The Presence of God

The Presence of God

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 26, 2018

14th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 8: 22-30, 41-43; John 6:56-69

King David, who loves Yahweh with all his heart, yearns to build a Temple for God. However, David reigns during a time of war in Israel’s history. After he dies, his son, Solomon, takes the throne and with him a new day dawns—a day filled with hope and peace. Now, it’s time to put roots down in the land of promise. The presence of God has been “housed” in the Ark of the Covenant, which has been “housed” in the portable Tabernacle. But now, it’s time to worship God in a more fixed location.

 

The story of David and Solomon, which the lectionary readings have been tracing this Pentecost season, concludes this morning with the story of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Last week we learned of young Solomon asking God for wisdom because he realized he could never lead this great people without wisdom. Some time has passed, and Solomon has taken on the responsibility and honor of overseeing the construction of the Temple. Everything must be exactly right—down to the last detail—all of which God lays out in holy blueprint fashion.

 

Finally, having completed the house of the Lord, Solomon oversees the moving of the Ark of the Covenant from the Tabernacle into the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The elders, priests, and people assemble. Sacrifices too numerous to count are offered and then the Ark of the Covenant is transferred to its new home. The presence of Yahweh enters the Temple, signified by a cloud so thick the priests are unable to continue their work. King Solomon turns to bless all the people assembled. Then he stands before the altar of the Lord, spreads his hands out toward the heavens and prays.

 

In his supplication, Solomon calls on the continuation of God’s steadfast love; the continuation of the promises God made to his father David. Wisely, Solomon proclaims, “But will God dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” God is present. God is accessible. But God has not moved into a permanent address! Solomon and the people realize that. Still the Temple is more than a building to which the people will come to worship. The earthly Temple is the place where the Lord’s name resides; it’s also a symbol of God’s presence with the people.

 

Humbly, Solomon calls upon the Lord to turn toward the Temple night and day to hear his prayers and to hear the prayers of the people. While all of Solomon’s prayer isn’t included in our reading, it’s worth noting that he makes seven petitions, asking God to hear those who pray toward the Temple of the Lord: when the people sin against a neighbor, when they suffer defeat, when there is drought, when there is famine, when they go into battle, when they go into captivity, and (included in today’s reading) even when a foreigner prays toward the house of God.

 

How interesting! Solomon asks that when a foreigner comes from afar and prays toward God’s house, that God will hear. But that shouldn’t be a surprise to us really, for hasn’t that always been God’s mission for Israel—to bless them so that they might bless the world?

 

No doubt, the Temple is more than a building. It is the place where God’s name dwells. It is a symbol of God’s presence among his people. It is a symbol of the Lord who is gracious and kind and hears the prayers of all who turn their heart toward God. The Temple becomes the “spiritual home” for the people of Israel.

 

As Christians, what does our church building mean to us? Why do we gather here to pray and sing and worship? What is it about this space that makes it different, sacred, able to fill a deep yearning? Undeniably, there is something within all of us that draws us outside ourselves toward the holy, if we will only allow it. Brother Lawrence, who served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris in the 1600’s wrote, “I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of GOD.” To which I would add, I cannot imagine how anyone can!  Augustine said it so well: “Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” Only God can fill our restlessness, yet, how often are we guilty of trying to fill our restlessness with endless things that fail to satisfy: money, power, success, possessions, illegal and prescription drugs, alcohol, sex…? Yes, people are searching. We are searching. To whom shall we go?

 

Throughout the Season of Pentecost, we have been reading portions of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. While we have addressed many of Jesus’ teachings, one thing that bears repeating this morning is his response to the question, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.” In other words, we are called to believe that Jesus is who he says he is. That is our work—to believe! Are there teachings of Jesus that are difficult to accept? Yes. In fact, many of his followers are so offended by his words, they depart from him. But when Jesus turns to the disciples and asks if they are leaving too, Simon Peter proclaims, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

Peter’s confession is bold and beautiful, and he almost gets to the heart of the matter. I say, “almost,” because what Peter is yet to fully comprehend is that Jesus is the Holy One of God because Jesus IS God! Because when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” he is saying no less than, “I am Yahweh,” Jesus is God breaking into human history to redeem humanity. Jesus is God’s story of love for each one of us—a story that goes something like this:

 

Once upon a time, long, long, ago, God created man and woman and set them in a lovely garden where God met them day-by-day. At that time, there was no need for a special place to meet God, for the Garden of Eden was truly heaven on earth. But the sin of humanity changed all that. Time passed, and individual altars became the symbol of God’s presence with God’s people. Time passed and the Tabernacle (which came into being during Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering) became the symbol of God’s presence with God’s people. Time passed, the people settled down, and the Temple became the symbol of God’s presence with God’s people. But that is not the end of the story.

 

Eventually, in the little town of Bethlehem, God came to dwell among the people in human flesh, as the baby born to Mary. Jesus felt what we feel, saw what we see, and shared our joys and our sorrows. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, opened blind eyes, and broke bread with sinners, while always drawing people back home—home toward God’s self. Faithful to the end, Jesus gave his life for love’s sake. Then, in God’s good time, the resurrected Jesus returned to his Abba Father and the Spirit of God descended to be “housed” in every baptized believer so that God’s work of love might continue through us.

 

Great is the mystery of our faith! For what wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss, to enter our human brokenness—so that the presence of God might be housed in our hearts!

 

*Cover Art “Love and Revelation” © Jan Richardson; used by Subscription

 

The Beginning of Wisdom

The Beginning of Wisdom

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 19, 2018

13th Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; John 6:51-58

 

As we continue reading from the Gospel of John, bread and wine are on the menu once more—but this time the telling leaves little to the imagination. In fact, Jesus proclaims to believers and unbelievers alike: Eat my flesh; drink my blood. Now folks, if that won’t put a damper on a party, I don’t know what will. Is Jesus inviting cannibalism?  Is he prompting the people to go against the Levitical teaching to never consume blood? It all leaves us scratching our heads and wondering why Jesus is being so graphic—so “in your face.” And why, oh why, in the Gospel of John, does Jesus go on an on about being the Bread of Life. We get it!

 

Or do we? More likely, the truth is we can never comprehend what it means that Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom and Word of God, Jesus, the Living Bread of heaven, left the halls of glory to enter our human story. How could we possibly understand why the Son of God, would give up his flesh and blood—for the life of the world—for the life of you and me? With our limited understanding, how can we fathom that this meal is the gateway through which Jesus promises not only full life now, but eternal life to come: “The one who eats this bread will live forever.”[i] Without a doubt, to even nibble along the edge of this amazing grace requires the gift of God-given wisdom.

 

Wisdom! What a topic for our time when our world seems totally lacking in wisdom. Oh, knowledge, facts, information—we have plenty of those. But wisdom—that’s another matter!  When I think about wisdom in Scripture, my mind immediately goes to Solomon, the King of Israel. From our Old Testament reading we learn that David has died and has been buried in the City of David. Now his son, Solomon, sits on his firmly established throne. (Regarding the details that follow, I am indebted to Tremper Longman III, whose commentary I found most valuable.[ii])  Solomon’s name relates to the Hebrew word, shalom, which means peace, wholeness, well-being. It’s a good word for how Solomon’s reign begins. Shalom is, of course, a far cry from the warring days of David who had to defeat the Philistines before claiming the land. Things will be different for Solomon, however, who ascends the throne as a peaceful, discerning, and spiritually sensitive ruler.

 

Solomon’s promising future is evident right away through his love for Yahweh. Surely that is a most important first step. Out of this love, Solomon goes to Gibeon to offer numerous sacrifices. It’s important to remember that this is before the Temple of the Lord is built—when worship at high places is still permissible. Solomon’s demonstration of love for God results in an extraordinary response. One night, in a dream, God says to Solomon: “Ask what I should give you.”

 

Now imagine, you’re king for a day and God comes to you like a genie in a bottle and asks to fulfill your heart’s desire. For what would you ask? Come on! Be honest! I daresay not a one of us would have uttered the words that came out of Solomon’s mouth:

 

You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness…And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil…”

 

Of all the things young Solomon could ask for, he chooses wisdom. Although wisdom isn’t talked much about these days, that doesn’t make it any less valuable. What is wisdom, anyway? Wisdom is not merely intelligence that can be measured with an IQ test. Wisdom is more practical. It involves knowledge, yes, but it also involves good judgment in how, when, and in what fashion to best utilize knowledge.

 

The book of Proverbs is a prime example of wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible.  Traditionally, its been attributed to Solomon—although that is probably more of an honorary attribution. Overall, the wisdom taught in Proverbs seeks to build moral character while always, always remaining anchored to God. Reasoning, healthy relationships, facing difficult issues—these are given ample consideration. But if we want to know the key teaching of Proverbs, we need look no further than verse 7 of chapter 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Fear meaning awe, wonder, and amazement and yes, even a healthy dose of fear, as we understand it.)

 

Solomon demonstrates his fear of the Lord by approaching God with humility and wonder and awe. God is pleased—so much so that Solomon’s request is granted plus so much more. He is given a wise and discerning mind as well as riches, honor, and the promise of a long life on the condition that he remains faithful. During Solomon’s reign, huge building projects are completed—the palace, the Temple and the Jerusalem wall, and people from near and far come to seek his wise judgment.

 

After a time, though, Solomon goes astray because of his love for foreign women and his proclivity for worshiping their idols. It leaves us wondering how someone so wise could do something so foolish. (Yet, one more great mystery of the Bible.) Regardless of the reason, we can still safely say that having an appetite for wisdom and discernment pleases God. And surely God still grants wisdom to those who ask for it.

 

In Colossians 2:2-3, Paul yearns for believers to possess Christ himself, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” If there is to be any wisdom, any true understanding for a Christian, it will come through the treasure of Jesus Christ—which brings us back to the Gospel of John.

 

If Jesus repeats himself, over and over again, about being the bread of life, surely, it is because of the difficulty of truly understanding what’s being communicated—that the Word has been made flesh and that Jesus, incarnate, has gone against everything we thought was true. He has taken on flesh and bone and skin and he has moved in with us and things will never be the same. And as we consume all of Jesus—body and blood, so Jesus will consume us—should consume us—for Jesus wants all of our being—body, mind and soul. Jesus wants no less than to burrow deep within us, flow through our veins, and nourish every nook and crevice and cranny. This kind of relationship cannot happen by calmly considering Jesus from a safe distance. Incarnation means we’ll have to hold out empty hands, chew bread, and gulp that which pours from the cup.[iii] It’s scandalous, but it’s the gospel.

 

One scholar notes that if the shocking words of Jesus—those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life—“mean anything in the life of the church, then at least they mean that when we eat and drink at the holy Table, eternity has broken into time in a unique, unrepeatable way. Eternity keeps on dipping into our time.”[iv] For John, the gospel is a matter of life and death and apart from the Lord’s Supper, apart from this banquet table, we have no life in us.

 

William Willimon tells a story about his friend who teaches theology at Oxford:

 

He says that his toughest task is to ask and answer the question, ‘What is theology about?’ His students tend to respond that theology is about spiritual matters, or about religion, or deeper meaning in life, et cetera. No, he instructs them, theology (at least Christian, incarnational theology, theology in the mode of the sixth chapter of the Fourth Gospel) is about everything. Jesus has come down from heaven with the intention of taking it all back. He wants all of us, and he wants us to have all of him.[v]

 

How wise we will be if we approach God, each and every day, and humbly request a hearty appetite for the true bread and the true drink that brings heaven down on this old earth. Oh, how blessed we will be when Christ has all of us and we have all of Christ.

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Feasting on the Word, O. Benjamin Sparks.

[ii] Tremper Longman III, The Lectionary Commentary: The First Readings, The Old Testament and Acts, ed. Roger E. Van Harn, 222-224.

[iii] Feasting on the Word, William H. Willimon, 360-361.

[iv] Feasting on the Word, Sparks, 360.

[v] Ibid, 361.

*Cover Art “Widsom’s Path” ©Jan Richardson; used by Subscription

 

The Eternal Now

The Eternal Now

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 12, 2018

12th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; John 6:35, 41-51

 

You have probably heard Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. Jesus, a Jew, is faced with a group of his own people who have small minds. They resist the idea that God may act in an unexpected way; they disregard the miraculous events of Jesus’ life thus far. They fail to see the divine nature of this human Jesus. As a result, they complain because of the claim Jesus has made—that he is the bread of life that came down from heaven. They complain because they know him. They know his momma. They know his daddy. He can’t possibly be who he says he is.

 

I’ll let you in on a little secret. While life is complicated—so is faith! Just when you think you have God all figured out, God moves in some astounding, unfathomable way. Yes, great is the mystery of our faith! Jesus encounters a group of his own people who are certain they know who Jesus is. Most likely, they are faithful people who know their Scripture, yet they are unable to see God’s gift of manna before their eyes. How easy it is to get to a place where we think we know more than we do. But no matter how dedicated we are to the study of Scripture or the study of life, “real knowing” may still not be achieved because “real knowing” is a gift from God. It is pure grace.

 

When it comes to our book of faith, let’s be honest, that, too, is complicated—filled with strange teachings. For example, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God’s people are instructed: Don’t let cattle graze with other kinds of cattle; don’t have a variety of crops on the same field; don’t wear clothes made of more than one fabric (in other words, cotton and linen don’t mix), and if you find out a city worships a different god, destroy the city—kill everyone. Unexplainable, conflicting teachings continue in the New Testament. For example, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth…” but 1 John 5:19 tells us, “the whole world is under control of the evil one.” (Which is it?) In John 9:39 Jesus says, “For judgment I am come into this world.” but in the very same gospel, he says, “I came not to judge the world.”[i] And lastly, a contrast between the two testaments: In Genesis 32:30 Jacob says, ‘I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'” But Jesus proclaims in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God.”

 

And my point? Our Scripture is complex and even people who know it well can use it to go astray—or worse still, to do harm. I’m convinced that the Bible can be used to prove just about anything we want to prove. Simply take a phrase, separate it from its historical context, and “Voila!” you have a faith-based argument. The Bible contains all that is needed for our salvation, and the wise person will approach it humbly, prayerfully and always, always, seek to interpret it in light of the whole of God’s salvation narrative.

 

To those who are complaining about Jesus’ claim that he is the Bread of Life, Jesus counters that it is the Father and not his teaching that draws people to the true bread that comes from heaven—to eternal life—to Jesus. Yes, even the desire to know, the desire to seek the bread of life, even that is a gift—even that is a grace. Grace upon grace! Because Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day…Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the living bread…whoever eats of this bread will live forever…”

 

“Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…whoever believes has eternal life…” There is a constant tension between how eternal life is interpreted and what it means. Most people think of eternal life as the last day, as the sweet by and by, but in essence, Jesus says, “No, eternal life is standing right here in front of you.” Eternal life is Jesus himself—eternal life begins right now! What difference does the eternal now make to the way we live our lives?[ii] It must be more than a set of rigorous beliefs. Christian faith begins with an encounter and a relationship with the Bread of Life, with Jesus. What is the bread on which we feast?

 

When my children were growing up, I enjoyed making bread. I loved the whole process—measuring, stirring, kneading, waiting and then the wonderful aroma of the bread baking in the oven. The kids were quite happy with Momma’s homemade fare, that is, until they went to a neighbor’s home and ate white store-bought bread. Eventually, it became a struggle to get them to eat the hearty bread at all. Finally, I gave in and made wheat and white bread. However, I did get the last word. Now that they are all grown up and more health conscious they have finally come around to momma’s way of thinking—hearty bread is healthier.

 

When it comes to our spiritual food, it is good to be selective about the bread upon which we feast. As one writer puts it, “It is one thing to survive, to just get by, like the manna that got the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is another to feast on that which will last forever. We are wise to ask ourselves, “What has to move out for God to move in? What do we need to make sure is not a part of our diet?”  To do otherwise is to risk spiritual starvation. Jesus provides for us spiritual, eternal nourishment that begins right now.[iii] Do we believe it? If so, does our life prove it?

 

Some of you have heard a little of the story of my childhood. It’s not something I often talk about—not because I am ashamed but because it really doesn’t make for polite dinner conversation. Suffice it to say, when it comes to my family of origin, I did not win the lottery. Having to overcome being abandoned by my mother, mistreated by my father and finally having no place to really call home—well folks, it was a hard row to hoe, as the saying goes. Who could imagine that the row would end here?

 

As far as church rows go, I prefer the pew near the front on the left. (In fact, Sue Miller, you are sitting in my seat.) But that’s not how things turned out. Instead, every Sunday, I put on this robe and drape the stole around my neck (a symbol of being yoked to God for ministry) and I do this thing that is my greatest fear and my greatest delight—attempt to speak God’s salvation story to those who will hear. For you see, with all my heart and soul, I believe that being baptized into the family of God matters. In fact, it changes everything! These living waters give us a new name and a new eternal address that begins in the here and now. With all my heart and soul, I believe that what happens around the Table of our Lord matters. It matters when the sun is shining, and it matters when there is a storm a-brewin’. For above all else, God’s grace is sufficient to meet our needs. God’s grace is sufficient for new life to be ours in the eternal now. And in this eternal now, God’s Spirit is our guide—instructing us, renewing us, challenging us, and equipping us to boldly embrace abundant life!

 

Søren Kierkegaard told a parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left commenting on the message and waddled back home. But they never flew.[iv]

 

What difference does Jesus make in your life? It has been said that to the hungry, (Jesus) is the bread of life; to the thirsty, he is the fountain of living water; to the lonely, he is the friend who is willing to go the second mile; to the sick, he is the Balm in Gilead; to the dying, he is the resurrection and the life.[v] Who is Jesus to you?

 

Hear now a poetic interpretation of Jesus’ words penned by Rev. Ken Rookes:

 

I am the bread,

the bread of living;

come to me.

I have God’s word for you,

food for your heart.

It is a word of joy and of freedom,

surprising in generosity,

intense and glowing.

It tells of peace in the midst of turbulent times,

defiant love in the midst of fear,

hope, when darkness abounds.

This is the word that will answer your hunger,

and confound your emptiness.

I am the bread of life;

in me the journey begins and ends

and finds its shape.

In me you will discover yourself;

you will also find true community

and the friendship of God.

Sing, rejoice, dance and weep:

I am the bread:

the bread of living;

come to me.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] John 12:47

[ii] Sermon Brainwave, Karoline Lewis

[iii]http://lindynuggets.blogspot.com/2012/08/pentecost-11b.html

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid, Maxie Dunham

*Cover Art by Stushie; used by Subscription

 

Hard Truths

Hard Truths

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 5, 2018

11th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; John 6:24-35

 

Occasionally a particular word in the English language will send me on a search for its meaning and history, its etymology. Just such a word caught my attention recently—the word “meander.” It’s a good word, don’t you think? To meander is to follow a winding course or to wander without definite aim or direction. You might be interested to know that the term comes from the Meander River of eastern Turkey, which, from ancient times, was a visual metaphor for how to take the longest path between two points. When I think of meandering, I think of long walks on the beach or spending hours in a bookstore seeking new treasures. Kinney meanders on his morning runs.

Certainly, meandering can take us to places of wonder and delight, but meandering can also get us in trouble—take the people in our lectionary readings, for example. David loses his way and meanders into sin—so much so that he is unable to see himself in Nathan’s moral tale.[i]  David meanders into a trap that forces him to face a hard truth: he has committed a terrible sin against God. No doubt, he has sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, and their unborn child. And what about soldiers that might have been under Uriah’s command? Although Scripture does not tell us, it is likely that other innocent men lost their lives because of David’s dastardly deed.  Yes, David meanders into sin.

 

The Bible records other stories of God’s meandering people like the Israelites who wander in the wilderness for 40 long years because they fail to trust in God after their great exodus from Egypt. Because of their sin, they do not enter the Promised Land. Nevertheless, while on their journey they experience God’s provision raining down from heaven as manna to fill their empty tummies.

 

In John’s Gospel when Jesus repeats this miracle of provision (by feeding the 5000 with a boy’s gift of 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish), there is no doubt the people are reminded of the story of long ago. We know so because they mention it! Listen to how the people react to what Jesus has done, but this time, I invite you to hear the story through Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

 

The next day the crowd that was left behind realized that there had been only one boat and that Jesus had not gotten into it with his disciples. They had seen them go off without him. By now boats from Tiberias had pulled up near where they had eaten the bread blessed by the Master. So when the crowd realized he was gone and wasn’t coming back, they piled into the Tiberias boats and headed for Capernaum, looking for Jesus. When they found him back across the sea, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. “Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” To that, they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.” They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.”

 

The people are eager to find Jesus because they have gotten their tummies full and they want more. They are in the market for immediate gratification. But in the person of Jesus, they must face a hard truth. Living the life that Jesus requires will take more than aimless wandering. In the NRSV, verses 28 and 29 read as follows: “Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  It turns out that believing is, in fact, work!  Believing and living as God would have us to live takes dedication. It takes discipline. At the end of the day, those who meander after Jesus need to find the way, the truth, and the life before they can even find themselves.[ii]

 

How many of us stay up night after night when the Olympics are on television?  Even though I am not passionate about swimming, I still recall watching in awe as Michael Phelps took medal after medal—especially in the 2008 Olympics. How could we not be inspired by the discipline that it takes to get to the Olympics—no lounging in front of the TV, no fast food, no time for much of anything except practice, practice, practice (which, by the way, Scott Routsong knows a little something about since he is currently training to run a marathon).

 

When it comes to remarkable physical accomplishments, we expect nothing less than sold out commitment. However, when it comes to the things of God, “practice” and “discipline” seem foreign notions. How about a dollop of Jesus and we will be on our merry way! Our world spins on a diet of instant coffee, instant grits, and fast food. Immediate gratification are our watchwords—especially when it comes to our spiritual life. There was a time when spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and Scripture reading were considered important to faith development. But times have changed and, unfortunately, such thinking has gone out of style. But can we really expect to grow in our faith without such practices?

 

To have the mind of Christ is not reached by meandering here and there. The hard truth is this: it takes work—it takes commitment—it takes discipline to grow day by day into the likeness of Jesus. As believers claimed by the waters of baptism and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we are called to participate in our own spiritual growth, our own wholeness. Christian maturity is not delivered to our doorstep wrapped in lovely paper and adorned with a fancy bow.

 

So, what must we do to perform the works of God? Well, if our goal is to be sold out committed Christians we will make worshiping with other Christians a priority in our lives. (Since you are here, I assume this is already important to you.) Gathering with our brothers and sisters, praying, singing, and partaking of God’s bounteous feast is a perfect way to allow God to reset our compasses, readjust our goals. Otherwise, we may become sidetracked like David, letting our desires become more important that God’s desires for us.

 

Other disciplines to enrich your spiritual development might include a renewed commitment to daily Bible reading, fasting, prayer, service to others, or meditating on God’s goodness through music, art, or nature. Perhaps, if you enjoy writing, it is time to begin a prayer journal—recording your thoughts and prayers each day. Hopefully, if you aren’t already participating in Sunday School, you will prayerfully consider joining the Generations of Faith class that starts next Sunday.

 

Oh, you may say, “All that stuff is for other people—radical folks like Pentecostals—not Presbyterians.” I beg to differ. The hard truth is that when we claim to be Christians, we are witnesses for Christ. And like Olympians who with each competition represent their country, we represent Christ to the world. Of course, we may choose to meander hither and yon, or we may decide to go for the gold!

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] Wayne Brouwer, http://www.sermonsuite.com/free.php?i=788032779&key=kufgb89fPZcjlsma

[ii] Ibid.

*Cover Art “Gathering the Fragments” © Jan Richardson Images; Used by subscription.