Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18
Intro: Meaning / Understanding of Lent
- A period of preparation before Easter
- 6 weeks (40 days, count six weeks from Ash Wednesday without the Sundays (36 days), then add the days of Holy Week from Thursday until Easter Sunday for a total of 40)
- 40 is an important number in the Bible – 40 days and nights of rain during the flood, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, 40 days of fasting for Jesus as he prepared for ministry, etc.
- What should we be doing during these 40 days to prepare for Easter?
- Abstinence from certain foods
- Giving up something (Maybe a guilty pleasure like chocolate or coffee)
- But Fasting in the Christian understanding is so much more than “giving up” something. It is a journey TOWARD a deeper relationship with God.
Fasting and abstinence in the Christian sense is:
- An attempt (even if briefly) to live more perfectly
- In Paradise, humans were not concerned with food and physical needs. Their life consisted of growing in Grace and in their relationship with God. Complete dependence.
- In the Fall, there came a losing sight of complete dependence on God, and an over-concern for food and physical needs – almost to the point of suffocating our very existence.
Lent represents a chance to realign our priorities, to once again prioritize our spiritual appetite over our physical needs.
“Be careful not to do your `acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (v. 1-4)
Almsgiving: Giving to others, being generous with neighbors
- Alms are our evidence of our love for God, expressed through our love for neighbor.
- We can’t truly love God, without loving our neighbor.
- On these two things: love of God and neighbor, rests the entire law!
- As Jesus warned, we must be careful. If we are just giving alms to be seen by others, or to become famous, or so people will think well of us – we end up losing any reward.
- The giving of alms is also a private thing and one that realigns our priorities from merely self-care – which is important – to neighbor-care, which is a commandment.
- Almsgiving is also part of our intimate journey to God.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (v.5-6)
- Here we see in Jesus’ words that prayer, like fasting and almsgiving, is a personal and private conversation with God.
- It’s not to negate group or community prayer. But it’s to invite us into the secrecy of the prayer in our closet, where no one but our heavenly Father will see us.
- We are not to pray to publicly impress people or shout about our love for God.
- During Lent we have the chance, in private prayer, to also involve our bodies and physical nature through kneeling, prostrations, standing, pacing, dancing prayer? It may be easier to do all of these in the privacy of our own closets!
- Prayer is also part of our intimate journey to God.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (v. 16-18)
- Fasting is commanded and modeled by Jesus “when you fast…”
- “If you love me, you will do my commandments.”
- Not a punishment for sins, but a joy and intimate (private) achievement
- A chance to be reminded of how dependent we are on physical needs
- No matter how “sought after the food” …. if you ate it daily it would lose its charm….. if you skip even one meal, or experience even just a bit of hunger, the taste of simple food and plain vegetables immediately returns.
- Fasting is part of our intimate journey to God.
One idea for this week:
Skip one lunch
- During that 30 minutes of fasting
- Take time to praise and pray
- Choose one person or situation to pray for
In this simple exercise you are practicing all 3 “pillars of Lent” at once. Fasting, praying, and praying FOR someone as a gift or almsgiving.
(the above is a summary of the message shared during our worship on March 5, 2023.)