Remembering to Remember the Sabbath

When the Israelites were on the way to the land of promise, God gave them Ten Commandments which would guide their life together. You can find the story of their journey from slaves in Egypt to the land of promise in the Biblical book of Exodus. I suspect that one of the least kept of the ten, is to “Remember the *Sabbath Day and keep in Holy.”  This commandment is the only commandment that starts with the word “Remember.”  (See Exodus 20) I wonder if it was because God knew we would be tempted to believe that Sabbath rest was unimportant.

Imagine how radical it was to ask people living on the edge to take a day off . . . to actually rest and pause in their busy lives . . . to spend time with their creator God. The Israelites were told not only that it was OK to take a break from their work, but that God commanded a day of rest. The day would be a day to reflect on life and one’s relationship with God. It created by, its very existence, time for family and friends.

There have been times when people have turned Sabbath rest into legalism, where the least activity brought offense and broke a rule. But, that was never God’s intention for the Sabbath. When Jesus was questioned one day about his actions on a Sabbath, he said to those who complained, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

God’s intention has always been that Sabbath rest would be an opportunity for us to take a break from life as usual, to allow ourselves time for something else. We would find in Sabbath rest opportunity  to ponder things of eternity and the things of God. It would allow us to renew our body, souls and spirits . . . it would offer space to heal our  wounds and for our souls to be restored.

Wayne Muller in his book “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives,” writes “If we forget to rest we will work too hard and forget our more tender mercies, forget those we love, forget our children and our natural wonder. God says: “Please don’t. It is a waste of a tremendous gift I have given you. If you knew the value of your life, you would not waste a single breath. So I give you this commandment: Remember to rest. This is not a life-style suggestion, but a commandment – – – remember to play and bless and eat with those you love, and take comfort, easy and long, in this gift of sacred rest.”

*Traditionally, the Sabbath was thought of as the Seventh Day of the week (or Saturday by our calendar). Christians began to worship on Sunday as they remembered that Christ was raised to life on the first day of the week.

John Wesley’s “Aha” Moment on Aldersgate Street

We call them “Aha” moments, where an insight, a truth or an awareness touches us in a way that has never happened to us before. The same words we have heard for years suddenly hit us in a uniquely different way. John Wesley had one of those moments on May 24, 1738.   People of the Wesleyan heritage continue to celebrate the day as Aldersgate’s Day. For Wesley, the  founder of Methodism, it was a life changing experience . . One that would influence him for the rest of his life. He writes in his journal: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

John Wesley carried a heavy burden when he headed to Aldersgate Street that night. He had returned to England after a short time as a missionary in the Georgia Colonies. Feeling the sting of failure and defeat,   he was painfully aware of the mistakes he had made and the attitude which got him sent home by the governor of the colony. The night of May 24th, 1738 Wesley  left home with a heavy spirit.  He returned with a joy in God’s compassionate love.  That transcendent moment became foundational in John Wesley’s life. Before he was only saying the words of faith, now they came alive. Before he knew about faith, after he experienced the presence of the living God. Before he believed with his intellect, forever after he would believe with his heart.

That night, he knew with a certainty that whatever he had done wrong, whatever mistakes he had made, however foolish he might have been and even the hurt he had inflicted – were not greater than God’s love and forgiveness. God was telling him in that moment, that  he was forgiven. God’s love for him was real. This knowledge and assurance gave Wesley new courage to move beyond the limitations of yesterday and moved him out into the world. God was working in his life to bring renewal and hope to millions of people. From then on, he would face the world with courage hope and faith.

Throughout the centuries there have been men, women and children who have also  experienced the warmed heart . . . People of all ages and stations in life. The message of assuring grace is a reminder of our place in God’s heart. It is a source of strength and hope. God’s touch can turn a life around. It can make friends out of strangers  . . . it can guide us to God’s truth. Our one common awareness of God’s Spirit can transcend differences in theology, doctrine and belief.

John Wesley would ask people of other traditions, “Is  your heart right, as my heart is with yours? I ask no further question. If it is so, give me your hand. For opinions, or words, let us not destroy the work of God. Do you love and serve God? It is enough. I give you the right hand of fellowship.” John Wesley was on to something. When we see each other as God’s beloved children – even those we disagree with, we can begin to transcend our differences and work together for good.

Millennials and the Faith Community

It seems like everywhere I’ve been in recent weeks, the question of why young people aren’t joining the church, comes up in conversation. A clergy colleague’s son asks her, “Why should I join an institution that practices intolerance?” One friend, who does some volunteer work with college students says, “Young people think the church has corrupted the faith.” Pew Research, out with their latest study on religious trends, interviewed 35,000 people. They found that younger people, of all Christian backgrounds, are leaving the church and no longer claiming Christian as a part of who they are. Increasingly Millennials give themselves the title of “none” when asked their religious background.

Much of the media has not been helpful in sharing the positive in Christian faith and life. I bounce between frustration that the media doesn’t pick up on the good those faith communities are doing, and being painfully aware of the dysfunction which too often exists in churches. As faith communities we have a lot to answer for. But, I think the problem is deeper than that. Our world has so many more choices than when I was a young parent. Social media has redefined how we relate to one another. Skeptics have a larger forum. Fewer of the older generation have known how to pass on an authentic faith to their children. We put our priorities on other aspects of our children’s well being instead of growing their faith. The church and the older generation has made a mess, a very big mess of communicating the love of God to a new generation.

Yet there are other times when the church is alive and well. Increasing numbers of churches sends mission teams out to pick up after a tornado or when a hurricane strikes an area. We make health kits, send school supplies to third world nations, and build health clinics. Homeless people are fed and housed in churches, while advocating for resources to get people off of the streets. Church people staff local food banks and give generously of their resources to human need.

Still, I worry about the younger generation’s alienation from the church. I fear for their lostness and lack of trust in the God who loves them unconditionally. I fear for children who grow up without a knowledge of God. What no survey or poll can account for though, is the tug of God in a person’s heart. God has a way of finding lost children and calling us to God’s self. What is of God, will endure. The form and shape of Christianity may change in the years ahead, but nothing will hold back God’s truth. Seventy years of communist rule in the Soviet Union didn’t quench the yearning to know God. That same seed, planted in the human spirit, will exist till the end of time. Every now and then God reminds me that if God can get through my stubborn heart and mind, God can certainly get through to those I love and care about.

Life with Abundance

Once, a troubled teenager tried to trick an elderly rabbi, known for his wisdom. The boy said, “I have a bird in my hand…is it alive? Or is it dead?” He knew that if the rabbi said “Alive,” he could crush it and prove the man wrong. On the other hand, If the rabbi said “Dead” he would open his hand and let the bird fly away . . . again proving the rabbi wrong. But the rabbi was not so easily trapped, for he responded by saying, “The answer, alive or dead, is in your power and in your hands. It is what you will.”

The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, is a time to look seriously at our lives and to see that they truly are in our hands. . . . for good or for ill. God has given us the power to use our lives in ways that are life-giving or to waste them through destructive actions. Daily we make those choices through our habits, our attitudes, our relationships and our use of time. Often, we don’t consider just what it is that we are doing. But choices are ours to make. We can continue in destructive patterns, and self-defeating actions or we can make positive changes in our lives. We can ask for the help we need. We can go back to school and educate ourselves. We can get counseling for ourselves or a troubled child. We can deal with our illnesses. We can end destructive relationships. We can stop abusing alcohol, drugs and other people. We can treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can choose the path of goodness. We can reach out in love to those around us. We can learn to cope. We can draw nearer to God. We can experience the comfort and peace of God. We can accept God’s forgiveness and mercy. We can let go of yesterday’s destructiveness and move into tomorrow’s promise.

Lent, the six-week period that begins on Ash Wednesday and continues till Easter, offers us the opportunity to reflect, to grow, to ask the questions about our life that we can too easily put off. However difficult the questions may be, we have this assurance that God is with us. There is nothing that can separate us from God’s love. Not a troubled child, or an ugly divorce, a business that fails, or our personal failure. God wants for all of us to experience that abundance of life that comes in our putting ourselves in the hands of God, then following where God leads. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) May your Lenten Journey draw you more fully into that abundant and life-giving power of Christ.

Grief’s Expression

Grief’s Expression

Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family has left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.

Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. Last fall I co-led a grief class. I feel a need to reread the text for the class, to remind myself that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.

Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. They may say words meant to console which do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.

As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.