Epiphany 5 Isaiah 58:1-9a[9b-12]
February 5, 2023

Shout out, do not hold back!

Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins. 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.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see?

Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to he in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD? 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.

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1. “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift your voice like a trumpet!” Who is speaking? To whom? What does the speaker want his hearer to do? In what sort of relationship do they live with their God? What do these people want from their God? Why might these people believe that rituals like fasting, humbling oneself, bowing down the head like bulrush, or lying in sackcloth and ashes could bring them closer to God? What may they be expecting from a closer relationship with God?

2. How are rituals like fasting and bowing—or holding processions, wearing particular kinds of clothing, singing songs, going to holiday services—part of our world today? Revisit some particular ritual of church, school, or government and consider: Toward what institution, person, or idea was it directed? How is it meant to benefit that institution, person, or idea? What do the leaders and participants expect to be the benefit of the performance to them? What effect does the ritual actually have? How may they be of use to our communities of work, family, church, or school? What are things our rituals cannot do for our communities?

3. In your own life, what rituals—patriotic, religious, familial, or entirely private—do you observe? Jot down a list of them noting 1) the ritual 2) the object 3) the reason. Which ones do you enjoy, and which seem more like duty? What may there be within you that craves certain rituals? What may be the source or sources of that craving? What might be costs to you of abandoning one or more of your rituals? How might you benefit? What might the part of you that craves ritual say to the part that grows impatient with ritual? What reply would the impatient side give? What might each have to offer the other?