(The) Not So Fast

Sunday February 9, 2020 The 5th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A)

The tie in between today’s readings: Living Lent

Psalm 112:4-9, Isaiah 58:7-10, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, Matthew 5:13-16

Looking ahead in the calendar, I noticed that Ash Wednesday is just a few weeks away on February 26. This marks the beginning of the Lenten season of sacrifice in preparation for Easter. The big question everyone asks themselves is, “What am I going to give up for Lent? What can I forego that would really show God how much I love Him? Will it be TV, lunch or the big one…chocolate?” Our reading today, in Isaiah 58:7-10, uses fasting as an example of the Lord’s perspective on the kind of sacrifices that please Him.

The chapter opens with the people whining to God because He is ignoring their pious efforts of fasting, prayer, and repentance. Not that the Almighty has anything against this. All these actions are designed to bring a believer closer to God. But the Lord, who knows their hearts, points out that their worship is all a show. Their religious exercises are all self-centered and self-serving attempts to get something from Him. He wants them to look beyond their noses and meet the needs of those around them. God says the “fast” that He desires is for them to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, etc.  “Love your neighbor, then we’re getting somewhere.” What God told the nation of Israel thousands of years ago still applies to us today. We must be careful how we approach this principle of fasting, sacrifice, and loving our neighbor, though. Just because we don’t hate somebody doesn’t mean that we love them the way God wants. The opposite of loving is not hating, per se. Love is good in action. Therefore, the opposite of love is indifference. It is indifference that creeps into our busy lives and numbs us to needs around us. This carries over into our worship because, apathy toward your neighbor implies apathy toward God who loves that neighbor. We need to examine ourselves to see if we are going through the motions like the Jews in Isaiah’s time.

So, write a check to charity, put a couple of extra bucks in the second collection on Sunday, maybe trot some bags of old clothes to Goodwill and it’s all good. Well, it’s a start. You’re tuning in to God’s thinking, but it’s too superficial…too easy. There’s nothing in it that would change your character to become more like Him. That’s the purpose of the Christian life and the value of the Lenten season. A better question to ask ourselves is not what we’re giving up for Lent, but what are we taking on. In our gospel today, Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” Salt is of no value without contact. Light is useless if it doesn’t enter the eye or warm the skin. The Lord is telling you, by faith, to step out and make a personal impact for Him in the lives of others. Look around! Get out of your comfort zone! There are plenty of opportunities. You will not only change lives for the better, but as you do God’s work, you’ll become more like Jesus. You may not see it, but people will notice. Take a chance! Work with God this Lent!

As you work with God in the challenge of faith, two things will happen. The first is seen in our reading in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. Things get scary!  The Apostle Paul, a man of great courage, is telling the Corinthians that when he first came to them, he felt weak, fearful, and “in much trembling.” In order to reach them for Jesus, he had to come to a decision. Paul could either impress them with his own wisdom to gain following or he could persuade them to believe the gospel with a sales pitch. He chose neither. He presented the good news of salvation plainly, simply, and trusting in the Holy Spirit. God honored that and a church was born. It’s not about you. It’s God’s leading. It’s God’s purpose. It’s God’s glory. You are the instrument. Without Him you can do nothing. God will honor your faith, not your strength. This brings us to the second aspect as seen in Psalm 112:4-9. This man has the assurance that the Almighty has his back. He can confidently follow what he knows to be God’s will and, despite the circumstances, come out blessed in the end.

To tie it up, faith is an adventure. As a friend of mine once said, “God doesn’t want us to go out on a limb with our faith. He wants us dancing on the branches.” Daunting words to a guy like me, who is holding on for dear life with his arms wrapped around the trunk 3 feet off the ground. But the Lord meets us where we are. Don’t let Lent pass you by. Take your eyes off yourself and look for the needs of others. Let your Lenten “fast” be an opportunity to build a faith relationship with your heavenly Father. Be the salt! Be the light! Be blessed! 

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