I wonder what you do to be intentional about your spiritual growth. What feeds your soul and helps you to connect with the holy in a way that brings out the best you that you can be? Today we continue our sermon series on the life of Jesus. One of the great gifts he left us is how he modeled for us how to live a spiritually fulfilling life.
Scholars have found other teachers who pre-dated him or were contemporaries of Jesus had essentially said many of the same things he said. Yet, one of the teachings that really stands as unique to him at the time was the way he characterized the spiritual life as one that is intimately relational. He used the language of calling God Abba, which roughly translates as “daddy.”
That is, he helped us imagine prayer as a connection not to some unresponsive spirit, or some mean guy in the sky you’d better not get crossways with, but as someone intimate, full of grace and mercy, someone to whom you can take your concerns and place your hopes in even when things don’t work out the way we’d like.
The gospels paint a picture of Jesus integrating several spiritual practices into his own life and as his followers we can find ways to adopt these into our own lives, too.
We learn that Jesus often disengaged from the busy-ness of life and all the demands other people put on him to go off by himself to pray. Our lesson today tells about how there were all kinds of people with real needs who pressed in on him but he just had to find times to make his own spiritual care a priority. It’s like the flight attendant says. You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask first if you are to be of any help to anybody.
We learn early on that he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. Many people give up something for the 40 days of Lent to embrace this practice. So many times giving something up reminds us of what we really need in life, and refocuses us to think about relying more on God than our usual comforts for our security. Barbara Brown Taylor calls these things our “pacifiers.” We remember that our ultimate security comes from a relationship with God, not our comforts or technology, etcetera. The idea is to take a break so we don’t become a slave to the things that are supposed to serve us.
Jesus regularly attended worship. Every week he went to the synagogue to worship. Much of the time we find him teaching in the synagogue, but he was also with the rest of the people, worshipping. Offering his thanks and praise, singing the songs, hearing the scriptures, and mobilizing to meet needs of the community. So the fact that you are here today means you are doing a good job of following Jesus. Sunday worship gives you a chance to disengage from busy-ness to do what feeds you to relax, and reflect.
Jesus spent time in study. Although he was Son of God, he was human and didn’t have a download package in his brain about history and ways different people thought. He nurtured his spirit by learning the history of God and Israel, keeping pace of what rabbis had taught, even rabbis whom he disagreed with. He knew how to rely on scripture to get through his time of temptation and to give him strength for the journey.
We read about him walking great distances on long dusty roads where he had time to reflect on his life and tend to his relationship with God. He commended connecting to nature many times. Consider the birds of the air. Consider the lilies. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
He practiced intercessory prayer and prayed for others. He prayed for God’s will to be done, not his own. He prayed for wisdom to be able to trust even when it’s hard.
Jesus told us that we connect to him, to something spiritual when we engage in acts of service. Whenever you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it also unto me. When we care for the prisoner, the sick, the oppressed, the hungry, we are doing something spiritual.
He also told us that, when we gather at the table and break bread and drink from the cup that symbolize his life poured out for us, for what he believed in, we take in the holy into our lives in a very literal way. It inspires us to give of ourselves for others as he gave of himself for us.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is a way of accepting those who are around you who are also in need of grace and forgiveness. It’s a celebration that God is still acting in the world to overcome division and strife and meet it with love and mercy and grace.
Jesus’ spirituality wasn’t a separate compartment of stuff like going off to the spa. It was integrated into his whole life. Not just something to check off the list but something he put into everything he did.
So today we wanted to try something different (a one time experience.) Instead of going on and on talking about spiritual practices, we want to help you to have a chance to experience some of them. Even the headiest scientists know that sometimes you have to have a lab where you have hands-on, experiential learning.
Pastor Susie and the worship commission have really gone all out and have been so intentional to bring you chances to have just that this morning. These are all based on the kinds of things Jesus did and have been part of the Christian tradition for centuries. The idea is to give you a chance to really engage in something spiritual for a few minutes during our worship time.
So we have several prayer stations set up for you to sample. Don’t worry, if this isn’t your thing, during this time we will have beautiful, spiritual music that you can just stay where you are and listen to and take time to meditate and pray. We’ll give you exactly 15 minutes to experience the stations we have set up for you today.
The stations are listed in your booklet. You can come forward for communion, not in a big line, but as there is space and take your time with it, make it a holy moment for you.
There is a station where you can light a candle as a sign of your prayers for yourself or others. Just as we light candles on Christmas Eve to remember Christ is the light of the world, so can these symbols of light represent where we place our trust and care.
We have a station where you can do something of service. We have cards you can sign for our shut-ins at church. Let them know you care and are thinking of them.
There is a prayer tapestry we make out of strips of paper where you can write a name or joy or concern and weave it in with other prayers and we’ll display it for the remainder of Lent.
We have a station where you can meditate in nature, just as Jesus did, by going into the Ensley Meditation garden.
One of the really cool practices is walking a labyrinth. It’s kind of like a maze with no dead-ends, a continuous path where you are drawn into the center before following it back out. It represents this going deep within your spirit in prayer and then coming back to engage the world.
Finally we have a chance, if you wish to go to the columbarium. Perhaps you want to remember and give thanks for someone in your life who has been important to you and who inspires your life that would be a place to go and give thanks.