Finding our Way Again—Fasting.1

by admin on March 14, 2010

Reflection for Sunday 7 March 2010

Before we begin with today’s message/reflection/discussion…how about a report from the front? How did last week go? What interesting things happened? How did you notice the grace of God bursting forth? What kind of mundane things did you encounter? How did living the Jesus way make things different?

I believe that our faith gathering here is primarily a school of eternal living, to steal a phrase from Dallas Willard. The idea of conversion is not a once-for-all; I did that long ago, idea….remember our discussion last week? Conversion is the gradual socialization of being nurtured into the faith.

There is a caveat, however, in that practicing the presence of God is not about conjuring it up according to special words, actions, thoughts.

St. Rosalind Russell said: Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death. Practicing the presence of God is about pulling up to the banquet table. God in Jesus is compassion, love and joy. Practice does not take the place of theological reflection. However as I have taught: what? So what? Now what? It’s this last one that is largely neglected. Practicing the presence of God is about this last one—so what?

So…life is a banquet. Here’s tonight’s $64,000 question—Do you eat to live or live to eat? Tonight let’s begin a continued discussion on another one of the seven faith practices of the early Jesus movement as presented by Brian McLaren’s Finding Our Way Again. Fasting. The Bible teaches us that is goes along with prayer.

What’s your take on fasting? My dad’s mother was a hard core Catholic, Byzantine Rite. Some say that the Russian Orthodox—and I’ll include the Greek Catholics in this idea—this branch of the church is God’s spiritual Marine Corps. The few, the brave, the Eastern Christians. When they fast, yikes. Grandma didn’t just give up Brussels sprouts for Lent; there were no eggs, dairy, meat, sweets, oil….basically root vegetables and cabbage for the whole time. If grandma came to visit during Lent, Fridays were especially bad news.

Here’s another take on fasting. I was at Fresh Market Friday night gathering some veggies for dinner. I looked over the squash and didn’t like what I saw so I asked the produce guy if there was more of a selection in the back. He said. “Sure, I’ll get some for you.” He returned with some beautiful green zucchini and while I picked them over, a young guy came bustling toward us and asked if the store had any tofu…several containers of it. Again, “sure, I’ll get some for you.” I asked the man why in the world he wanted tofu, and not just one but several boxes. He said that his wife was trying out a new recipe to feed the kids. Then he added how his priest the previous Sunday had read out the Lenten enforcement rules. Tofu and fasting, the surest way to get the kids to bail out altogether from any notion of following Jesus.

Another story about fasting. We were serving at another church where we had a Head Start housed in the building. Over the years I got to know quite well all the staff people there in that important children’s development operation. One of the cooks there, Mabel, one year announced that she was fasting for Lent. Being young and dumb I surmised that her Lenten fasting would give her the chance to give up a meal a week and bank the money otherwise spent on food. How innocent. Wouldn’t it be cool to give that money, then, to some organization whose main mission was the feed the hungry in our town? That’s where my mind was going. Not a chance. I asked, “What are you going to do with that cash you saved on food?”—she had recruited her whole family in the deal. “Oh,” she said, “I’m going to buy a new fur coat.” Somehow I think the sacrificial idea of fasting got lost.

Most of us buy into the popular religious thinking out there that fasting is for the pious, ascetic folks. I tried that once…didn’t work. I tried that but my blood sugar got out of whack.

Here I will make a self admission—I never really gave fasting much thought, beyond the usual talk during Lent—that is, until I read Brian McLaren’s Finding Our Way Again. I was struck dumb by his insight into the seven do-able practices of the Abrahamic faiths. I would like to incorporate them into the fabric of our Nova Faith Community. Fasting is one of them; and so we look to the story of Jesus for our launch point, specifically the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 6:16—18

Hypocrites—those false faces in the Greek theatre.
Disfigure the face—engages the whole person
Reward—impression management
But when you fast—used twice to point out the counter intuitive nature of following Jesus
You get dressed up—complete opposite of impression management
Father will reward—the emphasis is on otherworldly attention and secrecy

Disclaimer at this point Fasting is not about wringing a favor out of God. There’s a pastor in town who has talked about the extent of his own personal fasting, to the point of his pants falling off and his face emaciated. By golly, God broke down.

McLaren’s book steered me towards a new book on fasting written by Scot McKnight. (must be a thing about Scotsmen) I respect Scot’s work in New Testament theology: he is bright, insightful and deeply devoted to actually following Jesus, not just lecturing about him. Scot writes—now get this—“Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moments in life.” Think hard about this.

(At this juncture someone offered the astute and penetrating observation that “those words don’t logically go together.” Precisely—counter-intuitive. )

Have you ever experienced some grievous sacred moment? Death, loss, disorientation. This is why the Psalter is such a rich resource for prayer and meditation: practices for spiritual deepening. Walter Brueggemann’s weighty work in study of the Psalms offers this movement in that Bible book: orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.

Again note: Fasting is not a manipulative tool that guarantees results. It’s a natural, inevitable response. There is an A—B—C framework.

A = grievous [sacred] moment.
B = response I’m not hungry. Only now can this sacred moment be given its full power and therefore does the fasting generate results.
C = openness to hear, incorporate, integrate this experience. It has the potential of being nothing short of total life transformation. Isn’t that what Jesus actually pulls off?

McKnight: “Fasting is a choice not to eat for a designated period because some moment is so sacred that partaking food would deface or profane the seriousness of the moment.”

Sacred moments are highly anxious times. What to do? Auto-pilot.

Fasting is mindful eating. Nothing affects the body more than food.

Jesus teaching is about direct connection to our bodies. This is who we are—a unity of body, mind, spirit, emotions. Jesus is deeply rooted in Jewish body theology. Genesis 1:27. We are ikons of God. This means that our body is essential. 1 Cor 6:9temple of the living God. It also means that we engage in relationships because we are already in them. Biological life is about being in network. Finally this body theology is about attending to now. Mindfulnessmyself, surroundings and options for actions.

Fasting is a response to a grievous sacred moment. The prevailing question that eventually rolls out of our minds is: Where is God in all this? The perceived absence of God creates in us a sense of yearning for God’s presence. Think of this a dating. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Fasting is what we can do to respond to and embody the absence of God. NB: it takes a community to help us do this. This is one very essential thing I learned during my pilgrimage to Mt. Saviour’s last summer. In the so-called “absence” we affirm that God is always present.

To wrap up–a reflection from Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: “The practice of fasting goes with Jesus’ teaching about nourishing ourselves on the person of Jesus. The emphasis is on the direct availability of God to nourish, sustain and renew our souls.”

Next week we will pick up on this idea as we explore this theme “Fasting—Famished—Feasting” based on John 4:1-42—the woman at the well. Week after we will discuss the sacred rhythm that fasting opens to us, especially the fasts of Yom Kippur and Good Friday.

Special announcement—Easter Sunrise Worship at 6:00 am April 4. Place will be determined and announced next Sunday. Be at peace and live in love.

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