Fasting from Darkness; Feasting on Light

[audio]Psalm 27 Luke 13:31-35

Our overall theme for Lent focuses on these traditional practices of fasting and feasting. To put it another way, fasting is to put aside something, whatever it might be that can get in the way of your relationship with God. Some have suggested that it is also a good idea to feast, to add something that can strengthen your relationship with God. Our theme today, “Fasting from Darkness; Feasting on Light,” could be the theme for the whole series. To put it simply, to put aside bad things and to take up good things. A more simplistic moral theology you won’t find. But the truth is that this parallels what we ask new members to say. When people join the church, we invite them forward and ask them three questions: do you promise to turn aside from evil and do you promise to turn toward good, toward Jesus and what he offers? And do you promise to do those things in this community? That’s what it means to be a member of the body of Christ.

There are visions of this in the Luke lesson. Jesus’ conflict is beginning to escalate from a religious one to a political one, as Herod’s anger enters the picture. Some Pharisees, we are told, come to him. Perhaps they are really sympathetic, and so they want to warn him. Or perhaps they are jealous and are trying to scare him away. Jesus’ response is straightforward: “Tell Herod what you see. Demons are being cast out, and people are being healed. It’s the work of the kingdom.” He then goes on to link himself with the prophetic tradition, those who speak truth to power in the name of God. And finally comes the lament over Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has symbolic power beyond its actual physical location as the seat of the Temple, the holiest site for the Israelites. It is the center of faith. It is, as the prophets and psalmists say, the “city on the hill”; the “light to the nations.” And yet, it is the place that kills the prophets and destroys the faithful.

My, how times have changed. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a time when religious hypocrisy is a thing of the past? Or perhaps, it’s still with us? We can see the hypocrisy at work in many faiths. But let’s focus on our own community. How many of you know someone who calls themselves a “Christian” but doesn’t act like one? How many of you think of yourself when you hear that description? It reminds me of the Gandhi quote: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” How true, and how sad, that is.

As a Session, we’ve become aware of this as we’ve participated in a book study, meeting once a week to read the book Unbinding the Gospel. It is an effective look at how it is that we can be church in a changing, 21st century world. And each week, there is a little homework assignment. The most enlightening one was the week we were commissioned to ask five questions of people who were either un-churched (that is, had no exposure to church) or de-churched (that is, had experience of church, but not currently). Among this latter group, most of them described having a relatively good experience in church until something happened. It was usually a disconnect between the faith being proclaimed and the moral lives of the people in the pews. For example, there could have been a sermon about forgiveness, and immediately afterward, people would be gossiping about what she was wearing or whom he was dating. And the lesson was clear: religious people are hypocrites.

As I listened to several people tell their stories along these lines, I heard echoes of my own journey. I, too, had been raised in church; but after going off to college, I returned a much, much wiser person and noticed this disconnect in my own community. I ended up seeking out the advice of a pastor, pushing him on specific questions and issues and asking what the church’s official stance was. He responded to them all with quiet straightforwardness, but then he went on to say something that changed my life. I have no idea if he remembers that conversation or, indeed, if he even remembers me. But what he said was something to the effect of “I think it would be a terrible idea for you to go to church right now.” Imagine: a pastor told me not to go to church! But the gift he gave me was freedom – freedom to explore, question, doubt, learn, study. And freedom to return. And when I did, I brought with me that healthy skepticism, knowing full well that church people aren’t perfect people; instead, church people ought to be people who are reminded on a daily basis that we are forgiven by each other and by God for the many ways we screw up.

In my case, it was a pastor that pointed the way for me. But the truth is that each of us are guideposts. Whether we want to be or not, we are people to whom the world looks to see what Christians are like. We point the way. The question is whether we point to that darkness, or whether we point to that light?

During the remaining weeks of Lent, I invite you to look within yourself. Find that light and darkness within. Cast aside the dark. Put it down. Fast from it. And carry that light. Raise it high. Magnify it. But also, I invite you to pay attention to those moments when you are the guidepost for another. May it be God’s light that guides you at those moments that you might guide another.