Sermon 02/14/21: Power Tool #6: Fasting Or Abstinence (Epiphany VI)

At this time, due to surging Coronavirus rates, many are not quite ready to return to face to face worship. If this includes you, please click on the link below to watch the entire worship service as a video on your home computer, tablet or smartphone:

Link to Video

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/512075369

Screencast-o-matic: https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/crn2V1Sv26

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If you would prefer not to view the video, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just right click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a new tab, and close that tab when finished.)

CALL TO WORSHIP: Please recommit your life to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord with the words of the Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition: 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

HYMN And Are We Yet Alive
And Are We Yet Alive – Classic Charles Wesley Christian Hymns
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQTmtEcrNuI

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN Jesus, United by Thy Grace
JESUS UNITED By Thy GRACE Hymn Lyrics by Charles Szabo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMmxmxSp5c0

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: Power Tool #6: Fasting Or Abstinence.
Text: Matthew 9:14-15, 6:1, 16-17; John 4:27-39
Series: Those Methodist Tools (Attend Upon All The Ordinances of God)


Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.

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SERMON NOTES

Matthew 9:14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “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. 

Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. … 16 “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

John 4:27 Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the city and were coming to him.     31 Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.     35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. 36 He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 

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HYMN Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus by Alan Jackson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO4uIyz_d90

BENEDICTION: Let us dedicate ourselves to the service of Jesus by joining in the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
Amen

(If you wish, you can listen to this prayer being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ )

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!

TRANSCRIPT

We’ve been looking at the Methodist rules because John Wesley was a big believer in methods, in rules that people could follow so that they could live a better life. And in his terms, that meant a holier life, a more blessed life. And there are six of these. And today we get to number six.

And I’m not sure that in the 40 years that I have been a United Methodist pastor full time, 42 years actually from when I started, that I have preached more than once before today on the subject of fasting and abstinence. But it’s one of the rules. There’s a lot of discussion these days about fasting for your health, but not so much about fasting for your spiritual health.

Like to introduce you to Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung is a nephrologist, a kidney specialist who lives in Toronto, Canada, and he began to focus in his medical career on defining the problems that caused terrible kidney disease. And the number one, of course, is diabetes. And he began to study this. And he is actually changing the medical opinion on what is the cause of diabetes.

And by the way, the cause of diabetes is obesity. I’m very aware that this is the cause of my diabetes, which I discovered in 2003. But his research is published in these books, The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code. But the basic thing that Dr. Fung wants to tell us is that you can improve your health if you simply stop eating.

And the kind of not-eating that he recommends is for you to not eat for a day, that’s fasting, and then eat for a day, and then not eat – to alternate periods of fasting and eating.

This is a part of religious behavior. Every world religion practices fasting and recommends it, every single one. The reality is, however, that human beings just don’t do it. So let me explain how Dr. Fung sees the health situation, which is, and by the way, this is an ancient proverb, people live on half of what they eat and doctors live on the other half. You’ll see different percentages. Some places on the Internet say one-third of what you eat, that’s what you live on. Some places say one-fourth of what you eat, that’s what you live on. But certainly this much is true.

What Dr. Fung says is that when you eat too much, and particularly when you eat too much sugar, when you eat too many carbohydrates, your body becomes flooded with blood sugar, with glucose. It’s like a flood.

Now, the general medical opinion is that the cells of your body are starved for glucose so that what you want to do when there’s a flood, is you want to go along and break out all the windows so that the flood in the street, it’ll go away if it all goes into the houses. Well, you and I are not that stupid.

If you have way too much in your bloodstream, what are the odds that it’s already in the cells? And, in fact, so much in the cells that you can’t get more in it? Dr. Fung suggests that for those of us, like me who eat too much, our body has become an overflowing sugar bowl.

Now, insulin does two things in your body, because the ultimate point that Dr. Fong wants to make is that what causes diabetes is too much insulin. You can actually turn a healthy human being into a diabetic simply by giving them shots of insulin that they don’t need. Too much insulin causes insulin resistance. Too much eating causes the blood sugar to come up. And insulin does two things. It helps the blood sugar to get into the house, but we’ve already suggested that the cells are already full. You can’t cram more in. But the second thing that insulin does is that when your body is flooded with blood sugar, it turns the extra energy in your blood vessels into fat. If you have too much fat, it came from sugar, because the body conserves that energy for when there’s going to be a famine.

Now, I would like to say to you – feel sorry for yourself – the next time there’s a famine, I’ll survive and you won’t … unless you skinny people hunt me down and eat me. But our bodies just simply don’t need this much stored energy. But it’s insulin that does it because our body is overwhelmed with sugar. And the best thing that Dr. Fung says that will decrease the sugar and it will decrease the insulin and all the problems that come from it is if you just simply stop eating … your body will use what’s in your bloodstream for fuel.

Now, what does this have to do with spiritual fasting? Well, friends, you and I are this busy with stuff. Our lives are overflowing with activities that might feel sweet, but they don’t do us much good. Certainly, if do no harm is the rule that John Wesley gave us, there are some things that we should stop doing.

During Lent. we have this belief of giving things up. Friends, there are things you and I should give up. And not only that, if the rule is to do good, then there are some things that we should start up that will benefit us.

Next Sunday, it’ll be Lent. What are you giving up for Lent? What are you starting up for Lent? Because if you already have too much sugar in your blood, it doesn’t help you to eat and eat. If you already have too many things going on in your life, it doesn’t help you to add more meaningless activity … and that’s part of what it means to fast or to abstain. You are not going to add more than what is good for you into your life.

Here’s what Jesus said about it, Matthew chapter 9, verse 14: “Then the disciples of John came to him saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast? But your disciples do not fast.'”

This was fasting in Jesus’s day. It was almost sort of like a spiritual competition. People would brag, “I fast this many days a week. I fast this many days a month. “They would brag about it. And so Jesus actually was challenged. “What’s wrong with you and your disciples? You’re not fasting and you’re not bragging about it!”

What does Jesus say? “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.” Friends, after Jesus arose to heaven, it was time for fasting to be a part of our life.

Matthew, chapter 6:1, Jesus talks about the competition, the bragging that was involved in fasting, and he says, “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them. For then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” And he mentioned several things that people did to show off their spirituality. And when he got further down in the chapter, verse 16; “And when you fast…”

Now consider that to be an important point. There’s going to be a time when you will fast, but when that time comes, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so their fasting may be seen by men. They would throw ashes over their heads, they would not bathe, so that everybody would know how spiritual they were. “Truly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “they have received their reward.” All they wanted was attention from others. Verse 17. “But when you fast anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may not be seen by men, but by your Father who is in heaven, and Your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Then let’s take a look at John, Chapter 4, and this is the chapter where Jesus and the disciples arrive at the well in Samaria, and the disciples head on into town because it’s lunchtime. They go into town to get food and bring it back out to the well.

But Jesus stays there and has a conversation with a woman. And at the end of that conversation, she goes back into town. She has quite a reputation, and she says to all of her neighbors, “Come and meet a man who told me everything that I did.” And apparently she had such a bad reputation and everybody was really curious.

But while she’s doing that, the disciples come back with lunch. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but apparently they just simply ignored her because none of the disciples said what do you wish, or why are you talking with her? They just ignored her. You know how Jesus is. He might have wanted them to share their lunch with her … because they’re completely focused on lunch. She leaves.

Verse 31, “Meanwhile, the disciples besought him, saying, ‘Rabbi eat.'” They’re totally focused on their belly. They’re totally focused on lunch.

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Now take a look at the fields around in that picture there. The fields around the well probably looked something like this. They would triple crop in Israel. They would put three crops in, in a year’s time.

Jesus says: “Do you not say there are yet four months and then comes the harvest?” When you triple crop, this is what it looks like four months before the harvest, I’m guessing. “I tell you,” Jesus says, “lift up your eyes,” from your lunch. “Lift up your eyes and see how the fields are already white,” already ready for the harvest. And the disciples look up and they look around, and there is nothing growing in that field. There is no food in that field. What could Jesus possibly be talking about?

And what they don’t know is that a whole village is coming toward them to become believers and followers of Jesus. Jesus is much more concerned about those people, but all the disciples are concerned about is their lunch.

And the idea behind fasting is we’re going to lift up our eyes away from lunch and start paying attention to what God wants because, as Jesus said, “That’s my food.” And when you choose to fast for spiritual reasons, that’s a decision you are making. “My food is going to be doing God’s will.”

Next slide, please. This is what happens when we focus too much on lunch. Friday night, 8:30, the urge for ice cream came over me, and I could not resist. So I went out to the garage and dug through the freezer and pulled out a half-gallon carton of Moose Tracks. Now, if you’re smart like me, you may still call it a half-gallon, but it’s actually only 75% of that. The price goes up. The packages get smaller, but still – one and a half of a half-gallon.

I’m pleased to tell you that I did not eat all of it. I only ate 90% of it. Tiny little ball in the corner of the carton because, just like the disciples, I was focused on my appetite.

We need to pay attention to what has our attention and sometimes, what has our attention is not good for us. And the whole idea behind fasting is we turn away from what should not have our attention and turn toward God and give God our attention.

A pastor in Houston said, with regard to fasting, “I’m not skipping a meal because in place of that meal, I’m actually dining with God.”

Fasting, whether it’s for one meal, one hour, half a day or a whole day, is in order to spend that time with God. Think about it. There’s a time you have to go to the grocery store. There is the time that you spend putting things away. There is the time that you spend trying to figure out what to eat. There’s the time that you spend assembling the ingredients. There’s a time that you spend cooking. There’s the time that you spend eating. And then there’s seconds, and sometimes there’s thirds. And sometimes, you go back in the kitchen and make more for a snack later. And then there are all the dishes that have to be done. Eating takes a lot of time and energy.

And when you abstain from eating or from other things that take time, when you fast, all of a sudden you have a lot of time for God.

Here’s the basic problem: Proverbs 13:25, The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite. The righteous person can tell when they’re full, but the belly of the wicked suffers want. They don’t know they’ve already had enough.

There’s a proverb that says, “You can’t get enough of what you don’t really want.”

The same ideas echoed in the New Testament, where Paul talks about people who have fallen away from the church. He says, “Their end is destruction, their God is their belly and they glory in their shame with minds set on earthly things.”

John Wesley fasted. He fasted simply because it was a rule of the Episcopalian Church, of which he was a minister. The rule of the Episcopal Church was that Christians should fast on Wednesday until 3 o’clock, on Friday until 3 o’clock. So, there was a rule; so, Wesley kept that rule.

45, 46 years ago when I was in college, I went to Eastern Illinois University. And the Christians that I spent time with felt that fasting was very good, very important. And I began to feel a little convicted that I should also fast, but there’s a problem with this! If you live in the dormitory at Eastern Illinois University, your parents pay good money for you to be able to eat in the dorm, and the dorm would serve you breakfast at breakfast time, they’d serve lunch at lunchtime, and they’d serve supper at supper time. And I could not help the reality that this food was already paid for, and it was just wrong to let it go to waste. You go through the line, and they drop things on your tray, but at the end of the line you could pick your dessert, and sometimes they’d have another dish of something to where you just scoop up as much macaroni and cheese, for example, as you wanted.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you this. We always had chocolate milk. Because you see, somewhere deep inside of you is still a little kid, and that little kid is always hungry. And I just couldn’t deal with the idea of fasting … because my parents had already paid for this food. So I didn’t quite know what to do, but I was convicted, so I said, “Okay, Lord, you decide.”

And I began a practice of bringing a quarter with me. And I would go down, and I would stand in the line where you check in to eat your food. They’d have on a chalkboard there what they were serving, what they were serving as the main entrée.

And I would stand in that line and I’d flip a coin. And if it was heads, I would turn around and just leave.

Now, I felt pretty safe because it was 50% – if I don’t get to eat now, I’m going to get to eat soon. I felt pretty safe.

But you know what that little routine of flipping a coin taught me? It taught me how little self-control I had. It taught me that I did not have much willpower. And if I couldn’t turn down the temptation of chocolate milk and macaroni and cheese, how could I turn down a greater temptation?

But after a year of flipping the coin at every meal– oh, and by the way, if I liked the entrée, I wouldn’t always flip the coin. But after a year or so of flipping the coin, I got to where it just doesn’t matter. It’s more important to do what God wants than to have that chocolate milk.

So here’s the deal, brothers and sisters, if you want to find out if your God is your belly, all you have to do is flip a coin. By the way, gentlemen, I would not do this after your wife has made supper if she cooks at your house! But you can still do this. You can flip a coin, and then you can exercise your willpower.

Because as we go into Lent, as we go into this time of abstaining, as we go into this time of fasting, it’s a way for us to understand how to grow the willpower to decide to do what God wants in the moment. I don’t think God cared whether I ate lunch, but I think that God valued the fact that – just like doing push-ups – I was exercising spiritually. I was getting ready to make the right decision.

So here’s the question for us. If you were going to give up something for Lent, what are you going to give up? What are you going to give up? Because, understand the purpose of this, what are you going to give up so that you have more time and more energy and more attention to pay attention to God? Consider. Pay attention to what has too much of your attention. Pay attention to what is too much. Too much time, too much money, too much energy, too much of a distraction. And maybe this Lent is a good time for you to do less of what is meaningless and doesn’t matter, whatever that might be for you. Because this, of course, is between you and God.

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, help us have the wisdom to know what we should do. And, Lord, assuming that all year round we do too much, we eat too much, we think too much, we watch too much TV. Lord, whatever it is we do too much of, give us wisdom to consider whether perhaps for these six weeks we should slow down that too much and fast or abstain so that we have more time for what is good and healthy and what you would wish us to do. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Basically, the reality is that when we choose to fast or abstain, we are choosing to turn our eyes upon Jesus. So let these words sink in as you consider your own version of Lent, because certainly everything in this world seeks to distract us from turning our eyes upon Jesus.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources
Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.
 

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