— Rev. Phil Hobson

March 5, 2017
First Sunday in Lent

Matthew 4:1-11
Isaiah 58:1-12

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

When I have fasted, I have noticed that I often spend the first part of the fast worried about my energy levels, focused on my hunger, trying to pace myself. I feel insecure. It is only later that I start to relax and realize that I will be okay, that I have more than what is necessary.

I realize that for me to fast is an act of privilege. I can choose not to eat candy or drink pop. I can choose to have only liquids for a day, or however long the fast is.

For those in Flint, fasting from clean drinking water is not a privilege. For many families, including here in Charlotte, fasting from having enough nutritious food is not a privilege. These are things that people have not chosen.

I can choose to read or not read. For many families, illiteracy is a trap that goes from generation to generation.

And fasting is one way of expressing solidarity, to experience what it is like to go without. Some people, when they fast, they take the money that would otherwise be spent on food and give it to places that feed people who are food insecure.

On Ash Wednesday, the doctor told me that what I had was not walking pneumonia, but I could see it from where I was. A pastor friend of mine asked me if I wanted ashes brought to the house. I thanked him and said, “No, I am all too well aware of my mortality and frailty at the moment.”

One of the things I noticed as I was recuperating is the opposite of the solidarity of fasting. When I was feeling miserable every problem felt like it must be someone else’s fault. When I felt bad every little annoyance became something I wanted to blame on someone else. I did not feel solidarity with others who were suffering. I just wanted what I wanted when I wanted it.

There seems to be a lot of that in our society right now. And I wonder how much of it is because people do not feel well. And when we do not feel well, we withdraw, we name, blame and publically shame.

Whatever else fasting is, it is a reminder that we are contingent people. We rely on others, we rely on this earth, we rely on creation, we rely on God. How easy it is to believe we are alone, isolated, individuals, independent. We celebrate and praise independence and individualism. We mock people who need others. We are embarrassed by our needs.

And that is where Satan’s temptations come to Jesus: “I will meet your needs, as long as you forget God.”

  • You want to eat? Command stones like God would.
  • You want protection? Make God catch you.
  • You want to change the world? I will give it to you, if you switch from God to me.

Make God less than God, make God irrelevant, make God your servant, and the adversary will give you all that you think you want and need.

The answers Jesus gives are all about God. It is not enough to have bread and not be hungry. The Word of God brings life and hope and love and purpose and connection to our true selves, and to God, and to one another, and to creation.

It is not enough to put God to the test. Faith is trusting in God with every footstep, relying on God in every moment, praising God with every breath.

It is not enough to have power. Whatever power we have is not ours to use on our own behalf. It is for use in loving God by serving those in need. It is for serving God by loving those in need.

Isaiah calls into question our fasting, and indeed all our religious activities.

“Lord, see how religious we all are! We’re here in church! We are singing and praying!”

And in Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord asks, “Yeah, but how are you treating people? How do you treat those who rely on you? How do you handle your business? Do you take care of others?”

The ordinances and righteousness that the people are accused of forgetting about are not whether we read the Bible and pray and go to church.

These are the ordinances of making sure the water is as clean for the people in the poorest areas of our nation as it is in the wealthiest.

The righteousness that the prophet calls us to is whether pain management is offered in good and healthy ways: not over-prescribing unnecessary and addictive painkillers, but also not under prescribing to African-Americans who are dealing with post-surgery pain, as many hospitals are being found to have done.

Speaking of drugs, the ordinances and righteousness of God means that white folks profiting from medical marijuana dispensaries while black folks spend time in jail on mandatory minimum drug sentences is not right.

White folks getting press for the dangers of opioid addiction and white collar cocaine users getting rehab while the inner cities get no help with crack cocaine and the rural areas get no help with methamphetamines is not right.

The questions Isaiah asks are not comfortable. The accusations of the prophet are not gentle or tender.

They remind us that religion is not about acting religious. It is about caring for the least of these.

  • Bread for the hungry, our own if necessary
  • Housing for the homeless, our own if necessary
  • Clothing for the naked, our own if necessary
  • Not hiding from the problems of this world, but dealing with them.

The prophet goes so far as to say that if we take care of the least of these in our midst, the widow, the orphan, the powerless, the immigrant, the refugee, the hungry, the tired, the poor, the scared, the closeted, the insecure, then…

The 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.

Is this not the journey of faith. To seek God, and to find God in our service to others as Jesus has shown us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.