Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017, begins the season of Lent. Elgin Covenant will have worship at 7 PM, with songs, prayers, and preaching on repentance. While it is not our custom to impose ashes, every person is welcome to come and hear the truth about yourself, that you are a sinner in need of God’s amazing grace through salvation in Jesus Christ. This post contrasts how we in our culture often view Lent and our personal “sacrifices” with what God wants true “fasting” to look like — serving our neighbor. A list of local community ministries we support comes at the end of the article.
“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see one naked, to provide clothes, and not turn away from your own neighbor?” —Isaiah 58:6-7
Some view Lent as an opportunity to get back on the diet that had lapsed some time after the New Year’s Resolution. Some see it as a reason to try some new kind of discipline, for example to watch t.v. less and try instead to read start to finish one book a week, or get some daily exercise. These might have some religious, Jesus-centered motivation, but this kind of Lent observance is mostly a mostly rather than a spiritual response.
There are some for whom Lent is an important time of year for religious observance. Marking the days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness as an analogy to his whole life of sacrifice and suffering, Lent was begun in the early centuries of Christian faith to motivate repentance, contrition, and a desire for deeper holiness. So for many the fish-only Fridays and other attempts at fasting or “doing without” a favorite, such as chocolate, combined with the extra prayers and worship services, are performed with a religious zeal in the hopes that these acts of worship will atone for sins and balance the account in God’s eyes.
Many Protestants and Evangelicals like Pastor Jonathan the author of this post, call this idea “works righteousness.” We believe that those who do religious works as a way of paying their penalty for sins have the wrong idea about God, the wrong idea about sin, and the wrong idea about what it means to become holy.
The Prophet Isaiah cautioned the people that God even in the Old Testament did not demand religious works and penalties as a way of becoming righteous. Instead God wanted the people to address the root causes of their problems; that the people who humbled themselves and fasted during special days, were the same people who were guilty of greed, covetousness, gossip and extortion. It did no one any good to cheat someone else and then go on a religious fast, as though this atoned for cheating. If people wanted to experience the blessing of God, they needed to restore their ill-gotten gains first, and then, begin to be generous towards others. That is what God can bless.
Going on a self-discipline during Lent for a religious reason or a cultural reason is okay provided that it does not spring from magic thinking, which is the notion that by saying an extra prayer or going without chocolate, you are making yourself righteous and forcing God to do something nice for you in return. God has already given you everything! Let your religious works be expressions of thankfulness. Meanwhile, the true worship of God, the true “fasting” that God desires, is that you be generous to those who are worse off than you. The question to ask during Lent is not “How can I show God I’m a better person?” but instead “How can I show my neighbor the love of God?”
At Elgin Covenant we provide many opportunities, listed below, to minister locally with compassion to our neighbors through volunteer support and financial giving. If you would like more information on how to get involved please call our church office, 847-888-2302.
-Larkin High School-
Donut Klub: Free food every Wednesday before school.
Tutoring: Wednesday after school by appointment.
-Our Benevolence Ministry Partners–
Benevolence offerings ever 2nd Sunday of the month support:
The Interfaith Food Pantry. Located in historic downtown Elgin at First Congregational Church.
The Salvation Army. The Elgin location is just north of historic downtown on Douglas Ave., they provide direct aid in food and clothing and holistic ministry.
Wayside Elgin. On Berkeley Avenue in the industrial district between Elgin Community College and US Route 20, Wayside provides holistic ministry and day-time shelter to the homeless.
-Local Mission Volunteer Projects and Annual Support-
TLC Life Center of Elgin. We provide budget support, regular volunteer support, and on a weekly basis permit the use of our parking lot to the Mobile Ultra Sound Unit.
Feed My Starving Children. We are developing a rhythm of sending 25 volunteers to a two-hour work session at the FMSC location into Schaumburg, twice each year. (This is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse.)
Operation Christmas Child. Shoe-box sized packages are filled with Christimas gifts each fall for delivery to children in poverty by Christmas day. (This is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse.)
Fox Valley Christian Action. This receives budget support from our church and occasional volunteer help.
Covenant Harbor Bible Camp. A little over an hour drive’s north and across the Wisconsin border, our district Bible Camp has a Lake Geneva waterfront. We offer budget support and volunteer work teams twice each year.