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Holy Lent, Holy Life: Fasting

Matthew 4:1-11 I feel like I’m not supposed to preach about this. Today I want to share with you about the spiritual discipline of fasting.  But Jesus had clear words about how we are to fast:  “…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” (Matthew 6:17-18). I want to share with you my journey with fasting… I want to tell you what I’ve learned from the past 9 months, attempting to fast one day a week.  And it feels kind of… wrong… because saying it in a sanctuary or putting it on a blog isn’t exactly keeping it “secret.” But, as William Law has pointed out, if we took Jesus’ instructions literally it would mean the only people who could fast would be people who lived alone (found in Spiritual Classics).  Sometimes it’s OK to talk about when we fast, and I’m hoping this is one of those times. So… let’s talk about fasting. First, some definitions.  Richard Foster gives a good working definition: “the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.”  Note that fasting is “for spiritual purposes.”  A fast is not a cleanse or a weight-loss trick or a way to kick a bad habit, but a means of connecting to God.  A fast can also take many forms.   It can be a complete fasts (nothing but water), a partial fast (giving up just one item), or even...

Bragging Rights

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 Today I want to indulge a little show-and-tell with three of my prize t-shirts. First:  A Wilderness Trail “Trail Blazer” t-shirt. I earned this t-shirt when I was seventeen and finished my fourth week-long hike with Wilderness Trail.  I was super proud to be initiated into the “Order of the Black” and learn their secret handshake (yes, there really is one; but if you want to learn it, you’ll just have to come to Wilderness Trail). I couldn’t wait to wear this when went I went back to school in the fall.  “What’s that shirt for?”  “Oh nothing – just backpacking 150 miles, that’s all.” Next:  A “2015 Co-ed Softball Champions” t-shirt.   This shirt was awarded to us at the end of a glorious season with our Andrews UMC team.  Despite a rash of injuries affecting pretty much every player over the age of 35, we managed to beat teams that were younger and had heavier hitters. Needless to say, I take a special pleasure in wearing this shirt around town.  And finally:  A Duke Divinity School t-shirt. Those who know me might think the Duke Divinity shirt was a recent purchase, since I’ve been working on my Doctor of Ministry at Duke.  But I didn’t buy this shirt as a student; my mom bought it in 2003, telling me I ought to get my doctorate from Duke one day.  (Side note:  Duke didn’t even have a “Doctor of Ministry” program in 2003; some people just have a knack for always being right.) A few weeks ago I sent a “final” draft of my thesis...

New Year, New You: Decisions

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Over the past couple weeks we’ve dealt with common topics for New Year’s resolutions, like food and money.  But, since most resolutions don’t make it out of the first month… chances are good that if you made one about either of those, it’s already un-resolved. Don’t worry.  That doesn’t mean we can’t still make 2018 a better year. Today I want to address something that is kind of like an umbrella for all resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise:  How to make decisions. Some decisions – many, really – make themselves.  Should I brush my teeth this morning?  Yes.  Should I go to work today?  Yes.  Should I call my dad on his birthday?  Yes.  (Happy birthday, Dad!) But some decisions seem to resist being made.  They appear as two equal parts, different but hard to tell which is better or worse.  The longer we sit and stare at them, the more time they have to build a fence – a nice, big fence.  While we’re thinking we climb up on that fence to sit, one leg straddling each side.  We sit there and sit there and sit there, paralyzed by the inability to decide which side is better. I’ve been on the fence more than a few times.  One of the worst was during the end of my time working at Wilderness Trail, a backpacking ministry that I love.  I worked there for 8 summers while I was in school, then 7 full-time years after I graduated.  Some of my biggest laughs and most powerful God moments have taken place there.  I even met my husband...

New Year, New You: Money

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 This January, we’re taking a look at common new year’s resolutions – and what our faith has to say about them.  Last week we dealt with food, but I had to make a disclaimer at the start:  I’m a pastor, not a nutritionist.  This week’s topic requires a similar statement:  I’m a pastor, not a financial adviser. Yep – this week we’re talking about money. We sometimes get shy about talking money in church… but Jesus sure didn’t.  Of his 38 parables, 16 dealt with money or stuff.  That’s like 40%.  If I followed Jesus’ example, I’d be preaching about money twice a month or so. Why did Jesus talk about money so much? Surely part of the reason is because we have to have it.  Money is a fact of life. My children are only beginning to understand this reality.  “Why do you have to pay bills?” they ask, wanting me to hurry up and come play.  So I explain that we need to pay bills to have internet for their tablets and groceries for our fridge and heat for our home.  Money makes all that happen… and we’re fortunate to be able to pay our bills, because some people lack the money to afford a safe place to sleep or to pay their hospital bills when they’re sick. Money is something we have to have, and I’m grateful for the money we’ve got. Money in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Money provides us with food and clothing and shelter.  Money can also do some pretty good “extra” stuff.  Here at Andrews...

New Year, New You: Food

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Today continues a New Year’s resolution theme for January, with probably the most-frequently resolved issue:  food. Before you put your hopes and dreams in this message, let me be clear:  I am not a nutritionist.  I haven’t come up with the next diet fad.  I am a pastor, and my area of conviction has little to do with your BMI and much to do with your soul.  But the state of your soul has something to do with you relationship with food… and that’s what I want to talk about. Paul starts this passage – this letter to the Christians in Corinth – with a couple “maxims” related to the body, and one in particular has to do with food.  Maxims were short sayings that were a staple of Greco-Roman culture; J. Paul Sampley calls them “epitomes of truth, of commonly shared convictions or perceptions… they typically function as a ‘given.’” A good analogy might be the sayings we throw around today, like “don’t reinvent the wheel.”  A phrase like that and serves as a kind of proof in and of itself. If you open up to 1 Cor 6 you’ll easily notice these, because they’re in quotes.  Here’s my favorite, one I could easily see us Americans saying:  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” YES, Greco-Roman maxims!  Food is the best! I’ve always liked food, but most especially, sweet things.  When I was younger I had a maxim of my own:  “Every meal should come with dessert.”  In the absence of a traditional sweet treat, I was known to substitute...

New Year, New You: Forgiveness

Mark 1:4-11 I’m glad to be back in the sermon-writing saddle after being out on vacation last Sunday.  More than just Sunday – my family was out-of-pocket for 8 full days. In our world of work, school, and church, 8 days is a really long trip.  Long enough to have a cornucopia of celebrations:  5 Christmases, 3 extended family meals, an anniversary party, a reunion with old friends, and new year’s eve.  Oh, and a stop for ice cream almost every day – because what’s vacation without ice cream? By the time we rolled back in to town (with Chick-fil-a milkshakes in hand, because peppermint chocolate chip), even the kids were recognizing we couldn’t live this way forever.  “When do we get to go back to school?” Are you feeling it, too? Maybe you, too, are ready for something better for you.  Maybe the last month of celebrations made your jeans uncomfortably tight… or your credit card debt uncomfortably large.  Or maybe it’s something bigger.  Maybe there are things about 2017 that you’d like to leave in last year.  Maybe you want 2018 to include less bad choices and more good ones. If so… this month at Andrews UMC is for you. For the next four weeks we’re going to be taking a look at common new year’s resolutions; topics like food, money, and decisions.  But today we’re going to lay the foundation for all of it with an important first step.  And forgive me, I have little kids so the only way my brain can think it is to sing it:  Let it go, let it go… To...