i am currently obsessed – obsessed! – with isaiah 58. this past weekend i participated in the compassion weekend at menlo park presbyterian church. i was doing research for this renovare/emergent project on doing a social justice event for a church or region. they had 4 areas of service – homeless/housing, education, AIDS, and seniors. i was working assembling kits for people suffering from AIDS in africa. before we started working, we had a 30 minute orientation session, including video, information from a doctor, stories from an african woman and scripture by a pastor. the statistics are mind-numbing and the stories are heartbreaking, but ubiquitous and sometimes hard to relate to. i sat through that listening, mostly from the perspective of a researcher, looking at logistics and practical stuff. they explained how it would all work and then i went over to the fellowship hall to start working.
when i got into the room i saw a couple hundred people buzzing around the room assembling these kits. there were preschool aged children all the way up to people at least in their 80’s. there was african music playing, teenagers were working together, people were writing notes and kids were drawing pictures to go in the boxes. the only word i could think of to describe the atmosphere was joy – an unconquerable benevolence. i just stood there and started to cry. it was genuinely the most beautiful thing i’d ever seen. it was church. it was worship. it was gospel.
there were about 3,000 people involved in those projects. all of these situations – homelessness, under-resourced schools, AIDS, loneliness – look overwhelming and hopeless when we look at them as individuals. but this was being addressed by the larger community and it gave everyone hope. it was a shared mission that brought that church together as a community. it changed everyone there – individuals, families and small groups. it was such a powerful illustration of isaiah 58.
that project was the perfect illustration to me that in the church, community shouldn’t be the goal. but rather, we are united in mission and community is birthed from that.
i’ve been reading isaiah 58 in the message a lot since then. i love the whole thing, but here’s my favorite part:
10If 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.
11I 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.
12You’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.