|Posted by St. Alban's Episcopal Church on February 17, 2021 at 2:45 PM|
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and in our online service, we heard some powerful words from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was called by God to speak truth to the community of Israelites who had been living in exile in Babylon. They were going through a terrible ordeal, but they did not always handle it well. They had been thinking that if they were more pious, more strict in their fasting, and more frequent in their prayers, that God would have mercy on them and save them from their troubles. And then they began to complain that God abandoned them, that God didn’t appreciate or was not even aware of their fasting. They believed they were doing all the right things and that it was God who had not been faithful. They were genuinely confused.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves but you do not notice?” they asked of God.
And God had a response for them. Oh, did God have a response for them! Because apparently while they were so focused on their personal piety of fasting, they had been neglecting their obligations to each other. People around them were starving. People were homeless. People were oppressed. And God let them know. Through Isaiah, God told them that their fasting meant nothing if they were not also loving and caring for their neighbors. God, via the prophet, says:
“Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, 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 your self from your own kin.”
The people allowed their desire to appear pious to get in the way of their ability to actually be pious through ministering to those who were in need.
I think this is such an important thing to remember as we Christians begin our holy season of Lent. We believe that Lent is a time for piety, but not for the sake of brownie points from God or anyone else. As we make our journey toward the cross of Christ, we must remember that it is our love and care for others that pleases God the most. And we should keep this understanding of piety in mind as we consider our Lenten disciplines.
Over the years, I’ve heard so many different kinds of Lenten disciplines. Fasting is, of course, an ancient spiritual practice. Like the Israelites of yore, lots of Christians today choose to fast from something as a Lenten discipline: Sugar … Booze … Meat … Caffeine … Chocolate … Television … Facebook … Fossil Fuels … and more. I have given up some of these things myself in years past and found the self-denial to be a spiritually meaningful experience. Our cravings can help us remember to fill our emptiness with God.
And of course, some Christians take on a new discipline rather than fast during Lent: Daily morning prayer … Centering prayer … Reconciliation of a Penitent (Confession) … Journaling … Meditation … Regular worship attendance … Bible study … Volunteering for an Outreach ministry … Going on a spiritual retreat … Eating meals together as a family … Regular exercise … Walking a labyrinth, and more. I had a roommate in college who decided to take on flossing her teeth every single day. There are so many options!
Any of these disciplines, and plenty of others too, are wonderful ways to observe the season of Lent. My counsel is that you give some thought to how your observance of Lent might contribute ever so slightly to repairing our broken world. We talk of observing a Lenten discipline in this season. And the root of the word discipline is disciple. Our Lenten disciplines should be all about trying to grow as disciples of our Savior Jesus Christ. And disciples of Jesus Christ are called to help repair this broken world. As Isaiah said,
If you remove the yoke from among you, 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 you shall be called the repairer of the breach.
We’ve got roughly 40 days of Lent ahead of us. How will you prepare for Holy Week and Easter?
In our newsletter this week, we have included a few opportunities you might consider. What discipline will you observe, and how might it help loose the bonds of injustice? How will your Lenten discipline continue to mold you into a disciple of Jesus Christ? What will you do in the coming weeks to help repair the breach?
Yours in Christ,