Fasting as an Act of Hope
Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2009
by Dan Randall
"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...." (Matthew 6:16-17)
Ash Wednesday, Lent, and fasting often conjure up ideas of sorrow, rebellion, and repentance. But Jesus opens a new angle on fasting in Matthew, chapter 6, reminding us that pursuing God--and not merely the trappings of worship--remains an ever-changing, God-centered process. As Jesus addresses the crowd, he encourages holiness and challenges hubris, reminding them that they live in community and belong to a great story.
Jesus says that when you fast, don't look dismal but instead anoint your head with oil and wash your face. This is reminiscent of putting on the oil of gladness and garments of praise. Jesus tells followers to fast with joy as an act of worship.
Fasting in praise leads to fasting as an act of hope. As Christians, our hope is not a smokescreen or a diversion from the world. Instead, we hope because we belong to a story of faithfulness--God's faithfulness to followers and God's promise of eternal faithfulness.
Jesus challenges self-centered motives for fasting. "Don't toot your own horn…rather worship God for the building up of the body." I venture that most of us do not serve in international ministry for our own glory. Yet among peers, do we seek to set ourselves apart, fish for recognition and praise, or flaunt the years, places, sacrifice, and hardships of our service? How do we need to return to a heart of worship as we serve?
In Matthew, Jesus' words challenge his followers to move fasting from a public act toward a personal discipline on behalf of the community. Talking with young adults about Lent, I have heard objections: "I don't have sin," "I'm fine," "I don't need hope, life is okay." Many times sermons or devotions focus only on personal confession and journeys towards personal holiness.
What if fasting during Lent took on a different perspective? What if we fasted in secret on behalf of others, to allow only God to see us and therefore make the prayers and fasting effective for others? We could undertake the Lenten journey as a personal discipline for the global body's growth and well-being.
As we fast, we can remember points of God's faithfulness in our lives, the lives of those around us, and the lives of those who have gone before us. As we remember, we can choose a person or place in the world that may need hope, and pray with them and for them as they struggle to remember God's faithfulness in current circumstances.
Ash Wednesday sets the tone for the Lenten journey. As we embark on this journey, we can fast in praise with joy and hope as an act of worship to God. We have been and will continue to be transformed by our God who makes all things new--in us, in our global body, and in our world.
Dan Randall currently serves in Latvia as the director of Wesley Camp and also develops continuing education for laity and clergy in the UMC in Latvia. His wife, Courtney Randall, a Global Ministries missionary in Latvia, is expecting their first child in June 2009.
Date posted: Feb 23, 2009