In order to expedite posting the worship services here on our website, we are reducing the transcript to just the scriptures used and the message. Holy Communion is offered every Sunday. If you are worshipping with us online whether during the live-cast or through on-demand viewing, you are encouraged to have bread and juice or wine available as you watch the service and to participate in communion just as if you are present with us.



God, open us to hear and receive your scriptures today as you would have us hear them, understand them as you would have us understand them, and to act upon them as you would have us act upon them.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*Scriptures this morning are from the NRSV.

Deuteronomy 8:3

He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Isaiah 58:6-9

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator[a] shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am.”

Acts 13:1-3

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a childhood friend of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Matthew 6:16-18

And whenever you fast, do not look somber, like the hypocrites, for they mark their faces to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

L:  The scriptures of God for the people of God.

A: Thanks be to God.       

Message – Emptying To Be Filled*

Rev. Val

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer, and may you see fit to use me as a vessel from which you pour out your Divine Word.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

In Matthew 6:16–18 we find one of the times when Jesus teaches about fasting. What’s interesting is the way he uses the word when. Verse 16, when you fast. Verse 17, when you fast. It’s not like if you fast, but when you fast. Like he expects his followers to fast. It’s like a given that they will fast in the same way that the same language is used earlier in Matthew 6, when Jesus says, when you give to the needy and when you pray. And then he says, when you fast. So fasting is as basic to the Christian life as giving to people who are in need and as praying to God, the Father.

Fasting is a peculiar discipline to commend to Christians today. It’s kind of old fashioned and too often associated with diet fads and trends or medical tests than anything to do with growing closer to God. Thinking about it spiritually, we tend to put it in the same category as hair shirts and self-flagellation whips, especially here in the US where, although some folks know hunger, the vast majority never have. Why would we turn back to a pinched, life-denying spirituality that glories in restricting the body? Doesn’t it glorify God more to enjoy the blessings of his creation? Perhaps it would be best to let fasting fade away like we did stoning errant teenagers, left-handed people, and those who would dare wear fabrics made of more than one kind of fiber.

And yet … fasting has been a significant spiritual practice in virtually every religion, and there is good reason to take a fresh look at its purpose and power. For instance, there are practical rationales for fasting that our culture still accepts such as health benefits or even political clout. There is, however, a deeper spiritual significance to fasting that those rationales can’t express and, based on the character of contemporary culture, it is advisable that we recover that spiritual purpose.

In ancient Jewish tradition, fasting had two primary purposes. The first was to express personal or national repentance for sin … for turning away from God; fasting was a form of humble supplication before God in the face of imminent destruction or calamity. We see examples of this type of fasting in Joel 2, Jonah 3, and Esther 4.

The second purpose of a fast was to prepare inwardly for receiving the necessary strength and grace to complete a mission of faithful service in God’s name. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus each fasted for 40 days in the wilderness as written in Exodus 24 and 34, 1 Kings 19, and Matthew 4. The purpose of their 40 day fasts was to prepare each one to become a personal bearer of God’s saving acts to people.

Jesus combined prayer and fasting to overcome his temptations in the desert during his 40 days in the wilderness, and the early church followed this practice at critical points in its life to discern how God was leading them and to empower their ministry as shown in Acts 13:14. The combination of prayer and fasting invites a greater measure of God’s power to be released through us than might be possible through prayer alone. In Jesus’ time, regular fasting was a normal part of Jewish piety as described in Luke 18:12 and Matthew 6:16. It’s practice was viewed as normal in the life of Christians until relatively recently, and is still seriously practiced in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Sadly, most Protestants seem to have forgotten that their greatest leaders – figures such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Edwards – were strong advocates of fasting.

There are times in Christian history when fasting was taken to unhealthy extremes, but there are also very sane perspectives from within the tradition. For example, “Abba Joseph asked Abba Poemen, ‘How should one fast?’ Abba Poemen said to him, ‘For my part, I think it better that one should eat every day, but only a little, so as not to be satisfied.’ The kind of fast described by Abba Poemen is called an ascetical fast and serves to remind us of our dependence on God. In a more tangible, visceral way than any other spiritual discipline, fasting reveals our excessive attachments and the assumptions that lie behind them. Food is necessary to life, but we have made it more necessary than God.  Fasting bring us face to face with how we put the material world ahead of its spiritual Source.

In John 4:31-34, Jesus tells us that his “bread” is to do the will of the One who sent him.  In John 6:35, he calls himself “the bread of life.” Food sustains us physically. We know that. But are we aware of how much sustains our life apart from physical food? Do we have an inner conviction that Christ is our life? We will struggle to comprehend how we are nourished by Christ until we empty ourselves of the kinds of sustenance that keep us content to live at life’s surface.

One way to understand the meaning and practice of fasting is to look at how we observe Lent. Lent is the traditional season of prayer and fasting in preparation for the great “Feast of feasts,” Easter. It’s a period of deep self-examination and sacrifice. Easter would … or maybe in some cases does have far less impact if we don’t know the experience of Lent. The joy and delight of a feast is proportional to the deprivation of the fast. Abstaining from or avoiding the deprivation of the fast then reduces the impact, the joy and delight, of Easter and all that it means to us as Christians.

Lent is the great fast of the church year. It’s a season that reveals and magnifies our understanding of “spiritual discipline.” For much of the 20th century, though, Protestants tended to ignore this aspect of Lent and knew little of it unless they had Roman Catholic friends. Those that did saw it as restriction, regulation, and penitence. Late in the 20th century, though, Protestants began to turn back to the seasons of the church. As they did, they took on a tradition of “giving things up” for Lent. Those things were often frivolous foods like dessert, chocolate, popcorn, chewing gum, and so on. Because these “fasts” were so trivial, it served to trivialize this very profound discipline.

When we trivialize spiritual disciplines, we lose sight of their real purpose.  Lent is not a six-week inconvenience in an otherwise abundant year, during which we somehow please God with voluntary but minor suffering, nor is Lent a testing ground for the true grit of our willpower or a “spiritual” rationale for losing ten pounds before its time to head to the beach in our bathing suits. When we make the decision to begin practicing a spiritual discipline, any discipline, we need to ask ourselves, “What does God want to accomplish in me through this practice?”

For the early church, Lent was just the opposite of a dreary season of restriction and self-torture. It was understood as an opportunity to return to normal human life – the life of natural communion with God that was lost to us in the Fall.

In Eden, God gave Adam and Eve every fruit of the garden but one. That one fruit, out of a world of variety, indicated a limit to human freedom. Accepting that limit was the single abstinence required by God. It was a way of recognizing that human beings are dependent on God for life.

As we know from that story, Adam and Eve allowed themselves to be seduced by the serpent, the serpent representing God’s enemy, Satan, who reversed the reality of their situation by asking, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” Instead of a prohibition against one fruit as God intended, the serpent made it sound like a prohibition against all fruit, creating a boundary so restrictive that it negated the good of all other freedoms Adam and Eve enjoyed there in the Garden.

And, as we know, Adam and Eve took the bait and “broke fast,” transgressing the one limit required of them. Instead of respecting what God created them to be, they wanted it all and reached for the very place of God … to know good and evil.

That fall set the rest of humanity up to live as if there are no legitimate limits. Now … and if we consider the condition of both humanity and the world today … while we bow temporarily to practical limitations, limits are to be assaulted through the powers of intelligence and technology until they yield to human ingenuity and control. The appetites are given free rein. It’s considered a God-given right to use every resource and creature on earth for personal enjoyment or gain. The goal of human life is to acquire more, to experience more, to stimulate every sense to capacity and beyond.

A life that recognizes no limits cannot recognize the sovereignty of God. When created things have become an end in themselves instead of a means of divine grace, they can no longer offer real life. Death and suffering entered into creation because Adam and Eve could not “keep the fast.” Death and suffering have increased exponentially over the centuries because none of us can return to or keep the fast.

In the early church, Lent was viewed as a spiritual spring … the word, Lent, is derived from a Saxon word that means spring. Lent was a time of light and joy in the renewal of the soul’s life. It represented a return to the “fast” that Adam and Eve broke: a life in which God was once more center and source and the material world was again received as a means of communion with God. This return to authentic human life was made possible by the Incarnation.

The early church found the reversal of Adam’s sin in Christ. Throughout his life, Jesus consistently pointed to God’s authority, power, and will in him.  Jesus “kept the fast,” abstaining not only from food but also from the illegitimate exercise of power. He accepted his limits, living with the normal constraints of human life and accepting a human death. Jesus lived out God’s deepest intention for human beings in the created order. Through him, we too begin to live as a “new creation.” The possibility of genuine communion with God in and through creation is restored.

The discipline of fasting – as with keeping Sabbath – has to do with the critical dynamic of accepting those limits that are life-restoring. Our culture today promotes the attitude that we can have it all, do it all, and – even more preposterously – that we deserve it all. In refusing to accept limits on our consumption or activity, we perpetuate a death-dealing dynamic in the world. This is what makes the discipline of fasting so important. We need to relearn the limits.

There are different forms of fasting.  There is food fasting which means abstaining from food. This is the original form of fasting and the most basic expression of a fast. It is the core reality from which analogous forms of abstinence derive. We can, however, fast from other things we consume and trust me when I say we are voracious consumers of just about anything and everything:  food, drink, sex, drugs, guns, cars, clothing, energy, gadgets, TV, radio, social media, online activity, gossip, fads, ideologies, programs, even work and leisure. Our intimate relationships have often suffered from this gluttonous consumer mentality: enjoy while useful and stimulating, discard when broken or no longer satisfying. The world of God’s gifts has indeed become a world of mere objects to satisfy temporary and restless appetites, leaving in their wake enormous waste.

The point of abstinence is not the denial of all enjoyment in life. As Dallas Willard writes, “We dishonor God as much by fearing and avoiding pleasure as we do by dependence upon it or living for it.” The purpose of abstinence is to learn rightly  to enjoy God’s gifts. When what we consume is consuming us and what we possess is possessing us, the only way back to health and balance is to refrain from using those things that have control over us. “To give up anything that comes between ourselves and God” is the core dynamic of self-denial.

So, we can abstain from things like constant media stimulation, from lack of physical exercise or fitness mania, from compulsive eating, and from compulsive dieting. Ask yourself what things you tend to do to the extreme, and then ask yourself if that’s something you could fast from. We can also fast by relinquishing the temporary excitement that comes with a spectacular achievement. For instance, a counterweight to the desire for congratulation is abstaining from personal recognition. You can’t get recognition if your practice anonymity in charity or engage in your vocation without seeking to be honored in any way.

Here’s a tough one. We can abstain from judging others even in the secret places of our hearts. Another tough one: we can abstain from overpacked schedules, for both ourselves and our children or other family members.

When deciding what to fast from, you need to make choices appropriate to your character and to your life circumstances. By life circumstances, I would not be able to fast from social media or activity online because I need to take care of the church’s online congregation, Facebook page, and website. But what I or you do to excess reveals our inordinate desires, our compulsions, the attachments that have control over us. In fasting, we don’t gain greater control over our lives. God gains access to redirect and heal us in body, mind, and spirit.

Regardless of what type of fast one might try, it’s important that you prepare for it spiritually. A fast for spiritual purposes must be centered on God and can be so only if we ask God’s help. Such inner preparation gives us a vision of the spiritual dimension of fasting and arms us with the weapons we will need when temptations and difficulties arise.

Richard Foster designates three types of fasts: a normal fast, a partial fast, and an absolute fast. Using food fasts for the examples, a normal fast would consist of abstaining from all food, solid or liquid, but not from water. A partial fast involves “a restriction of the diet but not total abstention.” A partial fast is what Abba Poeman was referring to. Eating a little food, but not enough for your hunger to be satisfied. An absolute fast means abstaining from both food and water.

There are other cautions for fasting as well. Don’t fast if you’re sick, if your traveling, or if you’re under unusual stress.  If you suffer from any debilitating physical condition or illness, consider a fast only under the strict supervision of a physician. Because a food fast depletes your normal energy reserves, it’s important to reduce your normal activity while fasting. 

If you’ve never fasted before, begin with a partial fast of not more than 24 hours and not more than once per week. John Wesley typically fasted 2-3 days a week, but not in a row. He would begin his fast after the evening meal and continue it until mid afternoon the next day, breaking it with a light meal. As you get used to it, you can eventually move from a partial fast to a normal fast. Absolute fasts are not recommended.

David Platt on his podcast, Pray the Word, provides a simple way to look at and remember fasting:

F – focus on God: So F, so focus on God. You’re not doing this for others. You’re doing this because you want to seek and know and love and worship God more and more and more in your life. So you’re focused on God. You’re not trying to get attention from anybody else. And you’re focused on reward from God, Matthew 6:18 says. So that’s F.

 A – abstain from food: A, you abstain from food to the extent of which you are physically able to abstain from a meal, meals for a day, for multiple days, two, three, four, longer, whatever it might be. So if you’ve never fasted before, just start with a day. Now, some people just physically are not able. Like a doctor would say, you never need to skip a day for a meal. And if that’s the case, then obviously, to think through, “Okay, what could I do? What’s another God given addiction, so to speak?” Because that’s what food is. It’s a God given addiction. Like he’s wired us to want food. So to identify something that is as similar as possible to food in this way.

But if at all possible, the picture we see throughout scripture is setting aside food. So that’s the A, abstain from food.

S – substitute your time: S substitute the time when you would eat with extra time in prayer and extra time in the word. So I love what I learned early on about fasting. Somebody told me, “David, fasting is feasting.” So it’s not just not having these things that you want, it’s having something even better, like feasting on the word of God, feasting on extra time in communion with God. So just because you forget a meal doesn’t mean you fast and just because you skip a meal, doesn’t mean you fasted. You substitute that time with prayer and the word. That’s the S.

T – taste and see the Lord is good: And then T, taste and see that the Lord is good. The whole point of fasting is to say, God, you’re better. You’re better than a sandwich or a steak. You’re better than whatever you might want to eat. God, more than I want food, I want intimacy with you. God, I want my hunger to cease. I want your kingdom to come on the earth. And so I just want to encourage you, if you don’t have a regular pattern of fasting to get into a regular pattern of fasting, because this is basic to what it means to follow Jesus.

Since fasting and repentance are so clearly joined in the Bible, recovering this dimension of a fast seems appropriate and important. If ever there was a time when repentance was called for on a national and international scale, it is now. Personal and social sin abounds everywhere we look. World powers stand by while despots wreak havoc on their own populations. Ancient hatreds continue to fuel wars all over the globe. Racial and ethnic tensions threaten the cohesion of our communities. Levels of violence and addiction exceed all bounds. Family structures crumble, and children become both victims and perpetrators of abuse in their homes and schools. Our way of life places intolerable burdens on the resources of the earth, fouling the very elements we depend on for life.

Regular fasting at its most basic level may well be the most effective way to deal with all the appetites and compulsions that rule us. Combined with prayer, it is a potent means of making ourselves available to the cleansing, restoring, empowering grace of God. Abstinence is not the sum total of Christian life. It simply creates enough space in us so that the Spirit can creatively use our talents and energies in the service of God’s reign: “A proper abstinence actually breaks the hold of improper engagements so that the soul can be properly engaged by God.”

All forms of spiritual discipline help us to make more space for God in our lives. Fasting and prayer, the traditional disciplines of Lent, seem to be two of the most effective tools in clearing away our self-preoccupation so we can be more responsive to God’s life in and through and around us. Fasting is a form of interior “spring cleaning.” It involves real labor, but how satisfying and freeing it is to get rid of all that unnecessary stuff!

There is, finally, a light and joyful quality to the practice of fasting. Release, clarity, and freedom shine through the sometimes painful and often tedious process of stripping away what is false in us. Spiritually, the result is restoration of “the natural life,” which is nothing other than the Christ life: “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” May we come to discover more fully in our own experience this springtime of the soul.

Let’s pray:

God, let us be emptied of ourselves so that we may be filled with Christ.

In the name of one God, who offers grace, mercy, and peace, we pray. Amen.



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