I really think the sermon title, “Just Breathe . . .” is meant mostly for me, as I try to decipher today’s Scripture readings. The readings triggered so many thoughts for me, that I’ll ask your indulgence if I can’t tie them neatly together with a spiritual bow for you. But I’ll try.
The four main ideas I’ll try to cover are: 1) Discipleship is hard work; 2) The need for spiritual practices; 3) The Good Shepherd “restoreth my soul”; and 4) How and why we seek God’s help.
The first theme that we encounter is the realization that sharing the Good News is hard work! It appears the disciples might be bordering on a bit of burnout when Jesus reminds them that they need to get away and replenish their spirits. I’ve got a sign in my home that says, “If your outgoings are more than your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.” I think that applies to much more than money! It reminds me that I cannot keep giving and giving of my time and energy without tending to my own self-care.
I was going to make today’s title “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” as I could relate to the disciples’ need for some R & R after their healing ventures. Many of you know that last month I made an 8-day silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh. (pause) Dare I say, “Try it, you’ll like it”? Maybe it’s an acquired taste, but to me it is a delicious way to encounter God without the world’s interruptions.
I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that we really don’t have a good way of sharing our spiritual experiences with each other. If we were in a convent or monastery, we would know full well what and when we were required to pray. I love that in the Islamic faith, worshipers stop five times a day to pray. I wish I could remember to do that!
We don’t have such set spiritual disciplines, but that sure doesn’t mean we don’t have ANY. In fact, I’m sure we each have found ways where we can meet God. A few that come to mind are: through nature, music, dance, silence, knitting, quilting, writing, reading, prayer, meditation, hobbies, exercise, cooking, and sports. (There’s even a book I read years ago entitled God in the Kingdom, which describes the spiritual aspects of golf, and another one called God on a Harley, which holds a special place in my heart!) I really wish there were a way for us to share with each other where it is that we find God in our daily lives.
Getting back to the disciples, I like to think the disciples were looking forward to some beer and brats and a little beach volleyball or a pig roast with an Elvis impersonator—or whatever the equivalent was two thousand years ago—but the story does not tell us what they actually did once they came onshore. We know only what Jesus did—which was to get right back into it, teaching the crowds that flocked to Him, taking pity on them because they were like “sheep without a shepherd.”
I have to tell you that Pastor Nansi called me when she got my outline for today’s service. She was shocked that our Call to Worship was taken from the 23rd Psalm. She knows that I hate the 23rd Psalm and have since first hearing it at my mother’s funeral 63 years ago. What she didn’t know was that I had been asked to pray with that psalm during my recent retreat—and I can now focus on the part of it that says “He restoreth my soul.” So I’m going outside of my comfort zone today, using it and its message here. Even I’m a bit surprised!
“He restoreth my soul.” Amen! The words sound very comforting, but what exactly do they mean? How does God restore our souls? The second part of today’s reading stands in direct conflict to last Sunday’s reading. Remember how Jesus was dismissed by those in His home town, those who could not see beyond their preconceived notions of who Jesus was. He could not heal them because of their unbelief.
But in today’s second reading, people recognized Jesus and flocked to Him, begging Him to let the sick touch even the fringe of His cloak. And it tells us, “All those who touched Him were cured.” No one was excluded who reached out in faith. That’s powerful. And I know it’s true today, too. So how do we reach out—and WHY do we seek healing, revival, and restoration? We all have our ways of finding God’s presence in our lives; I listed a few previously. Our prayers do not always need words, and our actions are often a silent prayer.
Being first of all human, we seek healing because we don’t want to continue hurting. “Help” is the simplest of prayers in times of need; tears are the soul’s way of asking for help and comfort. None of us likes to hurt, but for us, I think there is a deeper reason for our petitions. I believe we want to be healed so we can bear witness to God’s power and continue to do His will of serving others. Wouldn’t you sometimes like to learn what happened to some of the Biblical followers of Jesus after they were healed—a kind of Paul Harvey “And now you know the rest of the story” moment? I can only believe their lives were forever altered by their encounter with God’s healing power.
The bulletin cover asks God to enlighten what’s dark in us, strengthen what’s weak in us, mend what’s broken in us, bind what’s bruised in us, heal what’s sick in us, and revive whatever peace and love has died in us. To help us see what God has promised, I asked Donna to include the insert in today’s bulletin that references Bible passages that offer hope and comfort. I hope you find it helpful.
But what if we’re NOT feeling weak and broken and bruised and sick? Do we say to God, “I’ll call you when I need you” and go on about our daily lives? Perhaps. But then again, spiritual conditioning takes time and effort as much as physical training does. So let me offer what I’ve found helpful in the maintenance of my spirit. It’s a description from the AA program.
When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others. After making our review we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken.
On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or a decision. We relax and take it easy. We don’t struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for a while. What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind.
As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day, “Thy will be done.” It works—it really does!
I use several books of daily meditations and memorized prayers that help direct my day. I admit I don’t open my own Bible often enough—though I spend lots of hours with it while on retreat!
Among the many attributes of God, we may add “indefatigable”—meaning incapable of being tired. But that word does NOT apply to us. Like the earliest disciples, we need to find ways to draw apart from the world’s demands and let God restoreth our souls. Only then can we be of use to God and our fellows, being as St. Francis called it, an instrument of God’s peace.
Corrie ten Boom is attributed with the saying, “What wings are to a bird, and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.” So however you pray and however you find God’s restoration of your soul and spirit, remember that God is there to shepherd us on our way, and that without prayer, we will not get very far at all. Happy flying, happy sailing, and happy praying. Amen.
Scripture for July 15, 2018 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.
Then he said to them, “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while”; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as Jesus stepped ashore He saw a large crowd; and He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He set Himself to teach them at some length….
…Later, having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and tied up.
No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognized him, and started hurrying all through the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, to village, or town, or farm, they laid down the sick in the open spaces, begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak. And all those who touched him were cured.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.