Week of 2/7/16: God’s Yes, Our Amen & Sabbath

   

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. (2 Corinthians 1:20-22)

Sabbath Series GraphicThis Sunday we witnessed Paul tell the Corinthian churches that God’s answer to every promise he ever made is a passionate “Yes!” and because of Christ, His life, death, resurrection, ascension and fulfillment of every promise, we can boldly say with grateful hearts, “Amen!” or (“Aaaaaaaaaaaamen!).

After both gatherings a few of you came up to me and shared how you need this conversation series about Sabbath, finding rhythms of sacred rest and allowing God to form within you a more settled presence. We talked about moving away from days filled with hurry, stress, busyness and distraction where time with God, family, friends, and even self is minimal, and almost always agenda-driven. As I confessed to you all during the conversation, I share in this struggle. Big time.

Living in a culture of distraction easily forms us. Hurriedness, busyness, consumerism, affluency, anxiety and other outside agendas (not all bad or unhealthy) over time shape us from the inside-out. The result is a disoriented life driven by activity. Just think about the place phones have in our lives. Phones are no longer tools of communication. They are tools for multi-tasking where we have instant access to social media, banking, emails, the internet, capturing memories on the fly with our camera phone, recording videos, jotting down notes and so on. All of this can be done on a tool that fits in our pockets and purses. When we eat lunch it sits on the table. When we are at home it sits on the arm of our chair. While waiting in line we play with it. Pre-teens have phones (say what you will about that but its a fact).

During my sabbatical I purchased a “burner phone” with a different number accessible to only six people. At first I thought it was cool to say, “Here’s the number to my burner phone.” It felt so covert! Until I needed to use it. Its a flip phone. Texting is laborious. The quality of sound is mediocre (which is worse for me because of the hearing loss I’ve suffered due to many years of of late night gigs playing music in loud bars back in my younger years). But I’ve gotta tell you, it was freeing. I didn’t want to text because it was so aggravating. Talking on it wasn’t all that productive because I had to repeatedly say, “I’m sorry, can you say that again?” I couldn’t surf the web because that feature in a flip phone is pitiful (I’m technologically spoiled). All in all it was nice. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and after time, I no longer wanted to do it. Imagine that. I’m currently contemplating going back to the flip phone.

Changing from an iPhone to a $19 flip phone helped release me from the system(s) I’ve created for myself (sad, right?). Smart phones aren’t inherently bad. They aren’t the problem, I am. I have allowed instant accessibility, a way of being nurtured by a culture of distraction, reformat my boundaries. Add to that to the daily rhythms of life involved in being a husband, a dad, a friend, a neighbor, a brother, a son, a pastor, and, well, my heart, mind and soul is formed more by hurriedness, busyness, anxiety and performance than anything else. I squeeze in times of prayer and sitting with the Scriptures. I wave hello to my neighbors and do not stop to talk. I sit with my son while the TV is on and during commercial breaks grab my iPhone instead of a few moments of meaningful conversation with him. I could go on. I imagine you could too.

As many of you shared Sunday, developing rhythms of sacred rest that can, through God’s Spirit, form within you a settled presence is hard to do. But we weren’t created to do it alone. We are created to experience it in community. It’s evident in the command of Sabbath:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. Exodus 20:8

Like we said, there is both a covenantal concern (God to humanity, humanity to God) and a social concern (neighbor to neighbor) to Sabbath. We will unpack this over the next few weeks. But no matter how we spin it, it is a way of being and doing that is to be experienced in community. We need each other if we are to resist the systems of anxiety, coercion, scarcity (fears of “not enough”), and exclusivism brought about by a culture of distraction in these United States.

More concretely, developing rhythms of sacred rest and settled presence is hard to do when you are tending to the responsibilities of home while loving and raising your three children. It is hard to do when your work schedule demands days out of town or more than forty-five hours per week. It is hard to do when you have your two kids involved in one sport a piece. It’s hard to do when you’re overwhelmed by loneliness. So where do we begin? Well, I think we must begin with re-examining how, why and to what we are saying, “Amen!” (to play on Paul’s words).

Each person I listened to Sunday, and so far this week, have told me in their own way that they do believe that God’s promises of peace, joy, patience, goodness, hope, love, rest and the like, are a resounding “Yes!” in Christ. It is saying “Amen!” that has become the problem. So let’s start there so we can live in the fullness of God’s Yes! to us in Christ Jesus. And I invite you to think about our weekly practice of Eucharist, and do so every day.

Each week as God’s beloved community we come to the table in the presence of Christ Jesus as our gracious Host. We share in the bread and wine as we remember God’s self-giving love revealed to us in the life and death of His Son. Each Sunday we are invited to come with the nagging questions chipping away at us all week long:

  • “Is there more to life than this?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Can God redeem my past?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Is it possible to find peace?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Does God still want me?” At the table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Will God welcome me?” At the table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Can I be forgiven for all I have done.” At the table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Can life can get any better than this?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Is there any hope in a world filled with hurt?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Am I more than the sum total of my motherhood, fatherhood, job performance, failures or bank account?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Is who I am more than my illness, poverty, loneliness, hurts, hang-up or habits?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.

At this table all are welcomed in King Jesus. We have a seat because He has secured a place for us. We are invited to taste and see the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, as God’s tangible reminder that His answer to all of His promises are “Yes!” in Christ. And when we receive this bread and wine we join the apostle Paul and all the saints before us as we boldly respond with thankful hearts a resounding “Amen!”

So, as you contemplate Sabbath this week and during the Lenten season, begin with the Person of Jesus Christ because for us, Sabbath begins and ends with God’s “Yes!” to us in Christ. Amen.

See you this Sunday.

~ Fred


If you want to go deeper in understanding Sabbath I recommend the following readings and books, all of which will play some sort of role in this conversation series:

– In the Scriptures: Exodus 20-23 (note 20:4 & 23:12); Deuteronomy 5-6 (note 5:12-15); Isaiah 55-56 (note 56:4 & 6 and how it fits in the context); Psalm 73 (note 16-17, 21-28); Matthew 11:25-12:8; Mark 2:23-28.
– Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann
– The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh
– Living into Community by Christine Pohl
– Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr

Dwelling in the Word: Allowing Scripture to Read You

This is a practice we have not only engaged a few times in our large worship gatherings on Sundays but is one we embrace throughout WCC’s missional communities (Life Connections groups) once a month.

Dwelling in the Word is a spiritual practice of reading and dwelling in the biblical text with an openness to be formed and transformed by the living Word. This practice is a unique way of allowing God to speak to us both individually and then communally. Dwelling in the Word values listening deeply to God and to one another. We read for spiritual formation by coming to Scripture and allowing the text to engage our lives and address us, as we are encountered by the God who still speaks.

In an information saturated culture, we must know that there is a difference between approaching God’s Word through informational reading and formational reading. Many Christians are unfamiliar with approaching God’s Word for formational reading, so it may be new and perhaps awkward at first. But as we dwell in God’s Word in community, we open ourselves to what God may be saying to us in and through a text. This has been the testimony of many in our Life-Connections groups.

Five Insights for Why We Practice Dwelling in the Word: 

  1. We dwell in God’s Word to gain new insights and understandings — not seeing only what we heard or read about a particular text or what we think we know about it.
  2. We read and listen to the Scripture text aware of God’s presence — not reading quickly and unconsciously.
  3. We desire to be shaped by God’s Word — not control God’s Word based on our desires, wants, or needs.
  4. We become humble servants of the text — not masters of it.
  5. We benefit from and need a variety of ways to approach God’s Word. The Spirit of God has the power to transform our lives in whatever way we approach the Scripture. Dwelling in the Word within the context of community invites the Spirit to penetrate to the innermost being of our personal and communal lives. It is here that God desires to dwell.

There are three basic “moves” to practicing Dwelling in the Word:

Move 1: Choose the Text.

► A Scripture passage is chosen to dwell on for an extended period of time with the hope that it informs and transforms the way we live in our neighborhoods, networks and third places.

Move 2: Dwelling in the Word begins by Preparing to Listen

► Before the passage is read, remain in silence. Invite each listener to remain aware of what word or phrase that could captures each hearer’s attention. Feel free to use one of the questions below for reflection.

  • After reading the text aloud allow a few moments of silence following the reading to reflect on a word, phrase, or question.

▪ What word or phrase catches your imagination?

▪ How does this text read us and our world?

▪ What is God doing in this text? What are God’s followers doing in the text?

▪ What is God saying to us through this passage? How are we being changed or transformed in our personal and communal life?

▪ What does following Jesus look like in the text?

▪ How does this text inform us about what following Jesus looks like for us here and now?

Move 3: Read the Scripture text again. After reading followed by a few moments of silence, draw back together as a community or family

► The reader invites each person to share with what we call “a reasonably friendly-looking person-stranger” for a few minutes. In larger community this should be someone they do not know very well or do not talk with regularly.

► Invite each one to take turns listening attentively and carefully to the other. Listen the other into “free speech” regarding their questions and reflections of the text. Listen carefully so that each can share what they heard the other share.

  • “Free speech” means we are not trying to correct one another’s reflection. We    are simply allowing people to process Scripture while trusting the Spirit to work.
  • This a practice in listening and in speaking; listening both to God and one another

► After sharing in pairs, each person will introduce their partner and what they heard shared about the text (meaning, challenges, etc.).

► Together everyone listens to identify if there are any common themes or particular reflections that were significant for all present.