Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 06/03/2018

Sermon by Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick at Bethany Lutheran Church, Ishpeming, MI

June 3, 2018, 10:30, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Sabbath for Our Times

Alt. 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] (not Deut. 5:12-15) / alt. Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (not 81:1-10)

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 / Mark 2:23—3:6

We Americans … even Christians … bridle at the idea of any abridgment to our freedoms. We do not want anyone telling us what we may or may not do. Still, I wonder if too much freedom is good for our spiritual health. Put another way, I wonder if absence of boundaries … and mistrust of authority … makes life too hard … for us to … livewell.

What happens … for example … when there’s nothing to protect us … from racing up the professional career ladder … at such a pace that our health … our personal relationships … and our communion with God all suffer? … What if there is nobody we are willing to trust … to caution us to pause … or to give us permission to say “no” to one worthy cause too many? What happens when it seems there is no one looking out for us … to help us … livewell?

There are … of course … people we do trust … in certain aspects of life. I trust my doctor to check my A1C every three months … to be sure I don’t need medication for diabetes … and every six months for a cholesterol issue. At my late April visit for both … she cautioned me … yet again … that my excess weight was not helpful! And … yet again … she suggested I write down everything I eat … to hold myself accountable. This time … I finally listened … and began carrying a small card in my pocket all the time … and I’m brutally honest in my logging … [I even log Holy Communion!]. This month-old daily discipline … has helped me choose wisely what / when / and how much / to eat … without really dieting … and with the happy shedding of eight pounds. I put myself under my doctor’s authority … for the sake of my physical life … and doing so is a great blessing.

But we tend to neglect our spiritual health … because we can’t readily put our finger on the consequences of this neglect. We Christians know … in our heads … that refreshment for our spiritual selves is “good for us” … but too many of us don’t manage to wrap our hearts around the idea. Even when we gather for worship on Sunday mornings … our minds may be like a computer … with some program running in the background … while we appear … even to ourselves … to be fully attentive … to the gifts God may be giving to us … in the community itself … as well as through word and sacrament.

Now … lest you think I am about to lecture you … on what you should or should not do on Sundays … relax. Rather … I would like to invite you into a Sabbath state of mind … where you begin to think of Sabbath rest … as spiritual fuel … to refresh the whole of you … body and mind … as well as spirit … and as a way to honor the life that God has given to you.

The historical obstacle … to such a state of mind … is that “Sabbath” has been so fraught with “shoulds” and “should nots” … that it’s hard to see the blessing God intended with that gift … “in the beginning”much less now. The sad consequence … of failing to live into Sabbath rest … is exhaustionin body and mindas well as spirit. There is a better way.

In Mark’s gospel text for today … we have two stories of conflict between Jesus and Jewish leaders … over the issue of what activities are permittedon the Sabbath. By way of challenge … to their challenge … Jesus points out the underlying premise of the Sabbaththat it was made for lifefor human beings … and not as some test of faithfulness to Jewish law … regardless of human realities. Yet … for those leaders … the issue really was strict adherence … to Mosaic Law … the Torah … which had become the one sure thing … holding them together … as a peopleset apart by God. They feared the slightest undermining of the strict rules … and so they feared Jesus … the man they saw as a threat … to their status … and to their guardianship of the community.

Snapping off the heads of grain to eat like popcorn as one walked … [I don’t mean gathering it for later consumption … which would indeed have been a violation] … and non-emergency healing … were right on the fence … between lawful and unlawful … right on the edge of the slippery slope.

But … those issues ... are not a problem for us … in our day. We Christians don’t have rules about how far you can walk and … whether … or what you eat on Sunday. And we … definitelycheer Jesus on … for his compassionate healing on the Sabbathrestoring not only the man’s withered hand … but also his capacity to work and so provide for his family. None of us have a problem with doing obvious good on Sunday … bringing Communion to homebound folk who cannot attend worship … or taking the altar flowers to someone in the hospital … for example.

We also believe that Jesus … who joined the human family … where and how people actually live … would surely recognize the necessity … in our day … of the vast number of jobs that truly need to be done 24/7 … nursing, police, fire-protection, for example … and the sad cultural realities of our non-stop work places.

Where Jesus might caution us … as my doctor does about my weight … is that failing to take quiet time in the presence of Godand failing to take time away from the stress of our daily labors … the ones we must do to provide for our livelihoods … takes a terrible toll on our bodies and our minds … as well as our spirits.

But also seriously undermined … if we neglect spirit-nurturing Sabbath rest … is the mission we have been given … by Jesus himself … to proclaim the compassion of God in our daily lives.

In our reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we have this treasure in earthen vessels” … the treasure that is the Gospel message itself … carried by homely, ordinary “clay pots” … like ourselves. So … if we exhaust ourselves with the labors of everyday life … so that our faces are masks of furrowed brows and pursed lips … how does that show the joy of life in Christthat is in us … to those who are hungering … for something they cannot even identify? The sour looks … on our faces … will speak much louder … than the pretty crosses … around our necks …or tacked to our lapels!

And if our children … and grandchildren … see that making time for worship …and time awayfrom smart-phones and work … is not important to us … whereand how … do you think they will learn … to see life otherwise?

But there is good news. Like my doctor … advising me to lose weight and to write down what I eat to remain mindful and healthy … “Dr. Jesus” invites us to make some “healthy choices” … about how we use our time and energy … for the sake of real life … not just for the rat-race of existence.

So, considering the compassion of God … who has given us the gift of Sabbath rest … if we will only take it into ourselves … how shall we think … about what is “permitted” … in our modern times? Here are some thoughts … not so much about what to do … or not do … but about how to determine for yourselves … what honors the gifts of God … and nourishes your spiritual life.

First, the reality: In our complex world … “one size fits all” rules … just don’t work. Obligatory weekend employment wipes out Sundays for many people. So if not Sunday … in the community … when and how shall we worship and tend to our Sabbath needs?

It may help to think of Sabbath rest as having three vital elements … like legs on a camp stool.

First is worship … quiet time with God … for a healthy “spiritual breakfast.” Whenever possible … it is good to make it a priority to join with other believers …for word / prayer / and sacrament … on Sunday or another day of the week. Small groups studying scripture together can fill the gap when regular community worship is not an option … and time set aside daily to read the Bible / pray / and perhaps write in a journal … are other ways to listen for God’s nourishing word.

Second is looking outward with compassion … to others … as Jesus did in today’s Gospel reading. The Sabbath was made for humankind … in community … so part of that blessing is to honor that truth by some act of healing kindness. This can be as simple as a phone call to someone who needs a word of encouragement or forgiveness … or giving a child your undivided attention.

Third is any activity … [other than ordinary livelihood work] … that refreshes you … alone or in the company of others. Note that most … if not all … of what we might choose today … would have been strictly prohibited in Jesus’ day … because the activities would have been livelihood work!

Making art … knitting … carpentry… tinkering with an old car … and even mowing the lawn all qualify. If you’ve been “confined to your head” all week … looking at a computer screen … then stretching your legs behind even a noisy mower … is as much a blessed gift from God … as a hike in the woods … if it brings you joy.

The gift from God … that gives vital energy to each of these … is simply receptiveness to God in your life … no matter where you are … or what time it is … or what you are doing.

But what if you cannot take a Sabbath day all at once? Then can you start small … and manage … a Sabbath fifteen minutes? … It will refresh you like a power nap … and may be all you need … to fuel the creativity … that will help you find new ways … to open your lives to God’s restorative Sabbath.

One more thought … back to the one that came first to me … for this message. Too much freedom is not necessarily good for us! Just as we need guidance and admonishment from our doctors to keep our bodies strong and healthy … so we need the same from the Great Physician … to keep our spirits healthy … for ourselves and those we love … and especially for the blessed labor of Gospel mission … which God … in Christ Jesus … has entrusted to us. When we allow ourselves to be led into this Sabbath state of mind … we are blessed to be a blessing! May it be so among us.

Amen.

 
 

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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