12 min read

Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life // Fasting from Consumption

Do we each really need our own lawnmowers?
Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life // Fasting from Consumption

Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
February 18, 2024 • Lent 1
Scripture: Luke 9:51; Luke 10:1–12

Will you ponder something with me? I’ve had this nagging question for a while, and maybe you can help me. Perhaps you’ve had this question, too.

But does everyone really need a lawn mower? Like, do we really each need our own?

And now, two disclaimers. First, I own a lawnmower. And if I’m honest, at one point in my life, I owned two because a friend moved out of state and couldn’t take his lawn mower with him, so he gave it to us. It was a collection at that point. So, I’m not throwing shade at anyone who also also owns a lawnmower. And the second disclaimer is that I actually haven’t mowed the lawn in a good three or four years. In our house, Natalie does the mowing. Happily, I might add. She wants to do it. (I think.) Take that, gender roles!

But I mean — at most — in the spring and summer, we mow our lawn once per week. And at most it takes an hour. That means that the only reason we’d each need our own is if we happened to all mow our lawns at the same time on the same day in the same week.

And yet, somehow, we’ve been convinced that everybody needs their own lawn mower. But do we really?

Now, here’s the thing. This is not about lawnmowers. Not exclusively, anyway. And I get that some people, especially in more rural or spread-out areas, might actually need their own. But this is not really about lawnmowers. For me, it’s also about the books that line my shelves, many of which I haven’t cracked open. The binoculars I bought for all the times I was certain I was going to go birdwatching and wanted to look the part. The exercise equipment collecting dust. The late-night Instagram ad impulse buys I can’t even remember right now. This is me, remember. No shade here. No shame. This is my story.

And, if I’m being honest, the question isn’t really about whether everyone needs a lawnmower or if I really needed that thing Instagram made me buy. There are more profound questions—questions that arose because of today’s scripture passage and, in particular, the instructions that Jesus gives us to the disciples. And those questions are: What do we need, really, and why?

And if I sit too long with these questions, I might not love the answers I find, and it’s instead so much easier to buy another book or fall for another Instagram ad. But not today. Today, we’re going there.

Today marks the first Sunday of the season of Lent. For generations, inspired by Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness, followers of Jesus have spent the forty days before Easter in wilderness spaces of our own, preparing for the heartbreak and hope of the cross and empty tomb. The word Lent comes from an Old English word for “lengthen,” referring to the lengthening days we experience as spring emerges.

And y’all, we need Lent. You’ll hear me say this a bunch over the next six weeks, but Lent is a sort of spring cleaning for our souls. I’ve heard Leah say the same. In the same way that rearranging the furniture in a room, cleaning off our desks, or Marie Kondo-ing our closets can give us that feeling of renewal, of a fresh start, the same is true for Lent and our spiritual lives. It’s in this season that we clean out the junk drawers of our hearts, freshen up our rhythms, and reorganize our priorities so that we might be renewed, turn again toward love and life, hope and possibility, and be made ready for the joy of resurrection at Easter.

I remember last year, retired Bishop Will Willimon was here to preach the first Sunday of Lent, and he said, “Lent is the season in which the church finally gets honest.” And that feels so right. Lord knows we need it. In a world in which everywhere we turn, we’re hit with fake news, artificial intelligence, misinformed opinions, and brand-sponsored social media posts disguised as reality, the truth can feel elusive. It can be hard to discern. And so this is the gift of Lent.

But before we can discern the truth, we need space—the margin—the room to breathe. And that’s what our Lenten series this year is all about. It’s about giving us that space and freeing us to do that good work on the way of Jesus. It’s a series we’re calling “Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life.”

And on the one hand, this series names an intention. It’s an adjective. Since last fall, we’ve been on a slow roll through the Gospel of Luke, moving at the pace of Jesus, at the pace of love. And as of last week, since September, we’ve made it all the way to chapter nine. But if, in six short weeks, we’re going to make our way to the cross and resurrection in chapters 23 and 24, we’re going to have to seriously pick up the pace. So that’s one way of understanding the word fast.

But the word, fast, is also a verb, as in fasting from food. Maybe you’ve fasted before lab work. Maybe you’ve practiced intermittent fasting for your health.

But fasting is actually an ancient spiritual practice found in just about every religion. In the Bible, you’ll find it prescribed and practiced by many: Moses, Jonah, Elijah. In the ancient Jewish tradition, fasting had two main purposes. The first was to express repentance, acknowledgment of having turned from God. And the second was as a sort of internal preparation, often before a mission of some sort.

Throughout Christian history, followers of Jesus have also taken up the practice of fasting. For instance, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, fasted every Wednesday and Friday. John Calvin also regularly fasted. Until recently, it’s been a regular discipline of the Christian life.

Just as Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, fasting has often been a practice associated with the season of Lent. This is why many followers of Jesus will adopt a certain fasting practice or give something up during the season.

I remember growing up, one year, I fasted from french fries. Another year was sugar. But neither of these really got to the true purpose of fasting. Because Lent isn’t necessarily a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. It’s not about achieving any personal health goal. Instead, I love how the late preacher James Earl Massey describes it:

“Fasting is not a renunciation of life; it is a means by which new life is released within us.”

In other words, fasting isn’t about deprivation as much as it’s about preparation to experience the fullness of life God has for us. At its best, fasting is about getting rid of the things that have clogged our lives, clearing space, and making room so that we might be better attuned to the Spirit of God in us, among us, and beyond us — not only for our sake but for the sake of this world.

But here’s the thing: I know that fasting can sound scary, and it can be complex, especially today. For some, there’s an abundance of food around us. For others, patterns of disordered eating make this a challenging and perhaps even harmful idea. Others still live in food deserts where affordable, healthy food is scarce. But there are all kinds of ways to fast beyond fasting from food, and it’s those fasts that we’re going to be exploring throughout this series.

Each week, we’ll introduce a different kind of fast, one that is nontraditional and perhaps surprising—fasts from things that feel compulsive, that feel unlike-giving, things that get in the way of connection with God, of relationship with others, and of abundant life. We’ll invite you into these fasts, which will, in turn, lead you to embrace something new toward a spacious life of connection, meaning, and wholeness.

So that’s our series, “Fast: Practices for a Slow Lent and a Spacious Life.” Longest series setup ever. And there’s so much more to say, but we have six weeks, and really, today, we’re just laying a foundation here. So let’s get into it. This week: Fasting from Consumption.

Last Sunday, we heard the story of Transfiguration. It marks a turning point in the story. Jesus has been traveling from place to place, preaching liberation, deliverance, and Jubilee… and then actually making it real. But after he comes down the mountain, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem — to what awaits him: betrayal, arrest, sentencing, death. It’s like locking in your destination in Google Maps. This is where the road is heading. This is actually why Leah and I planned for our Lent series to begin here, at this major turning point in Luke where Jesus changes course, because, over the next forty days, we are journeying with Jesus to Jerusalem, to and through the cross, and the empty tomb. And even as he goes, the mission of God continues.

So, to continue this mission, Jesus appoints 72 people to be about that work, sending each of them in pairs to every town and place where Jesus intends to go. For the Jewish reader, this number, 72, might make ears perk up. There’s a little foreshadowing here from Luke. In the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible in the Old Testament, the number of nations in the world is 72. So, here again, as has been true throughout Luke’s gospel, Luke’s hinting that the good news of Jesus, his mission of Jubilee, isn’t intended exclusively for the Jewish people but is for all the world — Gentiles, too.

And so, as Jesus prepares to send the 72, he offers some encouraging words like these:

“Go on your way; I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3)

In other words, “It’ll be fine. You’ll do great.” (Just kidding.) But what Jesus is really getting at here is that the struggle will be real. As Jesus’s followers, as those sent by Jesus, the road ahead is fraught. Just as is true for Jesus himself, as we’ll see in about six weeks, the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s not a cakewalk.

So then, after his incredible motivational speech, Jesus provides the 72 with some important instructions, and they’re similar to the ones he gave to the twelve apostles before he sent them just one chapter earlier.

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” (Luke 10:4)

And now, I don’t know if you’ve ever packed for a trip. I have. And when I do, I will usually carry at least a bag. I’ll carry at least a pair of shoes. Maybe even a change of clothes. At least. And a toothbrush. At least.

But Jesus tells them not to. Instead, he instructs the 72 to carry no purse. No bag. No sandals. Nothing.

Isn’t this interesting?

Last November, I traveled to Richmond to celebrate and co-officiate Rajeev and Alyson’s wedding. Instead of taking nothing, I packed my things, loaded up, and drove the three(ish) hours to Richmond. I was sure I had thought of everything. I had my iPad for the ceremony. Clothes for each day we’d be gone. I even remembered my deodorant, which I often forget. But right as I pulled into the driveway of Natalie’s parent's house where we were staying, I had this sinking feeling that there were at least two things I hadn’t packed: First, socks. Second, my clergy robe… that I needed… for the ceremony.

I was so angry. I was kicking myself and trying to problem-solve in my head. As I saw it, the only alternative was to drop Natalie and the kids off, turn around, drive the three hours to get them, and then come back.

When I floated that idea, everyone looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Ask my dad for socks,” Natalie said. “Can someone who’s coming to the wedding pick up your clergy robe and bring it with them when they come?”

I didn’t like either of those options. And that’s an understatement. Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. And here’s why: Each of these solutions required me to be, well, to be human. To be vulnerable. To admit that I can’t do it all. That I don’t have it all. To come face-to-face with the reality that I need help.

This was so hard to stomach, in part, because we live in a world that does everything it can to convince us that the opposite is true—that we can do it all, that we can have it all, and that we deserve it all.

Think about it: Productivity apps promise to make us more efficient so that we can get more done in less time. Online courses and LinkedIn gurus will help us unlock our hidden potential, multiply our earnings, and leave the competition in the dust. Exercise regimens will add years to our lives. Countless products, from skin creams to protein powders, promise to make us look and feel younger. Turn back the clock. And until you eat this food or drink this beverage or drive this car or wear this brand, you won’t experience real pleasure. And if you need a pick-me-up, if none of these can fill your void, you can escape simply by swiping up again and again and again. (And whatever you do, don’t look up because you might see how this consumption is affecting the marginalized, the poor, and the climate.)

We’re bombarded with these messages every day, seduced into consumption with a singular but sinister mission: to convince us that we are more than human, that we are limitless, and that we can get out of life alive.

Because when this is true, when we are limitless, more than human, there’s no such thing as enough. There’s always room for more: more striving, more wealth, more power, more status. Who has need, then, for God when we’re told in countless ways that we’re already gods? This is the nature of the fall in Genesis.

But Lent is the season in which the church finally gets honest. And so we need to be honest about the fact that we are human. We are creature. We are finite. We have limits. But when this truth is hard to swallow, and when it’s uncomfortable just to be still and sit with this reality, when we come face-to-face with these limits, we often just consume some more. We doomscroll. We add to cart. We upgrade. We hit play. We swipe right. We turn up the volume.

We consume more of what ultimately consumes us.

Perhaps this is why Jesus tells the 72 to take nothing. It’s hard for us to fathom this reality when our lives are so shaped by fullness, if not overstimulation, abundance, if not excess. So what’s the deal?

Here’s what Jesus says a few verses later:

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter at own and they do not welcome you, go out into its street and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ (Luke 10:8–11)

Twice in that section, you hear Jesus offer this truth… did you catch it? “The kingdom of God has come near.” And here’s the thing. Here’s what we know: The kingdom of God is manifest in hospitality, mutuality, interdependence, compassion, and justice. And we know that there is no room for fierce, superhuman, “I can do it all on my own” independence in God’s kingdom. It’s mutually exclusive.

And so we discover, then, that when Jesus sends them with nothing but their limited, finite humanity and the faith in their hearts, they’re to offer peace when they’re invited in. They’re to eat what is set before them. In other words, they’re sent with nothing such that, in their vulnerability and humanity, they might be more open to experiencing the kingdom of God through the hospitality, compassion, and love they receive along the way — dependent on the grace of God to give them what they really need, what they truly hunger for: connection, liberation, wholeness, and the life that really is life.

The kingdom of God has come near, indeed. And this is good news.

Last November, no part of me wanted to ask my father-in-law to borrow his socks. No part of me wanted to make the call to ask somebody to break into my house and grab my clergy robe. And yet, when I was forced to swallow my pride and confront my human limitations, I found compassion. I found understanding and empathy. I found friends jumping at the chance to help. I found grace. The kingdom of God had come near.

And that’s just it. To fast from consumption is to let go of that which doesn’t satisfy our deepest hunger such that we create space for more of what does. So often, we fill our lives — our hearts, our minds, and our souls — with the things we do to avoid the truth that we are human. That we are dependent on God and one another. And these things we consume so often end up consuming us. It’s by design. They obstruct the beauty and goodness and grace that God has for us that meet our deepest yearnings: belonging, connection, love, and peace.

I love how St. Augustine put it:

“God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them."

So here’s the question before us this morning: What are your hands full with? What is it that you truly hunger for in this season?