Hungry For What’s Next
HUNGRY FOR WHAT’S NEXT
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. And it just so happens we are in the month of Ramadan and I am preaching on fasting. It was also one of the three acts of devotion expected of most Jews during the time of Jesus, along with prayer and the giving of alms to the poor.
I am guessing you have never had a pastor preach a sermon on fasting before. But we are doing a series on Spiritual Disciplines and fasting is one of them. And while most major religions have major periods of fasting as part of their religious devotion, the same cannot be said about Christianity. Perhaps the season of Lent might be considered a season of fasting. But traditionally Lent is more flexible. We can give up certain things but we are not really required to not eat and drink from sun up to sun down as Muslims are. My point today is not to tell you how to fast. You can buy Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline if you want the specifics on that. Jesus assumes in the Gospel’s that fasting is an accepted practice, he just makes comments on how his disciples are too fast. So while fasting does not seem to be as important in Christianity as it is in Judaism and Islam it is clear that Jesus disciples and Jesus himself did fast and they found it to be an important spiritual practice. So today I just have one point.
- Why did Jesus and his disciples fast?
As I said before the three pillars of Jewish devotion during the time of Jesus were prayer, giving, and fasting. Jesus comments on all these things in the Gospels. Often he commented on the abuses of these things. He pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who did religious acts like prayer, giving, and fasting, in public to impress people. Jesus countered these abuses by saying if you are concerned with what people think of you then you should do these acts of religious devotion in secret, including fasting. He tells us not to make a big deal of fasting. Don’t complain about how hungry you are. Don’t go walking around in sackcloth and ashes, with a gloomy face, showing everyone how serious you are. Instead, when you fast, clean yourself up, put on your best clothes, and act like a normal person.
Jesus seems to forbid dramatic, outward signs of repentance, like tearing your clothes, and fasting in public. While fasting was a sign of corporate repentance in the Old Testament, there is no sign in the Gospels, Paul’s letters, or in the book of Acts, that anyone ever fasted because they were repenting. Repentance seemed to be more a matter of the heart and a change of behavior rather than a big public show.
Indeed, Jesus disciples were not known for fasting. Jesus was known for dining with tax collectors and sinners and was accused of being a drunkard ( Luke 7:34). Now Jesus wasn’t a drunkard, and he had the spiritual maturity not to be tempted into immoral behavior. Not all of us have that ability in every social situation we may find ourselves in. We need to be aware of what situations tempt us and avoid those situations. Jesus wasn’t a liberal hippie nor was he a conservative homebody. He was a Good Shepherd and he had the spiritual maturity to walk with his sheep through the mess they found themselves in.
Jesus did not see fasting as a sign of repentance. Nor did he see fasting as a way of promoting more moral living. Indeed, I have fasted off and on in my life. Fasting teaches you how easily outside influences, like food can control you. Often when I fast I will start dreaming of food, particularly cake. But I haven’t found fasting increases my self control as an absolute rule. In fact, some of the biggest mistakes I have made in my life occurred during times when I was very serious about fasting. If you fast regularly you lose a lot of weight. It can appeal to your vanity. That is not a good thing. If you already have body image problems you should not fast on a regular basis.
In Matthew chapter 9, John the Baptists disciples come to Jesus and ask him why Jesus’ disciples do not fast. Because fasting was a common practice at the time. Jesus replies, “ Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Jesus tells John’s disciples that his disciples will fast when he has ascended into heaven. But Jesus is bringing something new. A new garment will be required. You can’t patch the old one or it will tear. New wine is coming and as it ferments gasses will be released and the Kingdom will expand. So you can’t have old wineskins, made out of old leather, you need new wineskins that are flexible. Jesus disciples will fast. But it won’t be like the fasting of old. They won’t fast because they want to impress people. They won’t fast because it helps them repent. They won’t fast because it will somehow make them more moral.
They will fast for the same reason Jesus fasted. Last week we celebrated Pentecost along with baptism and confirmation. It was a great honor to partake in both the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper on the birthday of the church. And our youth always do an amazing job on youth Sunday. It humbles me that often the times I am most moved in worship here at Calvin are the times that I have little to do with planning the worship. It reminds me that a day is coming when the wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the young goat, the calf and the lion, and a little child shall lead us. It is a sign of the Kingdom when children lead us in worship.
When Jesus was Baptized the Spirit fell upon Him like a Dove and the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Then the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. He fasted for forty days. Then the Devil came to Him and tempted Jesus to use his power to feed himself. In a desert, with rocks all around him, the Devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. And Jesus replies,
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Jesus fasted because he was Hungry for what’s was next in His ministry. He was hungry to know His Father’s Will and to speak His Father’s words. The Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to prepare him for the next step in His ministry. Jesus fasted, he suggests, so that he could better hear His Father. It seems that fasting better helped Jesus discern His Father’s Will.
And indeed, in Acts 13 the church in Antioch fasted and the Holy Spirit spoke to them and told them to set aside Saul and Barnabas for a new ministry. Antioch was one of the most successful churches in Acts. It was where the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians. So many non Jewish people had converted in Antioch it was clear that the Followers of the Way were not just Jews for the first time. The church grew so much that they were able to collect an offering to support the church in Jerusalem when the prophet Agabus predicted a famine. The church was doing well. There was no reason to think that things needed to change or that Paul and Barnabas needed to leave. But the church prayed and fasted and from this they determined that God wanted to do something else with Paul and Barnabas. Prayer and fasting revealed the Will of the Lord to the church at Antioch. And it changed that church’s plans. Jesus conquered the Devil because he was more hungry for His Father’s Words than he was for bread. Man does not live just to survive but to hear every word that comes out of the mouth of God. The church in Antioch also fasted because they wanted to know God’s plan for them. And indeed, the Lord spoke. Fasting seems to make us more spiritually sensitive. Fasting was a good idea for the church at Antioch. Because while we may have plans those plans may not always be God’s plans.
Here at Calvin you had a situation that was somewhat like the church at Antioch. Your last Pastor, Pastor Clayton, got called to another position at Massanetta Springs conference center. This was a rather unexpected change. It was not something Pastor Clayton was looking for. Indeed, he told me that he loved all of you dearly, and I know now why he did. But when he told you all about his next call I am sure many of you thought it made perfect sense knowing Pastor Clayton. The scriptures tell us that if we had a regular discipline of prayer and fasting that perhaps you all would have sensed that it was time for Pastor Clayton to move on and would have encouraged him to do so before he even got the call. Not because you did not love him but because you sensed God had other plans for him. Fasting and prayer helps us see God’s plans for us even when those plans are not our plans.
Do you know what I see in you church? I see a people that believe children are a joy and welcome them into their midst. I see a family that spans generations. I see an inheritance of love that is more than the sum of your parts. I see an expanded ministry to the preschool. I see an expanded ministry to families. I see us being a spiritual family that welcomes in families from every tribe and nation. For thus says the Lord, “Let the children come to and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church that could raise up a new generation of musicians to praise the Lord. “For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory. He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea. Let this be written for a future generation that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.” (Psalm 102:16-18)
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church that has ministered to orphans and widows and could expand this ministry. For thus says the Lord, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted from the world.” (James 1:27). Indeed, I received word that Dan Dickenson, a long term member of this church passed away on June 10th. I had written these words before I knew Dan would pass. His wife Karen is now a widow. We have an opportunity to provide comfort to her and other widows.
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church that cares for military families. And I have met so many families that have born gladly the burden of deployments. They make the sacrifice gladly but still a great burden is on my spirit to comfort them in such times of trial and transition. For the Lord says, I will not leave you as orphans I will come to you.” (John 14:18).He sent us the Holy Spirit so we may never be alone. And thus we must go out to comfort those who feel alone. Because this church has been given the heart of the Holy Spirit. It has been given the heart of a comforter.
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church full of members that have ministered to international students. I see a church that packed 10,000 meals for folks around the world you will never meet. I see a church who is interested in missions but who’s heart must be broken for what breaks the heart of Christ. The Lord does not want your money he wants a living sacrifice. He wants your lives. We need not go far to reach the nations. For Norfolk has people from every tribe and nation. For the Lord says, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church that wants to make God’s Word flesh through drama. For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church that supports youth through the scouts to appreciate creation. For he made us stewards of creation and he declared it very good.
Do you know what I see in you? I see several of you with green thumbs. And I see a lot of land ready to be turned into a beautiful garden. For the Lord says, “you will be like well watered garden, like a spring who’s waters never fail.”
Do you know what I see in you? I see a church that helps those who are hungry and in need. Whether they are members or not, whether they deserve it or not. I see a church that could be filled with Good Samaritans. A church willing to lay down its life for its neighbors. For the Lord says, “ they conquered by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony. For they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelations 12:11)
I see so much in you. To give a complete list would take a while. But you must see the grace in yourselves. When we sow generously in our community we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up. We invite our friends to church not because we want their money. But because we want to share with them the pearl of great price that we have found. We invite our friends to join in our celebration. Because as Richard Foster says Celebration brings joy into life and joy makes us strong. The joy of the Lord makes us strong. Not money, not food, not programs, but the joy of the Lord is our strength. For thus says the Lord, “So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat? Or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33). Let us seek first the Kingdom. Let us hold nothing back.
So would you fast and pray for our church? For we fast not to repent, or to become more moral, but because we are hungry for what is next. We fast so that the Lord may make us hungry for His Word. We fast so that he may guide us into the true fast. For this is the type of fasting that he has chosen. To loose the chains of injustice and to untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to break every yoke. In the name of the Lord I break the yoke and the chains that bind you for He whom the son sets free is free indeed. I break the yoke not for you alone. But so you may be hungry for more than bread. So you may be hungry for what’s next.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.