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“Fasting – What is it and Why?”

Adams United Methodist Church

Sulphur Springs United Methodist Church

Pastor Missy McCarthy

Music: Sue& Craig Gamet, Mike To

March 7, 2021 3rd Sunday of Lent


Scripture:

Matthew 6:16-18


Children’s Moment: (Pictures of a messy bedroom)

Do your parents ever make you clean your rooms? Do you ever get to the point where it can almost be hard to walk around in there? Even to see the floor? Sometimes for our kids it seems a messy room happens slowly. It will be a busy day and things start to stack up or pile up – one thing and then another. They forget to take care of clothes or something else and before you know it there is a tiny path through their room and we are reminding them to clean their room again.

This happens in our lives with God too. We get busy and forget to pay attention to God. It is why we have Lent and Advent. We can clear things away and clean up. One of the ways we clean up is by fasting. That can look like a lot of different things – it means we stop doing something for a specific amount of time and remember God instead. Usually, it has to do with food, but we can fast from being negative, or from yelling, or from saying mean things to others. Traditionally people choose to fast from food during the day. They eat breakfast in the morning, and then instead of lunch they pray and will eat a late dinner. They take the time they are hungry to remember others who are hungry and ask God to help them to remember how good God is and listen to God. Fasting from food is not a good idea for kids though, so we usually try to fast from something else – like fighting watching tv or saying mean things. When you would normally do that thing, you pray instead – that is like taking the time to clean your room – it clears things away so you can focus on God. Asking God to help you stay focused on God and follow God’s teachings so you can know God’s love and help God love people. Let’s pray and ask God to help us fast this week.

Reflection: “Fasting – What is it and Why?”

Fasting is a spiritual practice that is not very popular in our day and age. I think part of it is we don’t like to deny ourselves anything. It is hard and annoying. We are instant gratification society, so denial is the complete opposite of that.

We struggle to even understand what fasting is. Most folks think of fasting and they think diet, or something you do to lose weight. Something others would notice. That is kind of what Jesus is talking about in this passage from Matthew. When folks were fasting, they would usually put ashes on their heads as an outward sign of what they were doing. Instead, Jesus was telling them to anoint with oil which was the sign for joy. Fasting was meant for deepening their relationship with God and opening them up for transformation of their hearts. It was meant not for show, or praise, but for changed lives. Jesus was calling them out on why they were doing what they were doing. If you are fasting, so that you can fulfill a checkbox, or in our case so you can say you are doing something for God and really you are giving up chocolate because you want to loose twenty pounds, well then just don’t do it – because it is the wrong reason. On the other hand, if you are willing to deepen your relationship with God and be transformed – well then bring on the fast!

John Wesley believed fasting was a means of grace. In The Devotional Life in the Wesleyan Tradition by Steve Harper, he explains that Wesley traced fasting practices back to Christ himself and saw how God transformed people through fasting so encouraged people to fast weekly as a means of Grace. We can actually look even further back than the New Testament and see that in the Old Testament folks fasted when having to make a big decision, when approaching God, or when encountering a dilemma. Esther fasts before approaching the king, and requests her uncle and the Jewish people to fasts as well. Many of the prophets fast in order to discern God’s will. It is a practice of putting aside our own wants and needs for a time and focusing on prayer. John Wesley would fast weekly on Fridays. He would use the money he would have spent on the food to be eaten for the poor and the time spent on food prep and consumption on prayer. He insisted though, that fasting was not done in a way that would hurt the body, so if you were ill, you could modify your fast (taking liquid, or broth, or only fasting from indulgences - finding instances of that in the Bible). The idea being purposefully stopping some activity that you do often and is part of your daily routine in order to purposefully spend the time and energy in prayer to be transformed by God.

Fasting is not a punishment, not an excuse to jumpstart your weight loss program, or to not have to choke down Johnny’s dreaded cookies in the break room. It is an intentional sacrifice done in such a way as to spend time with God. It is hard and I have to be honest, I don’t do it every year. Some years the things I have fasted from I have not taken back up. My Diet Coke addiction is no longer – I realized I could live without it although that was not my intention at the time. Meat on Fridays was always rough for me, and I always took that back because chicken wing cravings always seemed to happen on Fridays! Yet it gave me lots of time for prayer. So, this week what can you fast from to try out this spiritual practice? Pope Francis gave us some ideas:

· Fast from hurting words and say kind words.

· Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.

· Fast from anger and be filled with patience.

· Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.

· Fast from worries and trust in God.

· Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.

· Fast from pressures and be prayerful.

· Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.

· Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.

· Fast from grudges and be reconciled.

· Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.