The largest radio receiver on earth is in New Mexico. Airplane pilots call it “the mushroom patch”. It's real name is the Very Large Array. The VLA is a series of huge satellite disks on thirty-eight miles of railways. Together, the dishes mimic a single telescope the size of Washington, DC. Astronomers come from all over the world to analyze optical images of the heavens composed by the VLA from the radio signals it receives from space. Why is such a giant apparatus needed? Because the radio waves, often emitted from sources millions of light years away, are very faint. The total energy of all radio waves ever recorded barely equals the force of a single snowflake hitting the ground.
What great lengths people will go to searching for a faint message from space when God has spoken so clearly through the Son and the bible. Straining through the eyes of telescopes and the electronic ears of the VLA, people search the infinite darkness of the universe for a word from somewhere. The bible tells us that “We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and yo will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1: 19)
In our summer series on Spiritual Practices, we are going to continue this morning with one that is not often practised in the Christian faith anymore. I remind you that the purpose of any spiritual practice is to reclaim devotion to God. Today's may challenge you more than lectio divina which we did two weeks ago, and gratitude which we covered last week. But sometimes we need to be challenged in our faith and our practices of it. It helps us to see the holy in new ways, to experience the divine in ways we may not have before. Today, we are looking at the spiritual practice of fasting. Unlike the last two weeks, we will not be doing a trial run of this during the service today.
We've got a 10 year old Norwegian boy living with us, right now. He lives with us because his mother and foster mother no longer wanted him. He showed up on our radar because my husband worked with a friend of the woman who fostered him.
We also have a three year old boy living with us whose ancestors came from Spain. He's a very active youth, some might say he has ADD or ADHD. His story is similar to the 10 year old's. He lived on a farm near Portland, Ontario and when he was six weeks old, the farmer decided that he could no longer care for him and put him up for adoption.
Sounds like a couple of pretty sad stories, doesn't it? Actually, don't feel too badly though. I think they are both living in good homes now (our's that it) and they are definitely both loved and treasured and will be with us for life. The other thing I didn't tell you was that they were animals. The 10 year old is my Norwegian Forest cat, Kingdom and the three year old is our Springer Spaniel Spritzer. We have another cat as well, Cinder and she's almost 20. Her's really was a sad story but that's for another day.
A stitch in time saves nine. Time is money. There's no time like the present. We've probably all heard these sayings, maybe even used them ourselves. Our society has an obsession with time, particularly with the constant lack of time. How many of you have ever bemoaned the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day? That if we just had one more hour we could get that much more done? How many times in your working life, and perhaps in your retired life, have you found your schedule completely full? We just need one more minute, one more hour, one more day... There is always one more thing to do. Our society doesn't handle idleness well. From the time we were young, we were probably taught that we should be busy doing something. They used to call that the Protestant work ethic. Parents even brought their faith into the idea of filling time all the time by saying “Idle hands are the devil's playground.”
And time keeps moving whether we like it or not. This summer we are going to start a journey together, a spiritual journey. Everyone is invited, even encouraged to join. This is a journey that will add more things to your schedule and perhaps require you to juggle time to make sure you can fit in the stuff needed for this journey. But this journey is calling to us, encouraging us to look at time a little differently. To see time and experience time differently. In the lesson from Habakkuk that was read, the writer talks about an “appointed time”. Likewise in Ecclesiastes. The time we hear about in the bible is not the time we mark in minutes and hours, but instead it is God's time – a time in which the promises of God will come to pass.
Over the summer, I have been preaching a series on Spiritual Practices, including various methods of connecting with God to be incorporated into our lives on a daily basis. We learned of Lectio Divina, the method of reading a piece of scripture and pondering three questions: What word or phrase from the scripture resonates with me? Why? What might God be trying to tell me at this time?
Secondly, we looked at the spiritual practice of Gratitude: spending time each day considering the things for which you are thankful, recording them and actually thanking God for the blessings.
We talked about Fasting, a somewhat more difficult practice for many in our North American culture of plenty, but as well as including the idea of fasting from food, I also suggested fasting from something that is want or desire rather than a need.
Lastly, we worked on the spiritual practice of prayer, introducing new ways of praying such as body prayer, prayer for life and breath prayer. Each of these four spiritual practices is outlined on your bulletin insert.
Today we are going to try the last of the spiritual practices I want to introduce you to. This one is Meditation. Meditation is common in many world religions and is especially known to be connected with eastern religions. However, mediation is as old to Christianity as the first century A.D. Eastern meditation is usually about emptying one's mind, trying to bring oneself to a plane of existence that removes the need for physical, mental or emotion substance.
When a nightclub opened on Main Street in a small town, the only church in that town organized an all night prayer meeting. The members asked God to burn down the club. Within a few minutes, lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground. The owner sued the church, which denied responsibility. After hearing both sides, the judge said, “It seems that wherever the guilt may lie, the nightclub owner believes in prayer, while the church doesn’t.
It’s true that an unfortunate number of good, hard-working church goers never pray. Praying - one of the easiest things in the world to do because there are no correct words that must be said, no particular postures that must be emulated - is one of the most difficult disciplines people find to adopt. This morning and for the next few weeks we are going to take a look at a prayer that was given to those who did not know how to pray - a prayer that is just as applicable today as it was 2,000 years ago. In today’s gospel, Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them how they ought to address Almighty God. He responds by giving them a prayer. “When you pray, this is how you speak to God, ‘Our Father ...’”
One of the things parents do while waiting for a child to be born is to pick a name for their baby. They usually begin by bouncing names off one another. How does this one sound, or this one? How does the name sound with our last name? How about naming a daughter after my grandmother? How about naming the baby after my last girlfriend? Names can be part of a family history or they might have come from a grocery store booklet with the imaginative title “What to Name Your Baby”. Names may be made up because Mom and Dad can’t agree on a name or names may be chosen because they happen to be popular that year, like when all the little girls are named Brittany and all the little boys are named Kyle. What’s in a name?
The bible tells us that the experiences of life, both good and bad, come equally to all God’s children. That being true, maybe you will understand when someone says to you, “I think I’m having one of those ‘I’ve died and gone to Hell’ days”. Those are the kind of days that usually start out alright and then go downhill. You get up to a clear, sunny day. Your spouse looks especially handsome or beautiful, the kids seem like great treasures from heaven. Then something happens and what began as a heavenly day turns hellish in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, divorce sounds like a plausible and pleasant course of action; leaving the kids abandoned on a stranger’s doorstep seems like the right thing to do. But that will solve nothing, because the nightmare seems to be coming as much from inside of you as it is from the outside. The day seems long, the ears of God shut. You didn’t plan for the total meltdown of the household, or your life, but here it is and it seems like the end of the world. What happened? Well, I’ll tell you what happened. God had plans for your day that you weren’t ready for. You were surprised by what, till today, had been God’s secret plan in your life. As His plan began to unfold before your eyes, you responded with fear, anxiety, anger and rebellion. Will similar events happen again? Very likely. Will you respond the same way? You don’t have to.