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True fasting and repentance

Matthew 6:16-21

Pastor David Ernst

Ash Wednesday
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

Play MP3 of this sermon

Wed, Mar 6, 2019 

Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

"And when you fast, do not be austere, like the hypocrites, for they bend their faces to look like men who fast, verily I say to you, they have their reward."

Note well: Our Lord did not say to them, "If you fast", but "when you fast". He did not forbid the practice, but condemned belief in it as a meritorious act in the eyes of God.

In its strict sense, to fast means not to eat anything during the day until night. The law of Moses specifically required fasting for only one occasion: the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16: 29-30; 23: 27-31; Numbers 29: 7). To observe the Day of Atonement in the manner commanded by Moses is not obligatory for us, because Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, made the perfect sacrifice on the cross for the sins of all humanity. In holy baptism, we are covered with the blood of Christ, then, we must not sacrifice another lamb every year, nor fast in this way.

Fasting, however, was also be done for other reasons in the Old Testament. Sometimes it was done as a sign of anguish, grief or repentance. It was often accompanied by prayer. Also by tearing of clothes, and casting of dust and ashes on the head.

Therefore, this is what our reading of the Old Testament says (Joel 2: 12-19): "Therefore, now, says Jehovah: Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." However, the Lord also said through the prophet Joel, "rend your heart, and not your garments; and turn to the LORD your God; for He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in mercy, and repents of punishment. " The outer act is not so important as the change of heart, and above all is the grace of God that makes possible the change of heart.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, fasting and abstaining from certain foods became the practice of his disciples. For example, Christians in Antioch fasted and prayed before sending Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13: 1-4). St. Paul fasted in Lystra and Derbe before appointing pastors in these cities (Acts 14:23).

St. Paul also says in our epistle (2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 10), "Before, approving us in everything as ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses; in flogging, in prisons, in tumults, in jobs, in vigils, in fasts ... "

Many Christians in the early church followed the custom of the Jews to fast twice a week, but not as an obligation. Then, in medieval Europe, it became obligatory to abstain from foods derived from the bodies of terrestrial mammals and birds during Lent, although the severity of the rules varied according to time and place. (For example, in the 16th Century, the Pope made an exception to the rule against mammals of the capybara in Venezuela).

To eliminate part of the temptation and, as a practical matter, because certain animal foods such as eggs and butter would not be kept for 40 days, it became customary to consume all the meat and dairy products left in the house during several days of non-stop eating.

"Carnem levare" is the Latin root of Carnaval, and means to remove the meat or remove the meat.The association of "carnivale" with masques and parades began in Italy, and soon spread to France and Spain, and from those countries to the New World. The customs of Carnaval are not prohibited or sent by the Scriptures, but today the Christian must be careful that Carnaval is not the occasion to fall into drunkenness or sexual immorality.

In the first centuries of the Church, the excommunicants who wanted reconciliation with the church, put ashes on their heads and presented themselves before the community dressed in a "penitential habit". In 384 AD, the first day of Lent acquired a penitential meaning for all Christians. The ashes symbolize mortality ("You are dust, you shall return to dust" Genesis 3: 3) and repentance.

In our Lutheran church, we believe that any tradition that does not contradict the Scriptures, on the contrary, is useful to teach pure doctrine, is good and should be conserved.

"Therefore, we do not condemn fasting in itself, but the traditions that prescribe certain days and certain meats, with danger of conscience, as if such works were a necessary service (Augsburg Confession XXVI) ... we hold that repentance must produce good fruits for the glory and the command of God, and good fruits, true fasts, true prayers, true alms, etc., have the commandments of God (Apology of the Augsburg Confession VI ) "

Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism that "fasting and other external preparations can have a good purpose" as we prepare to receive the sacrament. But the best preparation, he said, is to believe the words of Jesus. Fasting, before the sacrament or at any time, can be a beneficial practice, but there is no substitute for faith. The Holy Spirit has given us and sealed this faith in holy baptism. This faith grows by the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word and the sacrament of the Holy Supper. Even the sacraments do not work apart from the Word of God, which is the basis of faith.

I invite you to confess your sins and receive the imposition of the ashes as a public preparation to receive the sacrament on the Lord's day, this Sunday and the Sunday of the resurrection. Because in the repentance created in the heart by the Spirit is our faith and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.

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