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Enough to Fill Our Souls and Then Some

(a sermon for July 29, 2018, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on John 6:1-15)

Actually, if you want to leave early this morning, I can give you the good news of this morning’s text right up front:  God cares about our hunger!

The story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle story of Jesus that gets told in all four of the gospels, which tells us a couple of things immediately: first, that it’s a very important story; that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all felt that this account of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a scant amount of loaves and fishes so clearly got to the heart of just exactly who Jesus was that it needed to be included in each of their accounts of his “good news.”  It also suggests, I think, that the gospel writers saw this as a story to which almost anyone could relate because most everybody knows what it’s like to be hungry; and moreover, how wonderful it feels to be filled up and not be hungry anymore!  We can all relate to hunger; and the good news here, as we’ve said, is that God cares about our hunger!

Actually, I would suggest to you that hunger is the universal experience!   Rev. Debra Metzgar Shew, an Episcopalian vicar and inner-city social worker in Atlanta, has written that “from the moment we are born,” she says, “we are faced with it… we all feel it.  We all know it.  It is incessant… It propels us to the things that give us life… to the things that quite literally we can’t live without.  We [all] spend time and effort and energy of every kind making it go away, on filling ourselves with something, on staving off our hunger and keeping it at bay.”

Now I’ll admit that that does seem like a bit of an overstatement, especially when you consider that for all of us in this room, and truly the vast majority of us in this affluent culture of which we’re a part, “staving off hunger” is nothing more difficult than opening the refrigerator door or ordering out for pizza!  That said, however, I think we’d all agree that there’s more than one kind of hunger; that there is a yearning within every one of us to be filled up with something more than just food.  We all want to know what it is to be truly loved; we all need to feel a true sense of belonging; we’re looking for our lives to have some kind of purpose and meaning: when those kinds of things are missing for us we’re left wanting… yearning… hungering.  It’s no coincidence that when you ask someone who is going through some difficult transition in life – the end of a relationship, for instance, or the loss of a job, the death of a loved one; you name it – when you ask that person how they’re feeling, very often one of the first things they’ll say is that they feel empty; that there’s a void inside of them that needs to be filled.

Oh, yes… we know about hunger, don’t we?  I dare say that most of us here know what it is to have our hearts ache in the midst of that kind of emptiness.  We understand what it is to be, if you will, spiritually hungry, where our souls are empty and wanting, and needing, somehow, to be filled up… but the question is, what does all this have to do with this story of Jesus feeding a multitude on a grassy hillside along the Sea of Galilee?  Well, as it turns out, as John tells the story, this particular miracle of Jesus has as much to do with caring as it does with the ability to stretch out two fishes and five barley loaves… and as we’ve noted, God does care about our hunger!

To get to the heart of this, however, first we need to understand that Jesus had spent that entire day healing the sick, and that a huge crowd, “attracted by the miracles they had seen him do,” [The Message] was getting larger by the hour and in fact had followed Jesus up a hill where Jesus and his disciples had gone to sit down.  Not only this, but John adds an additional tidbit to the story; that Passover was just about to begin, “the festival of the Jews,” and being true to his faith and heritage, Jesus knew that it was only good and right and hospitable to feed all those people who had gathered.  And so he turns to his disciples (and this, by the way, is unique to John’s version of this story; in the other gospels, it’s the disciples who ask about this), and Jesus says, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?”

Now at this point of the story we get two very interesting reactions to this request: first, there’s that of one of the disciples, Philip, who immediately starts counting change.  Even as Jesus is asking the question, Philip’s busy calculating how much money it’s going to take to feed everyone there; and of course, there’s no practical way they can do that.  There’s not enough in our budget, he says; our resources are tapped out as it is, and besides, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Philip, you see, represents every one of us who obsess on categories, logistics and expectations; in other words, if it’s not there in the ledger, if it can’t be seen in black and white and proven empirically, then it can’t be done, so don’t even try. Philip embodies the trait within so many of us that will lead us in walking along every part of life’s journey while refusing to take a single step purely in faith; which on the face of it seems very prudent and practical, and yet in large part because of it ends up leaving one feeling a constant and indescribable hunger in their lives.

And then there’s Andrew; who I suppose did have a role in setting the miracle in motion, and yet, it should be noted, did so in a rather defeatist kind of way. Well, he says to Jesus, there is this kid over there, and he does have a few barley loaves and a couple of fish… “but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” [The Message]  Now, what’s interesting here is that Andrew has immediately found three different reasons not to use the boy’s loaves and fishes: first, because he’s a child (the original Greek in this text  emphasizes the fact that he’s “just” a little kid, and therefore of no real help whatsoever); second, that there’s not nearly enough barley and fish to go around, and so why bother; and thirdly, because in biblical times barley was considered to be “the grain of the poor,” much cheaper than the wheat that was used for feeding horses, donkeys and cattle, and often what the poorest of the poor would use to make their own flour to bake bread, Andrew may well have thinking (with some validity, I must confess!) that such food shouldn’t be taken from the poor in the first place!

Valid concerns or no, however, what we can glean from this is that Andrew represents those of us who can find a million and one reasons why we’ll always be hungry.  And you know the list of reasons as well as I do:  I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not religious enough, I’ve done bad things in my life; there’s no way that someone like me could ever, should ever deserve to be filled up with good food. No matter what you say to me here, I know better; to be hungry, you see, is just my lot in life!

So… what we’ve got here on this hillside of Galilee is Philip, who in essence refuses to believe in miracles, and Andrew, who is reluctant to accept them.  But then, to all the Philips and Andrews of that world and this one, here comes Jesus; taking a mere five loaves of cheap bread and a couple of random fish, giving thanks to God for the blessings of his creation, and then sharing this rather meager meal with everyone seated there on the hillside!  Yes (!), there was food enough for everyone… and then some; we know that because afterward Jesus had the disciples go around and collect the leftovers, and there was enough to fill twelve baskets!  And all it took was two loaves of barley bread and two fish; but more than enough for Jesus to fill up every belly and every heart in the place.

It was a true and utter, “God is at work” kind of a miracle, and of course, they were all amazed by it; so much so that, as John describes its aftermath, the people recognized Jesus as “indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” and tried to take him by force “to make him king.”  I mean, if Jesus could do this to bread and fish, just think of what he might do for them; as far as they were concerned, this was more manna from heaven and they needed to do whatever they could to keep it coming!  But of course, like their ancestors before them, they’d missed the whole point of the miracle and the meaning of the food they’d received: the eternal truth that it was Jesus himself who was the real and important food; and that Jesus’ real purpose was and has always been to provide the kind of spiritual sustenance that lasts not simply for a moment but for a lifetime and beyond; that unlike so many things in life that would seem to fill us up at the moment but ultimately leaves us feeling empty, Jesus is bringing us that from God which will keep us filled up with good things.

You see, God cares about our hunger… and God is not about to leave us to subsist on all that which is perishable or, shall we say, “full of empty calories;” God does not wish us to spend our lives searching for all those things we believe are going to bring us fulfillment and satisfaction, yet will inevitably fail us.  Money… power… status… whatever form it takes: so many of us go through our days thinking that the “next” thing is what’s going to finally fill us up and give us that love and sense of belonging we’ve been yearning for for so long;  but you see, God knows better.  God wants us to know and to feel what is to be really full, and well-nourished and wholly satisfied, and that only comes with the food that lasts; and that food comes from Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, which is truly enough to fill our souls and then some.

I wonder how many of us are feeling hungry this morning; and not merely for a Sunday brunch!  I wonder how many of us have come here today, at least in part, out of a nagging feeling of being empty inside; maybe out of the realization that all that other stuff in life that we thought would make us feel good and full and alive just didn’t do it for us and that there’s got to be something better. I wonder just how many of us have heard Jesus’ call to work not for the “food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” (John 6:27) but have never taken true advantage of the offer; maybe because it seems unrealistic in a dog-eat-dog world to be so graced with limitless love, or perhaps because somehow, somewhere in our hearts we’ve convinced ourselves that what God does could not ever make it better for us.

Well, if you’ve come here this morning feeling like that, then I would say to you that it would be good for you to think about what happened on that hillside with loaves, fishes, and the caring and all-pervasive love of God through his Son.  Maybe it is hard for us to wrap our post-modern minds around 5,000 people having supper on the basis of a few loaves and fishes, but remember the point of the miracle is not so much the food but the one who brings it.  What we need to remember is when God is at work; when God makes use of whatever small amount of resources or talents or patience or compassion or even faith we have, God will do with it far more with it than we could ever have dreamt or imagined… and if we can trust in that, miracles can and do happen!

For you see, that’s the good news (I told you that at the very start of this message!):  God cares about our hunger… and if we’ll let him, God will give us enough food to fill our souls… and then some.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on July 29, 2018 in Jesus, Life, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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Every Flower Reaches for the Sun

(a sermon for June 17, the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4:26-31)

I’m not sure if it was a wedding present, or if it was for Christmas or a birthday, but once when Lisa and I were first married, we received a gift of…wait for it (!)… a can of seeds!

Thinking back, it was actually kind of neat; this was literally a coffee can sized container of wildflower seeds – direct from L.L. Bean, don’tcha know (!) – from which, when properly planted and nurtured, would grow a variety of flowers both annual and perennial.  Even now I still remember what an amazing thing that was: first of all, how despite the fact that all these seeds, at least to my untrained eye, looked pretty much the same, what we ended up with all that first summer and for many more to come were these immensely beautiful, fragrant flowers of every size and shape and color you can name.  I’ve lived in New England just about all of my life, but I’ll confess that I didn’t know we even had that many flowers in this part of the world; but that was the wonder – and the fun – of that particular gift!

But the other thing I remember about those flowers is how utterly relentless they were!  Like I said, there were quite a number of perennials included in that wildflower mix, which means that even given a modicum of care they should continue to grow year after year.  But here’s the thing:  after a couple of years we were shocked to discover that no matter what we did or didn’t do as regards those flowers, or how they may have been – however unintentionally (!) – used, abused or at the least disrupted, despite our best (or worst) efforts not only did they just keep on growing, sometimes they downright flourished!

I mean, inevitably every summer that garden plot where we’d sown those seeds had faced alternate bouts of drought and flooding; every winter it got snowplowed into oblivion; and this is to say nothing of what happened once we had little kids running around!   Understand, it’s not like we set out to ruin this gift or to destroy these wonders of God’s creation, but looking back, in all honesty given everything they went through they really shouldn’t have stood a chance at all! But such was the strong nature of these wildflowers; they seemed determined to grow sunward and to triumph over whatever nature (or humanity!) set in their way!  And because of this, every summer that we lived in that house we were not only treated to the utter beauty of nature as only a wildflower garden can provide, we were reminded in glorious fashion of the resiliency of all that which God has provided!

To put this another way, it’s in the DNA of a seed to grow, isn’t it; it is the seed’s design for the life that’s placed within it to take root and sprout up through the soil, prevailing over whatever hardship it encounters, so to fulfill its purpose as part of the circle of life.  What we’re talking about here is basic botany, and truly, “nature’s way;” but having said that, I’d also have to say that such an explanation says nothing about what ultimately comes from the seed as it makes its way sunward; nor does it really express any one of a multitude of ways that every flower that “reaches for the sun” will end up serving God’s purposes!

Which, come to think of it, is not entirely unlike our lives, yours and mine… after all, you and I might be able to say something about how we live and grow in this life; but that can’t possibly express in fullness what that life is for!

This is wonderfully expressed in a song written by Noel Paul Stookey, the “Paul” of “Peter, Paul and Mary:”

Every flower’s reaching for the sun
Every petal opens when the day has just begun
Even in the city where they grow up through the street
Every blossom needs the sunshine to makes its life complete.
Some are torn out by the roots and cast aside
And some might be arranged and brought inside
A flower’s just a seed when it’s young
And every flower’s reaching for the sun.

Some are bent by fears they cannot see
And some are touched by Love and set free
A flower’s just a seed when it’s young
And every flower’s reaching
Oh every flower’s reaching
Every flower’s reaching for the sun.

 – “Every Flower,” written by Noel Stookey, Bob Milstein and Peter Yarrow

In our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus offers up a parable about how the Kingdom of God “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground… and the seed would sprout and grow,” despite the fact that the sower of said seed “has no idea how it happens.” [The Message]  It’s a reminder both agricultural and theological, that “just as seeds grow without our effort, so also will God bring about God’s reign.” [David Lose]  If Lisa and I learned anything from our long ago “mystery garden” of wildflowers, it was that ultimately its growth wasn’t up to us; we didn’t make it happen and whatever else we did or did not do to it (!), we couldn’t prevent it from happening either!  Seeds grow of their own accord, you see, and every flower reaches for the sun; and so it is with the Kingdom of God.

What Jesus is wanting his disciples and us to know through this little parable is that the Kingdom is indeed coming as surely as will come a harvest of grain, but rest assured that it comes apart from our efforts.  To quote David Lose, “We can’t bring God’s reign of redemptive and surprising love and grace, but neither can we control it, moderate it, or domesticate it.  And we definitely can’t stop it.”  God is on the move, you see; God is at work – in our life, in our community, in our world – and that work will be done in God’s way and in God’s good time. Whether or not you and I actually see or even know what’s going on; the fact remains that by God’s full intent and grace, his kingdom is coming to us in ways and with an intensity that we can’t even predict.  In fact, as Jesus points out in the second little parable he shares in our gospel text for this morning, the kingdom might well be “like a mustard seed,” the source material for what can be described as “an out of control weed [that] grows and spreads and can hardly be contained, even if you’re not sure [at that particular moment] you want it.” I mean, it’s definitely not the lofty, noble cedar we heard about from the Ezekiel reading; it’s a mustard plant!  But there’s no denying that the end result of its growth into “the greatest of all shrubs” fulfills its purpose: to be that one place where every possible bird of the air can find a place to rest and to “make nests in its shade.”

Seeds grow; and every flower (even every weed) reaches for the sun!

So what do we say to this?  How do you and I deal with this utterly relentless God who promises us that in due course his rule and his will will be enacted among us?

Well, to begin with, we let that prayer we repeat each and every Sunday morning become real for us:  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  More than merely another piece of worship liturgy, these words serve as our acknowledgment that God is at work as surely as seeds sprout and grow in the soil and “the earth produces of itself.”  And we also need to be patient about the way that happens and how long it takes; for the world as we know it and live in it most often tends to live in steadfast opposition to God’s plan and purpose for it (all the more reason to pray, again and again, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”).

But mostly, what you and I always need to be doing is to simply be about the work of that kingdom until it comes in its fullness, to “enact God’s reign wherever we are,” living out of our confidence that God’s promises are true and that the kingdom will come in its fullness.  What that means is that you and I become the flowers reaching for the sun; doing that which we’ve been fashioned for from the very moment of our creation: to align ourselves with God’s will and way; to seek to love and nurture others in the same manner that we have been loved and nurtured; to let our hopes and dreams, our talents and skills, our opportunities and challenges, our joys and even our sorrows become intermingled with our ongoing call to be Christ’s disciples.  At best, what that means is that every piece of our lives – and every fiber of our being – becomes centered on how God has always intended for his creation to be; filled with hope and love, and the joy of living in a close relationship with the Creator.  And by the same token, and once again I’m quoting David Lose here, “when life is hard, when we meet resistance, or when we fail or fall far short of our hopes… we can take refuge in the promise that God is still at work and has not given up on us or the world.”

Because seeds grow; and every flower – and yes, that even includes you and me – every flower reaches for sun.

I think I’ve shared with you before Lisa’s and my other great gardening story, also from early on in our marriage: the year that we grew a bumper crop of beautiful butternut squash… which was amazing, because we never actually planted any butternut squash!  Moreover (and I’m a tad embarrassed to even admit this!), there wasn’t a single crop we planted in that particular garden than managed to make it to harvest or at least past some hungry raccoons!  As we came to understand it, it turns out that there were a fair number of squash seeds in the soil of that garden plot; the remnant of the previous growing season before we’d lived at that house or ever had attempted to plant our pitiful little vegetable garden.  So something else – dare I say, someone else? – was at work.  And the good news was that at the end of it all we had squash enough to last us well into the fall; and trust me, that was truly something!

I kind of like to think of the Kingdom of God that way, beloved.  Because as much as we try to make it happen, and even think we might succeed in it by our own efforts, in the end what grows in our spiritual garden comes about because of what God is doing just beyond our sight with a firm and steadfast resolve.  There’s an old saying, you know, that seems applicable here:  that we should “work like it’s up to us, and then pray like it’s all up to God.”  In other words, plant those seeds of faith and love; tend that garden of righteous living; and do whatever it takes to keep growing up through the soil and to rise up ever sunward, in the great hope and expectation that you’ll become exactly what you’re meant to be.  But know that if that doesn’t work (and despite your best efforts, it might not, because who can predict what happens in a growing season), you’re still meant to blossom; because at the end of the day, what makes a garden strong and beautiful and purposeful is the work that God puts into it.  Beloved, no work done in love is ever lost, especially when that work is done by God; and God, in time and with care, will draw all things together for good so that the harvest can come.

Seeds grow, you see; and every flower reaches for the son.

And for this, and so much more, thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2018 in Faith, Jesus, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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Living the Sabbath Life

(a sermon for June 3, 2018, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 2:23-3:6)

I think it’s probably safe to say that we don’t observe the Sabbath the way we used to.

Actually, one of the mixed blessings of having been in the ministry as long as I have is that I’m able to see the difference; and I suspect there are a lot of you who can say the same!  Time was – and not so very long ago (!) – that Sundays were set aside as a true day of rest; a time for church, home, family and a bit of relaxation.  As a general rule businesses were shut down, and most stores were closed for the day; school activities – sports or otherwise – were prohibited; and if you were a kid, if you had something happening on a Sunday afternoon it usually involved a church youth group activity.  Depending on your own particular tradition of faith, you might not even have gone to the movies or played cards on a Sunday, because those were things that you simply did not do on the Lord’s Day (that; and because playing cards were at one time considered the “devil’s playthings!”).

Not that everyone always approached this as a wholly (and holy) Christian thing to do, or even something that was particularly religious in nature; it was simply understood that there ought to be a “Sabbath rest” from the burdens of the rest of the week’s work, all rooted in the creation story from Genesis in which God, overwhelmed from the glorious work of creation, exclaimed that “indeed, it was very good,” (1:31) and then “rested on the seventh day.” (2:2) From the very beginning, you see, the Sabbath was intended a blessing to us from God of both body and soul, and as such was to be thought of as holy.

Of course, you know what’s happened; actually a combination of things over time:  the repeal of the so-called “blue laws” that allowed every mall in the country to run full tilt all day on Sunday; the encroachment of more and more Sunday sports and other activities on the weekend landscape; as well as a changing economy that has fairly well mandated the necessity of a two-income family; and this is to say nothing of a culture and life that just keeps getting busier and more convoluted with every passing generation, to the point where church has become for many, a second or third choice, if it’s a choice at all!

And the thing is, it’s all happened very gradually, almost without notice.  I’ve always found it ironic that as a pastor, the Sabbath has always and ever been my busiest workday (!); but I must confess that over the years, little by little I’ve discovered that my “window of opportunity,” shall we say, for ministry on a Sunday has been slowly but steadily shrinking over the years; and that’s because there’s so much going on with people and families these days that there’s hardly room for anything else on a Sunday, much less more church activities!  Like I say, pastorally speaking, the Sabbath just ain’t what it used to be!

Now, I don’t say all of this to complain (well… mostly I don’t!), but simply to point out how much things have changed; and really, in this instance, only over about the past 30 years or so.  And yes, where Sundays and the life of the church are concerned, a lot of us – myself included, sometimes – feel like we’ve lost something sacred, and wish that things could go back to the way “it used to be.”  But that having been said, I also have to wonder… that if in the midst of all these changes to life and living it’s not so much that we’ve lost the Sabbath, but that maybe we’ve missed the point of it.

Because friends, as scripture describes it and proclaims it to the faithful, Sabbath isn’t meant primarily to be just another day off or an opportunity for a “time out;” it’s not to be thought of as a reward for a week’s worth of a job well done; it’s not even wholly about rest, at least not in the sense of an afternoon nap.  Sabbath is about much more than that: it’s about life, and within that life, faith. Sabbath is for the renewal of life – ours, yes, but also the life of all of creation – and it is for the sake of resilience so that each one of us is strengthened and empowered to do God’s work on Monday morning and every day that follows.  It’s about a true ministry of life, yours and mine; and to quote Karoline Lewis, “When the Sabbath is for the sake of life, then it means getting back in there and figuring out where life needs to happen.”

This is what lay at the heart of our text for this morning, two back to back stories from the 2nd chapter of Mark’s gospel in which Jesus has already begun to run afoul of the scribes and Pharisees; specifically, regarding the proper observance of the Sabbath.  First, we have Jesus and his disciples walking through “a field of ripe grain,” [The Message] and because they’re hungry and because it’s the only food available to them at the moment, the disciples start “pull[ing] off heads of grain” to eat.  This, of course, was a major breach of the Law regarding the Sabbath: not only was the work of picking the grain prohibited, so was their traveling through this grain field in the first place; and if that weren’t enough, so was eating food that hadn’t been prepared the day before!  Needless to say, the ancient laws of the Old Testament were quite rigid regarding how the Sabbath was to be observed; in fact, the book of Exodus points out that “everyone who profanes [the Sabbath] shall be put to death,” (17:14) and “whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people.” (Think about that as you go home today, friends!)

So here come the Pharisees, ever so quick to point this all out to Jesus, but Jesus is just as quick to remind them of a story about King David; how David had done something even more sacrilegious – stealing and eating bread from the temple that was reserved for the priests, and on the Sabbath, no less (!) – but how that was permissible because this was the one who was to be God’s anointed king, and the Law, however stringent, had to give way to need. Don’t you understand, Jesus says; don’t you get it?  “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.” [The Message again] And then, in the most cutting response of all, Jesus adds, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

The point is brought home almost immediately afterward, as Jesus arrives at the synagogue and meets a man whose hand is withered and who desires to be healed; and immediately a decision has to be made.  On the one hand, it would almost certainly be true that if the Pharisees discovered this “unclean” man in the temple, he would not be permitted to stay and would be denied any participation in worship.  On the other hand, however, if Jesus were to actually heal this man’s withered hand – and on the Sabbath – he’d just as certainly be further raising the ire of the religious authorities!

In the end, the right decision was clear; because once again, “The Sabbath was made for humankind,” not the other way around!  The need for love and mercy in that moment exceeded the need for the exact letter of the Law to be followed; and the opportunity for Jesus to bring this man healing was far more important than whatever chastisement would be brought upon him by the Pharisees for doing so.  And with those fuming scholars of Sabbath day correctness looking on, here is what Jesus says (as translated by The Message): “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best?  Doing good or doing evil?  Helping people or leaving them helpless?”

And how do they respond to this?  In every translation the reaction is the same:  they’re angry, but even as their hearts were hardened, nonetheless “they were silent.”  Because in the end, how do you dispute the wonder of a healing act?  How can you squash a miracle of grace on the basis of a technicality of law?  How do you argue with life?

Let us not misunderstand here; by this flagrant act of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus was not flaunting the authority of the Law.  We recognize this all through the gospels: that Jesus regarded God’s law as holy and insisted that that the faithful need “to know, revere, and follow the law.”  But, in words of David Lose, “as important as the law is, it is – and shall always be – a means to an end, a tool, a mechanism in service to a greater purpose.”  Jesus knew that following the law is not what makes us who we are as God’s children; it is meant to help us live wholly unto that identity no matter what, no matter how, and might I add in this case, no matter when.

And that’s a truth that, on this particular Sabbath day, continues on in us.

The fact is that despite the rapid pace of life as we know it in these crazy, convoluted times we have not lost the Sabbath.  You and I are blessed with the invitation and opportunity – indeed, the mandate – to seek the kind of rest, resilience and renewal that is infused with holiness.  But what we need to remember is that our observance of the Sabbath is not to be thought of as the end of this week’s journey of faithfulness, but rather a pause for reflection before the next week’s journey begins.  From the very beginning of our creation, you and I are called to be living the Sabbath life; but ultimately that has much less to do with our stepping away from what we do than it does with getting ready for what is yet to be done!  God created us to love and support one another; to extend to others the same kind of grace and mercy and encouragement as Jesus has given us; to love as fully and openly and as sacrificially we have been loved.  Everything we do (or choose not to do) to keep the Sabbath is the way that we seek to be restored in this wonderful and triumphant ministry of life that we all share.

And, by the way, don’t get me wrong here; speaking both as a child of God and your pastor I do believe, with all my heart (especially now as the more leisurely summer months are getting underway!) that living the Sabbath life does include sharing in “the act and attitude of Christian worship.”  Our coming together here every Sunday morning; our songs and prayers; our proclamation of God’s Word; our shared moments of laughter and tears and silence and fellowship and even the after-church refreshment:  all of it combines to offer up praise and thanksgiving to God Almighty, but also to prepare our bodies and our souls for the work that awaits us as disciples of Jesus Christ.  But then again, so does the time we get to spend today with our families, our friends and our other assorted loved ones; so does that opportunity that might just present itself, wherever we are this afternoon, to reach out to someone in need in any one of a multitude of ways; so does seizing a few private few moments of personal prayer and reflection while hiking, or fishing, or maybe even lounging outside in an Adirondack chair; so does, occasionally, a well-placed afternoon nap with the sound of the Red Sox playing  in the background.

We were made for the Sabbath, beloved; that’s what Jesus said.  So let’s make this Sabbath count for the something as we ready ourselves for the week ahead… and today, let’s start by feasting at the Lord’s table, that we might know Jesus’ presence in the bread and the wine.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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