March 9, 2011

fasting in secret, doing justice in the daylight

Last night in Disciple Bible Study, we very timely read the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew.

As a class, we wrestled with the implications of such contradictory phrases:  being salt and light, letting the whole world see the witness of our life - vs - praying and fasting and even almsgiving in secret.

How can we be witnesses for the Kingdom of God if everything we do is secret?

I've often loved the familiar quote by St. Francis of Assisi - Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.

We are supposed to be salt, flavoring this world for the Kingdom... but do it in secret?

It has always seemed strange to me that as we put ashes on our foreheads on this holy day and walk back into the world, we read the gospel:
And go out into the world to feed the hungry and to weep with those who mourn; to share your bread and to rejoice with others. And do it not for any heavenly reward... but do it because the Lord loves them. And do it because YOU love them too.
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them (Matthew 6:1)
Yet as we wrestled, clairty started to find us.

We created a distinction between our personal piety: our prayer life, our fasting, our giving and realized that those aspects of our piety have nothing to do with other people.  It is not done for others, it is done for God.  No one else needs to know what we have given up, what we sacrifice, what time we have spent with the Lord.  It is not for them... it is for God.

On the other hand, this same God reminds us that the fast he chooses is a life lived out in public:
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  (Isaiah 58:6-7)
These actions have to be done in the world.  You can not do them from the quiet of your closet. 

God is calling us to both personal and social holiness, public and private repentance, transformation of heart and mind and soul and body.

As a Wesleyan, these two make perfect sense together.  Love God, love your neighbor. 

Fast and study and pray and worship, not for any reward but just to spend time with your Lord.

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