March 14, 2021 - Fourth Sunday in Lent
If you’ve been with us over the past three weeks, you’ll know that during this Lenten season, we are exploring some of the spiritual practices, or spiritual disciplines, that can help us focus on our humanity, devote some time to self-reflection, and practice turning towards Jesus, who waits for us on the cross on Good Friday. On the first Sunday in Lent, I talked about self-examination and prayer based upon the lectionary readings from Psalm 51 and Psalm 29. On the second Sunday in Lent, I talked about scripture based upon Romans 4:13 and Psalm 22. Last week, I discussed forgiveness and repentance supported by Psalm 19.
I remember several years ago, I was in the middle of Target looking for sheets, and I was approached by a customer. I was, after all, wearing khakis and a nice red shirt, so I assumed that she was under the impression that I was an employee there. I was right; she was looking for a product. But alas, I couldn’t help her. Sometimes I see people in the store who are wearing yoga pants, and I have to admit that my mind jumps to wondering if they were at a yoga class.
Have you ever had the experience of being in the wrong location or fitting the look so someone assumed you were someone you weren’t or doing something you weren’t? Did you admit the truth or did you let them believe what they thought?
Many of us have included fasting in our Lenten practices. Have you given up a specific food or something like sugar or caffeine? Do you abstain from eating meat on Fridays? Fasting -- in our religious sense -- isn’t about dieting. It’s about denying ourselves something that we really like in order to refocus our minds and hearts and to deepen our faith. It isn’t for show.
In today’s reading from Numbers, we hear that the Israelites complained “there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food” (Num 21:5). You might recall from our Ash Wednesday service that Matthew recounted Jesus saying that we should beware of practicing our faith in public to make a show of it for “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:4, 6, 18). Jesus was warning us about doing these religious practices for show without having their hearts be changed by them. All of these practices are meaningful if we do them with the intent of worshiping God, but not if they are done with the intent of making a good impression or proving ourselves in front of others.
Jesus made it clear that when we fast, it is a decision that each of us makes individually and needs only be known by our own selves and God. It is a personal and private decision, not meant to be made for or by other people. This is precisely the Anglican way of living - in what is often stated as “All may, none must, some should.”
Fasting is a less common spiritual discipline now than it was in Jesus’ time, and it is more common in some cultures than others. But it CAN be a worshipful and transformative spiritual discipline for some people. It is about far more than *what* we give up or even how well we stick to what we are fasting from. It helps us to remember that we worship God not only with our minds and our hearts, but with our whole bodies. It can help us focus on God or on prayer, just as Jesus fasted for forty days during his temptation in the wilderness.
So have you given up something this Lent? Is it something that you plan to return to when the season is over? Is it mildly inconvenient or is it truly sacrificial? Fasting should never be or become about not nourishing or caring for our bodies.
We can choose to fast or to renew our fast at any point. We can choose to change what we are fasting from or shift how we are fasting. Fasting calls us to be uncomfortable so that we can become more aware of what comforts us, turn to God with purpose, and deepen our connection with God. Do you WANT to start fasting? It’s not too late! Here are some ideas on ways to fast:
- Fast from hurting words; say kind ones instead
- Fast from sadness; be filled with gratitude
- Fast from anger; be filled with patience
- Fast from pessimism; be filled with hope
- Fast from worries; trust in God
- Fast from bitterness; fill your heart with joy
- Fast from selfishness; show compassion to others
- Fast from words; be silent so you can listen
Today’s action questions:
- What would it look like if you were to choose something to fast from that drew you into the uncomfortable so that you could learn what comforts you?
- What would your life look like if fasting became an ongoing practice to discern where your relationship with God could use some extra effort?
- Because fasting is so personal, this practice is hard to express in a community sense. But how can we be supportive of one another as we fast?