Tag Archives: fasting

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 25C

 

Track 1: Finishing the Race

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 65
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

The Apostle Paul wrote his protégé Timothy:

I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Paul compared his Christian journey as an athlete running a race. For example, he wrote the Church in Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.   (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Let us look at this race which Paul talks about from three different perspectives: The start, the middle, and the end. How do we enter the race? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable of thePharisee and the tax collector:

The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’    (Luke 18:11-13)

To inter the race we must first humble ourselves before God. We must acknowledge our sin. This is what the Pharisee failed to do. Jesus said that the tax collector was justified before God and not the Pharisee.

In running the race we must remain humble before God. The Apostle Paul wrote the Pjilippains:

 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:10-14)

Paul was acknowledging mistakes, but that he would not be held back by these mistakes. He would keep moving forward, trusting in Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Jesus is not only the pioneer of our faith, he is also the perfecter of our faith. We are running a race, but Jesus is running with us. We are not alone. Our focus must be on him. He is the power for our race as well as the destination. We will not waste any time comparing ourselves to others in the race. That is what the Pharisee did in the parable, to know effect.

How do we end the race? When I began my ordained ministry, I served communion to a pastor of advanced age who was in a hospice. He had began his ministry early in life and served many years. I asked him to share with me some of the lessons he had learned in ministry. He said that this is what he had learned: Lord, be merciful unto me, a sinner. We end the race just as we began it. Everything else we leave in God’s hands.

Paul goes on to tell Timothy:

From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:8)

The righteous judge will give us a crown and to everyone who long for him. Let us continue to long for him and keep the faith. Jesus said:

The one who endures to the end will be saved.   (Matthew 24:13)

 

 

Track 2: Blameless under the Law

Sirach 35:12-17
or Jeremiah 14:7-10,19-22
Psalm 84:1-6
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

In today’s Gospel reading we the familiar parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 18:9-14)

Luke’s Gospel clearly states what the parable is about. The Pharisee justified himself to be righteous because he was keeping the law of Moses much better than the tax collector. It is easy for us to see that in all the Gospels Jesus was critical of Pharisees.

Let us dig a little deeper. Was not Jesus critical of the behavior of the Pharisees more than the Pharisees themselves? Jesus did not come to the world to condemn anyone. He came to save sinners. In order to do so he, by his teaching and example, had to reveal the sin in all of us.

The Apostle Paul was once a Pharisee. As a Pharisee he boasted:

circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But Paul went on to say:

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.   (Philippians 3:5-7)

After his conversion, Paul realized that he was not blameless under the law. Only Jesus could fulfill the righteous requirements of the law.

Paul stressed that

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.   (Galatians 3:23-26)

Jesus Christ fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law on the cross. He received the punishment for our sin upon himself. Our task is to accept his gift of grace by faith.

Have we fully accepted the good news of the Gospel? We are in a much better position to understand what Jesus has done for us. We have the benefit of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The Pharisee in the parable would not have jhad this understanding.

If we are comparing ourselves to others today are we not like the Pharisees. Our righteousness had nothing to do with how we might compare to others in terms of keeping God’s commandments. Our righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.   (Psalm 84:4-5)

We will face difficulties in life that will challenge our faith. All we need to do is to hold on. We neither look to the right or the left. We do not rate ourselves compared to others. We look to Jesus. From the Book of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.   (Hebrews 12:1-3)

The Apostle Paul told Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.   (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

His race was against himself, against his flesh. He was the opponent. He was not running against anyone else. The same is true of us. Our posture before God must be the posture of the tax collector in the parable: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Ash Wednesday

ash-wed-pictureRemember That You Are Dust

Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting and repentance. In many liturgical churches ashes are placed on the foreheads of each participant. Ashes were a sign of penitence in the Ancient Near East, particularly in Judaism.

Recall this example from the Old Testament. Jonah preached to Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city and the people listened:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  (Jonah 3:5-8)

Notice that the King of Nineveh decreed that the people must turn from evil. God is never impressed with meaningless rituals.

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.   (Matthew 6:1)

As a campus minister I remember a particular Ash Wednesday service when a school official who wanted to know at what precise time I would be doing the “imposition of ashes” (making the customary sign of the cross in ashes on a person’s forehead). She did not want to sit through the scripture readings, homily, or prayers. The mere sign of the cross on her forehead would prove that she had done her religious duty.

Let us consider these instructive words of Jesus?

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

We cannot impress God with our rituals or our piety. Why should we try to impress others who must also stand before His throne, as we are required? God is calling us to a holy fast – one in which we come before Him in true repentance.

Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The Ash Wednesday service serves as a reminder of who we are and whose we are. Man was created out of dust by the hand of God. Our lives are sustained by His very breath. One day His breath will be taken away and we will have to give an accounting to Him of how we lived our lives.

Ash Wednesday is a check to the triumphant Christians who have arrived and no longer need to acknowledge their sins before God. It questions the “once saved, always saved” mentality.

Meaningless ritual? It might be for some. The act of fasting and repentance was not meaningless to the King of Nineveh. Jesus did not say that we should not fast. He said that we should not make a show of it. If we do, we may receive approval by some, but not by God. God looks at the heart.

If we say that we do not need any formal type of confession because our sins are washed in the blood of Jesus we may be missing the point of confession. From John First Epistle:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:8-9)

If we say that we have given our heart to Jesus and yet deliberately sin, how should our God judge our act of contrition? The Book of Hebrews has the answer:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (Hebrews 10:26-27)

Ash Wednesday offers us an opportunity for fasting and repentance. Perhaps we should take it?

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The Season of Lent

artprint77The Wilderness Experience

The Season of Lent is a time of fasting and prayer for the Church. It corresponds to the time of preparation that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning His earthly ministry. Scripture tells us Jesus was led there by the Holy Spirit for forty days of fasting and prayer. Thus, Lent begins with the service of Ash Wednesday and runs through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. This time period is actually forty six days, because the six Sundays in between the beginning and end of the Lenten Season are not really part the days of fasting. Sundays are always days of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.

Historically, in the Easter Church, Lent has provided a time in which new converts were prepared for Holy Baptism. This practice is still observed in many liturgical churches.

Why should we observe this time of preparation and what does it mean to each of us and the Church today? Clearly this observance is not required for salvation. The saving act of Jesus on the cross and our response to His loving sacrifice is required, followed by our endurance in the Faith with His help. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that life does present us with wilderness experiences.

What is false is a church that suggests that Christians should not have them. We do have them. Job stood head and shoulders above his peers as a righteous man in his day, yet he experienced a terrible wilderness experience. The false triumphalism found in some of today’s churches would have us believe that such experiences should not occur, bringing condemnation on those who go through them because they do not have enough faith.

If we have wilderness experiences as a matter of course then why designate an appointed time to go through one within the Church Year? Is not this appointed time artificial? It is my belief that the Season of Lent in the early church was very much influenced by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is better to observe a wilderness experience appointed by the Holy Spirit than the one that is unscheduled and catches us by surprise. We may still endure unscheduled ones but we might be better prepared for them, having benefited from the teachings and disciplines of Lent. Jesus required preparation in the wilderness through the Holy Spirit in order to begin His ministry on earth. He experienced other wildernesses as well, Gethsemane being one of them.

Our purpose for Lent should be the same purpose that Jesus had for entering the wilderness: to prepare for ministry. We all have a ministry if we are Christian believers. Lent should be a time of fasting and prayer, self-examination and repentance, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. It should be a time of setting aside the things of this world that so easily creep in and devote ourselves more to God and His Word.

What should Lent not be? It should not be about our attempt to impress God by what we are giving up for Him or ny what spiritual gymnastics we are putting ourselves through. The “giving-up” notion is fundamentally flawed. It makes us dread Lent. We then cannot wait for Lent to be over. That is why Mardi Gras or Carnival has such an appeal for many people.

Too often Lenten promises are like New Years resolutions. We make them but we don’t keep them and then we are under condemnation. Satan has a field day with us. He loves our false humility and piety. God does not want us to prove who we are. He wants to prove who we are, if we will allow him to do so. He is the author and finisher of our faith. We just need to submit ourselves to him.

It is said that we often grow through our struggles and trials. This may be true, but it is not necessarily true. A greater truth is that our struggles do teach us that we cannot get through life on our own strength alone. The struggles often drive us to God. It is God who then changes us and not our struggles. Why should we wait for a crisis to go to God? Why not go to Him early and often?

Perhaps the best observance of Lent would be to approach God with faith in the saving blood of Jesus, asking Him what He would have us discover about ourselves and about Him. Let Lent be a time of intentional fellowship with God in prayer, seeking His will and wisdom for our lives so that we might be better disciples of Jesus Christ and living examples of God’s love for the world.

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