Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
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The Fast

February 22, 2012:

The Fast
February 22, 2012       (Ash Wednesday)
Call:   Joel 2: 1-2a
Text:   Joel 2: 12-13a; Isaiah 58: 1-11

                                The Fast

"Lent" as a verb is past tense
        We use it to describe something we have already done
                "I lent you some money"
                "I lent you my car"
                "I lent you my lawnmower"

"Lent" as a noun, however, relates to a present time
                In which we attempt to prepare ourselves
                        To do better in the future
                        Than we have done in the past.

"Lent" as a verb        looks back.
"Lent" as a noun        looks ahead.

In the year 2012,       Lent as a noun begins tonight.

And it began with the warning from Joel
        "Blow the trumpet in Zion."
        "Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble"

        "...the day of the Lord is coming, it is near
                A day of darkness and gloom
                A day of clouds and thick darkness ..."

Ominous words.          Frightening words.              Haunting words

Words that warn and alarm us
        Like the fire siren on the station at the other end of our block
They wake us up if we have not been paying attention
They scare us
        Because we know that way too often we have failed our God
And therefore:  we tremble.

We know what God expects from us:
        Love and compassion
        Justice and kindness.

And we know that all too often what God has gotten back from us is
        Selfishness and self indulgence
        Arrogance and apathy.

But while Lent as a noun begins with words that are frightening
        Not too many verses afterwards, Joel speaks God's words of hope
                Letting us know that we still have a chance     [2:12 - 13a]
                        "Yet even now, says the Lord
                                Return to me    with all your heart
                                With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning
                        Rend your hearts and your clothing

                Return to the Lord, your God
                        For he is gracious and merciful
                        Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
                        And relents from punishing

"Lent" as a noun is set aside
        For us to be aware of the warning
And for us to take advantage of the hope provided by this additional chance.

How do we do it?
How             do      we      do      it?

We do it by renewing the commitments in our baptismal vows

Thus we do it
        By renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness
        By rejecting the evil powers of this world
        By repenting of our sins

We do it
        By accepting the freedom and the power that God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We do it
        By confessing Jesus Christ as our savior
        By putting our whole trust
                Not in ourselves and in our gifts
                But in Christ's grace
        And we do so in union with the church which Christ has opened
                To people of all ages, nations, and races.

We do it by recommitting ourselves to the "Great Comms"
        The great commission
                Which requires us to be witnesses and to make disciples of and for Christ
        The great commandment
                Which demands that we love God with all our heart, all our minds, all our souls, and all our strength and that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

We do it by recognizing that what the Lord requires is
That we do justice
That we love kindness
That we walk humbly with our Lord.

But you and I can be like the Israelites in the wilderness
        Who when asked if they would obey God's commandments said,
                "Yes, of course we will."
        But who didn't

And you and I can be like Solomon
        Who prayed for wisdom
        But who then allowed the community to fall away from God

In other words, we can
Like we and so many other people have been
Persons who make commitments of words rather than hearts

That is where a second Lenten warning comes in.

This one is through Isaiah

It's not as ominous as the call from Joel.

Its tone is more hurt and frustration
        Than anger and punishment

It is more of a plea than an indictment

God begins by instructing Isaiah:
"58Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob, their sins."

And then you can feel God's head shaking in sadness, wonderment and weariness:

2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;

they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God

(They ask me)
3"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"

Then God says about motives, as if speaking directly to us:

you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and (you) oppress all your workers.

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.

5Is 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?

6Is 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?

God, hoping that they/we have grasped the message
        That simply     fasting for our purposes
        That simply     going through the motions
Is not what God is looking for,
he announces what will happen if they get it right

"8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."

"9Then you shall call,          and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help,         and he will say, Here I am."

"If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger,
the speaking of evil,
10if 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.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail."

Isn't it remarkable that people who heard - and continue to hear -
        The ominous, frightening warning from Joel
Didn't and don't take the offered chance to get it right
        By fasting and sacrificing the way that God explained through Isaiah?

But what is even more remarkable is that despite their (our) failures
        God continued to let them (and us) know that there is still
another chance to get the fast or sacrifice right.
God's unwillingness to give up on us
Despite compelling evidence that we are hopeless failures
is why he sent his son - and begged us to listen to him

That son's death and resurrection was - and is - an act of love
        That burned away and continues to burn away
        Our sins and failures
        So that we can start fresh and get it right

That is how we need to spend Lent - the noun.