“Is not this 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 the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58: 6-12
Like many others, every Lent I diligently consider what less-than-healthy food or habit I will attempt to give up for the season and trudge through the practice with mixed success. But while there is much attention paid to fasting and prayer during Lent, often the third Lenten discipline, almsgiving, is overlooked. Through prayer we develop our relationship with God; through fasting we concentrate on discipline and development of self; but it is through pouring out on those in need that we become more familiar with the suffering of others and are more fully able to develop a spirit of mercy and compassion.
As followers of Christ, we are committed to showing compassion, mercy, and love to all of our neighbors, knowing that every person reflects the image of God and deserves to be treated with dignity. Our obligation not only extends to speaking out for social justice and personally advocating for change and action, but also includes encouraging our communities of faith, family, and friends to do the same. The impact of almsgiving is not just on others; it radically changes ourselves. We learn to be grateful and generous, and we can more wholly grasp our trust and dependence on God to meet our own needs.
St. John’s has many opportunities to help others. This Lent, consider feeding our hungry neighbors in Georgetown with Grace’s Table; volunteering to help an elderly DC resident with cleaning and yard work through Seabury’s Aging in Place program; tutoring a child in need of mentorship through Communities in Schools; or joining our growing efforts through the Refugee Project to support our new refugee neighbors – learning their stories and providing assistance. There is so much suffering in the world, and it is easy to feel powerless against it, but this Lent, I urge you to choose compassionate action; and I hope that you will find that it, like Isaiah describes, fills your spirit like a spring whose waters never fail.
Appointed readings for today: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-28, Psalm 23, John 8:31-42