Sleeping on a Sunday

Exodus 33:12-17

How many things do you think we could disagree on? We all have thoughts and ideals related to faith, politics, raising children, work, health and so on. Most of us, thankfully, aren’t riled up by every point of disagreement. Although, my belief is there is a market set out to help us be.

For everything we could disagree on, we also know there is much we do affirm together. Take sabbath, for example. It’s one of the areas Christians throughout generations have consistent thoughts about. Yes, of course, there are various ideas about specific practices. By and large, however, Christians know sabbath.

Now, do we take God up on the promise of rest enough? Do we misunderstand what a day of rest is? Indeed, we could use a refresher course.

To better understand sabbath, let’s start with one word closely associated with it. Rest. For most of us, Sunday is a day of rest. At least, in name. But does that mean we’re supposed to sleep all day? Are Sundays made for nothing but lounging around?

The reality is you could sleep every second of a Sunday and still not rest, right? You could wake up and still feel restless.

So, rest, then, means more than sleeping. In fact, it’s possible to skip that great Sunday nap and be a rest with God.

And there it is. That is what sabbath is for. To learn to rest, to trust more in God. We often affirm together our conviction about God’s presence. God is with us! When we’re feeling anxious about the day’s work ahead of us, we’re grateful for God’s presence. As we walk through the fire, God’s presence, we know, gives us strength and power.

But leaning on God’s presence only when we need something runs the risk of making God more our mascot than our Lord.

Moses is a great figure of faith. We see him as the great prophet and leader of God’s people. For as much as he did to lead faithfully, he often struggled. There are moments he felt unprepared, unequipped and unworthy. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses an angel will go with him and his people to the promised land.

But that wasn’t their hope. They wanted God. So, God assures Moses, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

Is that rest from a desert wandering? Rest from battle? Rest from uncertainty? To all three, I say yes. But remember where they are going. To a land flowing with milk and honey. Even there in the place of security and promise, God’s presence will be rest.

Learning to rest in God, then, is not merely resting your eyes on a Sunday afternoon. It’s finding ways to acknowledge and stand in awe of God’s presence with you. Can we agree we could use more of that?

Stay blessed…john

When Jesus prayed

Luke 9:18-27

I want to know what it’s like to sit close to Jesus while he’s praying. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus prays often. In chapter 9, he “was praying alone, with only the disciples near him” (vs 18).

How long did Jesus pray? Did Jesus pray with his eyes closed or opened to heaven? Was his face to the ground as he prayed on bended knee? How loud did he pray? Did he mix it up?

We should find different ways to pray. Think of it as taking a different way home. When you change how you travel home, you notice other parts of your community. There are new homes, new places to see. Then there are the same old things you remember that you forgot.

However Jesus prayed that day, it got him ready. His praying feels different. “Thank you, God, for this day. Keep my family safe and bless us all today.” That’s a simple prayer. That’s an important prayer to us all.

I imagine Jesus prayed for his family and his disciples. But this scene tells me his praying went deeper than that, too. Luke doesn’t say Jesus finished praying. There’s no “Amen” and moving on to the task of the day. Instead, the text says when Jesus was praying he asked his disciples two questions. Does that mean the questions were a part of his praying? If so, Jesus included his followers in prayer.

He asked, “Who do people say that I am?” After hearing their response, he asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Preachers love that passage. It gives us the chance to ask our congregations, “Who do you say Jesus is?” That is an important consideration, after all. But let’s look again at Jesus. Why did he want to know what people thought of him? What his disciples thought of him?

Read again what he says after that to appreciate everything Jesus has in his mind. My impression is this may be a moment Jesus is making sense of his ministry. He’s contemplating what it means for others to walk in his name. In order to do that faithfully, he needed prayer.

Our Lord knew prayer strengthened his communion with God. That allowed him to juggle the thoughts and wonderings of his life. I’m never quite sure how to explain how prayer works. I’m not sure it’s good to say it does. But I do know it was a part of the life and faith of Jesus. And if our Lord needed prayer and worshiped God through prayer, then I need it, too.

Stay blessed…john

Christian reflexes

Luke 24:44-53

Last weekend, I led a youth Sunday School class. It was the first time meeting with this group on a Sunday morning since the pandemic began. How did it go? Well, I forgot the small prize I had for whomever arrived first. I also spilled coffee on one guy.

Besides that, I had fun. And we had a great discussion about learning “Christian reflexes.” That’s a term I picked up after reading a book about early-Christian faith.

Of course, there was much to learn about Christian belief in the early days of Christianity. Christian practice, though, was more important. What permeated the church’s teaching was learning to live like Jesus. Christian reflexes were the ways in which Christians carried themselves and responded to the world around them. What they believed about our Lord led to a transformation of heart and life.

These were new reflexes that replaced old ways of living.

John Wesley called it practical divinity. Today, we might call that practical theology. In less academic terms, we might say it’s not only talking the talk but walking the walk. What good is it to have a theology of loving your neighbors as yourself, for example, if you’re only going to be rude and cantankerous to everyone you meet?

That’s a reason I resonated with our Wesleyan understanding of faith. Theology is important to us. The temptation for some of us is to say, “All I need is Jesus.” Well, me, too. But that’s still theology. There’s a lot we could unpack in that little sentence. What does it mean to need Jesus? Why do you need Jesus? Your answers are a part of your theology. Now, it’s great if you can affirm your need for Jesus and explain your theology behind it. But that’s still only part of our walk with God. Scripture tells us we must walk like Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).

So, we appreciate both the merits of theological thinking and faithful living.

We see an illustration of this in the last chapter of Luke. The Lord is with his disciples. Just before Jesus ascended (verse 51), he “opened their minds to understand the scriptures (verse 45). He taught them that scripture pointed to himself. Can we call that a bit of theological training? Wouldn’t their new reading inform how they reflected on scripture itself and prepare them for their new life? What else would they need the “power from on high” for (verse 49)?

Like those disciples, you and I learn theology. But we also keep deepening our Christian reflex. And that might be the better part of faith. If you can explain what you believe but won’t embody it, you’re missing the point. What we understand about Jesus chisels a new creation out of us. That’s not just a lesson for our young people. It’s for us all.

Stay blessed…john