, show me what this means.
Episode 1.5: I e-mailed J to say “You should go read this passage.” He e-mailed back and said, “I’ll be reading that this week, so hold on a few days.” (This is too much information, I realize, but he reads the daily “common texts” from the Revised Common Lectionary, and his readings happened to be in Isaiah right then, too.)
Episode 2: I read Justice in the Burbs. The two Scripture passages that Will and Lisa cite as being transformative in their journey toward a life of social action? Isaiah 58 & Matthew 25. At the time, I think this is probably just a coincidence.
Episode 3: We head to the Frankfort to support the human trafficking legislation I mentioned a few weeks ago. The nun who talks about victims of human trafficking uses Matthew 25 as her starting point. At the capitol building!
Episodes 4 & 5: Our theology reading group starts Christine Pohl’s excellent book about hospitality, Making Room. She cites Matthew 25 as one of the most often referenced passages in the historical documents on hospitality–and one of the key motivators of folks today who serve in houses of hospitality. At the same time, we begin a class at our church on consumerism, taught by one of our philosophy friends. As we discuss consumerism on Wednesday nights and Pohl’s book on Thursday nights, we begin to wonder if the only antidote to the consumeristic impulse in the world today is the practice of hospitality. Both scripture passages are really on my mind as I think about what it means to live a life of hospitality.
Episodes 6 & 7: I begin reading Love Mercy. Lisa reveals that when she set aside a fasting day to discern what God was calling her to do, her friend gives her a Scripture passage to think about as she fasts: Isaiah 58. I also finish one of my pregnancy books, Sarah Jobe’s Creating with God. In her chapter called “Expanding Bellies and the Mystery of the Church,” she calls Matthew 25 a “mission statement for the church” (see her discussion on pages 113-16, which is where this week’s sabbath meditation came from).
Episode 7: Just as I begin to wonder if maybe God was trying to tell me something, I tell Jonathan that everywhere I look, I keep seeing Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25. He tells me that it’s because of the sorts of books I read. (He’s very practical, this man I married.) When I get to chapter 16 in Love Mercy, the chapter where Lisa describes their first day in Swaziland, this is its title: “Isaiah 58, Again?” She writes, “Sometimes I get the feeling that God is beating me over the head. Probably because I need it” (p. 93).
Episode 8: I use a Benedictine prayer book for my daily reading (because I like having Scripture and prayer in one handy volume!) and this morning, I was excited to flip from the ordinary time readings over to the lenten readings. I appreciate that seasons of feasting and fasting have their own separate readings and prayer services in this prayer book. It helps to remind me of the myriad ways the liturgical year can help shape me as a follower of Christ. So…anyone want to guess what today’s Scripture passage was?
I mean, really, people. What the heck?
*In Isaiah, focus especially on verses 6 through 11; in Matthew, check out verses 31-46.