Let the Word of Christ Dwell in you Richly
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What is the deepest desire of your heart? Let’s get serious right from the top. We asked after Christmas “Where do we go from here?” We talked about the promises of God and asked the question “What does it mean to live as people of the promise?” To start the year we heard that wonderful affirmation of God’s great love for us – “Because you are precious in my sight and honoured, and I love you.” Last week Pastor Abby preached of making our home with God, of being at home with God no matter our circumstances. What are some of the things we can do to live in the shelter of God or to make a welcome home for God in our hearts? What might this practically look like in our lives?
“What are you looking for?” “What do you want me to do for you?” These are two questions that we hear Jesus ask in the Gospels. We sometimes talk about the Bible as a place that we can go for answers, and this is true. Equally important are the questions that the Bible asks of us. One of the first stories of Jesus in John’s Gospel goes like this. Jesus was walking along one day. Two followers of John the Baptist began to follow him. He turns around and he asks them “What are you looking for?” In Mark 10, a story is told of Jesus healing a blind man outside Jericho. The blind man’s name is Bartimaeus. He’s sitting by the side of the road and begins, in the eyes of many around him, to cause a scene; calling out for help from Jesus.
An aside here - oftentimes in church or in our relationships in general, we don’t give voice to the desires of our hearts. We like to act like everything is great and we’ve got this and so on. I saw this great cartoon recently which I think pretty much sums up social interactions for many of us these days. Everything looks great in the curated box in which we appear while all around is there is chaos. It can be hard to voice the cry of our heart out loud if it seems a little unseemly. We prefer to keep things very much surface-level. Whatever community of faith you belong to, may this not be the case in our communities of faith.
Bartimaeus is in close proximity to the one in whom we are made whole, and he’s calling out “Son of David have mercy on me!” Have mercy on me. The cry for something or someone outside of ourselves to help us. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around try to quiet the blind man. This is not done! Jesus stops though, and looks at him, and asks the question.
“What do you want me to do for you?” We’ll come back to this passage in a little while.
You may have heard the phrase, “It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship.” Discuss among yourselves. To me, this is a bit reductionist and sets religion (as in doing things religiously) and relationship in unnecessary conflict. Whatever you feel about the statement, it is undeniable that to follow Christ is to be in a transforming relationship with Christ where we are made new, and we can find newness in our everyday. It’s about a daily commitment to follow the one who said “Come and see” when he was asked by those two followers of John the Baptist where he was staying. The thing about any relationship is that they need to be tended to, nurtured, paid attention to, fed, whatever image you like. I’ve quite taken to taking care of some of the plants around the church along with Dan and around my home along with Mother Micas. I have 4 of them on my office windowsill. They remind me about the need to nurture relationships so that we might have life.
Speaking of life. “I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” One of the promises of Christ. Do you find that promise being fulfilled? Are you saying “Oh yes I’m finding new life in Christ every day and it is abundant!”? Is it more of an ebb and flow, with perhaps more ebbing than flowing? Do you find yourself stagnating in the whole Christ-following thing? Is it a matter of spinning your wheels stuck in some sort of routine religious rut? Is it all too much to even think about in the midst of busy lives and pressures and the million things which demand our attention? Is the idea of new life in Christ simply lost in the boring routine of the same stuff different day that makes up so many of our lives now?
We’re going to be spending the next five weeks looking at ways to leave ourselves open for God to work God’s transforming work in our lives. It’s not a program or just another thing to add to your day, though it does take time, like nurturing any relationship does. It’s not about a formula as much as it like learning the steps of a dance that we can make our own, or learning notes and scales with which we can enter into a song, with which we can enter into a rhythm of life in which God changes us. We’ll be using this book, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, which I first picked up around 10 years ago and which is a favourite for both Pastor Abby and me. We’ll be looking at five spiritual practices – like Lectio Divina or divine reading, self-examination, prayer of the heart, solitude (so so apt these days). They are about nurturing a relationship with God that changes us in fundamental and foundational ways. When we speak of spiritual formation, we are talking about something which is at heart a mystery, something which God enacts, not something that we are called to do on our own or find the motivation and means inside of us. At the same time, it’s something which needs an effort from us to leave ourselves open to. We’ll be talking a lot about ourselves through these weeks, but spiritual transformation is not solely for our personal benefit (again it’s not all about me). It’s something that affects how we exist in the world, how we relate to God, how we relate to those closest to us, how we relate to those with whom we come into contact as we go about our days, how we relate to all of creation!
So are you ready? I’m excited! “What do you want me to do for you?” is the question with which we start off. Oftentimes our longings are met with things that come up short. RHB puts it like this – “Our longing for love is met with relationships that are fairly utilitarian and prone to fall apart under pressure. Our longing for healing and transformation is met with self-help messages that leave us briefly inspired and yet burdened by the pressure of trying to fix ourselves with some new technique or skill. Our longing for a way of life that works is most often met with an invitation to more activity, which unfortunately plays right into our compulsions and the drivenness of Western culture.” It can also leave us exhausted.
And in the middle of all this, we have this picture of Jesus walking alongside the river Jordan or standing on a road leading into the town of Jericho and he’s saying “What is it that you want?”
Think about this for a few moments. What is the desire of your heart? I encourage you to share it with someone. We’ll have a chance to share in our small groups here I’m sure. If not in a group, share it with someone who can pray with you and for you. We’re not meant to follow Christ on our own.
“What do you want me to do for you?” is the question. For me in my own life, I think of this question in the midst of a lot of uncertainty, a lot of flux, a lot of complexity. In my life right now the answer to this question of Jesus is “Lord I want your peace. I need the peace that you promised.” It can be a scary thing to look at what we desire most. We might find it self-centred or even self-serving. Know, however, that Jesus, who asks the question, is the one from whom we have all received grace upon grace. James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle. They once told Jesus that their desire was for honour and power – to sit at his right and left hand. Jesus didn’t condemn them. He told them they didn’t understand what they were asking. Jesus called the whole group together to teach them, to explain that in his Kingdom, greatness is found in service, that even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.
What do we want Jesus to do for us? Maybe what we desire points to something fundamental like “I want to know your love” or “Teach me to love as you love” or “Teach me to be fully present to you and those around me” or “Teach me what it means to depend on you” or “I want to know your joy” or “Change my heart.” May the thing we are desiring be on our hearts as we go through these five weeks and engage in these spiritual practices together.
This morning we look at a practice which immerses us in God’s word, perhaps in a new way. It’s a way to listen for God’s voice in God’s word and to respond to that voice. We’re going to read the story of Jesus and Bartimaeus in Mark 10. We’re going to hear the story 4 times. The practice again is called Lectio Divina or divine reading. So often in our world, we read things for information, or skim them or just glance at the headlines to see if they interest us. We may read to achieve some level of knowledge or expertise in a subject. We can reduce our reading to the Bible to the same thing. Sometimes we may read scripture as a means to our own ends – to make it prove something that we want to prove.
Lectio Divina is a means to allow us to hear God speaking to us in scripture. It’s a means to treasure God’s word in our hearts along with the Psalmist, to let scripture act as light and lamp to us, illuminating us inwardly. It is a way to read the Bible not so much for information as it is for relation – the relationship between us and God. It is a way for scripture to act as the writer to the Hebrews described it – judging the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, laying us bare before God who is gracious and merciful and who loves us with an everlasting love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the Bible like this – “The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love. And just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all… Do not ask “How shall I pass this on?” but “What does it say to me?” Then ponder this word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and takes possession of you.”
Pray “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Read Mark 10:46-52.
Read – Listen to the word or phrase that strikes you or catches your attention.
Reflect – How is my life touched by this word? What in my life needs to hear this word?
Respond – Respond to God in prayer. Love. Joy. Sorrow. Shame. Repentance. Conviction.
Rest – Rest in God’s presence and in the knowledge of God’s love for you.
Resolve – How will this word be lived out in our everyday lives? Continue to listen to the word that has been spoken to you. Perhaps use a picture or symbol to remind you of it.
May the words God has spoken to us this day and in the days to come be a light for us, may we treasure them. As Paul wrote so long ago to the people of Colossae – May the word of Christ dwell in you richly friends. May this be true for us all as we go through the coming days and weeks.