“Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Isaiah 58:5) Lent I Friday Jan Robitscher Isaiah 58:1-9a All Saints Chapel Psalm 51:1-10 CDSP Matthew 9:10-17 March 7, 2014 In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Do you know what today is? It is Friday, March 7 and it is the first Friday in Lent. But do you know what else it is? It is the National Day of Unplugging, also known as the Sabbath Manifesto. Yes, a “fast” from all things wired for a day. I took the pledge! Fasting, in any form, is not part of our culture, but this was not true in earlier times. Fasting (at least from food) has two sides: one practical and the other spiritual. It goes without saying that the poor always fast out of necessity, and that for some who have health reasons, fasting from food is impossible. Until recently (and still the case in some cultures) food, and especially meat and all things dairy) was scarce in the early Spring. So people, whether poor or not, fasted as much by necessity as by choice. And they did it together, as a community. But our reading from Isaiah takes us far beyond the practical. Clearing the cupboard was one thing; clearing the heart was quite another. The people Israel fasted all right, but it didn’t seem to do any good. They complained to God: “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but do not notice?” And the prophet, with full permission from God, gives them the straight answer: Look, you fast only to quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. It is not enough to fast--from food or cell phones or other pleasures. It matters WHY we fast, what is the disposition of our heart, and what are its FRUITS. On Ash Wednesday we heard the components to our Lenten practice: Self-examination and repentance Prayer Fasting Reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word (BCP, p. 264) Although alms-giving is not specifically mentioned, it is certainly implied. Moreover, these practices are interrelated, as the Early Church Fathers knew. St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, preached about fasting. Although he named the practices differently, his point is well-made: There are three things...by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant and virtue endures. They are fasting, prayer and mercy [alms-giving]. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. These three are one and give life to each other.... Let no one try to separate them... The fast that God chooses, then is borne out in acts of mercy: To loose the bonds of injustice... To let the oppressed go free... When you see the naked, to cover them... Not to hide from your own kin... In our Gospel reading, Jesus turns fasting on its head by eating with tax-collectors and sinners saying: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick”. The disciples ask why John’s disciples do not fast. Jesus assures them that they will fast “when the bride-groom is taken away from them.” Jesus, by his life, death and resurrection, came to overcome sickness, evil and death, and he comes still. If our fasting is a front for a heart fraught with quarreling and the “wicked fist” of anger or ruptured relationships, we need the healing Jesus offers. If we have separated fasting from prayer and alms-giving, we need Jesus’ healing to help us reconnect them for the fruit of good works.
|St. Peter Chrysologus|