Sunday’s Sermon: Loving Sabbath

  • Choices
    • Left or right?
    • Cake or pie?
    • Black or white?
    • Newspaper or magazine?
    • The mountains or the beach?
    • We make choices every day – choices about our activities, choices about our relationships, choices about the path that our lives are following.
      • Spent last few weeks learning about what Sabbath is and how we can live into Sabbath rest
        • Read about God both establishing and commanding the Sabbath
        • Talked about how important that rest is to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being
        • Talked about various ways that we can participate in that Sabbath rest in the midst of our busy schedules
        • Sabbath is about …
          • Resting
          • Setting aside time to honor God
          • Devoting energy to building and maintaining our relationship with God
      • But ultimately, Sabbath is a choice. God doesn’t control our actions like some giant puppet master in the sky. God has presented us with all the information. God has said to us, “I love you.” And now God waits to see and hear what we will do, what decision we will make.
        • If/when we choose Sabbath, how do we go from obeying Sabbath to loving Sabbath? Once we’ve made the choice, how can we encourage that intellectual commitment to infuse our hearts and our spirits with the restoration and renewal that is to come?
  • Both Scripture readings today give us e.g.s of this choice
    • OT names it plain and simple right off the bat – text: Is this not the fast I choose[1]
    • Also implied in OT: If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs[2] –> The repeated use of that simple little word – “if” – implies that the choice is ours to make. I don’t know about you, but I hear a quiet hope in these words that God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.
      • Say “quiet hope” because of Israel’s history – not exactly an obedient track record –> God is fully aware that the Israelites haven’t chosen to honor the Sabbath in the past. And God is fully aware that the Israelites will choose not to honor the Sabbath at some point in their future. But because of a pure and unending love for them, God still has hope that, when given the choice, the Israelites will return to God once again. “Will you honor the Sabbath? Will you spend some time with me?”
        • Asks the same thing of us: Will you honor the Sabbath? Will you spend some time with me?
    • Jesus also presents the man with a withered hand a choice in gospel lesson – Scripture: Then [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”[3] –> It may not sound like it, but there is a choice here. The man with the withered hand could have chosen to leave. He could have chosen to listen to the doubt and ridicule of the Pharisees instead of that still, small voice within himself. He could have let the social stigma of associating with this man who was supposedly violating the Sabbath law to deter him from obeying Jesus’ instruction. But instead, he chose to believe.
      • Made a choice to enter into that relationship with God – relationship of …
        • Trust
        • Compassion
        • Faith
        • This is the same relationship that God offers to us. God says to us, “Stretch out your hand to me. Knock, and my door will be opened to you. Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest … my rest … Sabbath rest. But you must choose it. I can’t do it for you.”
          • See evidence of this in Heb in Isa – text: Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.[4] –> Do you remember that Hebrew word that we talked about a few weeks ago – the word that indicated something important was about to happen?
            • Sometimes translated, sometimes not – when translated, it’s often “behold … look … see!”
              • Heb. professor’s preferred translation = Shazaam!
              • Well, we find that word in this passage. Even though it isn’t translated, it appears right before God utters the phrase, “Here I am,” so it’s that phrase that we’re supposed to pay attention to. That’s the phrase that God wants us to really hear. When we cry out … reach out … stretch out our hands, the most important thing to know is that God’s response was, is, and always will be, “Here I am.”
  • And what can we expect once we’ve made this choice – the choice not only to open ourselves up to being in a relationship with God but also to embrace that relationship fully? –> a number of benefits of relationship with God
    • Some named outright in Isa: Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.[5]
      • Isa also speaks of the way God cares for us as part of this relationship: The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.[6] –> I hear renewal in this. I hear hope in this. I hear support in this. In those parched places – those places in which we are desperate for the relief of an oasis – God will be there with us. In those times when we feel too weak to endure whatever it is that we’re facing, God will be there with us. In those times of growth, welcomed or not, comfortable or not, God will be there with us.
        • See how God cares for us in Heb, too: “make your bones strong” – “strong” is also equipped, invigorated, and delivered –> Through that relationship, God is promising to care for us – body (equipped), mind (invigorated), and soul (delivered). All we have to do is choose to take that Sabbath time – that time to honor and reconnect with God.
    • Also see benefits of relationship in gospel passage: [Jesus] said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other.[7] 
      • 2 parts to this illustration – sheep in the pit and doing good on the Sabbath
        • Sheep in the pit demonstrates how much God truly cares for us –> In this illustration, not only are we told that God cares for us – even more than the sheep! – but we are shown that when we reach out in trust and faith, when we honor God with that time and that relationship, God will respond.
        • Doing good on the Sabbath links our well-being with the well-being of our neighbors
          • Also see this in Isa passage: Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?[8] –> We don’t often think of Sabbath rest including issues of social justice, but what better way to honor God than to care for God’s children? What better way to celebrate the relationship we have with our Creator than by spending time with those whom the Creator loves … and those whom society has forgotten how to love?
            • Scholar: It is clear that issues of social justice, religious observance, daily relations, and Sabbath obedience are woven together, and together they constitute what the poet understands as practicing true righteousness.[9]
    • God’s response to our Sabbath time won’t always look like a miraculous healing as it did for the man with the withered hand – sometimes it will look like …
      • Compassion of a friend or a stranger
      • Help from an unexpected source
      • Finding just the right verse in the Scripture that speaks to your deepest need right now
      • Open opportunity that wasn’t there before
      • Chance to be that response from God in someone else’s life
      • When we’re in an active relationship with God – when we’re consciously taking that Sabbath time to rest in God and honor God and renew our relationship on a regular basis – our eyes become more and more open to all those little God-moments in our lives. And it is these little moments that will help us move from simply obeying Sabbath because we know we should to loving our Sabbath time with God.
        • Moments are inspiring
        • Moments are a gift
        • Moments are a delight – Isa even says it: If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.[10] –> God says, “If you honor that Sabbath rest – if you stretch out your hand to me and share in that relationship with me – I promise you won’t regret it. You will delight in it … and so will I. You will benefit from it … and so will I. In it, you will find peace, and love, and renewal … and so will I.” Amen.


[1] Is 58:6 (emphasis added).

[2] Is 58:13.

[3] Mt 12:13a.

[4] Is 58:9a.

[5] Is 58:8.

[6] Is 58:11.

[7] Mt 12:11-13.

[8] Is 58:6-7.

[9] Christopher R. Seitz. “The Book of Isaiah 40-66: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 500.

[10] Is 58:13-14a (emphasis added).

October 2013 newsletter piece

Yesterday, I was sitting in my office working on a number of different things and listening to the “Christian Folk” radio station on Pandora.com when an interesting song came on. It’s a song called “Thank You God” by a new group called GreatStreet. (For more information, you can check out their website: http://greatstreetmusic.com/ourmusic.cfm.) Here’s a sample of the lyrics for you:

Thank You God

For rainy days and Mondays

Thank You God

For parking on the street

Thank You God

For this car I hate to drive

It takes me to the job that waits for me

Thank You God, thank you God

Thank You Jesus

For all the things that You have given me

Thank You God

For four‐by‐four foot cubes

Thank You God

For office meetings drive thrus

Thank You God

For this boss who’s got it out for me

And people who can’t seem to get along

Yes … you read that right. The whole song is about thanking God for all those little things that drive us crazy throughout the day – all those things that get us riled up and get under our skin.

Wait … what?!

Why would we be thanking God for the things that bother us? Why would we be thanking God for a car that we hate to drive, for Mondays, for a boss who’s got it out for us? From where we sit, these are the things that we ask God to fix in our lives, not the things we say, “Thank you” for.

But maybe we need to change our vantage point. Maybe we need to shift our point of view.

In recent weeks, we have been reminded all too often of the things that can go really wrong in the world: mass shootings in both Washington D.C. and Chicago, devastating flooding in Colorado, the hostage situation at the shopping mall in Kenya, the violence and political turmoil in Syria … sadly, even this long list could go on and on. Lately, it feels like every time we check the news – be it TV, radio, online news source, or the good old-fashioned newspaper – things around the world are getting worse. From this vantage point, all those minor irritants that are a part of our days don’t seem quite so earth-shattering, do they?

This doesn’t mean that we have to act happy when that boss that has it out for us comes down on us for something. It doesn’t mean that we have to walk around on Mondays acting as exuberant as we do on Fridays. It doesn’t mean we can’t fantasize about a new car instead of the one we’re driving.

But instead of spending all our free time griping about those little inconveniences, remember how blessed we are to live in this land of freedom. Remember how blessed we are to have the ability to write to our leaders with words of support or criticism, praise or complaint without fearing retaliation. Remember how much we have in comparison to the vast majority of the world.

Towards the end of “Thank You God,” GreatStreet sings this:

‘Cause my worst day could not outweigh

This world of suffering

So quiet me ’til I can be

A grateful offering

Just what did I do to deserve

This day I’m living in

I know that I could never earn

The choices and the chances that

You’ve given

Forgive me

Remember that even on our worst days, God loves us. God cares for us. And God has given us grace upon grace. Hallelujah. What a thing to be thankful for.

Blessings,

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* “Thank You God” was written by Joy Clevenger and Michael Warner and can be found on the GreatStreet debut album produced in 2010. *

Sunday’s Sermon: Living Sabbath

  • There’s a great camp song out there.  (reference children’s sermon) There are a lot of different names and variations for this song, but we always called it, “Hi, my name is Joe!”
    • Describe game
      • Right hand –> left hand –> right knee –> left foot –> hip –> head –> tongue
      • Final response – boss: “Are you busy?” and I said, “YES!”
    • Perfect camp song
      • Silly
      • Great ice breaker – gets everyone looking ridiculous all at the same time –> something unifying in looking ridiculous with a large group of people
      • But stop and think for a minute: How often does this silly song mirror our lives? How often do we find ourselves doing so many things that are expected of us that we end up flailing around and wishing we had more hands than an octopus? And in the midst of all this racket, how can we actually live the Sabbath rest we so desperately need?
        • Last week: talked about importance of Sabbath rest to the well-being of bodies, minds, and spirits –> learned Sabbath rest isn’t just about taking a break from all the chaos but also about devoting that break time to honoring God
        • This week, we’re going to think about how we can live into that Sabbath rest – how we can honor God with our timeouts.
  • Vital question this week: How do we live into the promised renewal of Sabbath rest in the midst of our busy daily lives? How do we find a way to reflect Christ instead of reflecting our friend Joe who works in the button factory? –> million dollar question
    • Typing “Sabbath rest” into Amazon produces 256 hits … and that’s the just a search with a limited phrase! If we were to spend more time poking around – searching with key words and phrases like “rest in God,” “peace and Sabbath,” etc. – I’m sure a lot more would pop up. And the vast majority of these results are books written to help us find that renewing, refreshing Sabbath rest in the midst of our chaotic lives.
      • That many results says to me that we truly are in desperate need of rest – stop for a minute and consider your calendar/schedule
        • How many commitments do you have in a week?
        • How many hours do you work in a week?
        • How many miles do you put on your car in a week?
        • How much sleep do you get at night?
        • We are crazy people! Even if we aren’t physically out and about, working or running errands or whatever, we’ve got plenty of other things going on – things that eat away at our time and our mental and spiritual energy.
          • Bills that never fail to arrive
          • Correspondence that we keep up (snail mail, email, phone calls, social media, whatever)
          • Worries that occupy our minds
    • God understands what it’s like to be busy – to have a lot on your plate
      • Whole 1st ch of Genesis = creation –> Paragraph after paragraph of the multitude of things that God spent days creating – light and dark, land and sea, plants and fish and birds and all other creatures … and people! “Hi, my name is God, and I work in an everything factory!” I mean, talk about having a million things to do! And yet God did it all and did it well. After each day of creation, God looked at everything that had been created that day, and God said, “That’s good.” No wonder God desired a rest on the seventh day!
        • Remember words from Washington Post article last week: Medical science has demonstrated that … Lack of rest and relaxation is associated with inattentiveness, inability to concentrate, impulsivity, moodiness, learning difficulties and health problems.[1]
        • Simple message in passage from Gen –> work is good, but rest is necessary
  • See this in NT passage, too –> first we work, then we rest
    • First part of the passage = work of the apostles – text: He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. … So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.[2] –> This is difficult work that Jesus was asking the disciples to do. It’s hard coming into a new place and getting to know people, never mind the fact that they had a new message – a radical, world-shattering message – to deliver in every town they encountered: “The Messiah has come. God loves you. Let me cast out your demons and cure you in the name of Jesus the Christ.”
      • Physically draining trekking from one town to the next on foot
      • Emotionally draining meeting whole town’s worth of new people and dealing with the possibility of rejection at every turn
      • Spiritually draining casting out demons and curing/healing those in need
      • See this in Gr –> text: [the disciples] had no leisure even to eat – “leisure” = opportunity
        • This implies a sense of immediacy to me. The work that they were doing was so pressing, so important, so vital that they didn’t even have the opportunity to stop and eat once they returned to Jesus’ side. It’s not just that they didn’t have a few hours to sit and have a leisurely dinner, reclining on pillows and filling their bellies with wine and bread and meats and olives and whatever else. The disciples couldn’t even squeeze in the opportunity to eat. That’s how chaotic their work life was! –> not so different from our lives in the church today
          • Just some of the work that’s done
            • (Z: choir preparation, Country Store, bringing refreshments after worship)
            • (O: luncheons, Food Shelf, bringing refreshments after worship)
            • Also “designated/ordained positions” – trustees, deacons, council/session –> work that we do for the good of the church, for the furtherance of God’s message, yes, but work that requires energy … energy that needs to be replenished just like the disciples needed to be replenished. You see, it’s great to do God’s work – to do what we can to help the church reach out and grow and be God’s presence here in this community. But our passages for today acknowledge that even when the work that we’re doing is God’s work, we need to take a rest because through Sabbath rest, we are able to reconnect with God and renew our weary spirits.
              • See this in Mk passage: [Jesus] said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure eve to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.[3]
                • “Come away … and rest a while.” –> Gr. “rest” = relax, remain quiet, be refreshed
                • Jesus knew that the disciples were running on empty, so he invited them to take that Sabbath time – to step away from the work that they were doing for a little while to reconnect with God. “And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
          • Importance highlighted by scholar: The setting aside of [time] when human beings attend, not to their own responsibilities and freedoms, but to God’s ordering of life honors the larger creative purposes of God and integrating oneself into them. It acknowledges that God is indeed the Creator and provider of all things.[4]
  • So how can we do that? How can we actually live into that Sabbath rest? How can we set aside our own responsibilities and freedoms to acknowledge and honor our Creator? How can we take that time to relax, remain quiet, and be refreshed in God’s presence?
    • Lots of ways that we can reconnect
      • Everyday ways
        • “Quiet times” – just you, God, and a Bible
          • Various ways to read and interact with the Word (drawing/sketching, journaling, taking notes in your Bible)
          • Variety of ways to pray
          • Variety of other resources (devotional books, daily emails, even apps for your phone/mobile device)
      • Special ways to reconnect with God
        • Oblates of St. Benedict: “Oblates of St. Benedict … seek God by striving to become holy in their chosen way of life. By integrating their prayer and work, they manifest Christ’s presence in society. … Oblates concern themselves with striving to be what they are, people of God and temples of the Holy Spirit.”[5]
          • Not required to live in religious community or take vows –> follow Benedict’s rule as best they can in everyday life
            • Honest labor, spiritual reading, prayer … sound familiar? “By integrating their prayer and work, they manifest Christ’s presence in society.” Sounds like the cycle of work and Sabbath rest to me.
            • Start this journey through the spiritual community at St. John’s University/College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, MN
          • Spiritual direction
            • Help explore and deepen your relationship with God
            • Various places in Rochester (Holy Spirit Retreat Center, Hermitage Farm, etc.)
      • In community – retreats: idea that we’re exploring for this congregation(s) –> This is a chance for us all to get away and take that Sabbath time both as individuals and as a community. Sometimes, in order to really experience the Sabbath rest we need, we have to get away.
        • Leave behind distractions and obligations –> whole new setting allows us to focus on Sabbath rest in a whole new way
  • Basically, there’s no end to the ways that we can reconnect to God. Remember, we were made in God’s image, and God is a tenacious, creative God who pursues us to the very end. If we set time aside – time that is devoted solely to God and time that leaves us in some way renewed and refreshed – that is Sabbath time for us.
    • Could be …
      • Playing with children/grandchildren
      • Spending time in nature (walking, biking, running, etc.)
      • Sitting on the seat of a tractor in the early hours of the morning when the mist is still rising off the field
    • It’s kind of like the words to the familiar worship song (that the choir sang): “Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.”[6] When we are living into Sabbath rest, we can truly become that pure and holy vessel for God. Amen.


[1] Albert Scariato, “Sabbath Rest Good for Body and Soul,” Washington Post, March 5, 2009, http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/faithandhealing/2009/03/rest_a_pathway_to_physical_and.html.

[2] Mk 6:7, 12-13.

[3] Mk 6:31-32.

[4] Terence E. Fretheim. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 347.

[6] John W. Thompson and Randy Scruggs. “Lord Prepare Me to Be a Sanctuary.” © 1982.

Child-Like Faith

Not surprisingly, I’ve been thinking about child-like faith a lot lately. Tends to happen when the majority of your time, energy, love, and focus is two adorable little children, I guess. 🙂 Actually, it’s because of these two wonderful children of ours that I’m understanding child-like faith in a whole new way.

In his gospel, Mark relays this lovely little scene: People were bringing little children to [Jesus] in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).

I love picturing Jesus this way – defending the children and their parents against the misguided and impatient disciples who thought the Mighty Messiah was to busy for a bunch of kids, firmly but gently correcting the disciples misunderstanding as he tenderly scoops up the children into his loving arms and blesses them. There is peace and encouragement in his demeanor. Love and compassion shine in his eyes. Something kinda like this …

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“Laughing Baby” by Jean Keaton

I used to read this passage and think about it from the point of view of the disciples – those who, once again, did not understand but whose eyes were opened by Jesus’ kindness and his welcoming spirit. I used to read this passage and think about it from the children’s point of view – those who didn’t truly understand what was going on, but who felt rejected one minute and unconditionally loved the next. I even used to read this passage and think about it from the point of view of Jesus – the One who took this seemingly-haphazard encounter and turned it into a chance to teach about God’s message of acceptance and grace. 

But now, when I read this passage, I think about it from a different point of view.

Now, when I read this encounter between Jesus and the children, I think of it from God’s point of view – the point of view of the One who brought those beautiful children into the world, the One who looked on them with such an all-encompassing love it was liable to burst out all around the seams of Creation, the One who would do anything to bring those children back into relationship with their loving Creator.

Having my two boys has given me a whole new perspective on this short but familiar passage … a whole new perspective on what child-like faith means. You see, when you are a child, you don’t consciously think about filling your eyes with love when your mom or dad comes into view. You don’t think to yourself, “I’m going to grin from ear to ear now because my mom or dad’s attention is focused only on me right now.” As you’re falling asleep in Mom or Dad’s arms, you don’t consciously acknowledge that you’re safe and warm and surrounded by love. When you’re a child, all of these wonderful things just happen because your love for those who care for you is so complete. It doesn’t question. It doesn’t second guess. It doesn’t get weighed down by things like suspicion, doubt, or past misunderstandings. When you’re a child, you love because you love. It’s that simple. It’s that beautifully, awe-inspiringly, graciously simple. It looks something like this:

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“Mommy! Daddy! You’re here to take care of me, to feed me and make sure I’m comfortable and happy, to love me not because of what I can do for you or what you can gain from me but just because you love me. I am so happy to see you! I don’t care whether you’re perfect or not. I don’t care whether you think you should be better, do better, live better, or provide better. Let me show you just how much I love you right here in this very moment.”

*tear* Yup. That’s what I see in those faces: unabashed, unconditional, unforgettable love. And every single time I see it, it blows my mind. (Can you tell this momma recently dropped her boys off at daycare? *sniff sniff* Thank God for our wonderful daycare woman. Thank you, Amy!)

What if we approached God with a love like that? Open and unassuming and powerful like the love on those boys’ faces? What if we put our trust in God without question, without reservation, without conditions and strings attached? What if we let our guard down enough to really be vulnerable with God – as vulnerable as a little child, relying on God for what we need because God knows what that is better than we ever will? What if ……..?

I am far from perfect. I know that no matter how hard I try, I will make mistakes in raising our boys. I will have things to apologize for. I will have things to make up for. As a family, we will have good days and bad days and days in between. But I also know that my love for my boys will never waiver. It will never fade or morph into something that looks and feels less like love. They will always be my babies … even when they’re old and grey and I’m long gone from this earth. And I will always do everything in my power to care for them. And what continues to amaze me each and every time I think about it is that this is the way God looks at us. This is the way God love us. Times a million. It’s mind-boggling. It’s humbling. And it’s reassuring. 

Hallelujah. Amen.

Sunday’s Sermon: Learning Sabbath

This week’s sermon kicks off a 3-week series on sabbath: Learning Sabbath, Living Sabbath, and Loving Sabbath.

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Once upon a time in a grassy meadow, there lived an ant and a grasshopper. The ant worked very hard collecting food from the farmer’s field far away. All day long, without stop or rest, she scurried back and forth, collecting the grains of wheat, and storing them in her larder.

As she worked, the grasshopper would look at her and laugh. “Why do you work so hard, Ant?” he would say. “Summer is here, and the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine by working the day away? Come, rest a while. Listen to my song.” But the ant would ignore him, steadily continuing on her path to and from the field. “What a silly little ant you are!” the grasshopper would call after her, and the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.

Time passed, and the seasons changed. It grew cold, and snow began to fall. Suddenly, the grasshopper realized he had no shelter and nothing to eat. “Oh, what will I do? Where will I go?” he wailed. Suddenly, he remembered the ant. “Ah ha! I will go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter,” declared the grasshopper. So off he went to the ant’s house and knocked on her door. “Ant,” he said, “you’re in luck! I’ve decided to come and sing for you while I warm myself by your fire and while you get me some food from that larder of yours.”

But the ant just looked at the grasshopper and said, “All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper. There is no warmth or food for you here.” And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper’s face.[1]

 

  • Ahh … Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant – a story with such a tried and true moral for our society today: It is wise to worry about tomorrow today. Work work work before you can rest. Cram every minute of your day with activity so you don’t get caught without “enough.” But as Christians, how are we supposed to balance this work ethic with the Biblical mandate for Sabbath?
    • How do we even understand Sabbath?
    • How can we truly live into Sabbath?
    • Can we ever grow to really love the idea of Sabbath?
    • These are questions that we’re going to spend the next few weeks exploring. We’re going to think about the role that Sabbath does – or maybe doesn’t! – play in our lives and how it affects us. –> today’s: learning about Sabbath
      • What is Sabbath really about, anyway?
  • Sabbath = about rest –> pretty clear
    • Rest as source of renewal for body, mind, and soul
      • God sets the ultimate e.g. for us – text: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day.[2]
        • In terms of our fable, God ≠ an ant-style God –> Working is important, yes. God worked hard for six days. After that, God rested. And so should we. You see, it’s also important to set aside time for rest and renewal.
          • Important for bodies – time to literally recharge
          • Also important for minds and spirits – Washington Post article “Sabbath Rest Good for Body and Soul”: Medical science has demonstrated that the effects of rest are significant, indicating the great role that rest can play in our physical and emotional well-being. Lack of rest and relaxation is associated with inattentiveness, inability to concentrate, impulsivity, moodiness, learning difficulties and health problems.[3]
          • Talking about more than just career work – housework, other chores like shopping trips, anything else that saps you of you energy
          • Scholar spells it out: Israel rests because God rests. This God is not a workaholic; Yahweh has no need to be more secure, more sufficient, more in control, or more noticed. It is ordained in the very fabric of creation that the world is not a place of endless productivity, ambition, or anxiety.[4] –> So God’s rest was about more than just physically needing to stop and take a breather. God’s rest was about renewal. For God, that meant pausing creation for a day.  For us, Sabbath rest is about stopping to take time because there are other, more important things than working to get ahead, to make an extra buck, to both produce and consume more and more and more.
    • On the surface, this is what got the disciples into so much trouble with the Pharisees.
      • Text: Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.[5] –> according to Pharisees, picking grain = work (strictly prohibited on Sabbath according to Jewish law
        • Important distinction to make: disciples are doing more than just snacking here – Gr. “eat” = consume, devour –> Those are the kinds of words that we use when we’re really hungry! Remember, the disciples gave up everything they had to follow Jesus – jobs, family, money, and security. They couldn’t just pop into the corner store for a Snickers bar every time they wanted a bite to eat. At this point in their journey, they were so hungry that they were devouring raw grains of wheat! So they weren’t “working” to get ahead in their own harvests or to make some extra money on the side. They were “working” to keep themselves alive.
          • Scholar: The Law provides that [those who are poor and hungry, as the disciples were] could pluck grain in fields that did not belong to them; the issue was whether it could be done on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were concerned for God’s honor in correctly observing the Sabbath.[6] –> Ahhh … so honoring the Sabbath is about more than just resting for the sake of resting. In our Sabbath rest, we are also honoring God. It’s important that we hear the scholar’s final words. The Pharisees were concerned with correctly and respectfully honoring God. Their hearts were in the right place. They just misunderstood.
            • Put more focus on the “no work” part of the Law than the ultimate purpose – connecting with God
    • Never fear … Jesus is here to correct their misunderstanding
      • Straight out tells them – text: If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.[7]
      • But before he says that, he comes back at the Pharisees with story of David from 1 Sam: Saul was king before David –> David spent time in Saul’s household after slaying Goliath, but Saul grew to hate David –> Saul tried to kill David, so David fled –> in midst of fleeing, David enters the temple and begs the priest for food because he’s starving –> priest’s response: I have no ordinary bread at hand, only holy bread”[8] (Bread of the Presence: loaves of bread that remain on the altar in the temple as an offering for God) –> David convinces the priest to give him the bread anyway
        • So Jesus comes back at the Pharisees with another story about bending the letter of the Law in order to take care of ourselves.
          • Law mandated David wasn’t allowed to eat that bread, but David was in need
          • Law mandated the disciples weren’t allowed to do any work, but the disciples were in need
          • You see, Jesus is trying to get the Pharisees to see that there’s more than one way to honor God on the Sabbath.
  • Brings us back to OT text – instructs to: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy [because] the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.[9] –> makes it clear that there’s more to Sabbath than just taking the day off (in terms of fable = not your grasshopper-style Sabbath)
    • Heb. “keep it holy” and “consecrated” = same word –> means “set it apart”
      • So we’re supposed to do more than just kick back and relax on the Sabbath. Rest is certainly a part of it, but it’s only one side of the story. This idea of “consecrating” Sabbath time – of setting it apart from all the other time that we spend during our week – has a sense of intentionality to it. Think of it this way: when you set something aside – an object or a task – you set it aside for a specific purpose, right? You set it aside so you can focus on it, keep it special, and give it your full attention. This is what God is asking us to do with our Sabbath time – to set some aside so we can turn our attention to our relationship with God, the One who created us, redeemed us, and continues to sustain us day in and day out.
        • Notice I said “set some time aside.” –> Doesn’t have to be all day
          • God doesn’t expect us to sit around all day doing nothing. But God is asking us for something – some time that we set aside specifically for God. Read the Bible. Pray. Listen for God.
          • Rest and renewal for your faith, for your soul, for your relationship with God à truly honoring the Sabbath by consecrating some of your time for God
          • Scholar: Sabbath practice is not to be added on to everything else, but requires the intentional breaking of requirements that seem almost ordained in our busy life.[10] –> Basically, make room for God because it’s important. More important than …
            • Groceries
            • Mall trip
            • Pile of dishes or laundry or leaves out in the yard
            • “Real life” e.g. of this – LNPC “Sabbath experiment”
  • At the beginning of the sermon, we asked what Sabbath was really all about. I think one way to answer is that Sabbath is God’s gift for us. God knew that we would need rest because we were created in God’s own image, and even God rested! Now, I know how hard it is to take that time. I get home on Sunday afternoon, and although my body just wants to REST, my eyes see my house … and my grocery list … and my to-do list … and the clock. My brain says, “You have all this ‘free time’ today. You could get so much done. You can rest later.” But that’s not what God says to us. God says, “You have all this given time. You and I could get to know each other better. You can work later.” What is Sabbath rest all about? Sabbath rest is about choosing God and only God. Not multitasking with God in the background. Not listening for God with one ear and the latest news report or football game or television show with the other. Not juggling our relationship with God among all the other balls that we’re trying to keep in the air. Sabbath rest is about taking the time to put all of the rest of it down so that we can offer ourselves up to God. Amen.


[2] Ex 20:11.

[3] Albert Scariato, “Sabbath Rest Good for Body and Soul,” Washington Post, March 5, 2009, http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/faithandhealing/2009/03/rest_a_pathway_to_physical_and.html.

[4] Walter Brueggemann. “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 845.

[5] Mt 12:1.

[6] M. Eugene Boring. “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 278.

[7] Mt 12:7.

[8] 1 Sam 21:4.

[9] Ex 20:8, 11.

[10] Brueggemann, 846 (emphasis added).

Sunday’s Sermon: Open Hands, Open Hearts, Open Lives

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  • There’s a really great book that came out a number of years ago. It’s called Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America,[1] and it’s written by a man named Mike Yankoski. In 2005, Mike and his friend, Sam Purvis, spent 5 months – from late May to early November – living on the streets of 6 major U.S. cities.
    • Read back of book
    • Overall purpose:[2]
      • To better understand the life of the homeless in America, and to see firsthand how the church is responding to their needs
      • To encourage others to “live out loud” for Christ in whatever ways God is asking them to
      • To learn personally what it means to depend on Christ for [their] daily physical needs, and to experience contentment and confidence in [Christ]
    • For Mike and Sam, this experience shocked them out of their faith comfort zones. You see, sometimes I think we get a little too comfortable in our faith. Sometimes, we need something to remind us how vital and essential our faith truly is to our lives.
      • NT scripture passage does this for us –> I have to be honest with you, this is not a comfortable passage to read or to preach. This is one of those passages that makes pastors feel a little uneasy when we see it coming up in the lectionary.
        • Lots of posts from pastor-friends on FB this week: Struggling with the Luke passage … how is everyone else tackling it this Sunday?
    • And for me, there was a very specific word that I kept coming back to as I was reading this passage from Luke this week: vulnerability.
      • Not a word we like to get too familiar with à we don’t like being vulnerable, makes us feel …
        • Awkward
        • Precarious
        • Uncomfortable
        • At the same time, I think our New Testament passage for today makes it clear that discipleship demands a certain amount of vulnerability with God.
  • Explore that vulnerability
    • Under the Overpass is full of experiences that left Mike and Sam feeling more vulnerable than they ever expected.
      • Physical vulnerability –> hunger, strain of traveling from city to city (hitchhiking, walking), threats/fights, weather (cold, heat, downpours, and so on)
      • Emotional vulnerability –> rejection, judgments of others, unsolicited hostility
        • “Wake up” experience –> pp. 63-64
        • “We Have a Policy” experience –> pp. 122-123
        • “Locked church” experience –> pp. 104-105
    • None of that sounds very comfortable, does it? Granted, Mike and Sam didn’t embark on their journey for the comfort of it. Quite the opposite. They didn’t have to live on the streets. There were families and loved ones and warm, comfortable homes waiting for them. This was an experience that Mike and Sam chose because they wanted to find out if they could truly let go of everything but their faith. And that’s the thing about vulnerability, isn’t it? It is scary and uncomfortable because in order to become vulnerable, we have to let go of all those things that keep us feeling sure and certain and secure, leaving us totally open to … whatever.
      • And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus is asking of us in this passage from Luke’s gospel this morning. Jesus is calling us to open our hands, our hearts, and our lives, and to release all of those things that insulate us – those things that keep us feeling safe and comfortable – to be totally open to being Jesus’ disciples … whatever that may bring.
        • Children’s sermon e.g.s –> can’t accept God’s love, God’s mission, God’s grace if we’re clinging too tightly to other things
          • Physical things, yes – text: None of you can become my disciples if you do not give up all your possessions.[3]
          • But Jesus is also talking about more than just the physical comforts that we surround ourselves with.
            • Gr. “possessions” = connotations of entire being (“exist,” “be present”) –> So Jesus is declaring that, if we want to be his disciples, we must give of our whole selves – all that we have and all that we are.
            • Implies emotional things, too –> this is where that uncomfortable family part comes in – text: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.[4]
              • Scholar – important distinction: “Hate” does not mean anger or hostility. It indicates that if there is a conflict, one’s response to the demands of discipleship must take precedence over even the most sacred of human relationships. There is no duty higher than commitment to Jesus and to being his disciple.[5] –> So Jesus isn’t calling for us to truly hate our families in the sense we understand the word today. Phew! And while that distinction makes this passage a little bit more palatable, it’s still uncomfortable. Jesus is calling us to put our devotion to God above all other loyalties in our lives.
              • E.g. of this: Katie Davis[6]
                • Moved to Uganda in 2007 (age 19) to teach kindergarten at orphanage –> Katie left everything she knew behind – her family, her friends and her boyfriend, her culture, even her own language – to answer God’s call in a place that God had laid on her heart. She was making herself truly vulnerable for the sake of spreading the gospel message of God’s love.
                • Now: runs non-profit organization (still from Uganda) called Amazima Ministries International, provides meals to 1200 children per week, initiated self-sustaining vocational program for women, adopted 13 young orphaned girls –> Imagine how the lives of all of those people in Uganda would’ve been different if Katie had run away from her vulnerability instead of following Christ.
  • In his forward to Under the Overpass, pastor, church planter, and Christian author Francis Chan said, “Sacrifice promotes believability.”[7] This short but powerful phrase certainly describes Mike and Sam’s journey on the streets, but I think it can also speaks to why it’s important for us to open ourselves up to God despite that uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability: only when we are truly open can we experience genuine discipleship.
    • Sacrifice promotes believability –> Vulnerability, our sacrifice of comfort, promotes the dedication necessary for discipleship
      • This is what Jesus is talking about in the 2 mini-parables that we encountered today – the man contemplating building the tower, and the king contemplating going to war. In these stories, Jesus is asking us to consider the cost of discipleship in all its struggles and vulnerability before committing ourselves.
        • Not asking for perfection – another scholar: Jesus was not asking for a guarantee of complete fidelity in advance. If he had, no one would qualify to be a disciple. Through these parables, Jesus was simply calling for each person who would be a disciple to consider in advance what the commitment required.[8]
  • So why do we even consider discipleship in the first place? I mean, we don’t like being uncomfortable. We don’t like being vulnerable. What keeps us coming back to God instead of turning elsewhere?
    • Have to remember that discipleship = not always scariness and discomfort –> grace in vulnerability as well
      • See e.g.s of power of faith in vulnerability in Under the Overpass –> despite adverse situations, Mike and Sam continued to share their faith with anyone who asked about it
        • Story of Tiffany (only person to take them to dinner in the whole 5 mos.)
        • Story from pp. 110-111 (“Amazing Grace”)
    • Vulnerability also opens us up to recognize God’s unconditional love and acceptance –> seen in passage from Psalm 139
      • Now, most passages that speak of God’s creative and redemptive love in the Old Testament speak of the multitudes – the nation of Israel, “all God’s people,” etc. – but this psalm is special. In this psalm, we hear words of how God lovingly and tenderly created each and every one of us as individuals.
        • Individual creation = theme throughout but especially clear in v. 14: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
          • Heb. in psalm is complex because it’s poetry, but woven into phrasing = word for “being distinct” –> God made us each individually, lovingly, and uniquely.
          • Scholar gets to the heart of how this affects our discipleship: The presence of such love invites both fierce loyalty and sweet surrender.[9] –> “Fierce loyalty and sweet surrender” … two things that require true vulnerability. You see, we can trust God with the openness of our fiercest loyalty and the vulnerability of our sweetest surrender because we know that God loves us. Always. And we know that God cares for us. Always.
            • Children’s sermon: kids knew I wouldn’t put anything scary or harmful in their open hands because they trust me – know I would never hurt them –> This is how we can be with God.
              • Trust infuses vulnerability with the power of faith
  • So here’s my question for you this morning: How is God calling you to be vulnerable? Where is God asking you to open your hands, your heart, or your life? Amen.


[1] Mike Yankoski. Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books), 2005.

[2] Ibid., 9.

[3] Lk 14:33.

[4] Lk 14:26-27.

[5] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 9. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 292.

[6] www.amazima.org/katiesstory.html and Kisses from Katie. (New York, NY: Howard Books), 2011.

[7] Francis Chan. “Forward,” in Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America by Mike Yankoski. (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2010), ix.

[8] Culpepper, 293.

[9] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1238.

Sept. newsletter piece

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Sometimes I look around our house and wonder, “Where in the world did all this stuff come from?!”

 When you’re pregnant, people who have already had kids warn you that babies come with a lot of stuff. And you hear it … but there’s something about it that just doesn’t register. You think to yourself, “Sure, they may come with a lot of stuff, but it’s small stuff, right? Babies are small, so their stuff can’t be that big.” And then you have a baby shower or two, and you’re so excited by all the adorable things and the fun things and the useful-looking things that you don’t stop and think, “Hey, I’ve gotta fit all these things into my house.”

 Four months into being a mom of twin boys, let me tell you something: Babies come with A LOT of stuff.

 Is it fun stuff? Yes. Is it useful stuff? You bet! Is it cute stuff? Oh, yeah. But it still amazes me how much stuff these two little beings have generated in such a short amount of time!

 And I will admit that the challenge some days is not letting the stuff get in the way of enjoying our wonderful boys. I have learned that there will always be laundry to do. There will always be things to pick up. There will always be bottles to wash and other things around the house that we could be doing. But most importantly, Luke and Ian will always need our care and our love. And if we don’t give it to them, who will? The laundry, the cleaning up, and all the other menial tasks of the day can wait.

 And this concept is not so different from our faith, is it? There will always be things that need to be done. If you’re a “to do” list maker like I am, you know that there’s something about a “to do” list (or maybe in your house it’s a “honey do” list … we have one of those, too!) that never gets shorter. I think it’s some as-yet-undiscovered law of the universe – the length of the “to do” list cannot be shorter than 3 items.

There will always be something else that we can do, something else that we should do, even something else that we want to do before we focus on our relationship with God. We know that God will always be there, so we put off reading Scripture or prayer or outreach until we have “more time.” But remember the words of Scripture:

 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt. 6:33-34)

 We have to learn to stop and intentionally make the time for our faith. We have to consciously choose to do those things that will nourish our souls – pray, read God’s word, come and worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to strive for the kingdom of God and God’s justice because if we don’t, who will? All of the menial tasks of our lives can wait while we pause each and every day to give our time and our hearts first and foremost to God.

 Blessings,

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