It's amazing how one little letter can change the meaning of a word to mean the diametric opposite of what you begin with. The sound of the word doesn't change but by only subtracting or adding one single letter can alter one's understanding 180 degrees. For example, let's look at the word h-o-l-e, hole. It's a noun and it means this:
1. A hollowed place in something solid; a cavity or pit
2. An opening or perforation
3. A fault or flaw
But look what happens when we add a single letter to the word and make it w-h-o-l-e, whole. That which was hollowed out, empty or flawed becomes totally complete again. W-h-o-l-e. It's an adjective that means:
1. Containing all components; complete
2. Not divided or disjoined; in one unit
3. Constituting the full amount, extent, or duration
It's a movement from being incomplete to being complete. It's a movement from being hollowed out to being filled in. It's a movement from being flawed to becoming flawless. And it's all due to one little letter. One simple change keeps the same original sound, but that sound, the word, changes to a totally different meaning. It's a movement from being full of spiritual holes to becoming holy, i.e. w-h-o-l-e, complete.
It just takes one simple letter to change everything.
Over the next several weeks in Lent, we are going to look at how we can fill in our spiritual h-o-l-e-s so that we can be spiritually w-h-o-l-e! We will be looking at different holes or flaws in our spiritual lives and see if we can fill those in so that we may be w-h-o-l-e in Jesus Christ! Tonight, we begin our Lenten series from our GODaily readings and tonight we are going to look at how to fill in the h-o-l-e of cheap devotion. Turn in your Bible to Isaiah 58.1-12. Listen for the Word of God!
1Shout 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. 2Yet 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.
3“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. 4Look, 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. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is 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? 7Is 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?
8Then 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. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Trappist monk and priest, Father Thomas Keating, wrote years ago, “The process of conversion begins with genuine openness to change--to be open to the possibility that just as natural life evolves, so our spiritual life is evolving...Each time you consent to an enhancement of faith, your world changes and all your relationship have to be adjusted to the new perspective and the new light that has been given you. Our relationship to ourselves, to Jesus Christ, to our neighbor, to the Church--to God--all change. It is the end of the world we have previously known and lived in.”
Beloved, this is what we are talking about in tonight’s text from Isaiah. It’s about our consent to an enhancement of our faith. It’s about entering an entirely new type of life and experience. It’s about our moving from being holey to being fully whole in our walk with Jesus. It means a change in the way we look at, relate with and understand God, our family, our co-workers, our friends, and all the strangers we meet during the course of a day.
God through the Prophet Isaiah is telling the people that in order to prevent from going into physical and spiritual exile once again, they need to enter into a new way of life and living. God is calling them to enhance, to enlarge their faith and devotion.
You see, the returned exiles had become rusty in living a deep and abiding faith with God. They would be what we would call “Tall hat and no saddle,” or “All drive-shaft but no engine.” They would be what we would call Chreasters – those people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter in order to fulfill an obligation. It seems the people really, really wanted all the spiritual highs and benefits from knowing God but they wanted it on their own terms, when it was convenient to them. God levels the charge of cheap devotion upon the people.
God in affect is saying, “You fast but then act all grumpy with the people around you drawing attention to yourself and the fact you’re fasting. You go through the motions of fasting but acts like jerks with each other – you fight and quarrel, you have fist fights with one another!” God goes on to level the complaint that the people play the part of being devoted by acting all humble, bowing low, wearing the expected clothes of one who is sorry but their heart is not in it. The people were fasting and being devoted because of what they wanted from God. As it says in verse 3 –
The people complain, “Why do we fast and you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you don’t notice?” God responds, “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day and oppress all your workers!”
Is this the devotion God wants? No. I really don’t think so. Why? It is because it’s more narcissism and self-interest than an outward expression of love for God.
So how, my beloved, do we fill in the h-o-l-e of cheap devotion? God says through Isaiah that our devotion moves from being holey to being fully whole when we quit focusing on ourselves and begin zeroing-in on those around us. Verses 6 and 7 spell it out pretty clear. We fill in the hole of cheap devotion when we move from “me” to “we.” It means loosening the chains of cultural injustice that keeps certain people locked in a lifestyle or situation they cannot escape from.
It means to unharness the yoke of oppression like making sure the clothes we wear or food we eat is not enjoyed at the expense of child or forced labor in this country and beyond.
It means giving food, means and sustenance to those who are hungry and who are without like the clients we serve at Families Unlimited Network.
Beloved, we show expensive devotion to God when we shower love and justice on those around us. God could give a rat’s-rip about how sweet and lovely our personal quiet time is if we’re ignoring the need of our community and neighbor outside our door. Our love and devotion to God is best expressed in the intentional and costly acts of grace and justice we express to our brothers and sisters. Our devotional life and our missional Christian-service-expressing life are two-sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other!
So, you love God but are clueless about the spiritual, physical, emotional, economic, and cultural needs of the person across the street? Return to “GO” and do not collect $200! Start over again from the beginning and try once more.
The Jew’s problem is no different from ours today. Where do you and I need to enhance our life in faith with Jesus Christ these next six weeks? What potholes in our devotion do we need to fill in and make whole again? Giving up M&Ms, alcohol, or Facebook or TV mean absolutely nothing if we do not love God by expressing that devotional love to our neighbor.
The Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor and Teaching Elder
University Place Presbyterian Church
8101 27th Street West
University Place, WA 98466
Ó Copyright 2012 by Patrick H. Wrisley