How Fast?
Luke 4:1-13

We never encounter a Bible text in isolation.  When we read or hear a text it is always comes when other things are happening in our lives that influence which part of the text impacts on us or how that text speaks to us on a given occasion.  Today is of course no different.  Here we are in the first week of Lent 2010, we’re a few weeks into the school year, holidays are over, and we are looking forward or even planning our next one.  Some of you are at good points in your life; some of you are struggling for various reasons.  Many of you may have given up something for Lent, maybe a food or a pastime, something that you will miss. 

What was happening for Jesus as this event took place in his life?  He had just returned for the Jordan, can anyone tell me what happened there?  That’s right he was baptised in the river and the Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove and then the voice of God was heard saying, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased”.  Then the Spirit led him into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil, at nothing at all and was by the end of it starving hungry.

This was the son of God, become flesh, and here he was going through hardship in preparation for his ministry to his people.  In the process he not only gave us a great example to look to for guidance, but also showed his power over the trickery of the devil.

No matter how hard the devil tried over the forty days in the wilderness he was unable to trick Jesus.  The devil wanted Jesus to prove himself to be the son of God by doing things that made him look powerful, turning a stone into a loaf of bread, by offering to give him the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him and then by putting God to the test by throwing himself from the highest point of the temple.

In each case Jesus answers the devil with Scripture which obviously infuriated the devil because he even resorted to using scripture to try and lure Jesus into testing his Father.  But Jesus stood firm, knowing full well that he didn’t need to prove himself in a false way.  His course of action was already set and he was on the journey to see that it was fulfilled.

So how is your Lenten journey going?  For many it began on Ash Wednesday with worship at one of our schools or in the evening at Ringwood.  As I mentioned earlier, some of you may have chosen to follow in Jesus footsteps and have some kind of fast during Lent.  If you have I would like to talk to you about what might go on during the next fortyish days.  You may have noticed that as Jesus was experiencing his fast, he was in the company of someone very important; he was being led by the Spirit.  That is very important for us too, because just like Jesus, if we embark on a journey where for sound spiritual reasons we are giving something up for Lent, the devil is surely going to be there to try and trick us in various ways.

One of the ways that he will attempt to trip you up is by trying to get you to put all of the emphasis on you.  “What a good person you are for giving up Facebook for Lent, or chocolate, or coffee, or lollies, or alcohol”, and of course the list goes on.  The risk in giving in to that temptation is that we get all puffed up with our own importance and start telling everyone how well we are doing, or perhaps equally as dangerous, moaning and groaning about how hard done by you are as you suffer withdrawal symptoms and make a big song and dance about it.  When either of those things happen the devil has succeeded, he’s taken the focus off of God and put it squarely back on us.

There are other temptations that go with fasting for Lent or any other time for that matter.  When we are going without something for a period of time, even if we haven’t told anyone else about it, we will inevitably suffer from cravings.  We will want that thing SO badly that it can actually become like an idol to us, we covet that thing and once again the focus of our affection has shifted off of God onto that block of smooth creamy chocolate.  As nice as that substance may be from time to time, it isn’t going to bring you salvation.

Fasting can actually be a really effective tool in helping us to focus on God, it’s not all bad!  When we use the time of fasting to remind us every time a thought comes into our head about that item of why we are doing it and it makes the process effective.  It forces us to rely on God for our strength and for endurance to see the fast through to the end.  We can and should pray without ceasing for God’s help and turn to his Word – just like Jesus did, to fight off the temptations and the cravings that come along.

Some people aren’t in the right place spiritually to take on something like fasting.  It is a discipline and it is without doubt difficult.  It takes a time of preparation – Spiritually, to begin any kind of fast, you need to be in the right head and heart space.  You don’t however have to prepare physically, as Luther pointed out “Under the papacy everything was pleasant and without annoyances.  Fasting then was easier that eating is now.  To every day of fasting belonged three days of gorging.  For a collation one got two pots of good beer, one small jug of wine, and some gingercake or salted bread to stimulate the thirst.  The poor brothers then left like fiery angels, so red they were in the face.”

Preparing yourself by stuffing yourself sick so that you will be able to last defeats the purpose.  It is actually better to quietly begin, without drawing attention to yourself having just eaten as you normally would.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus told his disciples not to fast because they had the heavenly bridegroom with them.  Why would they fast when it was time to have a feast, to rejoice in the presence of the Son of God.  That is part of the reason why during Lent the Sundays aren’t counted.  On Sundays we still celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we sing and worship knowing and living in the resurrection that Christ has already achieved.  During the rest of the week the focus is on returning to the Lord as we journey again with him to the cross.  Maybe we should break our fast each Sunday morning and re-enter it on Monday.  That way we get the best from fasting, of focussing on repentance and living side by side with God, and then on Sunday rejoicing in our salvation, won for us at Easter.

So as you take this Lenten journey – however you have chosen to do so, do it together with God, led by the Spirit and God’s Word, for God’s glory and your good.

Amen.