Summary: Making sure our actual fasting is backed up by the things that need to lie behind it


You have a colleague at work. You are always very friendly towards him. You greet him with a smile. You ask after his family. You ask what he did over the weekend. You make him a cup of tea. But behind his back, you take the credit for all his work so that you end up getting a promotion instead of him and when times get tough for the company, he is the one who gets the sack.

Is that true friendship?

{Congregation respond }

Of course not. So with Isaiah in our reading today when he talks about fasting:

“3 ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?

  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,

  and oppress all your workers.

4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight

  and to strike with a wicked fist.

Such fasting as you do today

  will not make your voice heard on high.

5 Is such the fast that I choose,

  a day to humble oneself?

Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,

  and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?

Will you call this a fast,

  a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 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?

7 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,….

...If you remove the yoke from among you,

  the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10 if you offer your food to the hungry

  and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

  and your gloom be like the noonday....

...12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

  you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

  the restorer of streets to live in.”

Isaiah is no more criticising fasting than I am criticising smiling at and being nice to your fellow workers in your office. What he is saying is that true fasting has to have something behind it, just as true friendship cannot involve stealing the credit for our colleague’s work.

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent and many of us will be taking up some form of fasting be it giving up food for a day or giving up chocolate or coffee or alcohol. Or perhaps we are taking something on like going to an extra mass or going to a study group.

These external disciplines are good, but there has to be truth lying behind them. A kiss is a powerful way of saying I love you, but it was with a kiss that Judas betrayed Jesus.

So what is the true inner meaning that lies behind our outward fasting -

Isaiah says

“Share your  bread with the hungry”

As a congregation we have given money to support our sister church in Angola.  Every harvest we give away to the food bank or a similar charity. One member of our congregation actually works as treasurer to the food bank. We are not the “best religion” in this, but a BBC survey  in 2014 found that 78% of practising Christians had given to charity in the last month compared with only 66% of non-religious people (1) While a 2013 survey found that when practising Christians give to charity they give half as much again as non-religious people. (2).

We have {slightly exaggerated voice} much to be proud of ….

...errr whoops, because, Today’s Ash Wednesday -  it’s not about being proud. Rather we should look at our co-religionists and think “Am I being as generous as they are?”

You might wonder why when we are about to have a major stewardship campaign in the summer I am talking to you about giving to charity rather than the church. But the truth is, the people who give the most to their church are the people who give the most to other charities and vice versa. Generosity breeds generosity.

Share your bread with the hungry. Martin Luther King said As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy . . . I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made.”

Isaiah says “Bring the homeless poor into your house”

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