Sunday, June 30, 2013

STANDING ON HOLY GROUND by Rev. David M. Montgomery (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Standing on Holy Ground
Exodus 3:1-12
How often have you stood on Holy Ground?  The joke around my home is that whenever we returned to Texas we were to take off our shoes for we were on Holy Ground.  Pretty silly I know, but it was fun walking off the plane in Dallas/Ft. Worth airport carrying my shoes.  I did get some pretty interesting looks.
But seriously, I suspect that you have stood on holy ground and not even known it.  I think we’ve all been on holy ground and just didn’t notice it.
I took a mission trip in 1982 to Oljato, UT.  We worked with the Navajo Reservation.  It was hot work.  We had built a relationship with the leaders so that they trusted us to go on the back roads with them to their sacred spot.  In the middle of the desert, we came to a beautiful cool spring, lush grass, trees all around.  The Indians said we trust you, we normally don’t offer this trip to our Holy Ground to white folks.
I want to applaud you for studying and practicing Sabbath traditions.  Now, do you know where Sabbath traditions come from?  From Moses and the 10 commandments:  1) One God, 2) No Idol, 3) Lord’s Name in vain, 4) SABBATH, 5) Honor parents, 6) Don’t Kill, 7) Don’t commit Adultery, 8) Don’t Steal, 9) Don’t Lie, 10) Don’t Covet
Before you started this study, how many of us really even gave it a second thought?  I do not keep the Sabbath very well at all.  I grew up in a Protestant work ethic – not wasting time, always producing, always improving.  If you took a break, you were lazy. The message of Sabbath is one I needed to hear.  Why keep a Sabbath?  What about the Protestant work ethic?  What about being productive and being everything we can be?
In the film Pretty Woman starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts (1990), Gere is a multimillionaire and Roberts plays a prostitute.  He works all the time; in his job, he buys companies, breaks them down, and makes lots of money.  He very rarely sleeps.  The prostitute encourages him to take a day off.  She gets him to walk barefooted in the grass.  It’s a great scene.  One of the key scenes is when they’ve had a separation.  He walks through the grass with his shoes and socks off.  She has saved his life.  She offers him life!
I work with College students who are super, super busy.  The joke is that there is time for rest when you get out of college.  You have to make the most of your time in college.  And I watch young, strong, capable students walking around exhausted.  But it is not just the students.  By Cheri asking me to preach, she has challenged me to look at my schedule and honor the 4th commandment.  The Sabbath came as a gift from God.  Sabbath keeping is a time of rest, renewal, feasting, and fellowship.  I do hope you and I will seriously examine our schedules and seek a time of Sabbath.  It just might save your life.
Remember, Sabbath came from Moses.  Now we may ask, who is Moses?  Let’s talk about that.
Ex 2- Birth, salvation, outsider on the inside -killed an Egyptian and ran away (fugitive)
Ex 3:13ff- Get’s God’s name
Ex 4- Signs of Power and goes back to Egypt
Ex 5-11- Pharaoh and plagues – let my people go.  He did not let them go.
Ex 12- Passover – oldest child killed, but if you put the blood of a sheep on the mantel, you will be passed over.
Ex 14- Red Sea and Exodus
Ex 16- Manna
Ex 17- Water from the Rock
Ex 20- Ten Commandments (Mt Sinai)
Ex 32- Golden Calf – after he comes down from Mt. Sinai, the people are worshipping a Golden Calf.
Ex 35- Instructions for the Sabbath
Moses is attributed to writing Torah

         Ex 3- our text (at this point he is a murderer, a fugitive, just minding his own business)  
Moses is in the desert, doing his daily work, when he sees the burning bush that is not consumed by the fire.  He was doing his ordinary work, but all of a sudden, he notices.  I think the miracle of the story is not necessarily that there was a burning bush that was not consumed.  The miracle is that Moses noticed.  He wasn’t looking for it.  He wasn’t expecting it. “Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.”  God said, “Moses, Moses.”  And Moses said, “I’m here.”
Moses becomes this hero.  He’s known as the lawgiver, writing the first books of the Bible.  He’s a huge character in our faith story. 
CEB says: The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush.  Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up.  Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up. (Ex. 3:2-3)
NRSV says: There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.  Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”
If it could happen to Moses, could it not happen to us?  How attentive to God’s messages are we? 
Sabbath keeping will help us slow down, help us notice, examine “What’s going on here!” and place us on holy ground.
I was slowed down another time as a young pastor of a 300-member church in Louisville.  I was new and had not done a lot of pastoral care.  John Rapp, 94 years old, pillar of this church, was dying in a hospital.  I made the hospital visit, and I did not really like hospitals.  I was ready to do my normal pastor visit.  Here was John and I asked him, “Is there anything I can do for you?”  John replied that it sure would be nice if you would put lotion on my feet.  I thought, I’m a pastor, I’m just supposed to pray and get out of here.  But I took the lotion and started to rub his foot, and he said that feels so good.  I stood on Holy Ground.  John died that night.  I cannot tell you the impact he had on my life, because I did take the time.  How many other times have I missed out on what God asked me to do, because I had my own agenda?
Take off your shoes.  Notice the feel of the floor. Rub your feet. Take time to examine your feet.  Stand on Holy Ground. I want you to notice the feel of the carpet, the air between your toes.  Take a second and rub a foot.  Notice the feeling of being in public with your hands on your feet.  Be attentive to your acceptance or resistance to rubbing your feet in public.  When you are on holy ground, attentive to the spirit and willing to risk being vulnerable, I want you to take off your shoes and walk outside.  Be grounded and have your presence there on holy ground.  God is calling out. Do we notice?  Will we turn aside to see what God is doing?
Preached by Rev. David M. Montgomery
The Village Church in Maumee, OH

June 30, 2013


Sunday, June 23, 2013

LOVE PEOPLE THE MOST by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Jesus said:  "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  We have been talking for  several weeks now about some practices of Sabbath rest.  We understand that we somehow, naturally, seem to get our lives out of balance.  Our spirits get out of whack.  But Jesus seemed to know just what to do to keep his spirit centered and balanced. 

The model for spiritual balance comes right in the first story in scripture:  the story of creation, when God rested on the 7th day and tells us also to have a rhythm of work and rest, or Sabbath.  I hope some of you have been doing some Sabbath practices, of simply taking time in the midst of your day or your week to stop, and be in the present moment and remember that you belong to God.  You don’t have to be busy all the time.  You can take 5 minutes to breathe, paying attention to your breath.   You can go take a walk in nature and be reminded of God’s beauty.

Another value of Sabbath people is that we don’t get so caught up in the race to gain material wealth.  For Jesus, people matter the most.  Jesus loved people the most.  He didn’t even own a house.   As far as we can tell, he probably only owned one tunic.  Love for God’s people was his only reason for living. 

I think Jesus would be appalled at the amount of time and energy we spend on working to pile up our wealth.  I believe he would say that the only reason to earn money is so that we can use it to help other people, and that gave him joy.  It made perfect sense to him.  Why would he need all that stuff?  Seriously!   John Wesley said earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.  What would Jesus do with a lot of stuff?

I gotta tell you, sometimes I wish I could be more like Jesus, because he had that Sabbath balance thing down.  Without all the stuff to weigh him down, he could travel light, see the world, and touch the lives of so many people.  He could be generous and ask God to use him to help others.  He allowed himself to be a gift.  What could be better than that?  I know it’s idealistic, but doesn’t it sound good?

Jesus invites us, then, as a Sabbath practice, to focus our energy on people rather than things – to remember that nurturing relationships with people is the most important thing we can do with our time. 

I want to tell you a story about a time when I got to nurture some young people.  When I was in seminary, my summer job was running an unusual summer camp.  It was a job camping with inner city kids on a lake north of Atlanta.  I am not a camper; my idea of camping is staying in an air-conditioned lodge.

In those days, we called these kids juvenile delinquents and some were foster children.  It was rustic camping on an undeveloped island, you know, digging your own latrine.  We got everything onto the island with a motorboat.   We swam and cooked our own food.  We had conversations around the campfire about self-esteem.  The main activity was to take these kids in the boat and teach them how to waterski.

I’ll never forget one young man, about 13 years old, who could not swim and was very clumsy.  When he got the skis on, they flopped around and he floundered.  But, when we finally got him up on those skis, he was the king of the world!  He wanted to do it so badly, and when he got up out of the water, he had a smile on his face and he was so proud of himself, because he had accomplished something he thought he never could.  His life was transformed. 

During those camps, we gave encouragement to a few kids who were having some struggles in their lives.  They needed some positive influence.  They needed to know that people cared about them.  They needed a relaxing vacation in God’s creation, away from the TV and the video games.  They needed to accomplish something.  They needed to feel respected and cared for.

A study done by Big Brothers Big Sisters a few years ago showed that if kids have one parent and just one other positive adult in their lives, it has a huge impact on whether or not they will avoid drug use, finish high school and not end up in jail.  Kids need relationships that are positive.  They need people in their lives who believe in them; that makes all the difference.
We all need that.  When we are struggling and even when we have something to celebrate, we need to have people around us who want to be there with us.

As Jesus was preparing his disciples, and letting them know he would not be with them much longer, he talked to them about relationships.  He said: “You have to take care of one another.” “Love people the most.”  Let those people see how much you love one another.  He did not say to love possessions.  He did not say get a good job and earn lots of money so you can buy a nice house and car.  He said: “Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”
He knew the world would be watching them after he was gone.  Everyone would be watching them.   

Just like your friends who know you are a Christian, they watch you to see if your actions are like Jesus.  They want to see if we really love one another in a way that is genuine.  They are watching to see if we treat our children and our spouses in a way that is loving and Jesus-like.  They want us to show them how to be forgiving, and generous.  They want to see what grace looks like.  They want to see that our values really are different.

In our world we have some messed up value systems.  We give financial rewards to those who build empires, and invest money, to those who own real estate and sell us insurance and mutual funds.  We give rewards to those who make the best computers and smart phones and movies to entertain us and play sports for us to watch. 

We give very little pay to those who teach our children and care for our babies while we work, and to social workers and counselors who care for the most vulnerable.  People whose work is to build relationships, and to teach children and help vulnerable adults to have healthy relationships are undervalued, while we pay top dollar for the latest appliance and video gaming system. 

What is up with that?  I think if you look at the life of Jesus, you will see that he valued people over material stuff every time.  And yet, what do we do when we have a bad day? We treat ourselves with some retail therapy.  People go on vacations to go to outlet malls.

Now that’s not entirely true, I know.  Think about what you would do when you are in a real crisis.  Perhaps you are in the hospital, or you have to take your loved one to the ER. Maybe you lose your job with no warning.  Where do you turn for support?  I hope that you have one or more trusted friends, or family members who you can turn to.  I hope you have some sort of network of relationships that sustain you.  

I hope that you have friends here at The Village that you might call, because that is what it means for us to be a community for one another.  I hope that we are all looking around for people in our midst who might not be connected, or people we have not seen in awhile, and reaching out to those folks with a phone call or a text, to ask how they are doing.  When people are not here, it is easy for them to feel forgotten.  It means so much when someone other than the pastor reaches out. People matter the most.

I want to take you back to that little boy that I helped teach to water ski.  I only had a short time to make an impact on his life.  I just have to trust that there were other people in his life who came along and encouraged him and helped him along the way to adulthood.

Who is in your life that needs encouragement?  Who do you know who is hurting right now?  Perhaps they are lonely; they have lost a job or gone through a break up.  Maybe they have an illness or a child that is hard to deal with.  Do you know someone like that?  Maybe it’s someone you used to spend time with, but you have sort of drifted apart.  Perhaps, if you’re honest, you got sort of tired of being around them because it’s such a downer. 

I wonder, as a Sabbath practice, could you, or would you, allow yourself to be a place of refuge for that person for an hour or two one day?  Of course, you are not going to tell them that.  But invite them to lunch, your treat.  Or better yet, invite them to your home for a meal.  Tell them you have been thinking about them.  Say a prayer for strength before you go.  Pray that God might surround that person with love and light.  Then just go spend some time with them.  Listen to them.  Be the presence of God for them.  It’s a different kind of Sabbath practice, but I assure you, it will be a time and space of holiness. 

Can you think of someone who has been this presence for you in your time of distress? They were just there with you, they gave you a refuge.  And now imagine a person that you could reach out to.  If you’re in a good place right now, is there someone you can offer a place of refuge to?  Let’s pray as we imagine how we might live out this Sabbath practice. Love people the most.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

I wonder how many of you ever remember reading the entire book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament? How many of you have ever done a Bible study on it? Or remember hearing a sermon about it? Do you know anything about it? We’re going to do something a little different today. I’m going to read more scripture to you than usual today, because this book is unfamiliar, and it’s really appropriate to our conversation about Sabbath.   I promise it is going to be fun. 

Ecclesiastes is just not one of those books that you hear much about. Ecclesiastes is not on the top ten list of well known books in the Bible. When I read today, I’m going to read from The Message, which is a modern paraphrase from the Greek and Hebrew written by Eugene Peterson. Peterson is a pastor who wrote The Message in order to help put the Bible into language that his congregation could understand. We call it a paraphrase because while he knows the Biblical languages and works hard to be true to the spirit of the text, he does not translate it word for word. He takes some poetic license in order to make it more understandable for us today. We use his Message bible here many Sundays.

Ecclesiastes is an unusual book. Honestly, it does not talk much about God. It is one of a few books of the Bible that tells us more about the human experience than it tells us about God. It’s important to remember that we need the whole Bible, all 66 books, in order to get a good picture of God, and the relationship between God and humanity. If I had to pick just one book, in order to live my life by, then the Gospel of Luke would be a good one. Or the Book of Romans has some great theology. But some books of the Bible, on their own, would not be enough. Song of Songs, for example, is passionate Biblical love poetry (gasp, God approves of human love). It says almost nothing about God. But it is in the Bible. Why? To show us that human love and passion is part of God’s creation.

One commentator wrote that the Book of Ecclesiastes was written for “skeptics, people with a dark vision of reality and recovering alcoholics” (The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 5, p. 267). The book does not say much about God, but it says so much about the toil of human existence. Have you been there?  Ecclesiastes starts off with that puzzling phrase “Vanity of vanities.” The translators have a really hard times translating that into English. Some options are: utter futility, meaningless & emptiness (ibid, p. 279). This is how the writer describes life.
Let me read to you again the scripture which Kristen read, this time from The Message:
Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]
    There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.
What’s there to show for a lifetime of work,
    a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?
One generation goes its way, the next one arrives,
    but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old
        planet earth.
The sun comes up and the sun goes down,
    then does it again, and again—the same old round.
….Everything’s boring, utterly boring—
    no one can find any meaning in it.
Boring to the eye,
    boring to the ear.
What was will be again,
    what happened will happen again.
There’s nothing new on this earth. [nothing new under the sun]

He sounds a bit depressed, doesn’t he?  I have been there, have you?

Now, can you imagine why this sage is so discouraged? He has been caught up in that human pursuit that we know so well: trying to be the best, the richest, the best looking, the most famous; trying to have everything, and do everything. This is what we have been talking about these past couple of weeks in worship, right: the drive to succeed and win and work until we collapse from exhaustion. We have to do it because everyone is doing it, right?  Our boss wants us to do it. 

This is what he did:

Ecclesiastes 2

4-8 Oh, I did great things:
    built houses,
    planted vineyards,
    designed gardens and parks
        and planted a variety of fruit trees in them,
    made pools of water
        to irrigate the groves of trees.
I bought slaves, male and female,
        who had children, giving me even more slaves;
    then I acquired large herds and flocks,
        larger than any before me in Jerusalem.
I piled up silver and gold,
        loot from kings and kingdoms.
I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song,
    and—most exquisite of all pleasures—
    voluptuous maidens for my bed.
9-10 Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What’s more, I kept a clear head through it all. Everything I wanted I took—I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task—my reward to myself for a hard day’s work!

Isn’t that a description of the worst of the American dream today? We acquire things. A home, a spouse, the right job. We give into every material impulse. We work hard and play hard so hard we wear ourselves out.  Then read what he says:

11 Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.

This is my friends is spiritual emptiness. The realization that this treadmill brings with it exhaustion.  We never reach a goal that gives us contentment. 

          At least he finally comes to his senses:

 20-23 That’s when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth. What’s the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it? ….
24-26 The best you can do with your life is have a good time and get by the best you can. The way I see it, that’s it—divine fate. Whether we feast or fast, it’s up to God. God may give wisdom and knowledge and joy to his favorites, but sinners are assigned a life of hard labor, and end up turning their wages over to God’s favorites. Nothing but smoke—and spitting into the wind.

The book goes on and on, twelve chapters of this. One writer calls it a sort of kaleidoscope view or a “notebook of ideas by a philosopher on the downside and upside of life” (The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. 5, p. 278). The writer bounces from despair to a sort of qualified or skeptical hopefulness in calling the reader to seize life and live in the moment.

By chapter nine, we find this example, seeing some hope finally:
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it,
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think
In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.

Well, there he goes again at the end.

You see for a while there, I start to think the writer gets it. “Seize the day. Each day it God’s gift.” It sounds like he is calling us to live in each precious moment. But then he falls back into despair. Like I told you, you don’t want Ecclesiastes to be the only book you live by. This writer is one who understands life as toil.  This is what we call preaching against the text for ministers.

But this is the message I believe we are to take from Ecclesiastes: we have a choice. We can choose to live in the constant struggle, trying to get ahead and to work and to always try to reach for more and never be content.
Or we can remember this invitation to Sabbath contentment. Have you tried some of our Sabbath practices?  Being mindful, taking time out, etc. 

There really is nothing new under the sun. The rush to better technology or fashion, or the perfect life really is futile. The present moment is God’s gift to us. Each day is God’s gift. Living in the present is how we feed our souls and find peace. The tension in the book of Ecclesiastes is to stop rushing into the future but to linger in the present.

Probably the most familiar chapter in this book comes in chapter 3. I bet you know this one (you’ve heard it sung if you’ve listened to classic rock).
The chapter invites us to remember that there is a time for everything, and to pay attention to what moment we are in. Why not live in the moment we are in, rather than always longing to be in some other moment, read along:

Chapter 3
There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

2-8 A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Wayne Muller, the author of our book Sabbath, says it this way:  Life should not just make us tired, life should make us happy. Finding joy, and claiming it, is what Sabbath rest is all about.  Being followers of Jesus means we take a break. We find joy and claim it, not rush always into the future.  Sometimes we are too busy to notice it. 

So this week I give you an invitation. To enjoy the present moment.
God blesses us with joy and beauty and peace every day, in so many ways, but we’re too busy to notice. 

When I ask people, “How do you connect with God?” “How do you call yourself back into the present moment and delight in God?” people often tell me that they do it in nature. So our “Response to the Message” today is an invitation to take a walk or a bike ride (you can join us this Tuesday night) or just sit on your porch or deck in the silence and be in the present moment. Look at the beauty of creation. 

It will take some discipline.  As you do this, gently invite the to-do lists, and your work, and everything else to leave your mind for a few minutes, and just BE. My spiritual director has me as a discipline look at the colors. See how many colors you can see. How many shades of green can you see? Study one tiny flower or leaf. Just be in the moment. Delight in the beauty.   In a Sabbath practice, we are invited to just BE in the moment.  Delight in where we are now.  I invite us to plan this week when you can do this.  Take the time and pray and plan NOW how you are going to make this happen for you. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Joy of Rest and Prayer by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

If you were not with us last week, here is a tiny re-cap,  we are doing a series on the practice of Sabbath.  Sabbath originated with the creation story. God created the world in seven days and included with the six days of work was a seventh day of rest. There is a rhythm to life that is necessary to our balance and well being, but most of us are not well practiced at this balance. So here at The Village for the next couple of months we are learning together about Sabbath rest and practice it.

This does not mean that we are necessarily going back to the last century when people did not shop or go to the movies on Sunday. Though you could make that choice if you want. The practice of Sabbath can happen in a few moments of mindful breathing each day, or when we take a walk and drink in the beauty of God’s creation. We might take a Sabbath retreat for a couple of days every few months with no agenda but to rest, pray, and do nothing else. 

Which brings us to today. Wayne Muller, whose book called Sabbath, is our source for this series, writes about a woman who attended one of his Sabbath retreats. He said one weekend this highly respected professional, was sharing at the retreat and said: “I am so tired, I am with people all day and all night, but I still feel so lonely. My soul feels dry. Even when things work well, when I can break away from work and spend time with my kids, nothing seems to heal this fatigue, this sense of guilt and duty and responsibility. It all feels so heavy.” then she sat back and wept (p. 24).

The woman has a deep weariness from being in that daily push and grind where there is no room for rest, and no room to be in the presence of God and be loved by God. She understands that no quick fix will heal her. But we must all start somewhere, with practices of rest and creative renewal, that connect us to God, and fill that spiritual well that we each have deep inside.  We all have this well, deep inside. 

 Jesus, in his teaching, did not give us a seven point plan for stress reduction. In fact, he did not always wait until everyone was cared for, to take care of himself. Sometimes he just walked away. He did not leave a plan for who would cover for him while he was gone.  He paid attention to his body and soul. And when he needed to he simply walked away, far away to the other side of the lake where no one could find him, and he rested and prayed. He did what he had to do to fill that well inside of himself. He understood that you cannot be a leader who cares for others if your own well is dry.  Ever try to care for someone when you are done?

This country is full of people with weary souls who are walking around ready to collapse. We are making bad choices and not really doing good, creative work because we have no balance in our lives. Some of us have never rested in God. Others of us have us have simply forgotten how. Some of us simply no clue how to rest and pray. The first thing to do is to just STOP. Do you know how to stop? Stop all the running and over-achieving. Make space to rest and pray. 

That is what Jesus did:
Matthew 14 -- As soon as the meal was finished, Jesus insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.
Luke 5:15-16
Soon a large crowd of people had gathered to listen and be healed of their ailments. As often as possible Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.
Mark 1:32, 35
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 

He did his work, and then he got away to rest and pray. He could not do one without the other. But if I ask 1000 church-goers on Monday night, did you stop and pray today? Do you know what you will say? 
·         I sorta pray on the run.
·         I can’t get up early in the morning to pray. I’m too tired.
·         I don’t know how to pray.
·         Yeah, I know I feel better when I pray, but I just can’t keep the habit going. 

And if I were to ask you, do you get enough rest, what would you say:
           Rest, what’s that?
·         I have too much to do.
·         I’ll rest when I retire.

But these are these two things that Jesus did to take care of himself. We say we want to follow Jesus and be like Jesus. And yet, we really don’t do very well at these two things he did on a regular basis to take care of himself.

I want to tell you a story about what happens when we can carve out a little space in our lives where God can help us rest and fill our creative wells. It’s a story Wayne Muller tells in his book Sabbath.  Sister Gilchrist is a Cistercian nun at the Abbey of the Mississippi. She has a variety of jobs which include cooking and helping to manage the land where they keep a herd of cattle. She enjoys walking their land in the afternoon and picking wild herbs, and taking those herbs to the kitchen where they can be used for dinner.

A few years ago they sisters had a consultation and learned about permaculture to learn about the most efficient and sustainable use for the land and animals. They were advised that rather than letting the animals roam the entire field they should build a pen and have the animals thoroughly graze and fertilize a small patch of land at a time, and the move the pen to another patch of land. In this way one patch of land at a time would be fully used and the other sections would rest.  The land would rest.  Sabbath rest, even for the land is needed.

After two years of this, Sister Gilchrist went out one day in early Spring to discover a dozen new herbs had miraculously appears alongside the usual ones. New grasses had also germinated. The new grasses were so nourishing that the sisters were able to stop supplementing the cows’ diet with corn. These new herbs and grasses had been embedded in the soil all along. But because the cows had been walking all over all the land, they were never able to grow to their fullness. When the land and seeds were given a necessary Sabbath rest, the earth could reveal these wonderful resources! (pp. 143-144)

The story is, of course, a wonderful metaphor for our own lives. If we were to allow ourselves periods of rest and work, how much more creative might we feel? People tell me all the time that they know they are actually more productive at work when they don’t work so much and they are rested and take time to play and to feed their souls.

Muller gives suggestions for trying to slow down and change your pace in order to integrate rest into your routine. Leaf through a magazine or browse the internet for a few minutes and find a picture that you find appealing, that brings you joy. Cut out the picture, or print it, and put it somewhere that you will see it several times a day. Notice how you feel when you see it. This is another practice of mindfulness as we discussed last week. Be in the present moment, and just experiencing delight. Be mindful of how the picture calms you.

Or here is another suggestion, write a short poem or a few lines in a journal just for yourself, for no one else to read, about nothing of any importance. Put a flower in a cup by your bed or on your desk or table. Sing a song that you know by heart. Take a crayon and make simple drawing of your home. Do something playful like this every day. The power of a simple act of creativity can help you stop, slow your pace and interrupt your speed. “Notice how willing you are to be stopped” and how it feels (pp. 145-6).  Sometimes we let children let us be stopped, but only sometimes.

We don’t know much about what Jesus did when he went away to the other side of the lake to pray. He was in nature so we can imagine that he took a look at the beautiful lake, the trees, and the flowers. I can picture Jesus taking some deep breaths and asking God to refill his well after Jesus had given so much of himself away throughout the day. Maybe he sang a song, or wrote a bit of poetry. Maybe he drew a picture in the sand with a stick. He knew the importance of balance – of a change of pace—of setting aside time and space from his work to honor Sabbath rest and to pray.

We also know this. The work that Jesus did was amazing in its creativity and productivity. He created a movement that has endured for more than 2000 years. Not many people can say that. He did not suffer from burn out. He did not complain. We have no record that he whined about being too busy or being stressed. He had a singular focus. But in order to move forward with his mission to share the transformative love of God, Jesus knew that he had to take breaks.

That is our invitation for today: to follow Jesus and change the world, by taking time and space to rest and pray, just like Jesus.   Last week I invited you to take moments for Sabbath mindfulness: to use something such as an alarm on your watch, as a reminder to pause and remember God several times a day. I asked you to take three deep breaths and be in the present moment and center yourself.

This week, I want to invite you to take that a little farther. For those who are not already praying or meditating every morning, I invite you to take 5 minutes each morning to simply breathe, and pay attention to your breath. Remember that the word breath in Greek is the same word as Spirit; so when we breathe, we breathe in the Spirit of God our creator. We also talked last week about how the breath is part of the rhythm of the earth, inhale/exhale; night and day, spring and winter, everything in rhythm.

Here is the practice of the rhythm of breath:  Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of the breath, feeling the length of each inhale and exhale. Don’t change your breath; just watch the breath. Feel the rhythm of the breath; feel its timing; the end of the exhale and the readiness to inhale. When the mind wanders, as it will, don’t fret. Just return your awareness to your breath.   Silently pay attention to each inhale and exhale.  

You may open your eyes now. Set a timer and do this for 5 minutes; Pay attention to how you feel at the beginning and the end of the five minutes and to the rhythm of your breath.

I do this (Kurt’s spiritual director is working on getting him up to 10 minutes as he gets really distracted & stressed), and I can tell you I almost always feel calmer at the end of the five minutes. There are days when I find it hard to do, but I try and it does make a difference.

I hope you will try this practice of the breathing meditation this week. Let me know if you do it and how it goes for you. You can stop during the day, when you feel stressed, and do it again. Remember that Jesus did this all the time. He went away to a quiet place to rest and pray. He connected with the Spirit of God deep inside him.

We are followers of Jesus and we can change the world, but we need balance to do it. We need the Sabbath practice of rest.