FASTING THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, TX 77493
Ash Wednesday 2020
I would like to try something very different this Ash Wednesday. People often discuss what they are giving up for Lent. Chocolate, alcohol, desserts, fasting in some way. While these can improve our health and maybe our waistline, is that what Lent is about? Is this the fast that God desires? Fasting, giving something up, is about spiritual growth. Fasting is not about giving up, but about how we can get more out of our spiritual life. Lent is truly a time for growth. That is what a fast should accomplish.
Last year I was looking at several videos for some classes and I came across one that was specifically for Ash Wednesday. The message is so important and is just as timely this year as last. I had the Tuesday Bible Study watch it and there are some really great ideas about Lent here.
What the video spoke about is that most of us think of fasting as giving up something, depriving ourselves of something we enjoy. Yet we live in a world that tends to focus on scarcity. Worried about having enough even though most of us have more than enough of what we really need. Fasting from chocolate, alcohol or something like that may be good for our physical body, but what does that do for our spiritual self. Lent is if nothing else a spiritual exercise and the focus needs to be on our soul, our spirit.
The video suggested we look at giving up those things that drag our souls down, that get in the way of our relationship with God. The narrator in the video spoke of his wife giving up shame for Lent. Shame was dragging her down and interfering with her relationship with others and with God. Giving up shame was not easy and is a long process, but Lent is a great time to do something along these lines.
I am really struck by the idea of designing our fast around something that will give us more rather than less. What can you do during this Lent to make a change in how you live your life? Maybe look at something that will change your prayer life or maybe even make this a time to start a prayer life. Maybe your prayer life feels a little stale, more of just going through the motions. That is far more common than most people think and it happens to all of us. Maybe Lent is a time to try something different.
As we speak of fasting as a way to have something more this video actually speaks to our Hebrew Scripture from Isaiah that we read a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, the issue of how to fast and from what to fast has been around for a long time, because this portion Isaiah was written around 540BCE
Listen again to what the prophet says about fasting:
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
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if 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.
Notice there is nothing about giving up things in this fast. Now fasting from food items has been around for a very long time and it has its place, but this type of fast is more in line with what I began talking about at the start of this sermon.
The 40 days are important. This gives you the time to make a change in a habit. 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. That 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 that come from the video 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 that is dragging your life, especially your spiritual life down?
Here are some things to “fast and feast” on. I’ve put these in the emailed Epistle today and will put them in the Sunday morning bulletin. 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. 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.