On Gods and Fasting
A few years ago, I was invited to a community interfaith Iftar dinner. The Iftar meal is the meal that Muslims eat at the end of the day during Ramadan to break their fast. So a group of Christians and Jews decided to fast one day, in solidarity with local Muslims who were observing Ramadan. And then we broke the fast together with this wonderful Iftar dinner.
Now, I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t fast very often. So I was concerned about how this was going to go. During Ramadan, you’re supposed to abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. So, you better bet I got up before that sun rose to eat as much as my belly could handle. And then, at about 6:30am, I started my fast. And it was hard. By 9am, my stomach was very vocally unsatisfied. By mid afternoon, I was avoiding all human contact because, when I get hungry, I get grumpy. I felt like I was so weak, so I took naps and put things off until the next day. I stood up very slowly so I wouldn’t black out, and all day I was just counting down the hours until dinner.
I was basically a big baby about it.
When I finally dragged my famished self over to the dinner, every person I met there—especially the Muslim folks—were all smiles, cheerful, energetic, capable of articulating inspiring and beautiful sentiments about the occasion. And I realized that these folks had also been fasting all day. Not only that day, but they had been fasting every single day for the previous three weeks without batting an eye. It’s just a sacrifice they made for their faith, to be closer to God.
It is so interesting that, in our culture, it is considered normal to fast—to sacrifice food—for things like body image and personal health. But most of us consider it extreme to sacrifice food for the worship of the God who gave us life and every morsel of bread and drop of water that keeps us alive.
It’s really a statement of our priorities. And it’s a statement about what we worship.
The theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr, defined god as whatever you put your confidence in and whatever you show your loyalty toward through your actions. So, for Niebuhr, there is no such thing as atheism. Because everyone has confidence in something, and everyone acts with loyalty to something. Whether it’s a career, a nation, money, romantic love, or even science and medicine, whatever you have confidence in and act with loyalty toward–that is your god. So…for this so-called secular world, we sure do have a lot of gods.
Even for us Christians, the idea of making big sacrifices for our spiritual life feels crazy. Whether it is fasting for a day, committing a piece of our budget to the church, taking time to care for someone in need, or changing our life trajectory to be faithful to Christ’s call on our lives—we are much more apt to sacrifice these very same things to the gods of wealth, power, image, career, and lust.
But there are moments in each of our lives when we are reminded that these are the gods that do not last—they will one day prove themselves to be dead and empty illusions. There are those moments of clarity when we are reminded that there is only one God whose peace and grace surpass all that the world may promise.
So when you think about your day today, what god will you have the most confidence in? And what god will you worship through your actions? I end with these words from the apostle Paul. May we each dedicate our efforts and lives today to the God we aspire to put our faith in:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
This weekend, about two dozen members of our church community will engage in a 24 hour fast, coming together for Bible study and worship and then breaking the fast at The Lord’s Table at Sunday worship. They are doing this as a fundraiser for our food program, Hope for our Neighbors in Need. Please consider making a donation to support them by going to our donation page. Click “Donate”, and, at the end of the process, you will be given the option of designating a “purpose”–please write “24 Hour Fast”. Our congregation can also donate in worship this Sunday.