How do we create space for God?
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Busy is the new fine?
What is the most common reply you hear to the question “How are you?” Here I’m talking more of the in-passing-I’m-more-asking-for-the-sake-of-social-convention “How are you?” - not the heartfelt “Tell me how you are?” More like the “How are you?” that used to be invariably met with “Fine and you?” if things actually were fine or if the person didn’t want to get into anything deeper, although occasionally you’d hear “Terrible!” and know you were in for a longer conversation than you might have anticipated. More and more though, what you hear in response to the question “How are you?” is “Busy!”, perhaps followed by a list of all the things the person has going on, all the different directions in which the person is being pulled.
All the things we have going on. All the different directions in which we are pulled, because I’m talking about all of us. We all feel it to some extent, and if we don’t there are people around us who do. The pace of life. Everything going 120km an hour all the time.
We’re told that Jesus went through everything that we’re going through. That he understands our weaknesses, our troubles. Let us look at the scripture that Laura read to us from the gospel of Mark today to see what was going on with Jesus. How he might have responded if someone asked him after a Sabbath in Capernaum how he was doing. One thing about the gospel of Mark is that Mark does not waste any time. Things happen fast – we read words like “immediately” and “again” again and again. “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went to Simon Peter’s house.” Things happen quickly. Life was different of course. Jesus didn’t have to wonder if reaching for his smart phone to start the day was the wisest choice, but he knew something about a fast pace – of multiple demands being placed on him. At the start of our story this morning, he’s come back to Galilee proclaiming the good news, that the time has been fulfilled, the kingdom has come near, inviting people to repent, to turn toward God, to believe this good news. He invites his first disciples, brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, and the second set of brothers James and John. He spends the Sabbath in the synagogue in a town called Capernaum, teaching. He commands an unclean spirit to come out of a man there. Mark tells us in v 29 that “As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” But it was not to sit around, have something to eat, maybe catch a nap, at least not initially. He is told about Simon’s mother-in-law who’s sick with a fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up, and the fever leaves her. She serves them, we read, and I suppose then he gets something to eat. With Sabbath laws being what they were, the city waits until sundown to show up at the house. Apparently news of what had gone on that day got around town, and in v 33 we read “the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…” Rembrandt pictured this scene in a painting entitled …get the title…. Do you think Jesus might have been feeling a little overwhelmed. It was his first day after all! His first Sabbath day, anyway.
And it is here that Jesus establishes a pattern that he will follow throughout his ministry. It’s a pattern that he invites us to follow. Work. Rest. Pray. Our vision here at Blythwood is to continue Christ’s work in the world. If all we do is work, however, we are missing something. If we fall into the trap of believing that everything depends on our own competencies, our own striving, then we are missing something vital about who we are called and invited to be. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
Jesus understood priorities. He got up not only while it was dark, but while it was still very dark. He needed to make time to commune with his father. William Barclay puts it like this, “… Jesus knew well that he could not live without God; that if he was going to be forever giving out, He must at least sometimes be taking in; that if He was going to spend himself for others, he must ever and again summon spiritual forces to his aid.” He prayed. When it comes to care and compassion for others, to spending ourselves for others, we need help. I heard someone once compare it to the instructions you get in the event of an emergency on an airplane – put on your own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Prayer as an oxygen mask. Breathing God in so that we might be the breath of God for others. Continuing Christ’s work in the world, which is not always work.
Jesus would continue this pattern throughout his ministry. As I said earlier things happen very quickly in the gospel of Mark, yet in the midst of the doing, Mark tells us that Jesus takes time to be alone with God. In chapter 6 we have Jesus telling his disciples to come away to a deserted place and rest awhile, because they were coming and going so much they didn’t even have time to eat. They go off in a boat to seek this rest. On their way, however, they’re recognized and crowds are waiting for them when they arrive. Jesus begins to teach and we have the famous miracle where 5,000 are fed. In v 45-46 we read “Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.” In Mark 14 Jesus is facing his death and we read in v 32 “They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little further, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’”
For Jesus, prayer was not about getting what he wanted, it was about communing with his Abba, with his dad. For Jesus and for us, it is in this communion with God that we are enabled to do what God what have us do, to love as God would have us love, to extend grace and mercy as God would have us extend grace and mercy, to have compassion – to suffer alongside – as God suffers alongside, to not be overwhelmed by all the need around us, including our own needs, when these needs threaten to overwhelm us, when we are tempted to rely on our own skills, competencies, money, talent, good looks –whatever it is that we are tempted to rely on.
When we pray, it is not just about us talking to God. A conversation isn’t much good if it’s only one way is it? We don’t talk a lot about listening for God when we pray. God speaks to us in many ways of course. He speaks to us in the words and actions of others. He speaks to us in his creation. He speaks to me everywhere, as the old hymn goes. He speaks to us through the Word, and through his word. It’s good to take time to listen. It’s vital. We hear a lot of different voices as we go through our days – radio, tv, tablets, news feeds. Some of them are loud, some are more subtle. We’re invited to take time to listen for our Father’s voice. Henri Nouwen has a great quote – “Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen.”
This morning we’re looking at a spiritual discipline, a form of prayer that is dialogical. A form of prayer in which we listen for God’s voice. Jesus knew about listening for his father’s voice. At Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3, Luke records that a voice came from heaven that said “You are my son the beloved in whom I am well pleased.” This voice spoke to what constituted the core of Jesus’ identity. That he was beloved. It speaks to the core of our identity, that we are beloved by God. Note the posture that Jesus was in when this voice was heard in Luke 3:21 – “Now when all the people had been baptized, and when Jesus had also been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened…” In John 12:27 Jesus prays “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” Jesus heard his Father’s voice while he was in prayer.
It is in hearing God’s voice in prayer that we are reminded of things like we are loved. It is in hearing God’s voice in prayer that we are reminded of promises God has made. To never leave or forsake. To forgive. To bring justice. To make his name known – to make who God is known in and through us. Lectio Divina is a practice of reading the Bible and praying which has been around since the early church. It’s Latin for “divine reading”. Too often we read simply to get the information we need, we read things that aim to sway our opinion. We read critically or sometimes cynically. We read because we have to. Lectio Divina is a method by which we’re inviting God to speak to us through God’s word, and for this to transform us. It’s a recognition that when we come to the Bible we are not coming to it the way we come to anything else we read. It’s a way to approach the Bible longing to hear a word from God. It’s a way to approach the Bible with expectation that God will speak to us, and when God speaks, things happen. We read about what happens when God speaks in Hebrews 4:12 – “Indeed the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This business about the sword does not mean that God’s speaking is meant to harm us, or that it can be good or bad like the phrase “double-edged sword” would come to mean. It means it’s effective. It means that it reaches the very core of our being, not just our heads, not just our intellects. It means that when God speaks to us, things happen.
So, as David said, today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.
In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes LD this way:
“This is a fundamentally different kind of engagement than what we are normally accustomed to with the things we read. When we engage the scriptures for spiritual transformation, we make it our top priority to listen to God relationally rather than seeking to learn more about God cognitively… We read slowly so that we can savor each word and let its meaning sink in. Rather than rushing on to the next chapter so that we can complete a reading or study assignment, we stay in the place where God is speaking to us, contemplating its meaning for our life and our relationship. We receive it as it is given without judgement, wanting only to hear the heart of this One we love. Like the little boy Samuel, we approach the Scripture with utter openness and availability to God: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ (1 Samuel 3:9)”
I hadn’t heard about LD before 2008, when I was taking my third course at McMaster Divinity College. It’s been a key part of my own spiritual practice over the last two years or so. We have a Lectio Divina club here at church. A group of people who I send a passage to every weekday except for Monday. They’re usually around 5-8 verses long. I always recommend finding a place where you can read it out loud, so maybe not on the subway. If you’d like to know more or be a part of this do let me know. It’s rare that I come away from this type of reading without feeling that God has spoken to me through his word in a profoundly meaningful way. We’re going to go through one of these readings this morning, but before we do, I’ll go over the five steps involved:
Read – As you read the passage the first time, listen for the word or phrase that is resonating, or standing out for you.
Reflect – How is your life touched by this word right now? What in your life needed to hear this word? How are you being challenged? If the passage is a story, where do you see yourself in the scene? What do you hear as you hear these words being addressed specifically to you? How do the words connect with what is going on in your life right now?
Respond – What is our response to what we’re hearing in the text? Share this response with God. It might be joy, repentance, sorrow, need, conviction. Do you feel you’re being invited by God to respond in some way?
Rest – Take some moments to wait, to rest, to relax in God’s presence, knowing that the God we serve desires to commune with us, to speak with us. Knowing that this time spent with God is imbued with God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s great love for us.
As we prepare to gather around the Lord’s table, we’re going to listen for God together now friends, as we engage in Lectio Divina together. I’m going to read Luke 24:28-35.
The final step in this practice is Resolve, or incarnate the word we have heard from God. As we’ve taken the time to listen for God this morning friends, it’s my prayer that God will enable what we have heard to be lived out in each and every one of us. It’s my prayer that we’ll accept this invitation to listen for God in his word, to say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening, reach the depths of my innermost being with your word, and enable me to love as you love, and do what you would have me do.”