Posts Tagged ‘fasting’

Church Council Homily 03-16-17: “And Then They Will Fast”

March 16, 2017

I preached the following homily this evening at Church Council. 

Homily Text: Matthew 9:15

My sermon last Sunday, if you recall, was about witnessing. I made the case, based on Jesus’ call of Matthew in Matthew 9, for the importance and priority of witnessing. I also discussed how, in spite of this, we so often fail to do it. I said: “I’m tempted to say, ‘We need to try harder. We need to work harder. We need to follow this plan, apply these principles, use these techniques to become better witnesses.’”

The problem with saying that is that it won’t work. We don’t need to witness more; we need to fall in love with Jesus more. If only we could, I said, witnessing would take care of itself.

As my family was only too happy to remind me, my sermon was already 32 minutes long. So I didn’t have time to talk about how to fall in love with Jesus. We already know many of the ways: prayer, Bible study, worship, the Lord’s Supper, Christian service—these are what we Methodists call the “means of grace.”

But alongside these is the most neglected means of grace by far.

I’m talking about fasting. I preached on fasting a couple of months ago when I preached on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. But in last Sunday’s scripture it came up again: the disciples of John the Baptist asked why Jesus and his disciples—unlike themselves and the Pharisees—weren’t doing it. And Jesus said, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”  Read the rest of this entry »

Fasting during Lent

March 7, 2011

The vast majority of Methodists do not fast. The vast majority of Methodist clergy (I strongly suspect) fast only rarely, if ever. Yet, last June, before I was finally approved for full ordination as an elder, one of the “historic” questions the bishop asked us—which John Wesley used to ask of his preachers—was, “Do you fast?” (The correct answer is “yes.”) And, “Will you teach your parishioners to fast?” (Again, the correct answer is “yes.”)

In that spirit, I did preach about fasting last year in my sermon series “Putting the Method in Methodist.” On this blog, I also shared some helpful information from Richard Foster’s essential book on the spiritual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline. (If you haven’t read it, you should order it now—don’t delay!)

Wesley emphasized regular fasting as a means of grace alongside prayer, worship, Holy Communion, Bible study, and service, among others. He also believed that it was for everyone—certainly all good Methodists—not just for the superheroic saints among us.

But we in our modern age think we know better than Wesley and the vast majority of saints through two millennia who have routinely fasted as one part of their spiritual growth and development. We think we have “science” on our side, which tells us—we imagine—that unless we have at least three square meals each day, with ample snacks in between, we will drop dead from malnutrition.

Needless to say, this isn’t true. Wesley himself died at 87, without the benefit of modern medicine, and he fasted at least once, often twice, a week his entire adult life.

So I encourage you (and me) to fast. Given that Lent is fast approaching—this Wednesday is Ash Wednesday—what better time to start practicing the discipline than now? See my earlier posts or read my sermon for tips.

In my sermon yesterday, I talked about a common sight in the Holy Land—the Bedouin, a nomadic people who are often seen grazing sheep and goats on dusty, barren mountainsides throughout the Middle East. They have almost nothing by our Western standards. And the terrain on which they live is harsh and rugged. It seems highly unsuitable for supporting human life and livestock. Yet these Bedouin have been living this way, immune to the trappings of modernity, for thousands of years—and flourishing.

Bedouin grazing livestock is a common sight in the Middle East

How is that possible?

Their example challenges me. It makes me face the fact that we human beings really require very little to live. We usually live as if we require a great deal. Their example also helps me to see how faithful our heavenly Father is in providing for us. Maybe during Lent—through fasting or the more common practice of “giving something up”—we can learn that we, too, can live on a little less. And that we can trust in God a little more.

Sermon from 03-14-10: “Putting the Method in Methodist, Part 2: Fasting or Giving Something Up

March 24, 2010

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:16-18

In part 1 of this sermon series, we talked in general about what John Wesley and much of the universal Church call the “means of grace,” practices or disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, Holy Communion, worship, and fasting. As I said last week, in the early days of the Methodist movement, John and Charles Wesley and some of their Oxford classmates began meeting in small groups to practice these disciplines and hold each other accountable. Some of their classmates who didn’t approve of what they perceived as religious fanaticism called them “Methodists” because they took very seriously these methods of living out the Christian life. But “method” isn’t a good word: it’s not about simply employing a technique or following a plan or developing some kind of spiritual skill whereby we can grow closer to God. No, we call them means of grace because it’s about grace, not what we do but what God the Holy Spirit does through these disciplines to transform us into the people God wants us to be. Read the rest of this entry »