The call for a fast in Isaiah 58 is not a subtle tap on the shoulder — it’s a trumpet blast that demands attention, said the Rev. Margaret Aymer, speaking at Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) here March 23.

“It is a cry we have heard so many times in the last few years” in union negotiations, the Occupy Wall Street movement and in global warming, Aymer said,

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the EAD conference and lobbying effort tackled the theme of “Is This the Fast I Seek? Economy, Livelihood and Our National Priorities.”

The fast the prophet is talking about is a “trumpet call to justice,” said Aymer, professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center. Isaiah’s audience was trying to do the right thing but forgot that fasting makes no difference if you’re only doing it for yourself.

“Fasting is not about making God pay attention to you,” Aymer said.

One can’t claim faithfulness to God and yet mistreat those made in God’s image, she added. For instance, one can’t claim holiness while ignoring the housekeepers who clean the hotels where church conferences meet.

“The prophet calls for more than a shout,” Aymer said. “The prophet calls us to stop what we’re doing and listen.

“Are we ready to fast?”

Aymer filled the air with other related justice questions:

Are we ready to stand up against for-profit prisons, sex traffickers and unjust labor practices?

  • What would happen if we said hunger wasn’t an option?
  • What if we didn’t allow small farmers to be priced out by multinational corporations?
  • What if food pantries didn’t need to exist?

“Cry justice until all are fed and no one dies of starvation — this is the fast that God seeks,” Aymer said.

But somehow we have become more focused on getting the rituals right than truly fasting, she noted.

The exiles weren’t the only ones who heard Isaiah’s call — Jesus heard it too, Aymer said. Jesus lived in a Roman-occupied land with no real chance for upward mobility, a land yearning for change. And Jesus’ first sermon stated that the time for God’s reign had come.

“We as Christians have come this weekend to this seat of power,” Aymer said. “We come because we have heard the cry of the prophet.”

The participants at Ecumenical Advocacy Days seek a fast from oppression, sexism, racism and homophobia. But they also seek economic policies that lead to food justice and fair trade, Aymer said.

“In these days of advocacy, let us have the temerity to follow the call of the prophet and the voice of Jesus Christ,” she said.