Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4: 1-13
Our Lenten season today begins with the story of Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness when once there Jesus fasted for 40 days. At the end of his fast, Jesus was famished. Have you ever been famished? Sometimes we’re in a hurry in the morning and skip breakfast, and by 11 am we are so hungry we feel like we can eat a horse. Some days we are so busy we find ourselves skipping lunch and making do with a snack from the vending machine. Many of us have had to fast before a medical procedure or getting blood drawn. Some of us may fast as part of a weight loss plan.
Our scriptures however talk about a deliberate fast for spiritual purposes. During Lent, Christians are called to the disciplines of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Today we will reflect on the discipline of fasting. Fasting means different things to different people. For some, it means a total abstinence from food for a period of time. For others it might be only one meal a day. Others fast from certain items, like meat, fish, dairy, or sugar. Has anyone here ever fasted for spiritual purposes? What kind of fast do you do?
In the bible, people fast for a variety of reasons. As a sign of repentance for our sins. To prepare for something significant, to gain wisdom, to increase spiritual strength, or to bring added urgency for something important that is being prayed over. There were communal fasts in times of national calamities. Jesus once told his disciples that certain unclean spirits could only be expelled by prayer and fasting (Mark9:29). Like Jesus, Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:28). Daniel eliminated delicacies, meat and wine from his diet for the full three weeks in order to understand a vision he had received ( Daniel 10:3). Queen Esther, in order to save her people from annihilation, called for a 3-day communal fast to avert disaster. King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a fast to ensure a victory over enemies (2Chron. 20:2-3). The people are called to repentance by the prophet Joel through a time of “fasting and weeping and mourning.” Joel (2;19). The prophet Anna fasted and prayed for the redemption of Jerusalem and the coming of messiah, and as a result, recognized Jesus as the Messiah when brought to the temple as a baby. With so much prominence given to fasting in the scriptures, it is striking that it is probably the least discussed and promoted Lenten discipline in our churches today. Growing up, I never heard a sermon about fasting. The extent of my instruction was to eat fish on Fridays and eat nothing between 1-3 on Good Fridays. I believe I missed out on a lot.
It is clear that fasting is a spiritual discipline that Christians are strongly encouraged to incorporate in their faith practices. Fasting is a powerful tool because at its core, fasting is an act of humility. Fasting can be physically uncomfortable – but it's for an important reason. In our discomfort, we discover the frailty of human nature. Our eyes are opened to hidden or unconfessed sin or wrongdoing. We acknowledge in fasting that we don’t have the answers. We don’t have the strength in and of ourselves to accomplish what needs to be done. Fasting is meant to awaken us to our spiritual life, which is often buried under a mountain of material wants and desires. Fasting confronts us with our pride, our self-righteousness and our need to be right and calls us to see ourselves through the eyes of God, fragile, vulnerable, prone-to-sin beings loved by God.
Fasting forces us out of our daily routine. By deny ourselves a meal, a piece of meat, a dessert, we allow ourselves to become more aware of the spiritual dimension of life. Our vision becomes clearer. We get to see all the ways we have dealt with our spiritual hunger—through food and snacking, with social media, through shopping, or work. Fasting exposes the ways our lives have become upended and how our priorities have been messed up.
Being famished raises the issue of what are we really hungry for? Our deepest most fundamental need is for love and acceptance, and as people of faith, it is our need for God that is paramount in our lives. St. Augustine put it succinctly when he said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” However, The Devil the tempter, just as he tried to steer Jesus off path, tries to upset our lives, tries to substitute other things for the love and presence of God in our hearts – from trying to inflame our appetites for money, recognition, power, self-importance all things that obscure the true desire of our hearts. Fasting is a key tool in combating the temptation of evil in us and around us. I read this past week that only 20% of Protestants even participate in Lent, let alone fast. The Evil One must be pleased with that statistic. Imagine how spiritually powerful we could become if we developed a consistent routine of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?
Fasting although powerful, in and of itself is not a panacea – fasting invites us to change our habits and hearts. If we don’t change fasting is futile, as the prophet Isaiah once powerfully proclaimed:
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
During our season of Lent, let us be reacquainted with the spiritual discipline of fasting, as far as you are medically able to do. If fasting is not an established practice, try during this season of lent to make it one. Start small – Fast from dessert. Fast from junk food or sweets. Fast from processed foods, or from take out. If you are healthy enough, maybe skip a meal. See what it is like to go an entire day, or from day to dusk, without eating. Fast in other areas of your life. Fast from social media. Fast from gossiping or thinking unkindly of someone else. Let us fast from fighting! Just know whatever you can offer up is accepted by God – it is good enough. God is delighted with our baby steps. Do we want to grow or revitalize as a congregation? Do we seek a vision of God for our future? Let us fast, each to their ability. I invite you to join me, God willing, in fasting one day a week, from noon on Wednesday to noon on Thursday during Lent. Do whatever works for you. But let us reclaim fasting as part of our spiritual practice we become famished. Famished for the presence of God. Famished to break the hold of sin and evil. Famished for healing. Famished for caring for each other. Famished for God’s righteousness, justice peace and mercy to mold our hearts and flourish on earth. May we be famished this Lent, and in doing so, may we all truly taste and see that the Lord is good. Amen