Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/19/2015

When the pope came out with his encyclical on climate change back in June the reaction of some was to politely suggest that the pope should mind his own business and that the church should do what it’s supposed to do and stay focused on saving souls. They had to do it politely because Pope Francis is pretty likable and popular but that response reflects a viewpoint that says the church shouldn’t have anything to say about current issues that impact life here and now unless of course you agree with the position that’s taken, then it’s OK.

There have always been differing opinions on how involved the church should get in political/social issues, but whatever the level of involvement, those critics of the Pope are right in saying that we are in the soul business and shouldn’t lose sight of that. But, are we in the business of saving souls or are we about restoring souls? In the beloved 23rd Psalm, besides leading me beside still waters and guiding me along right pathways, the Lord also restores my soul. That’s the phrase that got my attention amid this week’s shepherd imagery; the Lord, the shepherd, restores my soul.

Our theology tells us that soul saving is already accomplished. We are saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. By faith in what has been done for us we are declared righteous and our own future is revealed. In baptism, in ways that we can’t fully understand we die to sin and become part of the new life, the resurrection life of Jesus; for each of us our soul is saved. In Lutheran terms we call it grace; we don’t deserve it but God won’t give up on us. It’s all wrapped in mystery, but trusting in Jesus, the ultimate fate of our soul is secure, but even with a saved soul there are still times that restoration is needed. So again, the work of the church is better understood as being about restoring souls rather than saving souls.

Restoration is pretty popular these days. Some of you have probably gotten involved in such projects as people restore houses, cars, furniture, all manner of things; a couple of years ago we took out the wall to wall carpeting in our house and had the hardwood floors restored. So the goal of restoration is to return something to its original condition. What does that mean though if we’re talking about soul restoration?

Soul is one of those words that gets used quite a lot and not just in religious circles, it’s all over the place. It’s one of those words that is familiar but if I stopped right now and called on a random “soul” out there and asked them to explain just what a soul is, I think that individual might have trouble, plus they would hate me forever for calling on them. Soul is one of those words that gets thrown around and no one asks questions because if you do, you might get stuck or find out you’re talking about something that’s hard to talk about.

Out of curiosity I Googled soul; curiously, on two search engines, Yahoo and Bing, the first thing that came up was the 2015 Kia Soul, “the highest rated compact multi-purpose vehicle in initial quality,” whatever that means, but having the make and model of a car come up first on a search of the word soul could certainly be seen as a commentary on our consumer culture. On Google though, I guess to their credit, the Wikipedia entry came up first, saying, “The soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal, and in many conceptions, the immortal essence of a living thing,” and maybe you’re thinking, “Yeah, that’s what I would have said if you called on me,” except you probably wouldn’t have used the word incorporeal (it means without a physical, body, presence or form; I had to look it up).

With all due respect to Wikipedia, what their article has to say isn’t bad, but as is quite common with words translated from Hebrew, there is a depth that is difficult to convey. The Hebrew word translated as soul is nephesh, which represents the true self, the intertwined complexity of all that we are, including things spiritual, moral, mental, physical and material. The nephesh, the soul, then is the whole self, the true self, all that you are.

That probably doesn’t exactly clear things up but if we’re talking about the soul, the whole self, the true self needing to be restored, that implies that something has happened. If you restore a house or a car or a piece of furniture it means that it has fallen into disrepair or that changes have been made that detract from what it was originally. Obviously a soul is different from a house, a car or a piece of furniture, but you can relate to the idea that the state of your soul isn’t always the same; there is a cycle. It goes through times of wellness—“it is well with my soul,” we’ll sing in a few minutes—but it also goes through times of depletion, those times when you wonder if you’re going to make it. Physical exhaustion might be part of it, but even more it’s those other aspects of your nephesh, more mental and emotional exhaustion, those times you might not even want to get out of bed in the morning because it’s just too much.

What most of us do most of the time when our soul is depleted is we find the resources to keep going; we suck it up and do what we have to do. You might call it survival and a lot of the time it is what you have to do. The trouble is, survival mode doesn’t restore your soul.

In the Bible, soul restoration begins with rest, Sabbath rest. In the creation story rest is built into the good order of God’s world as on the seventh day, God rested from all the work he had done in creation. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” is about rest. The commandments were given to Moses as the people were on the journey from slavery in Egypt headed for the Promised Land and “remember the Sabbath” represented a contrast to their previous life in Pharaoh’s brickyard where there was no rest, no time for soul restoration. In today’s gospel, the disciples come to Jesus all excited about where they’d been and the work they’d been doing and Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place and rest for awhile.”

As a society, we don’t rest well. I found statistics that say that the average American worker leaves 5 vacation days a year unused. It might not sound like much but it’s something like 169 million days total that get left on the table, but we’re programmed to work and take pride in how hard we work, we’re praised for hard work even if other statistics show that not using vacation time actually makes you less productive.

In terms of soul restoration, rest is a piece of the puzzle, but often more is involved. Think about your soul, your nephesh; think about voices and things that deplete it, voices and things that restore it. It would then be easy to say, try to eliminate the things that deplete your soul; it would be easy but not very helpful because some of those things are probably just part of life; they can’t be eliminated. You can’t eliminate all the things that deplete your soul but with Sabbath rest, whatever that might look like for you and what it looks like can vary, it’s not the same for everyone, with Sabbath rest though, you can step away from the things that deplete and move toward the things that restore, toward the things that represent your soul food.

It’s important to remember though that times of depletion are normal, just part of the soul cycle. Even the 23rd Psalm, the beloved psalm of comfort, also acknowledges depletion as it takes you into the valley of the shadow of death. But then, you are with me; those might be the most important words in the psalm; you are with me. At rest, the presence of the Lord is felt. The things that deplete aren’t gone, but for the moment they’re put in their place, the Lord is with you and soul food is available.

At its best, worship is soul food. In the Old Testament, Sabbath was first and foremost about rest. In his interpretation, Martin Luther made “remember the Sabbath” more about worship. Both perspectives are valid as worship is time away, time to rest, time for your soul to be restored among other people in various places along the soul cycle, some more depleted than others. Restoration takes place, maybe in the music, maybe the liturgy, the lessons, the sermon, maybe just being here in the presence of the Good Shepherd, knowing that “you are with me,” knowing that you’re not alone even in the valley of depletion. It’s all soul food but then, to top it off, there’s the main course, the bread and wine, the meal hosted by the Lord himself, Jesus who, after feeding us, invites us to come away to a deserted place and rest for awhile.

Accept his invitation and let it be well with your soul.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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