Apr 20

An Easter Homily

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This is the Paschal Homily of John Chrysostom (4th Century); it is still read at Easter morning Orthodox services around the world. May these words guide you deeper into the joy of this Easter season. Are there any who are devout lovers of God?Let them

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This is the Paschal Homily of John Chrysostom (4th Century); it is still read at Easter morning Orthodox services around the world. May these words guide you deeper into the joy of this Easter season.

Are there any who are devout lovers of God?Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?

Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward;

If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast!

And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.

And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too.

And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!

First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

resurrection-icon

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! 

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

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Text from AnglicansOnline.org.

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Mar 13

What Do You Treasure? Fasting and Love

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Fasting

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One way to think about the with-God life is an ongoing school of learning how to treasure (or love) rightly.     Lent is an intensive lesson, allowing time to reflect: Do you treasure the

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Fasting

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One way to think about the with-God life is an ongoing school of learning how to treasure (or love) rightly.

 

 

Lent is an intensive lesson, allowing time to reflect:

  • Do you treasure the life you know or life to the full? (John 3:1-17)
  • Do you treasure your chosen group (ethnic, social, class) above engaging and receiving from someone outside that group? (John 4:5-42)
  • Do you treasure blindness or are you open to the (sometimes difficult) eye-opening work of God? (John 9:1-41)
  • Do you treasure your grief or are you open to the seemingly impossible? (John 11:1-41)

Sin can be described as disordered love (treasuring gone awry); loving created things over their Creator. Where is your treasure? Is it possible that you don’t know where your treasure lies until you’ve abstained from it? Until you’re disavowed of the very thing you discover as your treasure?

Adam and Eve were given paradise and communion with God, but they treasured what they couldn’t have.  They looked for life in food, even though life is only in food because God makes it so.

Jesus was in the desert, but he treasured what he knew would give life. “One doesn’t live by bread alone.”

Fasting draws up images of discomfort and pain (at least hunger pangs). “Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else–when we urgently and essentially need food–showing thus that we have no life in ourselves” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent).

Hunger is the unwelcome reminder that we can’t live on our own, even especially the food we eat is the gift of God.

Fasting is hard. So much of the Western/American experience is built on ease. How can you do the most with the least amount of effort? So the practice of fasting isn’t just spiritual, it’s downright countercultural. In a culture that says you can have it your way 24 hours a day, fasting is a powerful witness.

But fasting isn’t about earning stars in your crown or offering a public witness, it’s an opportunity to re-order your love, to return in prayer to the One who gives more than you can ask or imagine.

This week, the soul training exercise is to fast, once.

There are many ways to fast: don’t eat until sundown/dinner, fast from after dinner until mid-morning the next day. Maybe you’ll start off fasting for a few hours, that’s alright. Give yourself grace.

Don’t over-think or over-plan it. Fasting is a simple practice. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t have an overwhelming spiritual experience (remember: fasting isn’t about you). Pray for an openness to the practice and see if you don’t end your fast more focused on God and grateful for the gifts often taken for granted.

When you’re tempted to give up, hold these words in mind:

“The very discovery of Christian life as fight and effort is the essential aspect of fasting. A faith which has not overcome doubts and temptations is seldom a real faith” (Schmemann, Great Lent).

You may discover food is something you treasure (we all do a little, right?), or you may not. Don’t worry, we’ll look at another “treasure” next week.

 

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Fasting by Jean Fortunet / CC 1.0

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Mar 06

If You’re Tempted to Fast like a Pharisee…

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“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days

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“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.'” –Matt. 9:14-15

I nervously shifted on the couch. The drive to the church from the high school hadn’t been long enough and now I sat, hoping my peers would wax eloquent in their response to the question.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

She asked the same question every year on Ash Wednesday. Why did youth bible study have to be on Wednesday, like it’s some kind of Minor League Sabbath? Still, it’s a simple enough question.

“Sweets,” a friend around the room chimed in. “Me, too” her friend echoed. Approving looks abounded, the ice was broken, no turning back.

My mind raced: What would be appropriately painful (and impressive) while not repeating last year’s fast. There must be some rule: Thou must not repeat thy Lenten fast. I’d given up pop (or soda, if you prefer) before, desserts weren’t my thing anyway, so giving them up was as easy as sleeping in on Saturday.

I half heard the other responses, ticking off the degrees of separation between me and the harrowing question.

“I’m adding on helping mom with the dishes every night.”

“Sweets.”

“Pop.”

“Fried food.” (as if us teenagers could bring in the kingdom of God by watching our waistlines and washing some dishes).

“Pop,” the word shot from my mouth. And just like that it was over. I was committed. As soon as I said it, I knew I had broken the unwritten “Thou shant repeat” rule, but it was the best I could do. Not enough time to prepare, live with the consequence.

That was my ritual most Ash Wednesdays growing up. Looking back, it wasn’t so bad. Dr. Pepper was my drink of choice, so every time I turned it down, I thought about Lent, about fasting.

Pious and non-pious, or The Pharisees and Jesus

I wonder what Jesus would have said, were he in that upper room with us, “I’m not fasting this year.” To which we might reply with the Pharisees, “Then why do we have to fast?

For the Pharisees and John’s disciples, fasting was an important necessary practice; any pious person would agree. Fasting was a box in their piety checklist, which Jesus didn’t fulfill.

Karl Barth, preached on this passage, “They [Pharisees] were always there [with Jesus], and they were the most difficult hindrance standing in the way of the Savior. So the most difficult hindrance lay not in the malice of worldly persons but in the righteousness of the children of God“.‡

Nobody doubted the righteousness of the Pharisees, or even John’s followers, but those groups doubted Jesus.

But notice Jesus’ response, or lack thereof. He doesn’t make excuses for himself or try to out-Pharisee the Pharisees (“How long have you guys been fasting? I fasted for 40 days and nights!). Jesus simply accepts their accusations.

How could his disciples mourn fast when they enjoyed the presence of the Son of God? The Pharisees (and John’s disciples, and maybe we) couldn’t accept that bit of good news. So, they gritted their teeth and fasted harder, begrudging Jesus’ lighter yoke all the while.

Here’s Barth’s imagined word from Jesus to the Pharisees:

In the fine points you are very meticulous because you do not yet know the great gift that can now be given human beings. You bring God sacrifice because you have not yet experienced God’s mercy. You prepare the way for the kingdom of God so avidly, with pick and shovel, because it has not yet come to you. Because you have not yet found the God you seek…Our of this great affliction, out of this painful privationcome your fasting and all the other things that are so important to you, and finally your damnation of me. Out of humanity’s great distress, but not about God’s Savior, comes your piety. Oh, you may keep your opinion about your fasting, so go on, keep doing what you are doing as long as you must, but do not forbid others to go a different way because the affliction and distress have been taken from them.‡

Fasting (from food, media, t.v., fermented beverages, caffeine, pop) can be a powerful and transforming exercise. But if you’re like me, you can’t be reminded enough that fasting isn’t earning.

We may be walking through the desert, but the good news of Lent is that “Jesus does what we cannot do. For us.”

Fast as much as you can (even if it is a repeat), but don’t take it too piously. All that fasting is a long preparation for a grand feast, just on the other side of Lent.

 

‡ The Early Preaching of Karl Barth: Fourteen Sermons with Commentary by William H. Willimon, Karl Barth and William H. Willimon, Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Do not enter by Ellipsis-Imagery / CC 2.0

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Feb 12

What are you Fasting From? Who are You Fasting for?

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Fasting. How do you feel about that little word? What is a fast anyway? We’re rapidly approaching Lent–that painful season in the church year when many Christians will fast from chocolate and sweets. It’s a fast of sorts. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights,

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Fasting. How do you feel about that little word?

What is a fast anyway? We’re rapidly approaching Lent–that painful season in the church year when many Christians will fast from chocolate and sweets. It’s a fast of sorts.

Jesus fasted for forty days and nights, so we fast to imitate his fasting, to remember that we don’t live by bread alone (Matt. 4:4). When those hunger pangs strike, Christians often use the occasion as a reminder to turn to God in prayer.

I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since I fasted for anything other than some blood work at the doctor’s office. Not to glorify non-fasting, laziness isn’t exactly fruit of the Spirit.

That’s why Isaiah 58 hit me square between the eyes. The people wonder “Why do we fast, but you [God] do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” (Isa. 58:3).

God’s answer? Because the people’s chosen fast ends in oppression of workers, quarreling, and even fist fights! The fruit of their fasting is division, famine. How could a fast end in the kind of violence Isaiah notes? Quarreling and strife, fighting? I get a little testy when my blood sugar is low, but outright fighting?

The Lord’s chosen fast

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?
Is 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? (Isa. 58:6-7)

The Lord’s fast isn’t about you or me at all, it’s about the sharing bread with the hungry and clothing the naked. The reward of keeping this fast is that the people will be like a well-watered garden, like a never ending spring (v. 11).

If the yoke of the oppressed isn’t broken then the spring may dry up, the garden will produce no fruit, and a famine–not a fast–will remain.

So, if the people follow the chosen fast of the Lord they will find a thriving garden, but if they allow hungry stomaches to continue to rumble and people to be left on the streets they will be left with nothing to eat or drink.

vegetable garden--chatirygirl--cc 2.0

*Vegetable Garden–chatirygirl–CC 2.0

“If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness (Isa 58:10).” God’s economy is different than our economy. If I offer food I will find a thriving garden and light, if I hoard it I’ll live in hunger and darkness.

Not only will God give abundance, even in the driest desert, the Lord will satisfy the needs of the people. Receiving is associated with action. When I think of fasting, I think of not doing (or not eating) something, but the Lord calls an active fast, a fast where needs are met and the chains of injustice are loosed.

Jesus does all the things listed in Isaiah, after he fasts in the desert for 40 days and nights. His fasting leads him out to loose the bonds of injustice and heal broken and sick bodies. His fasting leads to teaching the good news of the kingdom of God where the oppressed and marginalized are blessed and welcomed. And he calls us to follow him.

What if my fasting was less about me and more about others? Less about my own righteousness or being perceived in a good light by God or by others? This kind of fasting leaves me trying to one-up my neighbor.

The fast the Lord chooses leaves me serving my neighbor so that they don’t go hungry. Isaiah leaves me wondering less about what I’m fasting from and more about who I’m fasting for.

Do you have a regular fasting practice? How has it shaped you? How is Isaiah’s depiction of fasting similar to or different from your own practice?
*Featured Image Photo Credit: Mountain Stream by KoshyK / CC 2.0

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