Grow Some Fruit
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting…[instead] put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18
Today is the beginning of Lent. At its simplest form, it is a season of preparation, the forty days (not including Sundays) ahead of Easter. For fourteen centuries the Christian church has marked this day with prayer, worship and the imposition of ashes. For this reason, we call it Ash Wednesday.
Historically, Christians have journeyed through the season of Lent by abstaining or fasting from something they enjoy - meat, chocolate, alcohol or something that they recognize as a bad habit that they use this season to break. Whether you’ve done so in the past or not, I’m certain that you know others who have - it’s why we have so many Fish Frys on Fridays!
Admittedly, I’ve never been one who does things “the way we’ve always done them” and Lent is no exception. If you’re choosing to mark this season by fasting or abstaining from something as a way to identify with Christ and his suffering, to make more room to encounter God, or to try and finally kick that bad habit - I hope and pray you are successful! I think it’s wonderful.
But there’s also a darker side to the practice of fasting that Jesus warns about in Matthew’s gospel. If we’re going to fast, it shouldn’t be obvious. It shouldn’t be a public spectacle meant to draw attention to ourselves, so that others will look and see how amazing, how spiritual, how Godly we are. No, if we’re going to fast, expecting some reward, we should do it quietly, humbly, out of the way of the public eye, trusting that God will honor it in the way God intends.
This is part of the reason that this year, in our public worship, we’re not focusing on fasting or abstaining, giving up something - good or bad. Instead, we’re going to be focusing on the things that mark us as children of God, the things that will flow out of us as we are daily, more and more shaped and molded by the Spirit of God. Paul calls them Fruit. That makes sense. Because they are the visible evidence of what God is doing in us. They are the outworking of God’s in-working. And while we cannot manufacture the fruit, I do believe we have a great ability to set up conditions for that fruit to grow… just as much as we can set up conditions for that not to grow.
Who among us doesn’t want more love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control - and joy? Who among us doesn’t want the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? No one. Follower of Jesus or not, we all want that kind of fruit.
So during this season of Lent, this season of preparation, and fasting even, I hope you’ll join us to explore how we can help grow the very things we all want, and that Jesus wants for us.
Welcoming You, tonight and throughout this season of Lent, to Grow in Jesus,