Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fasting Training - Lent 3, Numbers 21:4-9; Matthew 4:1-4

Commerce Presbyterian Church, March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent (but using portion of fourth Sunday Lectionary)

How’s your training going?  
When I initially began training for the Mt Taylor quadrathlon way back when; it was extremely painful for the first 3-6 weeks.  
I was sore, I felt like my muscles were on a tag-team mission to bring me down:
passing to one another the pain of a pull or a strain -
One week, right glut (ah), next week, right hamstring (ah),
then right calf (ah) - left calf (Ah); left ham (ah).  etc.

The pain of trying to do something we’re not used to doing is why many people
- don’t get past January with new years resolutions;
- don’t get beyond the first few weeks of a trying a new diet,

It’s too hard!
break old habits!
can’t teach us old dogs new tricks!
Behold I am doing a new thing!

But the call of Lent is to be disciplined.
To be disciples...
Come on disciples! Drop your nets... follow me.

SLIDE - Desert Mothers and Fathers
Since the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness, many, we call desert fathers and mothers, have wandered into the wilderness to model Jesus’ behavior where they dedicated themselves to prayer, meditation on scripture, solitude, labor, poverty, fasting, service.
These involve both taking on and giving up...

Slide -Training Elements

We started our training 3 weeks ago now, right
- week 1 - at least 10 - 15 minutes in intentional prayer; How’s your training going?
- week 2 -  at least 10 - 15 minutes reading Scripture;   How’s your training going?
And this week, Week 3 - we are thinking about fasting….Who’s ready to train!?

Fasting of all things, during that time when things start to get hard;
the songs we sing during lent begin to drag on...the light of day begins to get longer and it seems like the end of Lent is further and further away..

Fasting? really?  
What do yall think about fasting?

I didn’t know this until last night as I was putting finishing touches;
this sermon is really trying to convince you...and perhaps better said, convince me (I’ve said before most sermons I preach are for me), well convince all of us that fasting is something not just worthwhile, but something that should be part of our a regular daily living, not just during lent.  

Maybe some of you already know about fasting, and fast regularly? Anyone?

My experience:
I’ve fasted on occasion in college as part of campus ministry organizations I was part of.
We fasted and prayed; but, that was when I was 20 years ago!

Well for the benefit of those of us for whom fasting is kind of a newer idea, or not something we practice regularly, let’s start at a base level.

First, a definition:
SLIDE - Definition Fasting
  1. Fasting is primarily an act of willing abstinence or reduction from certain or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time.
Food or drink, or both... pretty essential to life, right?
Why give that up?

Okay, so let’s look at reasons why people would give up food--I’ll have to leave the drink part for another Sunday; but feel free to consider any form of drinks as part of a fast you may choose.  .
Probably the most difficult reality of not having food, comes among people where food is scarce...not really a willing act, but I think we should be aware of this global reality as we consider giving up food...

I’ll never forget when I was about 19, the Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo preached at the chapel of Wheaton college, a conservative Christian school, and brought the reality of global food scarcity to our attention in this way...
He said:
"I have three things I'd like to say today.
- First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
- Second, most of you don't give a shit.
- What's worse, thirdly, is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."[5] (as quoted in wikipedia)

One reason people might fast is to be in solidarity with those who have to go without.
By experiencing hunger, we might better empathize, and as a result make an effort to help respond to food scarcity....  
One of the programs in my congregation in Santa Fe was to not eat one meal a week or so, and then donate whatever money might have been spent on that food to help alleviate hunger
If we ever feel like starting a program like that here, we can certainly explore it; I’m game... I think...

Why else might we fast…
Let’s turn to the Bible, let’s turn to Jesus, always a good idea for christians…..
 Back to Matthew Slide
IN our passage from Matthew, we revisit Jesus in the wilderness. Matthew makes clear Jesus fasted...and the first temptation after not eating for forty days: food.
Aparently the tempter wasn’t a rock, I mean rocket scientist with his first temptation..
Let’s see, how can we get ‘em?  Have him make a giant sand sculpture? That would be impressive...  
I know I know...Let’s get him to turn rocks into bread! Yeah!

Stones into bread, food. Jesus would have had to do all the work of course.
I mean it would have been a lot more tempting if Satan would have walked up with some freshly baked bread and held it under JEsus’ nose…
Regardless  Jesus refuses:
We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God.  
It seems for Jesus fasting, prayer, god’s word, all are intertwined.
Somehow fasting, lends itself to prayer, which lends itself to listening.  
A good thing, right?

Plus, Jesus talks about fasting like it was a regular thing for him and his disciples,
he says, when you fast, not if you fast, or consider fasting! He says, when you fast, when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

So we fast because we’re commanded to do so by Jesus…plus we get a reward when we fast...what more do you want?
Shall I end the sermon there?   

Apparently, Jesus isn’t convincing enough…
Let’s look at others who fast.

Fasting is practiced by people of many faiths for a long time,
including Bahai, Buddists, Christians of all denominations, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Taoists, just to name a few.  
Peer pressure

One interesting way fasting has been very effective is when it has been used as an act of advocacy or a call for action

Most of us are aware of the prisoners in Guantanamo who continue to fast to call attention to their detentions...which they believe are unjust. This could be worth remembering if we ever find ourselves in a situation we don’t feel is right.  

In the past century, we saw fasting used quite effectively by a number of people for a particular cause..

Slide Mohandas Gandi is one such person. A spiritual leader who continues to influence many, Gandhi fasted anywhere from a day, to 21 days, and most often Gandhi fasted as part of nonviolent protesting.
Here are a few things Gandhi said on his experience fasting:
  • He said, All fasting and all penance must as far as possible be secret. (He loved Jesus)
  • A fast is a literal denial of self. It is the truest prayer.  
  • When a man fasts, it is not the gallons of water he drinks that sustains him, but God.   
when you don’t have anything in your belly, you know you’re praying...dear God, help me!  Gandhi also said:

  • My fast is among other things meant to qualify me for achieving that equal and selfless love.

Gandhi certainly cast fasting in a positive spiritual light:

Another person who fasted in this country was Cesar Chavez, of the United Farm Workers movement which was an effort to gain fair wages and better working conditions for California farm workers in the 60s and 70s.

Chavez undertook a number of "spiritual fasts".
He regarded the act as “a personal spiritual transformation”.[15]
In 1968, during one tense strike, some of the members of the UFW wanted to retaliate for violence that was being used against them. Cesar decided that he was going to fast until the members “made up their minds that they were not going to be committing violence”--he fasted 25 days. His fast became a national event, with letters of support pouring in from all over the country, including from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

So fasting can be a very useful tool to effect positive change in society.  When we since the level of violence is escalating in society, instead of petitioning for more guns, we might consider fasting!

But, hey, let’s be real, maybe we’re still not motivated; Jesus, Gandhi, or Chavez…

How bout Mother Teresa… pulling out all the stops!
Mother Teresa said: "We need to be emptied before God can fill us". Fasting and renunciation are our part of the job in faith, so that God may fill us...
Did that do it?
Okay, If you’re like me, it’s hard to be convinced to fast.  
Even during bible study this week, I came up with all kinds of reasons why I wasn’t going to fast food. I said maybe something else.

I looked at this strange passage from Numbers (return to that slide)

This is a crazy passage:
this is the fifth time these Israelites, who have been freed from slavery, for crying out loud, are just complaining against Moses... only here they protest against Moses and God.
They’re so messed up their sentences don’t even make sense.  
“There’s no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food!” Huh?

I suggested at bible study something we could fast is complaining...and that is perfectly legit. If that’s what you decide to fast, complaining, you’ll probably make a lot of people around you happy :0.

They complain, God sends snakes.  
Then Moses crafts a bronze snake, which if the people get bit by the snakes they can look at Moses’ snake and be made well. Crazy story!

In some way this is probably the most realistic portrayal of why most of us are reluctant to fast:
When we fast, when we don’t have food in our bellies, we get grumpy, we start complaining about this and that and the other, maybe we don’t make any sense.

And, next thing we know, God is sending snakes; and we don’t want to get bit because last I heard they destroyed Moses’ magic snake back in 715 BC when Hezekiah ascended the throne of Judah and issued a reform and got rid of that thing because people were worshiping it!

I don’t fast food so I don’t get bitten by a snake and die!

Ok, I’m going to close with one last effort to get you and me to consider fasting.
Studies show--the brain scientists, the cancer doctors, all these smart people--are showing us that fasting is really really good for us. Has really really positive long term effects:

Fasting can help fight cancer.  
Fasting is good for the brain...because Fasting is a challenge to your brain…
and your brain responses to that challenge of not having food by activating adaptive stress response pathways that help your brain cope with stress and resist disease.

In other words, fasting leads to increased brain power and has positive long-term effects on our brains... helping to prevent things like Alzheimer's and parkinson's.

Convinced yet? Alright, a few more motivational can read them on your own.

SLIDE - a few more motivational quotes :)
Plato said, I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency.
Philippus Paracelsus, said, Fasting is the greatest remedy--the physician within.
Mark Twain said, “A little starvation can really do more fo the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors.”
And on an Egyptian pyramid inscription for around 3800 BC: “Humans live on  one quarter of what they eat; on the other three quarters lives their doctor.”

Any of you willing to take the challenge with me?
I want to challenge as many of us in the congregation who are able and willing to fast one meal this upcoming week; maybe some of you will want to go a whole day without eating....

If you eat three meals a day, plus snacks, and you do this..
it’s probably not going to feel very good.
Kind of like if you don’t run, and you go out and run, it hurts.
But, the more we practice fasting, the easier it gets, or so I’ve heard.

So what do you think...who’s up for fasting this week?  A meal..or more.
If you can.  

We did say at our tuesday bible study, where we usually eat together that we would not eat, so that will be our day of skipping a meal; come join in to be in solidarity; and if you bring food….well, that would be just wrong :).   

When you fast, feel free to throw in a few prayers,
especially when you get that urge to eat something..pray for those who have little to no DAILY bread.

As has been our practice this lent, let’s close with a few minutes of silence, which I’ll open and close by ringing the bell, listen to how God may be speaking to you….

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