For the final week of March, we are pleased to welcome a friend of Tyndale's, Pastor Phil Reinders. As we draw closer to Holy Week and Easter, Dr. Reinders will lead our community in reflecting on prayer as a formative basis of our identity as image-bearers of Christ.
This week we conclude our Lenten series with a message entitled “Getting to God Through Your Stomach”.
Well, good morning, Tyndale. It is good to be with you. The last time I was here, Gary Nelson was still your president. And we hadn't yet had to say hello to COVID, and we didn't have to wear these things. But it's good to be in this beautiful space, to be with the beautiful people of Tyndale. Let's bow our heads in a moment of prayer shall we?
God, we're grateful for how you've inspired the biblical writers to speak to us, and we pray that that same spirit would now take those words and bring them to life in our lives. As we journey to the cross into Easter continue to guide our way. We ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.
So a few years ago, Vogue magazine published an article entitled "11 Reasons Foodies should be flocking to Toronto". And it described Toronto as this burgeoning foodie Mecca. And you know it right, Toronto is one of the best places for some of the greatest restaurants. In the part of Toronto that I used to live, Roncesvalle, I could walk you through the whole area, restaurant by restaurant, and it would be one delicious extravaganza after another. A cozy Cuban diner. Beside my neighbour's ramen noodle house, across the street from one of the best fried chicken joints in Toronto, down the street from a great barbecue joint, a Polish restaurant, turned the corner into Parkdale, you'll get great Brazilian food, some of the best tacos in the city. You got Tibetan and Ethiopian restaurants. All of that to make your heart, and your mouth, sing. Need sort of a napkin right now just to mop up the drool, just thinking about it. And it's not just Toronto, right? We live now in a foodie culture. And you think of all the food shows, all the TV shows, there's a whole TV network dedicated just to food. All the recipe websites, all the food porn you post on Instagram. We live in this foodie culture, which is really a culture of food excess, which has a shadow side to it. Think of, think of food waste in Canada, approximately, I'm told, 58% of food produced in Canada is thrown out, lost, wasted each year. 58%. That's scandalous.
Think of a reality of food injustice. Where food security, it's a very real issue. During the pandemic, there was an increase of 200% in the use of food banks, just in the GTA alone. And then at the same time, while we have this foodie culture, at the very same time we we have such distorted mixed messages about our bodies. There's so many crazy, conflicting messages. Just standing in a grocery store checkout line, on one side, you're gonna see magazines of all sorts, of food magazines, delicious foods you need to consume and enjoy, and the other side, you're gonna have magazines have ripped, perfect chiseled bodies. How do those fit together, right? You can't have that one without you can't have that chiseled body, and those foods. Completely mixed messages we get, resulting in so many eating disorders, so many huge issues of body image, of self worth, of insecurity about our bodies. How many of us feel a weight of shame as we compare our frumpy, dumpy bodies with those perfect photoshopped bodies pictured before us. And so we have this complicated relationship between food and our bodies, food and our desire for food, the desire for a perfect body, or for a different body. And that all has a power over us. And in an age where we are groomed to consume, where we are discipled to indulge, and yet shamed for not having the ideal perfect body, the practice of fasting just, perhaps, might be the most gracious and needed discipline of our time.
At the front end of this talk here today, as we talk about this journey to, through Lent, a part of which is the practice of fasting. I want to place a disclaimer at the front here. And just to say that if you're living with an eating disorder, I mean, please only consider the practice of fasting with the help of a doctor and a therapist.
But first, let's gather a little data, shall we? Quick question, don't have to raise your hands. But how many of you regularly practice fasting? How many of you, and no shame in this right? We're a University. We're researching here. We're collecting data. Who regularly fasts, and I don't mean you know, the intermittent fasting that help you lose weight or fasting for a blood test. No, just fasting as a faith practice. Fasting as a means of following Jesus. What I've found when I asked this question, and I get to ask it quite a few times, what I find is that North American Christians, it is just not part of our life with Christ. Which is really peculiar because, for millennia, fasting has been a core practice of apprenticing ourselves to Jesus. And while it might be novel, for many of us today, it is an ancient practice. Jesus in Matthew six, when he was teaching on the sermon on the mount just basically assumed fasting would be part of his disciples lives. When he taught in the sermon on the mount, he casually said, "and when you fast", of course, Jesus, thinking of course, you're practicing fasting, of course. He assumes. So when you fast, don't make it a religious theater. Jesus is critiquing the self righteous practice of theatrical fasting. And so, if you've posted recently on Instagram about what you've been giving up for Lent, Jesus might have a word or two for you. But Jesus is critiquing again, a religious show of fasting, but he's not critiquing the regular practice of fasting. Fasting was a normal part, an expected part. It was a part of the early church as well. We know from a document called the Didache, that the early church practice fasting on Wednesdays, and then again on Fridays. They fasted for food during the day. They broke the fast in the evening meal, so they would get up. It was from sunup, and then it was concluded at sundown, that was just a regular part of what it meant to follow Jesus, and that practice continued through recent history. Listen to what John Wesley, the English theologian, Minister, pastor in the 1700s had to say about fasting. He says, "The one who never fasts is no more in the way to heaven, than the one who never prays." Come on. That's, that's startling, isn't it? Everyone here considers prayer a non negotiable, right, within our relationship with God. But Wesley, he puts fasting on an equal plane with prayer. And to our ears, that's, that's pretty jarring. It feels pretty much out of step with our daily lives today. And again, why is that? I wonder if the absence of fasting in so much of Western Christianity is a symptom of a distorted or shrunken theology. How we've minimized a central piece of the good news of Jesus, which is, your body matters. To be human, as Christians understand human life. To be human is to be an embodied person. We don't separate spirit, soul, mind from our bodies. We're integrated person's. Body and spirit together, an integration of, of immaterial and material substances. This is embodied Christian spirituality. This is good news. And when theologian, Scott McKnight, comments on this, and he says, quote, "we have minimized the body so much in our spirituality that fasting has become unnatural to us". Fasting, it's one of the most deeply embodied spiritual practices. Fasting is a way, almost like we pray with our stomach, and with our body. Now a basic definition of fasting is, you probably know it, you choose not to eat food for a set period of time. That's it. Not complicated at all. The usual type of fasting involves not eating anything eating anything from sunup to sundown, roughly 12 hours. A more extended fast would be sunup, sundown to sundown, a 24 hour fast.
But why, why do Christians fast? Why do followers of Jesus put away food, for a time. And it's not about deprivation. It's not about a denial of the goodness of food. That is a gift from God for us to enjoy. It's not, as a means of, of punishment for our sins or a means of trying to earn favour with God. Because in Jesus, you already have all of God's favour, you are loved and cherished. One of the important reasons why a follower of Jesus might engage in a fast, especially in the season of Lent is, is how it reveals something of our interior. It's interesting, the absence of food in our bodies, reveals something of our heart, of the desires that shape our lives. And so fasting is actually a form of discernment. It's a way in which we better understand the movements of the interior of our heart. Richard Foster, who many of you probably know, writes quite prolifically on the spiritual disciplines, writes this, "more than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us". And he says, this is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, because we cover up what is inside of us with food, and with other things. Doesn't that happen to us? When we get hangry? You know, hangry, right. You're hungry. But there's this irritability, there's this anger that sort of spills out of you. What is that about? Sure, it's blood sugar levels, right, that are messing with your equilibrium. But isn't there something else too, going on? I find it so humbling to see how much of the composure and equilibrium we have, depends on a muffin, or a cup of coffee, on us eating. Richard Foster continues to teach about this revelatory capacity of fasting. He says, "If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately". David, quoting a psalm 35 says, "I humbled my soul with fasting". Foster continues, he says "anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear, if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we'll rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger. And then we know that we're angry because the spirit of anger is within us, we can rejoice in the knowledge that because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ". Don't you think that is why we mostly don't practice fasting, because it's hard. It's revealing. Because of all the ugly junk about ourselves that we keep mostly well hidden, fasting sort of brings to the surface. But it's a gift to us. Because while fasting reveals something of all the hidden junk in our hearts, and also reorients our hearts to their true sustenance, to their true satisfaction.
Humans are made to live with, and love God. This is how we're constituted as human beings. Every human being hungers for God most deeply, most profoundly, the most basic and primary desire of the human being. However, that appetite for God often gets misdirected, or gets misunderstood, for something else, and so we end up stuffing ourselves on beauty, or sex, or power, or achievement, or a host of other good things. But they're less, lesser idols, when what we most need is God. So how do we keep our heart centered on God when there are so many other tempting realities that seek to lure us away? Draw us away?
Think of Daniel, the biblical character Daniel. Daniel is my patron saint for living in these postmodern, post Christian times that we find ourselves in. Daniel, of course you know, was one of the Hebrew exiles, captives, brought to Babylon where he underwent this intense course of, I guess you could call it cultural assimilation, cultural indoctrination into the ways of pat, pagan Babylon. And in that, Daniel, from what we read in Scripture, at least offers no resistance to that Babylonian reeducation program. Except for one thing. Daniel chapter one, we read, "Daniel resolve not to defile himself with royal food and wine." So Daniel engages a fast of some sorts, not a full fast avoiding food, but he avoids food from the Kings table and asked simply for a diet of vegetables and water. Now why? Again, he could have eaten the king's food. It wasn't kosher laws, or anything like that. This everyday practice, however, again, a daily reminder, he would be, a bodily daily reminder was a strategic act of resistance that kept his heart, through his body, kept his heart centered on the one true God. Author Andy Crouch writes this about Daniel, he says, it seems that for Daniel and his friends being a counter culture consisted of surprisingly small decisions, small acts of reorientation, to remind them daily, that in spite of their privileged status in the capital city of the world's most powerful empire, they belong to another king, and another kingdom. And so fasting is, is this small, very bodily act of reorienting our heart, reminding us in a very physical way, we belong to another King, we participate in another Kingdom, another economy, and every grumble of our stomachs reminds us, we're actually not quite at home in this culture. We're hungry for something more, and so Christians have long practiced fasting to keep our lives in touch with their true home, naming our hunger as for God, which is precisely what Jesus does in his temptations. In Matthew chapter four, where Jesus led into the wilderness where he's tempted by the temperature, and he's tempted, first temptation by what? Food. He's been fasting for 40 days, 40 nights. Of course, he's hungry, and the devil tempts him, "Jesus turn these stones into bread." Now, in telling us this temptation, Matthew is sort of reenacting Genesis, he's echoing the Genesis story. Jesus is replaying that garden story all over again. And of course, in Genesis, that first sin, that first temptation, is one of rebellion. But it's pretty nuanced. It's about food. It's about bodies, it's about desires. The temptation of Adam and Eve was to redefine good and evil, to trust themselves, instead of the voice of God, the unwillingness to trust that God is good, but the means of temptation. Food. Fasting, teaches us in, in quite an immediate bodily way, that it is in God alone, that we find the true satisfaction, that the empty growls of our hungry heart point towards. We so quickly and easily fill our hunger for God with so many other comforts. And yet, Jesus notes, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. And so fasting is this deliberate interference in the normal routines of our lives. If you're participating in that during Lent, you're experiencing that sort of interference, your regular living is disrupted in some way, and intends to wake us up to what is most important, what is most central.
You know, we're probably all familiar with, with the cases of people who have had those disruptions in their life. Perhaps they've lost health, lost a job. Something has been, significant has been withdrawn from their life, life is reduced, it's pulled back to basics. And in that place, that, the experience people often have is one of epiphany. They find a sense of life or an awareness of God that gets deepened in those hard experiences.
Pastor, theologian, Eugene Peterson calls these practices of abstinence, like fasting, "voluntary disasters". So instead of waiting for a heart attack to come, or an unemployment, to come our way, to experience the good benefit of what God can do in those hard circumstances, we instead voluntarily withdraw a good, like food, in order to experience the mercy of God, that is the foundation of all things. See, whatever masters us, that's our God. So often, our appetites dictate and direct our lives, and very often, we lack a hunger for God. We the reality of grace doesn't seem sweet to our hearts, because we've stuffed ourselves with other things. In our Lenten journey, fasting, it's not a hunger strike, where we somehow wrest out of God's hand what we want from God. But it's instead a shifting of the appetites of our heart. We fast, in order that we might feast on God. We fast to get to God through our stomachs, tuning our appetites, and training our bodies to taste and see that the Lord is good.
Let me pray with you. Jesus, you said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. We confess we've stuffed our lives with so much else and yet we remain so hungry. We have this desire, deep in us God, that no amount of food, or sex, or achievement can fill. Which tells us we're made for more, for you to fill our hungry hearts. And so as we continue to journey through Lent, come to us, teach us how it is in you that we find our heart's true desire. In the Saviour's name we pray, Amen.
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