“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith.” (Acts 13:2-8). Of particular interest is the 2nd verse of this text which contains 3 words that are used to describe the discipline of the ‘ekklesia’— ‘worshiping’; ‘fasting’ and ‘praying’.
Most rare and difficult in it’s etymology is the word ‘leitourgos’ which is translated by most English translations as ‘worship’; when in fact the word is ‘liturgy’. Difficult in that it is strictly secular in it’s original Greek meaning and usage. Most always related to public concerns it is ‘to render service to the people’; ‘discharge a task for society’; ‘service to the nations’. It is for Aristotle a technical term of politics with regards to taxation where he writes concerning “the fleecing of the wealthy by liturgies.” Rare in that the form used here is one of only 3 New Testament uses, giving reason to the strictest understanding of transferring this word to religious life. Used here and nowhere else in the book of Acts, it is clearly meant ‘to render service to the people’; ‘discharge a task for society’; ‘service to the nations’. New is the objective of the service— not for Caesar, but for the Lord!
‘Fasting/nesteia’ is generally understood as ‘one who has not eaten’; ‘one who is empty’. Early primitive fears of evil led man to the thought that demons gained power over men through eating. Developing as a source of power over evil, fasting as a discipline and practice is found in all of the world’s greatest religions. It’s place in Judaism is so significant that this time and space does not permit the telling of it all to include the fact that even the Kings of Israel fasted in preparation for battle. By the time of this text and in the tradition of Jesus having fasted 40 days and nights fasting is now for the ‘ekklesia’, done in preparation for receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. Fasting— all about power! Here among ‘those gathered’— the ‘ekklesia’ is prophets and teachers, one of Herod’s officers, and Barnabas and Saul among the named; with a single given order: ‘liturgy’ and ‘fasting’. It is in THIS MIDST that the Holy Spirit speaks. And then— they prayed.
I am reminded of a hymn sung in my birth Church by my Grandmother’s Choir that I have not heard as an adult in the Church. The verse says: “Along life’s rugged, thorny way, keep praying, toiling on; there soon will dawn a brighter day, keep praying, toiling on. The trials you have had are past; Bear patiently the ones thou hast; If others come, they will not last, keep praying, toiling on.” Then the Chorus: “Keep Praying. Toiling. Praying, Toiling On. There soon will dawn a brighter day, keep praying, toiling on.”
I am concerned about how far away the ‘ekklesia’s agenda has gotten from liturgy, fasting and praying. It is clear to me that fasting is not all about food. It is about class, it is about gender, it is about position, it is about station. This group of men gathered in this text represented such a wide range and variety and levels of life, which in THIS MIDST had no consequence! Liturgy, fasting and praying brings about a ‘singleness of mind’, a ‘oneness of spirit’ which is then able to speak— the ‘Holy Spirit’.
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