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Heeding Isaiah 58:1-12  February 15, 2018

Posted by Ventura Dreamer in Blogroll.
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Note: I started writing this the morning of Ash Wednesday but wasn’t able to finish since we were packing and then traveling home yesterday. Since I’ve been using my Kindle to read and occasionally comment here, no internet – no blogging. (There are currently close to ten unfinished posts from the last year I never finished that I hope to return to someday, but I’m glad I have the time to finish this thought today.)

 

More and more these days, it is suggested that rather than giving something up for Lent, we adopt a change of behavior or do some type of activity that will be beneficial to others. I have to confess that I have never given up anything for Lent; it just wasn’t something my church did as I grew up, nor something I adopted later. I can understand the concept of self-denial as a method of focusing on spiritual growth, on improving one’s relationship with God, but I am quite attracted to a more active response to the Lenten season.

 

Reading the scripture used for today’s meditation through my daily devotional book, The Upper Room Disciplines 2018, the ancient prophet’s words ring uncomfortably as true in today’s world as it did so long ago. Our nation, our society, absolutely needs a change of heart, a change in how we relate to each other. I quote the most convicting words attributed to God’s reaction to people’s fasts:

. . .Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God . . . Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.  . . . 

 While I am honored to know several people who work tirelessly on behalf of justice, mercy, and the welfare of others, who have empathy and who put other’s needs before their own, I can use this season to work on my self -centeredness, my selfishness, my standoffishness. 

. . . Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?  

If you are currently fasting for Lent and you are doing it because you know less alcohol, red meat, sugar, or whatever you are giving up is better for your health, keep it up! If temporarily giving up something you really enjoy helps you focus on the sacrifice of Christ, continue your effort! 

 

But there’s another option that will repair not only our relationship with God, but go a long way toward healing our nation.

 

I read daily news and social media postings bemoaning the lack of concern for the poor, the immigrant, those among us with little to no power, while those in power are overly focused on getting and protecting their corner of the goodies. The United States is a dysfunctional country. 17 students were killed at a Florida school yesterday by a 19-year old with an AR15 semi-automatic rifle. Yet another mass shooting. Thirty mass shootings so far in 2018, 1624 in 1870 days. We again hear calls for gun control; we again see politicians sending “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families. Nothing changes and we all wait until the next mass shooting. And both sides call each other names, debate the time/appropriateness for debate, and we are at a frustrated stalemate. The population needs a change of heart, a metanoia.

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? 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? 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. 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, 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. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.  

What if we all fed the hungry, helped the homeless, fought for equality, justice, and mercy; practiced “random acts of kindness”? Whether just during Lent or all the time, practiced by many, all our lives could be like a “watered garden”. God’s kingdom on earth, with a level playing field for everyone!

 

I’ll finish by quoting Tommy Watkins, Jr., Associate Rector and Assistant Chaplain at Canterbury Episcopal Chapel and Student Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is also a graduate faculty member of the University of Alabama School of Social Work:

Today’s reading presents a new type of fasting: one that God initiates and appears to practice in perpetuity. God’s fast derives from God’s ubiquitous love for all humankind and is exemplified by the Christian values of equality and equity. God makes clear that fasting from material things is not enough. Rather we might fast from our innate internal manifestations of “isms” that block God from our lives and prevent or pervert our carrying out justice. 

 

God’s fast, which is particularly interested in loosing, undoing, breaking, sharing, housing, covering, exposing, enlightening, healing, vindicating, and glorifying, yields fruit. What would happen if we adopted God’s type of fasting; if we ceased practicing racism, classism, sexism, and exclusionism? What if we, as this passage notes, refrained from pointing fingers or blaming or pursuing our self-centered wills and instead pursued God’s will? 

 

Perhaps that is the metanoia God invites us into during Lent. This season we can turn our will and eyes from judgment of one another toward love and tolerance for all people in pursuit of deep spiritual change in our lives. 

 

Amen!

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