Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Fasting that Makes a Difference
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Katy TX 77450
I start off every vestry meeting with a Rector’s bible reflection. We read scripture or watch a video clip that raises a theological point and then discuss it. You see part of the expectations of a vestry member is that they will pray and study about our faith. Of course, since it was a week before Ash Wednesday, we watched a short video about what would a fast in Lent look like that would really make a difference. Something more significant than giving up chocolate, desserts, or something else like that.
One person asked after the meeting, what was the passage that describes the fast that God wants? Between the passages in Morning Prayer for Ash Wednesday and the readings for this service I found several and they all come with similar suggestions: Alms, care for the poor and needy, along with defeating injustice and oppression. All without making a big show of what you are doing. With that in mind I rather than focus on our Gospel, I would rather spend some time on what Isaiah has to say to us regarding fasting.
You see what Jesus is criticizing among the Pharisees and others in his time is an old problem. The writer of Third Isaiah is dealing with the same issue around religious observance in general and fasting in particular. Historians believe that there were three different writers of Isaiah. This section is attributed to the third writer somewhere around 538 BC when the Jews are returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. This meant that they were re-establishing the patterns of worship from before the Babylonians conquered them. Isaiah as God’s prophet was obviously worried about what he saw in the return to Jerusalem.
These practices included fasting and alms giving among other things. When asked why God does not seem to hear their cries and notice their fasting Isaiah, speaking for God replies by saying you make a lot of noise and show but you do not humble yourselves. You fight and quarrel. You oppress your workers. Your fast is all show and no substance.
Then we get to the part that says what the fast is that God desires.
Is. 58:6 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?
7 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?
8 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.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
These are nots acts of personal piety. They are not about you or me as an individual, but about the rest of the world. The focus is on acts of justice and care for the poor and the disadvantaged. These acts are ones that bring us closer to the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, yet these are words from 500 years before Jesus was born! Wow, how little things change for we can level some of the same criticisms today. The focus is not on me and my personal piety, but on what am I doing that aligns with the world that God desires for us. Now this is a real challenge to consider.
Sometimes there are things we need to let go of, to give up in order to accomplish this fast. Both Diane Butler Bass and Brenee Brown have put out work that talks about what we need to let go of, what do we need to let die, or what do we need to die to in order to build a stronger relationship with God? Remember Jesus said that we must die to live, be born anew. Some may need to let die, the need to be right or better than others. Maybe we need to let go of our anger at someone or something. Maybe we need to let a grudge against someone die for a grudge does more harm to you than to the person with whom you are angry.
Notice that these are all suggestions about giving up something that is harmful to your relationships with others. Troubled relationships with others often also lead to trouble in your relationship with God. Trust me, I speak from painful personal experience.
The 40 days are important. This gives you the time to start to make a change. Changing how we act or react takes time. I have been working more on contemplative prayer, which for a person with a very busy mind is a challenge. It has taken months to feel like anything has changed, but it has. I cannot tell you what you should do, nor should I. I once again will be working on this discipline this Lent. What do I need to give up? Well. the idea that unless I am busy I am not doing anything. Yet sitting in meditation in the midst of a busy day can feel like doing nothing. So hopefully most afternoons you will find me in the church just sitting in silent conversation with God.
What you need to do or give up is a conversation between you and God. I’m happy to talk with you and help you discover what will work for you, but the decision is up to you and God.
To start you down this path here are some questions to ask yourself over the next few days:
- What does it mean to you to take Lent seriously?
- What is the purpose of your fasting?
These are all very individual questions and each of you will have your own answer. Lenten practices should leave us in a place where we have more not less. How can you accomplish this during these holy 40 days?
What can you give up what is dragging your life, especially your spiritual life, down?
Here are some things to “fast and feast” on. I’ve put these on the last page of your bulletin today and will put them in the Sunday morning bulletin as well. You might cut them out and put them on the bathroom mirror, so you see them each morning. Then each day try to practice just one of them. Maybe pick one a week or if one really speaks to you, make that your focus for all of Lent. This is a list that keeps on giving suggestions for many years and I think you will hear the parallels with the prophet Isaiah:
Fast from judgment. Feast on compassion.
Fast from greed. Feast on sharing.
Fast from Scarcity, Feast on abundance.
Fasts from fear. Feast on peace.
Fast from lies. Feast on truth.
Fast from gossip. Feast on praise.
Fast from anxiety. Feast on patience.
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness.
Fast from apathy. Feast on engagement.
Fast from discontent. Feast on gratitude.
Fast from noise. Feast on silence.
Fast from discouragement. Feast on hope.
Fast from hatred. Feast on love.
Now do not think you can accomplish all of this in one Lent. That is one of the reasons this list works year after year and why we walk through Lent every year. Spiritual growth is a continual and ongoing process. The fact that you can find new things to work on means you’re making progress! Find the one either in Isaiah or on this list that really speaks to you and start there. If you can accomplish just one of these it will have been a fruitful Lent.