Take a Vacation


Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 NRSV

Since I have been your pastor, one might argue that I have essentially been preaching one message.

And that is: “Jesus is calling.” Jesus is calling you, and Jesus is calling you to be his disciples, to be the church, to spring into action to be his ministers, to be a savory salt, a shining light, even a holy fire in this world.

I have said that God does not work alone in this world, and God has never worked alone in this world. Since the beginning, God has always used human beings, very ordinary people, folks like you and me, to accomplish the divine purposes for this world: God’s work of healing and justice, grace and love, mercy and peace. God uses people like you and me and the unique gifts that God has given us to respond to the needs of a hurting world.

To practice what I have been preaching, we have been very busy disciples here in Enid.

In response to several suicides in our city, we started a support group for grieving survivors.

In response to a heinous attack on the LGBT community in Orlando, we helped to lead a community prayer vigil.

In response to the needs of foster children, we hosted a back to school bash, giving out school supplies, hotdogs, and free haircuts to foster kids.

In response to a veteran of the Korean war who finds his home in poor order, we are sponsoring our third work day with Hearts for Care this coming Saturday morning. And that comes right after we work hard all week at Vacation Bible School!

And in response to people in our community who have nothing to eat on Sundays, many are talking about having a first-century style worship service that literally takes place around a table and begins with a meal.

Like I said, we have been busy disciples. And I expect us to be even more busy in the coming months as we will encourage every member of our church to serve on a ministry team.

In this morning’s scripture lesson, we notice that Jesus and his disciples have also been very busy.

They had just returned from a mission trip where they were busy using their gifts for ministry. They came back and reported to Jesus “all that they had done and taught.”

And notice how Jesus responds. “Good, don’t stop! Let’s keep working!” No, he says: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest for a while.”  In other words: “It’s time to take a vacation.”

Mark says that Jesus commanded this vacation because “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Getting away on a boat, on some cruise to some far-off peaceful place!

But when they get there, it is anything but peaceful, and Jesus and his disciples are forced to spring into action once more to meet the needs of others.

Later, when they cross over to the other side of the lake (perhaps in one more attempt to get away from the crowds), the “people at once recognized him,” so Jesus and his disciples had to go right back to work.

Hopefully, as we continue to answer the call of Jesus to do ministry here in our community, as more and more people continue to recognize us as a church that is truly on the move, being the salt and light and fire of Christ in this city, loving kindness and doing justice while walking humbly, we are going to be a very busy people.

But, here in this text, if we are truly going to be the people Jesus is calling us to be, I believe we must hear another call of Jesus. And I believe in this call from my own very recent personal experience. It is the call to relax, slow down, take it easy, take some time off, turn the cell phone off, forget your worries, and go somewhere and get away from it all. It is the call to take a vacation.

Now you are probably thinking: “Finally, something that Jesus commands me to do that I might be actually good at! Jesus says, ‘Relax, take a break, take a vacation.’ Eezy Peezy! Sign me up right now!”

But I’m not so sure this is as easy as it sounds. For it has been my experience that it is the most sincere, dedicated, and earnest disciples who are the worst when it comes to honoring the Sabbath, taking time off to just rest.

But I believe honoring the Sabbath is something that is absolutely essential, not only for our bodies, but for our salvation.

I’m sure that we do not intend to do this, but our disregard of the Sabbath, our busyness and ceaseless activity, might give the impression that we believe that it is up to us to do good, or good will not be done. It is up to us the set the world right, or the world is lost. Behind our busyness may be the blasphemous belief that we are the saviors of the world; we are the solution to what ails the world, because we have all the answers.

This is the type of narcissistic thinking that breeds triumphalism, racism, bigotry, and fear of anyone who believes differently.

The truth is, not taking a Sabbath and trusting that God is God and we are not, can be very dangerous, not only to ourselves, but to the world in which we live.

Thus, I hope that in my sermons these past six months that you did not hear me say that God created the world, but then has left it entirely all up to us!

For our God not only created the world; God is still creating. Our God not only sent and resurrected Jesus, but our God is still resurrecting, and is still sending God’s self to us through God’s Holy Spirit. Our God is not dead, inactive or ineffective. Contrary to our Deist founding fathers, our God did not create the universe and then go on some cosmic vacation.

And because of that, the good news is that we can go on vacation. Because God is continually acting, we can relish times of inactivity, reflection, and the good grace of doing absolutely nothing.

Now, I am by no means inferring that it is okay to sleep in on Sunday morning and skip church. For I believe here in this place, our Sunday worship should actually be a sacred time of rest.

While we do a lot of activity during this hour, little of it is useful, productive, or essential as the world defines these matters. We call this place a sanctuary. It is a safe-haven from our worries, an escape from the rat-race of life. We are here relaxing, resting, simply enjoying being with one another and with God.

Some of you, who I see nodding off when the sermon begins every Sunday may even relax here a little too much!

But I believe that’s okay. Because Christians have always believed that these Sunday mornings are a foretaste of eternity when we shall have nothing better to do but to rest from our labors, to relax, and enjoy being in the presence of God, not just one day a week on Sunday, but forever. Our destiny is rest in in the hands of God: Sabbath-rest forever.

Sabbath rest is a great tribute to God. For it declares that our ultimate destiny is not in our hands. Our ultimate salvation is not the result of our vigorous, hard work, or even what we think is our good, holy work. The significance of our lives is in what God is doing, never in what we are doing.

Now, I know that this flies in the face of what I often preach. For I often say that church is where we come to find out what we’re doing wrong and to get motivated to do right. Church is where we come to get encouraged to make a commitment to pick up our crosses to serve God in this world. That’s why the last hymn we sing is called a hymn of commitment or a hymn response. It is a hymn of action. That’s why we end our services with a commissioning, as well as a benediction.

But church should also be a place of rest. We come here to celebrate not only what we have done, but to glorify what God has done in Christ, to rest assured in the grace of Christ.

One of my favorite preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, reminds us that the commandment about the Sabbath is the longest of all the commandments. More is written about the Sabbath in the Hebrew Scriptures than any other commandment.

And she points out that the Sabbath is the only one of God’s creations called “holy.” Everything else is called “good.” Only the Sabbath is called “holy.” She points out that the sanctification of time preceded the sanctification of persons or the sanctification of places. People were not sanctified until they became the chosen people. Places were not sanctified until the Tabernacle was built. The Sabbath, however, was the first and truest medium of God’s presence and holiness.

This is why after Jesus’ disciples report to him all the good things that they have accomplished as his ministers in the world, Jesus invites them, permits them, commands them, to get away from the press of the crowds to relax, rejuvenate, and be restored.

We stress the other commands of Jesus: Love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, feed the hungry, heal the sick, do not judge, forgive sin. Why not equally stress this command?

The good news we need to stress this day is that Jesus commands us to take a vacation!

Do you know what would be a good idea? While we are encouraging every member to serve on a ministry team, we need someone to start a Sabbath ministry team that will help us all take vacations! Seriously, let’s start a ministry team to plan a Caribbean cruise, or a week-long stay at an all-inclusive resort in Cabo!

Thank God that the world is not in our hands. The future is not solely ours to determine.

We can do God’s work as it is entrusted to us. We can work hard to be salt and light to the world. We can do justice. And then we can take a Sabbath, resting secure that the most important work is God’s work.

So, if you have not yet taken a vacation, gone some place to get away from it all, experienced a change in scenery, seen the ocean or climbed a mountain, taken a break from all of your work and worries, I hope that you will do it soon. After all, Jesus permits, invites, and commands us all to rest!

Do This and Live

dallas shootings

Luke 10:25-37 NRSV

Sometimes preachers can begin preparing their sermon too early. I began working on this sermon more than a week ago. I chose the theme, the point and the title of the sermon early Tuesday morning.

As you can probably tell by the title of my sermon, “Do This and Live,” the point of my message this morning was going to be that it is high time for Christians to put our faith into action.

In the beginning of Luke 10, we read Jesus saying to seventy of his followers: “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.” Then he commissions them to do some pretty big things: bring peace to the people, cure the sick, work to bring the kingdom of God near.

This was going to be my sermon.

I was going to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, tell how he overcame his fear of the other, how he reached out and reached down to help him in his time of distress, and then I was going to quote Jesus, by saying: “Go and do likewise.” “Do this and live.”

I was going to say that it is time for us act, to go and do likewise.

I was going to say that the Samaritan did not merely wish the man lying in the ditch well. He did not just send his thoughts and his prayers. He didn’t mull over the situation, consider  the risk involved, ask whether or not his insurance would cover it. He just acted.

I was going to encourage you to be the church that Shannon often describes as one that is “on the move.”

I was going to admonish you to move beyond thoughts and prayers, study and contemplation, to be more committed than ever to truly be a movement for wholeness in this fragmented world.

A movement. Not a team of thinkers.

A movement. Not philosophy class.

A movement. Not a club of theorists.

A movement. Not a group of day dreamers.

A movement. Not a church of well-wishers.

A movement, a body of doers, doing all that we can, when we can, with all that we have been given,

working for wholeness in a creation that is broken,

working for justice in systems of inequality,

working for mercy and grace in a society of bigotry and prejudice,

working for peace in a culture of war and violence,

working for truth in a nation of politics,

working for love in a world of hate,

working for hope in a world of despair.

However, after the horrific events continued to unfold this week, I went back to our scripture lesson to read it once more in the light of what has been a horrendous week for our country.

Surely, God has something else to say to us this week.

The first time I read the story, I read it the way many read it. By understanding that God wants us to see ourselves in that Good Samaritan, that God wants us to overcome our fear of the other and act to truly love others as we love ourselves. God wants us to courageously go out, reach out and reach down to help those who have been left behind, put down, beaten up.

But after a week in which we witnessed 250 murders in Baghdad, the murder of two African Americans in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, and the murders of five police officers in Dallas, I began to read the text differently.

Instead of seeing ourselves in that Good Samaritan, perhaps God needs us to acknowledge today that we are more like one who has been robbed, beaten, and left bleeding, half-dead in a ditch on the side of a wilderness road.

That is where I believe we truly are as Americans today. We have been robbed: robbed of pride and dignity, robbed of trust and hope, and robbed of peace and security. We have been beaten: beaten by racism and hate, beaten by terrorism and violence, and beaten by confusion and despair. And we are bleeding. We are bleeding tears, bleeding fear, and bleeding anger.

And honestly, we are currently unable to act sensibly, unable to move courageously, and certainly unable to be any semblance of a movement for wholeness, because we ourselves are not whole. We are broken, barely making it, not knowing whether we might live or die.

And one by one, people are passing us by. Friends are disappointing us, and even people of faith are letting us down. We are being treated as if our lives do not matter.

But here is the good news:

The good news is that someone is coming towards us. Someone is coming very near to us. Although we cannot comprehend it, we sense his presence.

He is but a stranger to us. His ways are not our ways. He comes from a foreign land. He is one who has been despised and rejected by the world, a man of sorrows held in low esteem.

But when this strange one sees us, as he becomes acquainted with our suffering, he is immediately moved with compassion. He is moved thoroughly and deeply.

We have been beaten so badly, he does not recognize if we are black or white, Jew or Muslim, male or female.

Yet, he suffers with us, and he suffers for us. His empathy towards us brings him down to his knees. We can feel his warmth. We perceive his empathy. And then, kneeling beside us, with his own hands, he tends to the places where we have been hurt. He stops the bleeding. He cleanses our lacerations. A costly wine poured out. Carefully, attentively and lovingly, he bandages all of our wounds.

He then puts his arms around us. Although we still cannot make out his face, cannot comprehend his actions, we instinctively know that we can trust him. We can trust him. So we put hands around his neck as he picks us up.

He picks us up and carries us until we reach a safe place, a place where no one judges us, a place where we are welcomed and accepted just as we are.

He stays beside us and continues to care for us. He gives us warm bread and something refreshing to drink. He stays with us through the darkness of the night, holding us, loving us, assuring us that we will not only have life, but we will have life abundantly, assuring us that a new day will dawn and we will be a part of it.

And when that day comes, he sacrificially pays the price for our care, for our healing, for our salvation. And then he places us in the hands of others who will care for us, shepherd us, love us as he loved us.

He then tells us that he must go, but before he departs, he makes a promise. I will come again. I will surely come again, and whatever your debt may be, I will take care of it. I will pay it in full. I will forgive it fully, completely. Grace will be yours not only today, but forever.

And our cups runneth over. We are healed, made whole. We have been saved. For we have never experienced such a love, a love without conditions, a grace without limits, a mercy without reservations.

This afternoon, our church is partnering with Youth and Family Services to host a back to school bash for foster children living here in Garfield County. We will have games, provide haircuts, and give out book bags with school supplies. Most of all, we will give them our love.

We will let them know that today they come to a safe place. A place where no one will judge them, a place where they will be accepted and welcomed.

We will let them know that there is a community here that will hold them, love them unconditionally, share mercy with them unreservedly, and offer grace to them with no strings attached whatsoever.

We are not going to merely offer these foster kids our thoughts and prayers. We are not going to just wish them well. We are going to act.

And we are going to continue these acts of grace with others in our community who find themselves in need. We are truly committed to be a church on the move.

However, before we can do this, before we can be a body of doers, before we can go and hold others in the light of Christ, a light that will certainly drive away the darkness, I believe we first need to be held in that light ourselves.

Before we can envelop others with a love that will drive out the hate, we first need to know that we have been embraced by such a love. Before we can become a movement for wholeness, we first need to be made whole.

And if we do this, accept this love, receive this grace, allow this mercy to take a hold of us, pick us up, heal us, redeem us, and transform us, if we do this, we will live.

And then, we can share this life with others. We can truly be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

Patriotic Dis-ease

wiesel 3

Matthew 22:15-22 NRSV

Most preachers that I know are on vacation this week. One reason, of course, is that it the Fourth of July Weekend, a time when many Americans take a vacation. The other reason is that is the the Fourth of July Weekend, a time when preaching the gospel of Christ can be more than a little tricky. For isn’t this the one topic that we are supposed to try to avoid, religion and politics? I tried to be gone today. Let Shannon worry about preaching. But the beach house that we wanted was already rented this week.

Because what preachers would like to do on this day is to preach a feel-good, God-bless-America-baseball-hot-dogs-mama-and-apple-pie sermon. We want to stand beside the stars and stripes and deliver a sermon that will make us want to go home and set fire to some sparkers and sing I’m Proud to Be An American with Lee Greenwood.

However, despite our efforts, despite our studying and despite our praying, if we are to be true to the gospel of Christ, while at the same time trying to deliver a sermon that is culturally, socially and politically relevant, we know that it is simply impossible to preach such a sermon.

One day, Jesus was facing his critics. They asked him a question in order to entrap him.

“Jesus should we pay taxes to Caesar?”

Jesus says, “My pockets are empty. Who’s got a coin.”

Someone pulls out a drachma, with the image of Tiberius stamped on it.

“Whose picture is on it?” Jesus asked.

“Well, it’s Tiberius Caesar.”

Jesus says, “Well give it to him.  But you be careful.  Don’t give to Caesar that which belongs to God.”  End of lesson.

Here’s the frustrating part for me when I’m studying this: “End of lesson?” Did I miss something? Did Jesus ever really answer the question?  Should we pay taxes or not?

What belongs to Caesar? And what belongs to God? And wait a minute, doesn’t everything belong to God?

Do you feel the frustration?

Here’s the only conclusion that I can draw. And believe you me, it’s the one conclusion that preachers who want to preach a God-bless-the- good-ol’-U-S-of-A sermon do not want to draw this weekend. That is, when it comes to what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, when it comes when it comes to faith and politics, perhaps we are supposed to be frustrated. When it comes to matters of church and state, God and country, prophets and politicians, gospel and government, maybe Jesus wants us to be uneasy. When it comes to patriotism, maybe Jesus wants us to be at dis-ease.

As a follower of Christ, have you ever placed your hand on your heart and said, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands,” and felt a little uneasy, a little uncomfortable?  During that pledge, have you ever thought, “wait a minute, my heart, my soul, my allegiance belongs to God, not Barak Obama!”

Have ever held out your hands and said the pledge to Oklahoma, and thought, “hold on a second, my fidelity is to Christ, not Mary Fallin!”

My hope is that is why some Christians got so riled up a few years ago when a judge ruled to take “under God” out of the pledge. The government is under God, a step below God. God and only God has our ultimate allegiance.

And maybe this dis-ease, this angst, this tension between heaven and earth, is exactly what Jesus wants to us to experience this weekend.

Let me give you two great examples of great patriots who experienced this patriotic dis-ease.

Thomas Jefferson never did possess the moral courage to liberate slaves, even though he knew that slavery was evil. Yet, before he died, as he considered the institution of slavery, as he thought about the slaves he owned, Jefferson said, “I tremble every time I remember that God is just.”  At least Jefferson had enough moral and ethical insight to be able to tremble.

Abraham Lincoln also trembled when he considered the paradox of war: using evil to end evil and the problem of God in the midst of it.  Speaking of the two sides of the Civil War in his second inaugural address, Lincoln said:

Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the seat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.

Jefferson and Lincoln both understood something about patriotic dis-ease. Their service to their country was undeniably loyal. However, their loyalty, to their country in the light of God made them incredibly uneasy.

A Jewish Rabbi was speaking one day defending the Jewish position against hunting. “A good Jew never hunts,” said the Rabbi. We are permitted to kill animals, but never for joy, never out of pleasure. We can kill, but we only kill with regret.”

Someone responded to the Rabbi, “Regret?  Isn’t that a bit weak to serve as a basis of morality?”

“Don’t knock regret,” said the Rabbi.  There are some things that are not so much right or wrong as deeply, unavoidably, regrettable.”

So, maybe the message that Christian Americans need to hear, more than anything else, is that when it comes to patriotism, the most Christian response is one of regret or dis-ease.

Perhaps the greatest sin is not to care, to never tremble, to never regret, to be completely at ease, entirely comfortable when we are saluting the flag, singing the national anthem, or watching our fireworks. Perhaps the greatest sin is to be completely comfortable when we pay our taxes with the knowledge of the waste, the immorality, the injustice, and the inequality that is so much a part of our government.

Aushwitz survivor Elie Wiesel, who passed away yesterday, once reminded us, “The opposite of love is not hate. it’s indifference.”

Those of us who are trying to follow Jesus should never be indifferent. We must always be willing to speak out when we think our nation is wrong, and do what we can to rectify those wrongs, because our love for Christ is stronger than our affection for our country.

The prophets who spoke out against the injustices wrought by Israel and the disciples who were imprisoned for disobeying Rome, teach us about this uneasiness. Our allegiance to country never means blindly accepting our faults, never questioning our past, and never second-guessing how current policies will affect our future. Allegiance means faithfully doing our part working to “mend thine every flaw.”

It means being loyal, law-abiding citizens. However, it also means working to change laws that need to be changed. It means honoring our civic duty of voting in elections. However, it also means correcting elected officials who dishonor our nation.

As Christians, the Commander-in-Chief is not our chief commander. The Supreme Court is not our supreme being. Our allegiance is first pledged to something that is bigger than our nation, even larger than our world. We don’t give to the government that which belongs to God.

It is an allegiance that informs our vote, rallies our civic duties, and yet, sometimes calls us to civil disobedience. For the Christian, it is the God revealed through the words and works of Jesus who becomes our civil conscience. We believe the law of God revealed through Christ supersedes every human law.

Immediately following Paul’s words regarding good citizenship and obeying the law in Romans chapter 13, we read that every one of God’s laws is summed up in just one law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said it this way: “On this hang all of the laws of the prophets “…that you love your neighbor as yourself.”

And just in case some are still confused to what “love” is, Paul defines love by saying: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”

This is the law of God. Jesus said, “There is no law greater.” It is as if Christ is saying, “If you don’t get anything else from Holy Scripture, if you don’t get anything else out of going to church, you need to get this: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Yet, as evidenced by the amount of division, hatred, racism, and bigotry that is in our nation today, in government policies, even in the American church, this supreme law is widely ignored, disobeyed or rejected all together.

There is much talk today about Christians standing up and speaking out to take our country back, to reverse the moral decay of our society. I believe there is still hope for us to be a great nation; if we would only pledge our allegiance to the supreme law of God, giving to God that which belongs to God.

For when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when in everything we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, it quickly becomes “self-evident that all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

So, when the flag passes us by tomorrow, or when we pay our taxes, or vote, when we are asked to support some government policy, when we are considering the future of our nation, state, and city, our councils and agencies, schools and prisons, military and police, may we never be so comfortable that we  give to the government that which we ought to give to God!

Let us pray together.

When it comes to patriotism, O God, may we always tremble, may we always have some regret, may we always be at dis-ease, lest we give to the state that which we ought to give to you. Amen.