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Summary: The Third Sermon of a Seven Part Series, ‘Stepping Stones and Stumbling Blocks to Faith.’

I begin this morning with a riddle, or, at least what I hope is a riddle. (Or maybe a pseudo-riddle).

The riddle is a common experience several of us have had over the years. Here it is: ‘Some of us have had to do it more than once. It something that we know is for our own good but is sure very difficult to do for the length of time we have to do it and the fact that others don’t have to do it while we have to, is sometimes very frustrating.’

What I am talking about it; what am I describing?

It is ‘fasting before surgery.’

Think about it for a moment. We have to not eat or drink anything for what sometimes ends up to be 10 or so hours before surgery. We know that we are abstaining for our own good as we trust and pray that our surgery is successful (and necessary). But it is very, very hard to not eat or drink and especially not to get grumpy about it when everyone around us has been able to.

Fasting is something that we do only when we have to. It is not something that most of us do voluntarily. But when we fast we become aware of just how important food and drink is to us.

As I think about fasting I also think about dieting and as I think about dieting… I think about food, and as I think about food, especially… chocolate… I get hungry!

Andy Rooney once said, ‘The biggest seller is cookbooks and the second is diet books - how not to eat what you’ve just learned how to cook.’ In at least the past year, much has been written, several actions have been taken at various levels of government, and many school districts have adopted new polices, on diet and exercise. They are aimed at getting our kids to be more active, eat healthier, and not become obese. Let’s spend a moment with a couple of familiar faces at the local drive-in as their discussion turns to food and diet and temptation.

(Slide 2) Bluefish TV clip ‘Drive In – Temptation’

At the wonderful Valentine dinner some of us went to in Shipshewana back in February, there was a wonderful ventriloquist whose dummy indicated that one of the audience participants was a balanced person. When asked by the ventriloquist what he meant he said, ‘his bubble is in the middle.’

This reminds me of what Margaret Halsey once said, ‘He must have had a magnificent build before his stomach went in for a career of its own.’ ‘Food,’ wrote Fran Lebowitz, ‘is an important part of a balanced diet.’ Then there is Ed Koch who said, ‘The best way to lose weight is to close your mouth - something very difficult for a politician. Or watch your food - just watch it, don’t eat it.’

Food and drink is a necessity for us. They are not options. We need them to survive. But they are everyday reminders of a stumbling block that is one we spend millions and billons of dollars to overcome - gluttony.

Now we don’t call it gluttony we call it, overeating or going on a diet or losing weight.

But what is it about gluttony that makes it a tough thing to deal with in our lives?

In Mark 9 we read about an episode of demonic possession and the inability of the disciples, who ended up in a shouting match with a group of religious leaders while a crowd gathered to watch the fireworks, to free a young boy from this possession. Now, from what I read in the text, it was one of those in the crowd whose son who was possessed and the father was upset that the disciples could not do it.

Jesus was able to cast out the demon and the frustrated and probably mystified disciples asked Him why they could not do it. His response as we read in our main text for this morning was “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.”

Now, in other versions of scripture the phrase, ‘and fasting,’ is added onto the end of this sentence. And it is fasting I want to speak briefly of this morning as one way that the Lord uses self-control as a stepping stone to a better and stronger faith and a key foundational block in our lives.

Now, I want to make clear that I am not making a link between gluttony and demon possession, okay? As I prepared for today I thought to myself as I wrote, ‘they may think that I am making a case that if you wrestle with gluttony you are possessed! That is not what I am saying!

But for some people food is an addiction. (Slide 3) Food is used not to just nourish our bodies but also to stuff our feelings. We eat when we are happy, we eat when we are bored, we eat when we are stressed, and we eat when we are angry! Gluttony is a stumbling block for some people and affects their health and their relationships with God and people.

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