An Unexpected Journey to a True Fast
One thing I love about the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Hobbit, are the quotes that cause me to stop and think about the truths they contain. They are statements of hope and faith, against the odds, and with evil and darkness pressing in on all sides. With the launch this Christmas of the second film in The Hobbit trilogy, it was time to watch again the first Hobbit film in preparation for the trip to the cinema. I was not disappointed as I watched An Unexpected Journey. Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien, asks Gandalf why he was taking Bilbo on this quest with him. In reply Gandalf responds, “I don’t know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love.”
This reminded me of another of my favourite films, Evan Almighty. This tells the story of a newly appointed Congressman Evan Baxter wants to “change the world” according to his election campaign. Various strange events start to happen until finally God meets him and explains how he wants him to build an Ark. Eventually, dispute the ridicule and his family temporarily leaving him, he builds the ark and saves many people when a dam bursts. At the end of the film God reveals to Evan the significance of the ARK – that the way to change the world is one Act of Random Kindness at a time.
The implication is that the way to make a difference in our communities and transform them is the same: simple acts of random kindness and love, the everyday deeds of ordinary folk. This is what will hold back the darkness in our own communities and society.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus speaks about how the Son of Man will judge the nations as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats. Some will be commended and rewarded for giving of themselves, for they gave food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, they invited strangers into their homes, provided clothing, cared for the sick, and visited the prisoner. They were all commended for giving of themselves, their own time and their compassion. In contrast the other group were rebuked for not having done the same to those that were in need. They may have led devout lives, but the practical outworking of simple acts of kindness and love were not in evidence.
In his book The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne warns that even giving to charity can be a dangerous insulator for us because it can depersonalise those in need. Referring to the parable above he writes ‘I’m just not convinced that Jesus is going to say, “When I was hungry, you gave a cheque to the Untied Way and they fed me,” or, “When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army and they clothed me.” Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity, He seeks concrete acts of love: “you fed me… you visited me in prison… you welcomed me into your home… you clothed me.”’
God reminds us of what he requires in Isaiah 58:6-12 as he describes the true fast – the way we should give ourselves to others. In our self absorbed, closed up, individualistic society, these words are a striking challenge for us. Just as with the parable of the sheep and goats, the call to true followers of the living God is to share your bread, house the homeless, cover the naked, and not to hide yourself. Rather to pour yourself out for the hungry and to satisfy the needs of the afflicted. When we do these things God promises us his blessing, that he will hear and respond to our prayers, and will provide for us, that then our light will break forth like the dawn.
The challenge for me and for the whole church is whether we personally are prepared to take our place in holding back the darkness. To be a people who are willing to be, paraphrasing the words of Gandalf, those ordinary folk who through simple, everyday acts of kindness and love keep the darkness at bay.
 Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution, Zondervan, 2006