Summary: When we respond faithfully to those people God puts before us, we will also fulfill part of God's purpose for our lives---and we will be worshiping God in a faith-filled manner.
We all know the story of the three wise men who came to see the baby Jesus after he was born, but did you know that there is a story about a fourth wise man? The story says that he left with the other three to follow the start in search of the baby Jesus. Along the way he was constantly distracted by people who needed his help. He would send the other three ahead and catch up with them within a day or two, but when the other three reached Bethlehem , the fourth wise man was nowhere to be found.
Many years later the fourth wise man arrived in Jerusalem-three days after Jesus' crucifixion. He mourned and wept, grieving the fact that the King he had come to worship had already grown up and had been put to death. He had spent 30 years helping others in need and had missed the one person he most wanted to see.
Then something extraordinary happened. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the fourth wise man. The wise man started to apologize for not having arrived in time to worship him at his birth. Jesus replied with words similar to these words from Matthew 25:35-36, "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me in. I needed clothes, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you looked after me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me."
The fast referred to in Isaiah 58:6 was supposed to bring God's people back to him in humility and repentance, but over time it became merely a ritual that the people used to show their so-called observance of God's law. In reality, the people continued to act in ungodly ways.
Worship loses its flavour when it becomes merely a ritual. When worship becomes just a ritual, or when it becomes our main focus, we end up majoring in minor things. We must observe this lesser requirement without neglecting the most important requirement-caring for others. We must turn our focus from self-centered to other-centered. The flavour is restored when we serve God by serving others. Serving others is the fast that God wants us to observe. True fasting equals true blessing, not just for us but for those we serve as well. Are we willing to make the sacrifice of fasting for spiritual freedom? Justice, sharing our wealth with the poor, feeding the hungry and freeing the oppressed are God's requirements for a true fast. Fasting means more than just giving up food. It means giving up some of our time and resources to do God's work in our world.
God placed righteousness in our hearts through Jesus Christ, and he wants that righteousness to show in our lives through godly obedience to him. In calling us to obey him, God calls on us to fast in a way that will bring us back to God in humility, repentance and true faith, especially during Lent. If we do, we will grow closer to God. We have to be willing to obey his will. When we don't obey his will, we rebel against him.
In addition, we are to work toward providing justice for the oppressed and mercy to the poor. As Anglicans, one way we can provide mercy to the poor is to support the work of the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, which many of us will do by attending the Lenten soup luncheons that will be put on by various groups and individuals within our parish. We can also help the poor by donating time, food or money to the local food bank. For example, lay readers in our Diocese are encouraged to become involved with issues related to social justice, and the way I fulfill that expectation is through my work as the volunteer Secretary-Treasurer for the Queens County Food Bank. In addition, I have been providing advice and help to an individual who is starting a food bank geared toward children in the Lockeport area.
By being focused on others, we avoid being focused on ourselves and our problems. For example, some people suggest that serving others is a good way to cope with depression. When we focus on others, not only will God will nourish us and give us strength to cope with our problems, but he will also give us a special place in his heart.
God's heart yearns to ease the plight on those who suffer. He wants to use us as his arms and legs to ease their misery. God directs us to ease their pain. God wants us to do the work not with what we don't have, but with what we do have. He wants us to use what he has given us to do his work in our world.