Sunday, 3 February 2013

A lesson on fasting in Lent

Epiphany 5 year C Sermon 
In a few minutes we are going to feast together
as the people of God. We’ll fire up the barbeque….
set out the salads and sit down for our annual parish picnic in the park.

And in ten days’ time… when the Season of Lent begins …Feb 13thmany of us will be challenged not to feast but to fast…at least… from something we
habitually consume in our lives.

The Season of Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter.
It’s a special time in the Church…and a time when we also remember the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert.
It was a difficult time for Jesus. He fasted
and was tempted to accomplish his mission…
using power rather than love.

During Lent…many Christians…
employ the discipline of fasting…to help us concentrate on what Jesus gave up for us.  

But most don’t realise…the decision to fast in the season of Lent…is a wonderful way to experience and celebrate … our freedom in Christ. Freedom from the powers and principalities that dictate how we spend our time and our money… and what we take into and put on our bodies.

Our culture tells us that
freedom gives us the right to be self-absorbed and self-focused…so we get more and buy more and spend more on what we want. But if we accept the dictates of the powers and principalities of this world…without holding them up to the light of Jesus… we’re actually selling ourselves into bondage.
Jesus has redeemed us so we can live in freedom.
He tells his disciples, "If the Son makes you free,
you will be free indeed" The apostle Paul echoes that wonderful truth: in his letter to the Romans
"The law of the Spirit of life… in Christ Jesus
has set you free from the law of sin and of death". [pause]

Most of us need some good teaching about fasting…don’t we? Because we don’t know much about it really and kind of think of it as self-deprivation…
we don’t realise the ancient practice of fasting… encourages us… to grow in true freedom.

In fasting, God invites us to experience the kind of freedom that is rooted in healthy discipline and meaningful sacrifice. Fasting offers the opportunity…
to step back from the demands of our culture
and cross the doorway into God's presence.

Fasting ushers us into a reflective place…
where we can listen to God… and pray wholeheartedly for things that really matter. When we fast, we’re free briefly…from our need for food or entertainment or busyness. We are even free to embrace discomfort if we want to…for a short season. In fasting we’re free from our need to be strong all the time, to control everything and understand everything.

Fasting strips away the extraneous stuff…so we focus for a season… on the thing that really matters…
our relationship with God. And if you hadn’t noticed…the disciplines of fasting and Sabbath keeping are profoundly counter-cultural.

The world we live in… tells us we should be productive and happy all the time. In fact, we often get the message… that something’s wrong with us…
if we aren't busy and bright every moment of the day.

But sadly, we miss something significant about God
if we listen to our culture.

God runs the universe-we don’t. We affirm this truth in a special way… when we stop working
and embrace rest on the sabbath.

Jesus reveals to us that God cares deeply about the hurting, the lonely, the poor and those who need his love. We affirm this truth in a special way when we fast and pray. The Bible almost always speaks of prayer and fasting together.  

When we fast we voluntarily…we set aside our own contentment for a set period of time and embrace discomfort… so we can pray for those who live in discomfort all the time.

In the midst of our culture's frantic pace and obsession with personal happiness, the rhythms of Sabbath keeping and fasting… can help us step aside from our culture
and put God at the centre of our lives.

The rhythm of fasting and feasting…
makes us spiritually healthier. Just as fasting lasts for a set time only, so should feasting. But our culture encourages us to feast all the time.

Christians today practise fasting in a variety of ways. Fasting might involve abstaining from food, as the people of God did centuries ago…but you could also fast from the news media, or entertainment, or even information…You can fast from shopping, or email or the Internet.

My friend Lynne Baab… the author of a book
on Christian Fasting tells this story about a fast she made …she says…

‘I was praying for the thousandth time about an obstacle my friend had faced for almost two years…it was something that should have been resolved much more quickly. As I was praying, the idea came into my mind that perhaps we should fast together
as we prayed for the problem.

I ask God how and when to fast on that particular day. When I looked at my schedule, I had three appointments involving four car trips…may fifteen to twenty minutes long.

Lynne says…‘When I drive I always play music, turned up really loud. So I decided to fast from music… on those four car trips, expecting the silence would remind me to pray.
So on that pleasant sunny day I set out on my first expedition with the car windows wide open.

I heard something surprising right away: my muffler was beginning to conk out! I hadn't noticed it before because of the music …and I wondered what else
I might be missing in my life
because I do so many things the same way, day after day.
On the first two car tripsI prayed fervently for my preferred solution to my friend's problem. On the third trip, I realized I’d spent no time at all…trying to hear God's voice on the matter… so I began to ask God…
to teach me how to pray for the problem.

I found myself thanking God for the ways he helped my friend cope… and brought good things to her
because of this unresolved issue.

Then my prayers changed again, and I began to focus on her family. By the fourth trip, I was praying for the problem in a totally different way…and this new way of praying… continued to influence my prayers even after the fast day ended.

Lynne’s story reminds us…that this form of fasting… helps us discover a profound freedom. We don't have to do things the same way, day after day. We are not slaves to our habits. We can change things around, try new things.  We can experience companionship with God
in new ways.

Free to make time to read the Bible… free to pray passionately…to listen to God and change the direction of our prayers.

God doesn't want us to punish ourselves. Fasting as self-punishment… denies the freedom God gives us in Christ. Fasting as self-punishment… doesn’t give energy to our prayers or help us listen for God. This is because our spirits are intimately connected to our bodies, and to deny the body can cripple the spirit.

Fasting isn’t about extreme self-denial day after day, year after year. Fasting lasts only for a set time.

When we fast, we embrace the rhythms of life. Sometimes it’s healthy to celebrate abundance; sometimes we need to submit ourselves to discipline.

This season of Lent begins in ten days time on the 13th of February, I want to challenge you to embrace your freedom to choose…and  liberate yourself
from bondage to something…I want to challenge you to embrace fasting…as a way to affirm your desire
for God's presence.

And be open to the possibilities God might reveal to you …just imagine giving up worrying for Lent…or gossiping…or negativity…or busyness…!

imagine every time you find yourself fretting… repeating instead…let go and Let God.

So in this coming week I want you to do three things.

One…pray…ask God to show you how to fast in the Season of Lent.

Two…be patient wait … listen for God’s guidance…

Three…exercise your freedom in Christ
to respond to what God is calling you to do.

This sermon has been adapted from the Lynne M. Baab’s Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites Kindle Edition. Intervarsity Press, 2006.