This week in my sermon I spoke about fasting as "saying no to some things, even good things, so that we learn to say yes to God in new ways." This was born out of a recurring discussion I have with college students, young adults, and people of all ages who've experienced the church as an organization of "no."
Are you a woman and want to be a pastor? Too many have heard "no."
Are you gay and a Christian? Too many have heard, "not possible."
Can I dance? Or drink alcohol moderately? Or like rap music? "No way." "Nope." "Not really."
As the church, we've become known as saying no, when Jesus was a megaphone of affirmation. Can this Samaritan woman experience God's grace? Can the Gentiles be healed? Can the unclean be loved? Jesus' refrain rises each time, "Yeah." "Yes." "YES!"
Now, this doesn't mean that Christians have no ethic by which to live. We surely do. But it began as a positive ethic, based in the active love of God amongst us seen in Jesus Christ. Known for including the outcasts, supporting the poor, healing the sick, welcoming all in need and embracing anyone, regardless of race or sex or ethnicity, as siblings in Christ. As a church, we've got to move actively to this identity. We must become known not for what we deny, but for who we embrace, beginning of course with Jesus and extending to all people.
On a daily basis we're faced with the opportunity of response, whether affirmation or of negativity. When we say "no," perhaps the plumbline we ought to use is whether that "no" opens us up to a "yes." For instance, the "no" of fasting opens up space in our lives to increase our experience of God. Rather than rely upon chocolate for our comfort, we rely upon the Holy Spirit. Rather than rely upon social media for connectedness, we rely upon the Triune God. For a time, we can so "no" to things so long as they open us to new opportunities to engage with God, for positive experiences with our fellow creatures.
There's so much in the church that we affirm. We need to make space for that affirmation, and learn to see how that way of saying "yes" in concert with Jesus might help us to see God differently, hear God's word differently, and see God's work in the world differently. If we make space to say "yes," then we might just see our Creator's affirmation of creation, in others, and even in ourselves.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.