Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Emptying to be Filled

This Sunday (Feb. 17) we begin a preaching series called "Jesus' Most Important Disciples."  The first topic is "Fasting and Feasting."  Jesus did both.

There are many in this world who need to be encouraged to FEAST more often, but up here in North America, we don't value FASTing very much.  Here are some reasons why it would be good to build fasting into our lives:


"Why Fast?" by Michael Reinhart.  Thanks to Diane Wood Sponheim for this.

Let’s be honest.

Let us confess: We live in a society that cannot imagine doing without anything. We think depriving ourselves of things is unhealthy.

Let us confess: We have too much, too much of everything. We are an obese society gorged on wealth and the need for more. We live in a society that doesn’t believe in the concept of “too much.” We deny that there is a relationship between our insatiable need for more (greed? gluttony?) and others’ lack of enough.

Let us confess that we think a full life means MORE. Deep down, we believe the way to have a fuller is by cramming it with more and more stuff. Less is bad. More must be better. How much is enough? Just a little bit more…So we cram more and more and more into ourselves, and into our lives.

Let us confess: We know that we cannot worship both God and money, but we’re willing to give it a try. We know we should place our ultimate trust in God, but at the end of the day, we trust our wealth to deliver us.

Let us confess: We are full. Full of noise.Full of food.Full of wine.Full of greed.Full of ourselves.
I can’t remember who wrote this, but I’m thinking it might have been George Carlin:

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less. We buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment. More experts, yet more problems.More medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. 
We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

These are the times of fast food and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.

We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.

We think life is found in MORE. There is an antidote to this disease. It is called generosity. It is called giving ourselves away. Jesus said, those who try to keep their life will lose it, but those who lose it for my sake and for the sake for the gospel will find it.

Here is the truth. This is a mystical truth, it doesn’t sound right at first, but it holds the essence of the universe. Here is is. Are you ready? The fullness of life is found in emptying ourselves. The more you give away, the more you will discover. The universe rushes in to fill a vacuum.

Theology even has a term for this: kenosis. Kenosis is an intentional emptying of ourselves, to make room for God. Mother Teresa said, “God cannot fill what is already full.”

If you want to be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and so on, don’t try cramming anything in. Instead, do something completely counterintuitive. Empty yourself.

The apostle Paul said this in Philippians 2:
 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,

And so, at the beginning of his ministry, right after his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights and he fasted. He emptied himself. You don’t begin your ministry full of yourself, even if you are the Son of God. You begin your ministry filled with the Holy Spirit. If you are going to do great things, if you are going to do difficult things, you will have to draw on a power source higher than yourself. You do not have the strength on your own to do all that God has called you to do.

Fasting is taken for granted in the Bible. It is a spiritual discipline that empties us, cleanses us and brings us closer to God, or rather, makes us more aware of the God who has been there all along. We’ve just been too full, too busy, too loud to notice.

A list of those in Scripture who fasted is like a Biblical Who’s Who:
Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.
David fasted
Elijah fasted
Esther fasted
Daniel fasted.
Paul fasted.
Jesus fasted.

They fasted and prayed for repentance and forgiveness. They fasted for victory in battle. They fasted for discernment. They prayed for deliverance. They fasted for strength.

We have lost the spiritual discipline of fasting that Jesus took for granted. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “When you fast…” Not if.

Young unchurched spiritual seekers are hungry for gritty spiritual disciplines that actually mean something.

So this is why I fast during Lent. This is why many people fast during Lent. Fasting is a spiritual discipline in which voluntarily give something up for a time, to heighten our spiritual awareness, our spiritual attentiveness. A complete fast is going without food or water for a period of time.

In Lent many people do what is called a partial fast. This is giving some foods up for a period of time, namely 40 days.

• I fast because I do not want to be a slave to the god of the belly.
 • I fast to be in solidarity with the masses of the world who go to bed hungry every day. Travel the world my friends. We have too much, and we cannot see it. We complain if we don’t have a strong enough cell phone signal. I fast because I need an attitude adjustment.
• I fast as a means of spiritual training. If we cannot master ourselves in the little things, how will we ever master ourselves in greater things? If I cannot sustain little sacrifices, what will happen if I get called upon to make a greater sacrifice? Whoever is faithful in little things, will be faithful in greater things.
• I fast because it is good for the body. I fast because it is good for the soul.
• I fast because Jesus fasted.
• I fast because God cannot fill what is already full.
• I fast because it is through dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.

I fast because I need to be reminded every day, that it is not by my strength or prowess that the kingdom of God breaks in. I am but a vessel into which God pours God’s grace and love. I fast to remember that God’s grace is sufficient for me, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. I pray this Lenten season may be for you a season of emptying, that you might make space in your life for God to act.


Be filled with the Holy Spirit!  That might take a bit (or a lot) of emptying--emptying out of "other" things--whether in this particular season of Lent or any other time.

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