Sermon Summary (7/23/17) “How God Changes Us: When You Fast” (Mt 6:16-18; 16:24)
“If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves.” Deny themselves, submission, not on of my favorite topics. Every Monday morning I take a “stupid pill,” stupid because I have to wait 30 minutes after it for my first cup of coffee. I can’t even fast for 30 minutes! We define a fast in my house as a nap!
But years ago, it was different. During Lent I fasted on Fridays, maybe the most spiritual thing I’ve ever done. With every hunger pang, with every false reach of my hand for a phantom cup of coffee, I knew I was doing for God. I knew my dependence on God. I was continually reminded to pray.
The early church fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. John Wesley fasted on Fridays and expected in pastors to do so. (I hope the DS doesn’t ask!) We fast, we practice disciplines of abstinence to make room for God. “In the early morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mk 1:35) Jesus practiced solitude (italics note disciplines) to make room for prayer.
We need silence to hear God. I once opened up a house on Cape Cod alone. The electricity was off, there wasn’t even a 60 cycle hum in the house. t was silence like I’d never experienced. We need that to hear God.
We practice fasting to make us aware of our dependence on God. When we experience physical dependence, we also find our need for spiritual dependence.
We practice frugality, controlling our abundance, and sacrifice, giving from our need, to place our treasure in perspective. (See the widow’s mite, Mk 12:42-44) We need to be free from our things. What if every now and then we just gave a day’s wage? Divide our gross income on our tax return by 365 and just give it away. Free from any entanglements, free from the need to plan how to spend it. Jesus told the rich young ruler, “One more thing, give away all you have and come and follow me.” It wasn’t the money, it was the attachment!
Remember, Jesus said “For those who want to save their live will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it prophet them if their gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Of what will the give in return for their life? (Mt 16:25-26) Mark Twain said “It’s no the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me, but the parts that I do.” I hope Jesus was using a little hyperbole here but he’s made his point. I find myself wanting.
The last of the disciples of abstinence in secrecy, not letting the right hand know what the left is doing. Secrecy makes room for humility, setting aside pride and bringing us closer to the imitation of Christ.
One more Wesley story about fasting. This is a combination of what we talked of last week and this week. Last week we said that John Wesley began preparing for The Lord’s Supper on Thursday night, preparing beginning Thursday to meet the Risen Lord at the Lord’s Table on Sunday morning.
He patterned his preparation on the Passion of Christ.
He began his fast after supper on Thursday. Jesus said he would not eat or drink of the fruit of the vine until he feasted at the heavenly banquet. Following the beginning of his fast, Wesley patterned his Thursday evening devotion after Jesus in Gethsemane.
On Friday morning in his devotion, Wesley was before the Sanhedrin and then in Pilate’s palace as Jesus had been. Where Jesus had been scourged and then made the long, painful walk to Golgotha. Where Jesus was crucified.
Then, on Friday afternoon at 3:00 , as Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” Wesley broke his fast. Jesus’ earthly fast was over.
Devotions Friday and Saturday contemplated the sacrifice of Christ for us and for our salvation.
And then, and then on Sunday morning, in his devotions, Wesley went to the tomb with Mary Magdalene, with Peter and with John to encounter the resurrected Lord.
And that’s who he met at the Communion Table, at the Table of the Lord on Sunday morning.
Wesley’s weekly devotions, including the fast focused on the Passion of Christ. It was the fast that was the channel of grace by which Wesley began his weekly preparations. By which God changed Wesley, transformed Wesley, sanctified Wesley week after week. It was through the fast, through his prayers, through the Table of the Lord that Wesley moved on to perfection throughout his entire life. May we too experience this transformation as we make room for God and connect to grace. Amen.