18 Mar Are You Fasting?
This second installment in our 2016 guest writer series focuses on the theme of Solidarity. Each of these writers are not only participating personally in Rice & Beans Month, but also playing a pivotal role in leading the experience for their entire church community. This week, we welcome pastor Tom Smith from First Baptist Church in Silverton, Oregon.
“Are you fasting?”
A typical Arabic greeting is “Peace be upon you,” especially among Muslims. The equivalent of “Good morning” would be translated, “How did you wake?” But during the month of Ramadhan, the annual fast kept by observant Muslims worldwide, these customary greetings are changed.
When people do business in banks and retail shops, or simply pass on the street, they ask each other, “Are you fasting?” It is a greeting of solidarity dependent on a common religious practice. An outsider or non-Muslim will be uncomfortably confronted with this question several times a day, as we experienced first-hand serving as missionaries on the Kenyan Coast.
One Sunday, I was surprised when a guest preacher began his sermon with the words, “Are you fasting?” We all knew he was a Christian, not a Muslim. He had a clear testimony for Jesus. He repeated, “Are you fasting?” The concrete block walls and metal roof added a slight reverb to his question. I shifted my weight on the narrow wooden bench.
For a third time he asked, “Are you fasting?” Then he confessed, “I am.” I was curious to hear where he was going with this. He continued, “I am fasting from sin. I am fasting from having my own way, doing my will, and being against God. I am fasting from sin, and I hope you are, too.”
The preacher’s sermon was all about solidarity. Solidarity in fasting from sin and drawing near to God. His timing (during Ramadhan) made the impact of his introduction so powerful that I have remembered it long after I forgot his other points.
In order for us to focus on the really big things – loving God and neighbor, practicing justice and being righteous, living by grace and forgiving others, remembering the poor and valuing meekness – we must be fasting. Fasting from sin and from self.
We promote solidarity at First Baptist Church of Silverton, Oregon, by announcing Rice & Beans Month from the pulpit. We include a newsletter that explains what we are doing and why. We give away 25 pounds of rice and 25 pounds of dry beans, bagged for individual use. We put up posters, distribute booklets to our small groups, and offer the book A Common Meal for sale. Finally, on the first Sunday of Rice & Beans Month, we provide a free lunch after church with 12 different rice and beans dishes, recipe cards, and a list of local restaurants where you can find rice and beans on the menu.
So, are you fasting? Along with many others, I can answer “yes,” both spiritually and physically. We join in solidarity and simplify our meals, with the goals of sharing with others and deepening our faith in Christ.
Tom Smith has served as an elder and pastor of Silverton First Baptist since April 2008. Prior to that, he served churches in Oregon as youth pastor and interim senior pastor. He and his wife, Sherie, and their family also spent eighteen years serving Christ in Kenya.