Fasting Beyond a Season

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The Pas Ash Wednesday
Year B
6 march 2019

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 103:8-18 pg 842
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Almighty and holy God,
your Son, in obedience to the Spirit,
fasted forty days in the desert:
give us grace to discipline ourselves,
so that we may press on towards Easter
with eager faith and love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
__________________________________

The passage from Isaiah is one that we’ve heard before, but like many passages, we often stop listening when we hear God’s words of condemnation in regards to God’s interpretation of our actions, our “things done and things left undone.” (BAS pg 191)

We stop listening before we reach God’s words of grace, of instruction, of salvation.

But if we dare to keep reading, to keep our ears, if not our hearts open to God’s words, God tells us how to turn things around. God gives us God’s definitions of fasting.

Many of us have grownup around the idea of giving something up for Lent, of giving up or letting go of something to atone, in our lives, for the cost of our salvation.

And so, we gravitate to the language of fasting as a way to do that, to atone for the errors and the mistakes we’ve made and continue to make in our lives.

God tells us: “2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.” Isa 58:2-4a)

Instead of trying to do better, to actually make lasting changes in our lives that better embrace God’s direction, God’s desire to be a part of our lives, we just get caught up on the words “sin,” and “rebellion”.

We hear the words and tone of God’s righteous indignation and like the sinful children of God that we are, we stop listening.

“3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.” (Isa 58:3-4)

We make surface actions of repentance, of fasting, of retribution toward our brothers and sisters, and then it’s off to our favourite leisure haunts, our heads held high, as we give ourselves congratulatory pats on the back that we’ve done ‘something’.

And this is what Isaiah, what God is warning us against. This is where we’ve stopped listening to God.

This is where we want to forget about our brothers and sisters, needs and to get on with what we feel are the well-deserved details of our lives.

But today marks the beginning of the season of Lent.

Today we intentionally look at Isaiah’s words and wonder how we can make improvements on what God claims is too superficial a practice in our lives.

So we return to Isaiah’s words, to God’s message for each one of us, as we embark upon this profound season.

“6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” (Isa 58:6-8)

And we know that such righteous fasting takes time.

It takes commitment and a heck of a lot more dedication than just giving up chocolate for the next 40 days.

If you’ve been on Facebook, then you may have seen
A post entitled “Fast for 262: March 6 2019.”

This is a call to fast that is promoted by both the Anglican and Lutheran Churches to bring attention to the fact that the federal government is running out of time to recognize, and pass bill 262 – the adoption of The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Act.

And although the try to avoid politics, in the living out of our lives of faith, as those who are living our faith, this falls directly in line with what Isaiah, what God is telling us today.

We know, all too well, the wrongs that have happened in the past; the ways in which our surface acts of fasting, of giving up something for Lent has hidden away our errors, or promoted wrongs within our society.

This fast, this attention to this bill in the Senate, in Ottawa is a step toward what God, through Isaiah is calling us to embrace.

So, then, this is a fast that’s intended to highlight the lack of progress of the federal government to acknowledge the conditions of UNDRIP, and ultimately the points of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A fast that points out that it’s been a year, with no movement on this issue, since these same church leaders petitioned our federal representatives to embrace the sanctions set out by UNDRIP and to treat all people with equity and respect.

But our work doesn’t stop there with a one day fast on an issue of national justice.

Where else are we able to find places where we need to “loose the chains of injustice and untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free”? (Vs 6b)

Where else are we called “to share food with the hungry, and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter.” (vs 7a)

These are not ‘flash in the pan’ notions.

Rather when we embrace them, these steps are life changing for us and for those in need.

This is a different kind of fasting.

This is a fast that takes the focus off of each one of us, and puts it on those who are suffering in the world through and because of the structures of the world.

Now, we may think we’re suffering, and we may see the voluntary fasting as something in our lives that does and will make an impact, especially when we really, really want that one thing we’re depriving ourselves of over the coming season.

But we have so much in our lives that we are able to abstain from over the 40 days of Lent. Giving up something that we’ll just pick up again, as of Easter Sunday.

But what if we dare to take something on, instead. What if we dare to listen to the words of God, and begin to challenge the injustices, the poverty, the deprivations of this world that God has given us to enjoy to share, to be stewards of, not for ourselves, but for future generations.

Those who God is bringing to our attention, through Isaiah’s words: those suffering from injustice, those who are hungry, or without clothing – they have nothing left that they can give up, and still survive.

So, as we begin our Lenten Journey, tonight, as we meditate on Jesus, on God’s sacrifice, as we give up whatever it is we plan to give up for Lent, we are encouraged.

We are encouraged to overthrow injustice, to loose the yoke of oppression, to feed the hungry, and to clothe the naked, because this is what Isaiah tells us God commands in the way of heartfelt fasting, because this is the essence of Jesus life and ministry amongst us and in our hearts.

Because Isaiah tells us:
“9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
… 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always;
… and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isa 58:9-11)

And, in doing this, our lives will never be the same.

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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