Living Our Faith

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  February 8, 2014

            Throughout the history of humanity and our insatiable desire for religion, the reality of religious practice and religious ideals have clashed. Isaiah was one of many prophetic voices that had to deal with this frustrating clash within religion.
            In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, the prophet addresses a people who are frightened and disoriented. The long-held ways of life in which they had once known security and peace were no longer true. According to many scholars, the great city of Jerusalem already lay in destruction and in the view of other scholars, its destruction was obviously coming. Either way, in the view of Isaiah’s audience, the world was changing or many were holding tightly to their religion to find security.
            In the specific instance of Isaiah’s prophetic proclamation, the people were increasingly frustrated. They adhered to the regimented rules of religious recognition and ritual reverence but were unable to reap the hoped for blessings expected from such strict observance.
            Yet, Isaiah points out with prophetic candor that the problem is in their fundamental motivation. Their religion was a sham. It was a thin veil of perfunctory performance that lacked genuine sincerity. They did not serve or demonstrate love for God in their religious rituals and rites. Rather, they only held tightly to the rigor in hopes that their own selfish and narcissistic desires would be duly satisfied. While professing a public faith in God, Isaiah calls the worshippers out for oppressing workers, quarreling and fighting, and using religion to legitimate a system of subjugation over others and do so in God’s name.
            In a sweeping indictment of their horrific abuse of God’s beautiful religion, the prophet speaks. The believer is called to humility, to loose the shackles of injustice, release the bindings that keep people down, restore dignity and hope to those who know the desolation of hunger, poverty, and homelessness, and become a shining beacon of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and hope to a broken and fragmented world. This is the religion that is true in God’s eyes.
            Jesus echoed this theme when quoting from Isaiah 61 in the fourth chapter of Luke. His reason for coming to us is to bring good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim God’s favor upon the world. In claiming a faith and adhering to the religion that dares to act in Jesus’ name, Christians can do no less. In the early years of the church, the Apostle James bears this out in his letter that proclaims true religion as that which extends God’s care for those in greatest need.
            This is a real problem in American churches today. We love our Christian religion, our history, heritage, and the ways of being and doing that thing we call “church.” We like to enforce our own understanding of the faith to the point of becoming legalistic and frighteningly unbending on many matters. We place a higher priority on looking and acting like Christians than on the much harder task of being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in a world that is in such grave need of Christ’s presence. We would retreat into the defensive armor of harsh judgment and bitter criticism rather than open our hearts and expose our vulnerabilities to the vast possibilities and diverse realities in God’s amazing creation.  
            Of course, it is easy to point the finger at some other church or an arrogant believer that is wrong and take comfort in knowing that we are not like that. Yet, if we are truly honest with ourselves, it is a struggle with which all Christians contend. Living as Christ is never easy, but it is what God calls us to do. God calls us to boldly live our faith, not simply act it out in church.