Monday, April 7, 2014

"Fasting: Tempting Temptation" by Rett Haselden

Fasting seems to be the one Means of Grace that most of us are unsure about. We are uncomfortable with the idea of not eating because we think it is unhealthy, impractical, outdated, or just too hard.  Yet during Lent many of us do participate in a type of fasting - giving up something we like or depend on too much. Or maybe just something we needed to give up anyway.
In the passage from Matthew, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness where he had to fast for forty days and forty nights. During that fast he came face to face with temptation and in each case had to decide if God was the source of his being or if he was the source.
Why We Fast? - We fast to come face to face with the temptation to proclaim ourselves as our own source, power and salvation, and to give that inclination to God so that we can with all boldness and conviction proclaim that God alone is our strength, our rock, and our redeemer.
How do we Fast? - John Wesley gave three classifications of fasting. (Henry H. Knight III. Eight Life Enriching Practices of United Methodists. Nashville: Abingdon Press 2001, pg. 97)
The lowest form of fasting is to give something up which we like or depend on too much. 
The middle form of fasting is to abstain from eating for one meal during the course of the day.
And the highest form of fasting is to go a whole day with out eating - fridays if possible so that your fast corresponds to the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified. (Kenneth L. Carder. Living Our Beliefs. Nashville: Discipleship Resources 2009, pg. 112)
So what do we fast? - I want to be real clear here - fasting is not always about not eating or about giving something up. One of the best testimonies I ever heard was from someone who struggled with their body image and with dieting and trying to achieve some standard for how they should look, so they decided that their Lenten fast would be to eat chocolate chip cookies everyday during Lent.
For most of us giving something up, skipping a meal, or going a day without eating is exactly the type of fast we need, because that growling stomach, that gnawing hunger is exactly what we need to feel to remind ourselves to pray that we might have the true strength to rely on God in all things. But for some of us we need to take something on in order to actually give something up.  A spiritual practice, physical activity, indulging.
We have to fast because there are so many things that we put before God, so many things we rely on more than we rely on God, so many ways that we try to make ourselves into gods, providing for our own needs, and being ,and salvation. If we dont fast, we never come face to face with the illusions that we have set up in our own lives. We never see all the ways we deceive ourselves and are deceived. And we never see the true source and perfecter of our faith.
But fasting is hard and it is impractical and we have to have support in it.  We need to practice it and to be held accountable for it. We have to have people who can help us see when our fasts are, or become, easy and we need to push forward, or when our fast is too much and we need give ourselves a break. We have to have support because we cant afford not to fast.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Responding to the Word: Cut to the Heart" - by Rett Haselden

This is the third sermon from the Lenten sermon series "Practice: The Means of Grace." The following blog post is my sermon outline with notes. That is to say that what is printed here is probably not everything I said on Sunday morning and I may not have said everything that is written down. That is the nature of how I preach. I hope that you will be gracious with any errors or places where this may be hard to follow in written form (I also hope for that same grace when you hear me preach). God bless you in your Lenten practice - Pastor Rett

Acts 2: 37-47
Preaching really is not about what I have to say as the preacher at all.  For me, the process of writing a delivering a sermon is somewhat like the way jazz musicians have described performing.  You practice scales and techniques, you learn the piece you plan to play, and then finally when you give the performance you draw on the energy in the venue to guide the completely unique expression of the musical piece you are playing in that specific place and time.
The difference is that when writing a sermon the preacher practices by drawing on the theological and Biblical basics that they have been taught, they delve into the particular piece of scripture for the day and learn it backward and forward, and then in the moment of delivery we rely on the energy of the Holy Spirit to proclaim something that needs to be heard by the people of God in this time and in this place. 
Just like at that Pentecost proclamation in Acts 2, it is the Holy Spirit’s message that the preacher proclaims, but it is also the movement of the Holy Spirit that deeply troubles, “cuts to the heart,” those who have ears to hear the message.
That phrase “ears to hear” is one that Jesus uses in the Gospels to describe those who are ready to embrace the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God.
Having “ears to hear,” being “cut to the heart,” and being “deeply troubled” all mean that the hearer is ready to respond the Word.
Responding the Word, as a means of grace, is about being ready to respond to the proclaimed and read word of God.  To allow yourself to be guided into God’s mission and ministry in the world.  As Peter puts it in our passage for today you have to be ready “to change your heart and lives.” That is no easy task, but one that we are all called to by the power of the Holy Spirit.
We aren’t just called to change our hearts and lives once though.  Sometimes we think that we are cut to the heart or deeply troubled or, to use Wesley’s term, that our hearts are strangely warmed only once in our lives, but the truth is that we need that cutting and troubling and warming that only the Holy Spirit can bring over and over and over again. 
Don’t get me wrong the first time you feel the power of God’s saving love and grace is unmatchable, but unless we allow God to keep refining our hearts and lives, unless we make room in our lives for God to change us over and over again into the likeness of Christ then that first experience will lead us nowhere. 
Why do we respond to the Word? - to let God Change our hearts and lives
How do we respond to the Word? - Peter tells us in the passage from Acts.
Remember your baptismal calling - prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness all employed in the service of making more disciples for the transformation of the world.  
Commit to being a part of the body of Christ, the family of God.  It is in that community and family that we find our mission and ministry in partnership with God.
What do we do to respond?
This breaks down to two categories as spelled out by Wesley.  Works of piety and works of mercy.
Every proclamation of the Word and every time we engage and are engaged by Scripture in our personal reading, offers us the opportunity to respond with either works of piety and or works of mercy. 
Works of piety include the means of grace that we are studying together as well as other that we won’t be able to cover in a five part sermon series.  But worship, prayer, singing, Bible Study, fasting, the sacraments and getting together to talk about faith. 
Works of Mercy are both the things we do to care for one another in the body of Christ and those things we do to reach out in the love of Christ to those who are the least the last and the lost.

If we don’t respond to the Word of God then we run the risk of starving our faith to death. “Faith without works is dead”- James 2:17. But in order to continually respond to the Word of God we have to be looking for those works of piety or works of mercy which are presented to us. And we have to engage them, so that God can continually change our hearts and minds into the likeness of Christ.