Saturday, January 3, 2009

Faith and Practice

I was standing in the library stacks yesterday when a man walked up to me and asked me whether I believe in God. I said that I did. He then asked me whether I believe in Jesus and I said yes. He also wanted to know whether I speak in tongues and which church I attend. At that point, I told him that I really had to go.

I am not particularly averse to talking about God with total strangers, but I think mentioning the fact that I am a Quaker probably would have started a discussion that would last longer than my lunch break.

I have been thinking about the concept of Quaker faith and practice a lot lately. Part of the reason is that the Freedom Friends Church Faith and Practice is just about done. I have not been very involved in the process, but it has been wonderful to see the Faith and Practice come together. The fact that we have a faith and practice reminds me that for Quakers, the question is not only "what do you believe?" but also "what does your faith lead you to do?"

In reading through the Bible, I just finished Isaiah. It was a challenging book for me. Some parts had amazing prophetic language, but a lot of it was violent and disturbing. One passage in particular has stayed with me, and I think applies just as well to our nation as it did to Israel:
Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what's wrong with their lives,
face my family Jacob with their sins!
They're busy, busy, busy at worship,
and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—
law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?'
and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
'Why do we fast and you don't look our way?
Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?'

Well, here's why:

The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit.

You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
won't get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after:
a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
a fast day that I, God, would like?

This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
to break the chains of injustice,
get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
free the oppressed,
cancel debts.

What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
sharing your food with the hungry,
inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'

(Isaiah 58:1-9).

This seems like the U.S. in a nutshell. We say we love God, but we are much too busy. We feel sure that God is on our side, but judging from the news, we focus on money much more than God. We make a big show of our belief in God, and then wonder why things don't always go our way.

Fortunately, in addition to this indictment we also have clear instructions on how to put our faith into practice: feed the hungry, invite the homeless in, clothe those who are cold, and make time for the people we love. When we do that, God will hear our prayers.


  1. You go girl!
    What is not a "sermon" about that?
    Praise and glory to God.

  2. Thanks, Alivia. I'm still not too comfortable with the word "sermon" and I am working on why . . .

  3. I have considered a "sermon" as a form of a command that implies the deliverer knows best and the listener is not to "question the correctness."
    A prophetic message is often not understood by the listeners and at times not even fully understood by the message bringer. Often this has been referred to as being preached THROUGH. A sermon is usually understood as being from a person. Friends messages are thought of as from the Spirit. Of course there are many sermons ot thoughts presented by persons in a Friends Meeting, but there are timeswhen it is clear "where the words come from."


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