Slow Down . . . See God

In the faith community where I serve as pastor, the forty-day period called Lent is a very important time. Lent, as a season, precedes the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection at Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday, a day on which we consider our sin and our mortality. The remainder of the forty days has been observed in a variety of ways. You may know people who observe Lent by experiencing sacrifice – giving up something that is enjoyable or important to them. Others mark the days of Lent by taking on a commitment to serving others. These are both spiritual practices, that can deepen a person’s awareness of their need for God and their God-ordained purpose.
Our congregation often shares a focus during the Lenten season. This year, we are exploring God’s gift of the Sabbath. Sabbath is God’s gift of repetitive and regular rest. It is given for our delight and communion with God. Time for being in the midst of a life of doing particularly characterizes the Sabbath. This definition is found in Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook – Practices That Transform Us (InterVarsity Press, 2005).
Because so many of us live fast-paced lives and feel the pressure of many demands, a step away from all of these things for this regular and repetitive rest can feel like an impossible task or a burden. But as those who are created in the image of God, we were created for a rhythm of work and rest. Or perhaps I should say, a rhythm of rest and work. God created humans on the sixth day. And then God rested on the seventh day. That means that humanity’s first full day of life was the seventh day, the Sabbath day.
We are using the following scripture to explore God’s gift of Sabbath:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. Exodus 20:8-10

If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
If you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
If you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
Then you shall delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights. Isaiah 58:13-14

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. Luke 4:16

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Mark 2:27

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it…There remain, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. Hebrews 4:1, 9-11

We are also pursuing practical ways to claim God’s gift of the Sabbath in our lives during the season of Lent. Some of us will dip a toe in the water of observing a day of rest – stepping away from our work for a few hours. Others of us may dare to try a Sabbath plunge – putting away our “smartphones” for a 24-hour period. Some may not even try it at all. But together we will explore one more spiritual practice – one specifically intended to help us SLOW DOWN the busy, blurred pace of our lives, so that we can SEE GOD.

Do you observe Lent?
What spiritual practices shape your observation of the season?
Can you share any Sabbath stories?

May you live in God’s amazing grace+

Cross-posted at http://www.churchdoctor.org/blog

One-to-One

He was so passionate about what he was sharing that he could barely get the words out.

In a meeting of 12 members focused on strengthening our congregation’s stewardship, this 40-something man testified to the spiritual growth he has been experiencing over the past f[ive years.  Service to others was a strong impetus to his deepening discipleship to Jesus.

“Your sermons are beautiful…but sometimes they are just  too hard for me…” he said.

I listened for a bit longer, but probably not long enough.

When I did speak, it was to confess my struggle to bring the transforming Gospel of Jesus to over 350 people who are all in different stages in their discipleship to Jesus.  We talked about messages that challenge and messages that comfort.  My friend was definitely in favor of erring on the side of comfort.

After a while I asked, “How then do I challenge you, so that you continue to grow spiritually, if not in the sermon?”

“One to one,” he said.

And he is right about that.  It will be a one-to-one conversation where I remind him that the the hard stuff in sermons and teachings confronts us with our need for Jesus. drives us to trust in Jesus, through and with whom all things are possible.  The impossible becomes possible for us as we learn to trust in and live out of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

The more I have reflected on this conversation, the more I realize that many of those in our congregation who are growing the most are men and women, children, teens, and adults who are in one-to-one conversations with their pastors and spiritual friends.  Sometimes the conversations are centered on God’s Word, and sometimes they are devoted to discussions about the joys and struggles in our lives.

It is becoming clear to me that more and more of my time needs to be dedicated to discipling people one-to-one. Today being a pastor means helping people discover the deep love God has for them and how they can access that love through spiritual practices like prayer and service and study.  They didn’t teach this in seminary 30 years ago.  So I am learning along with the people whom I am discipling.

I am learning to listen deeply so that I can suggest the spiritual practices that will transform peoples’ lives.  I am trying some of these practices myself for a season, to understand how they can guide us into discipleship with Jesus.  And I am praying for guidance as to who may be waiting for the invitation to a one-to-one conversation about life in Christ.

Starting with my friend who struggles with the hard words.

 

May you live in God’s amazing grace+

cross-posted at the Church Doctor Ministries blog

Another Look at Mary and Martha

Preached at Olivet Lutheran Church of Sylvania, Ohio on July 17-18, 2010

Text: Luke 10:28-42

Intro: Thank you…for the time away.  It has been good time…and it is also good to be back.

The past six weeks have not only been a time of rest for me.  They have been an opportunity to be renewed in my understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  I have been blessed to observe people in their lives of discipleship in the 12 days I spent in Manchester, Sheffield, and London, England.  I have likewise spent time reflecting, discussing, and making plans to act in response to God’s call on my life and to discern how we do the same as the people of Olivet.

In our Gospel reading today – five verses closing the 10th chapter of Luke – we observe two women who are among Jesus’ circle of followers.   Earlier, Jesus had sent out seventy followers on their first mission trip.  He equipped them for the work of preparing His way – and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God.  When they returned with stories of God’s Kingdom breaking through – including healings and demons being disarmed – Jesus rejoiced with them and gave thanks to God.

Then, in response to a pointed question from a lawyer in the crowd, Jesus told a parable of the Kingdom of God, one many of us know quite well – the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Now after all of this, Jesus enters a certain village – likely Bethany – nestled in the hills east of the city of Jerusalem.  There, a woman named Martha offers Jesus hospitality –welcoming him into her home.  Such hospitality is truly an amazing thing – and when people extend the spiritual gift of hospitality, they give us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God!

When Jesus accepts the invitation, Martha gives herself over to many tasks, Luke says.  I am sure they are some of the same tasks that my hosts in Sheffield, Doug and Pam Tiffen, graciously took on in welcoming me and two others into their home.  Preparing food and a comfortable place to sit and to sleep – someone has to do these things, right?  We get that!

As she tends to Jesus’ hunger, thirst, and need for rest, Martha becomes cross with her sister, Mary, who, is not helping her as she would have expected, but instead is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him.  You can almost hear the rant warming up…

  • Martha mumbling to herself as she kneads the bread
  • As her temper rises, she begins to make some noise with the pots and pans, hoping that Mary and Jesus will hear how hard she is working
  • Finally, when there has been no acknowledgement, no offer of help, Martha goes to Jesus and Mary, and begins her rant, appealing to Jesus to direct Mary to help with the preparations

Picture the postures of the two women at this moment – Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to what Jesus wants her to do, while Martha is standing over him, telling Jesus what she wants him to do.

Jesus’ response is unexpected – even shocking.    It is every bit as shocking as the moment when Jesus makes the Samaritan the example of what a neighbor truly is and does.  Jesus tells Martha that Mary’s choice to sit and listen to Him is a good one – not just good, but the one thing that is necessary.

In the Greek language, there are two words to measure time – chronos – which is time measured in days, hours, minutes, and seconds – as with calendar and clock; and kairos – which is an event, an opportunity, a moment which can by the very choices it offers, change the course of one’s life.

So – you tell me – when Jesus enters the home of Mary and Martha – is this a chronos or kairos moment?

I think it is a kairos moment – although to be fair, they don’t grasp this yet.  They don’t know that Jesus will eventually make their home his home-base when he is in Jerusalem.  And they certainly don’t know that when their brother Lazarus takes ill and dies, Jesus will come to comfort them and then, with three words and the power of heaven and earth in his hands, Jesus will raise Lazarus from death to life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back to this event – this moment in time when Jesus enters the home of Mary and Martha.  It IS a kairos moment – agreed?  It is a moment when both women stopped what they were doing, and made a choice.

Martha chose to focus on many things she felt were necessary to make Jesus’ stay comfortable, pleasant, even memorable.   In Jesus’ mind, she was probably doing far more than she needed to for him to feel at home.  I resemble that remark!  When we host people in our home, I tend to stress and even obsess over things.   I have missed the opportunity to truly “be” with guests, because I have been so caught up in crafting a wonderful meal.

I know what it is to be Martha in my role as a pastor too – to try to juggle so many tasks, nurture so many ideas, support so many people.  I know that I often make the mistake of thinking that if I can write a certain number of events into a day’s schedule or physically get to a given number of places in a 24-hour period, then I should be there and do that.   I know what it is to be Martha – to be worried and distracted by many things.   Perhaps some of you do, too.

I know what it is to be Martha – to move through life as though it is a straight line from point A to point B to point C, without time to think, to reflect, to learn, to be – living by chronos and missing the kairos moments.

I know that this was happening during the interim period between Pastor Darrell’s departure and Pastor Ed’s arrival.     I know that this is why I needed these past six weeks…to realize that Jesus loves the work I do, but He loves me, simply for who I am as a precious daughter of God.  And He wants me to sit and be and listen and learn from Him.  In fact, it is necessary for me to do that if I would be His disciple.

There in Bethany, Jesus ‘ intent was that he would be the one giving hospitality –sharing Himself with Mary, and desiring to do the same with Martha.  Here in this community as well, Jesus is present in Word and Water, in bread and wine – sharing Himself with us.  What happens as we gather here is not ultimately a chronos event – measured in minutes; it is a kairos moment when our crucified and risen Lord is among us to put to death that which separates us from God, and raise to life in us that which will offer Jesus’ life to those around us.

These encounters have the power to change the course of our lives…and the lives of those with whom we share our lives.

If we are among those who prepare the table, or the music, or the lesson for Children’s Church, or the sermon – we need to do what is needed for the sake of our worship, while not neglecting to do what is necessary as Jesus defines it – meeting Him here among us.   And there need to be additional persons who will share in these tasks so that everyone has the opportunity to learn and to do.

Imagine what it would be like to be Martha of Bethany – centuries later as people joined her in heaven, you know they would be asking her, “Wow, what was it like to host Jesus in your home?  What was it like to be able to sit with him and listen to him in such an intimate setting?”  Imagine what it would be like to be Martha, answering, “You know, I can’t tell you what that was like, because I spent the time in the kitchen, and never quite got out of there to sit and listen.”

Fortunately, as we learn more about Martha and Mary from John’s Gospel, it would appear that Martha, like Mary, learned to balance her doing for Jesus with her being with Him.  Both Martha and Mary (as well as their brother Lazarus) were numbered among Jesus’ closest friends.

Today, Jesus calls us to recognize this kairos moment with Him – and embrace it, and the life and eternal friendship He offers.

In the name of Jesus+