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Count to four

by davesandel on February 19th, 2021

Friday, February 19, 2021                   (today’s lectionary)

Count to four

Pleased to gain access to God, they ask him to declare what is due them. They ask, why do we fast and you don’t see it? Why do we afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?

Sometimes our four year old grandson screams bloody murder for a little while, usually when he wants something to eat and doesn’t understand why he is told no. Sometimes his younger brother just watches him with wide brown eyes, and sometimes he decides to join the chorus.

But your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw. Is this the manner of fasting I wish, when you lie in sackcloth and ashes? No! Instead, untie the thongs of the yoke, set free the oppressed, share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless and clothe the naked. Do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your own wound shall quickly be healed. Then you shall cry for help, and the Lord will say, “Here I am!”

Our remarkably thick-skinned daughter and son-in-law give their older son time outs once in a while. But they have also given him a two-point strategy to avoid them. Take a deep breath, and then count to four. Soon perhaps they will increase that to ten. But first he has to remember to do the counting at all. At least he remembers it after his time out, when they ask him what he did wrong and how he can do it differently next time.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit, a humbled heart. Have mercy on me. In the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Wash me from my guilt. Cleanse me from my sin.

One of the two or three most important questions I ask as a counselor about your childhood is, “Were you allowed to express ALL of your emotions when you were a kid? What happened when you got angry?” Angry kids (and don’t forget that fear is always just under the surface of anger) start by screaming and end in sobbing, and sometimes even in striking out. This is aggressive behavior, and parents (or grandparents like me) usually respond either aggressively themselves or passively.

Being assertive, always the best alternative of the three, means something like … a moment of patience, quick insistence on a short time out, then a listening time when the kiddo can say what he was thinking, what he wanted, what scared him, what made him mad. Asking him how he could have done this differently. Nothing about how anger or fear is in any way wrong or bad. None of us like being yelled at. I don’t. Kids don’t. God doesn’t. God’s people don’t.

Jesus asked, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? When he is taken away from them, then they will fast.”

Jesus cuts through rules and regulations when he invites his disciples and friends to celebrate. He reprimands those who choose to yell at him and his kids. He pushes back on their self-righteousness. “Is this how you fast, bowing your head like a reed in shame? I don’t believe it for a second. You’re just putting on an act.”

These “acts” begin in childhood, in self-defense. If I’m a kid, I learn how to act from my parents. And they learned how to act from theirs. Every generation has had parents, so we are all in trouble here, I guess. Jesus is the better teacher. As soon as we can, he’s the one we need to watch, learn our lessons from, and celebrate with. Because now you see him, and then you don’t. Stay awake! Watch. Keep the candles burning.

(Isaiah 58, Psalm 51, Amos 5, Matthew 9)


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