“In the Dark till I Met the Light”

Today was special at University Place Presbyterian Church — the children’s choir known as the Alleluia Singers put on their first musical theater production: Nic at Night by Kathie Hill. It was a wonderfully creative way for our community to gather, worship, and hear God’s word in a new way.

Nic at Night creatively tells the story of the pharisee, Nicodemus, covertly meeting with Jesus one night. This densely packed theological passage in the book of John contains one of the Bible’s most memorable proclamations:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

In the story, some local kids take notice of this high-status teacher sneaking around at night trying to meet with Jesus, who though a rabbi is garnering a reputation for going against rabbinical tradition, and even breaking God’s law. Nicodemus meeting with Jesus surely would have been frowned upon by his contemporaries.

In the process, Nicodemus learns as much about himself as he does about Jesus. In a moving solo, he sings the song “In the Dark” and admits:
“I was in the dark till I met the light; my cold, cold heart turned to Jesus Christ. I was in the dark, still my eyes could see, that even in the dark He was loving me.”

If only we all could meet with Jesus face to face! And yet, because of the Holy Spirit, we can meet with the risen Lord and know Jesus in a personal way. There are numerous opportunities for this, and I want to highlight a few:
Alpha will meet in the Wayside Cafe on Sunday evenings 6-8pm starting June 16 through July 28 (with a one-day Saturday retreat on Aug. 10 and a concluding session on Aug. 18).
ConneXions is a mid-size group that explores together what it means to put our knowledge and faith into action and lifestyle. They meet every Sunday at 9:30.
– There are several others through the summer, including women’s group The Well, men’s group True Men, and several weekday Bible studies. Find out more at UPPC.org “Pathways.”

May the beginning of your summer be a blessed season! We’ll continue our series on Moses next week!

In Grace,
MM

Advertisements

Moses – Murderer, Fugitive…Prophet?

“Will all the world’s oceans wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, instead my hands
Will stain the seas scarlet,
Turning the green waters red.”
— Macbeth, Act 2 scene 2

William Shakespeare had a remarkable gift for translating mere concepts into emotional realities.  In the above scene, Macbeth is suffering from the guilt of killing his king in order to take over the throne.  We all understand the intellectual concept of guilt; these words of Macbeth help bring the experience to life. 

Sometimes we forget that before he became a hero and the greatest prophet and priest of ancient Israel, Moses himself personally experienced this kind of guilt (Exodus 2:11-15). He had committed murder.  He had hidden the evidence.  He was on the run from the king.  We can only imagine his thoughts and feelings as he ran from the luxury of his adoptive royal family and off into the desert.  What will he do now?  Will he ever see his friends and family again? What must God think of him — the same God who had rescued him as a baby — now that he is a man?  Moses’ guilt and shame cannot be underestimated.  

In that moment, Moses could have never foreseen what God had in store for him. He knew he was a murderer and fugitive, but he could not have known he would one day be God’s prophet and lead the Hebrews to freedom. He could not have known just how true it is that God reveals redemption through broken people.

One of the fundamental revelations in the Bible about God is that God shows mercy to sinners. God is so often remembered only for the portrayals as wrathful, but anyone familiar with the Bible will remember that God has mercy even on the world’s first murderer, Cain, by offering him protection. God has mercy on Abraham, who is lauded for his faith but still made many mistakes. God will have mercy on Moses, though he cannot see how. And in the 21st century we sometimes take for granted God’s supreme act of mercy, when he destroyed sin and death on Jesus’ cross.

But God’s mercy does not spare us the hard lessons, as God shapes us through our failures. Surely Moses had been shaped by God’s mercy toward him when he asks God to extend the same mercy to the impatient Hebrews. And of course we don’t always enjoy that shaping. Jesus referred to it with the metaphor of a plant being pruned so that we will bear more fruit. Ouch. But we know that failure is one of life’s best teachers, so it stands to reason that God would utilize our failures to help us mature.

In those painful moments, it’s crucial to remember that God’s plans for us are far greater than we can imagine. Sitting by that well in Midian, looking down at his guilty, murderous hands, being chosen by God to lead the Hebrews to freedom was probably as far from Moses’ mind as the east is from the west. But this is also the distance from which God is willing to remove our sins from us (Ps. 103:12). So putting our faith into action as we work through our guilt and shame can sometimes be as simple (though not easy) as gritting our teeth and remembering what God has done for us in the past, including the distant past through people like Moses.

For reflection:
1) Can you recall a time when guilt was weighing you down? Did you work through it? How?
2) Guilt for wrong actions can often transform into a sense of shame, which says, “There is something wrong with me.” Are you wrestling with self-messages of shame? Are any of those messages undeserved?
3) God never appears in today’s passage, just as God doesn’t appear in 2:1-10. Does it encourage you to know that sometimes God may not be obviously present, and nevertheless working behind the scenes?
4) We often feel paralyzed by our own guilt — has it ever occurred to you that God’s will is in no way disabled by our guilt?
5) Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians believe that sin itself has been put to death (2 Cor. 5:21). While we still live repentant lives, how does this once-for-all act of Jesus change how we think about guilt?

Many blessings,
MM

Moses: By Faith

Our Lent series on repentance led us to Easter, where Jesus’ resurrection promises the forgiveness of sins, but also the believer’s entry into an entirely new world. So it’s fitting now to begin a new teaching series on Moses, who is perhaps most famous for his role in leading the Hebrews to a new land.

The New Testament book called “Hebrews” helps Christians understand our faith in the much, much broader context of the stories of “the ancients” — our predecessors in faith. In particular, Hebrews 11:23-29 recounts some of the most memorable moments of Moses’ life of faith. But many of us have not taken much time to consider what the ancients have to teach us. Rather, the modern mindset is often reversed, beholden to the assumption that what is younger and newer has more to offer than what is older and time-tested. This reversal of logic is fed by the ubiquitous consumerism in which we live, which preaches that it’s our right to have our unique needs met, and it’s our right to have whatever is new and updated.

Still, we know what it means to recognize the impact of those who have gone before us — those who had to live by faith in a future they would never see. Consider the experience of looking through an old family photo album. These aren’t just people in weird clothes or with odd hairstyles. You’re looking into the eyes of our mothers and fathers, our recent ancestors who were then experiencing as much uncertainty (or more) as we are now. Reading stories of the ancients is like looking at the family photo album of our faith. And Moses is in a lot of the photos.

Moses’ faith was so influential that he is one of only two people who lived during the Old Testament period and then also appear in the New Testament, when Jesus meets with him and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. Moses’ faith was so influential that Jewish people to this day retell the story of the exodus from Egypt, which Moses led under God, during Passover. Moses’ faith was so influential that it helped him persevere being hotly pursued by the most powerful army in the world. Moses’ faith was so influential that thousands were saved from bondage, thousands would come to know themselves as God’s people, and eventually through Christ countless billions through the centuries would become adopted daughters and sons of the most high God and be set free from the bondage of sin and death.

And ironically, Moses didn’t even physically make it to the land God promised his people.

For the next 17 weeks, we’re going to journey with Moses. We’re going to see what his story can tell us about our own stories, how his faith sets the stage for our faith, and how his life became the archetype for Jesus, who is the “pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

For reflection:
– Can you think of something an ancestor of yours did that you still benefit from? (Example: a great-grandparent that immigrated to the U.S.)
– Can you think of something you are doing now that is setting the stage for a future you may never see?
– When you think of Moses, what are the first things that come to mind?
– When you think of Moses, does anything distasteful or unpleasant come to mind?
– What does it mean to you, to “live by faith?”

Many blessings,
MM

Re:Lent – Recreate

Sometimes, we need to be reminded that there is truth about the world that we simply cannot yet see.

This week, Pastor Aaron recounted a (hilarious) story of a rigorous backpacking trip with his family and some friends. The 9-mile hike to the lake was grueling and Aaron honestly told us that several miles in, he was ready to quit! Of course, the group persevered and discovered, when the tree line parted in front of them, the grand beauty of the mountain lake. And they were able to enjoy a couple of days of heaven-on-earth.

“The worst thing is not the last thing.” –Frederick Buechner
Jesus’ disciples had just endured the worst thing they could have imagined — not an uphill mountain hike, but an uphill death march to Jesus’ crucifixion. For centuries, Christ’s followers have tried to imagine what it would have felt like to see the one they called Teacher, Master, and Friend betrayed, shamed, and executed. No wonder, then, that they all had to process Jesus’ resurrection in their own way. The gospel of John spends ample time on a disciple named Thomas, and the way he responded to the news: “So the other disciples told [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe'” (John 20:25).

The question is: what did Thomas really need? Was he doubting the news the way we typically think of doubt? Or was Thomas a pragmatist, unable to simply take his friends at their word (and a seemingly outrageous word at that!), and instead wanting to experience this news first-hand? In any case, Thomas’s realistic view of his world is one that most moderns like ourselves can certainly empathize with. We live in a post-Enlightenment, “scientific” age that claims everything we can know and need to know is attainable by way of empirical evidence and sensory experience. Many of us are like Thomas. So we can learn, as he had to learn, that there are truths (even facts, gasp!) about the world we inhabit that we have not nor cannot apprehend without God’s gracious revelation.

This is why Thomas utters such a profoundly repentant statement when Jesus does give him the gift of first-hand experience. Having touched Jesus’ wounds with his own hand, Thomas said: “My Lord and my God!” Is there any more profound way of turning away from trying to occupy a place of omniscience and turning toward the freedom of faith?

This Easter, and really every day of the year, God invites us to new experience of the resurrection life Jesus began, and therefore to a much larger vision of the paths that each of us are walking along. Jesus even gave a blessing to you and me, and countless people that would follow him in the years to come: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). What is that blessing? It is to have our vision widened from the small and temporary kingdoms of this world, to the large, eternal, and life-giving reign of God as we await the completion of the new creation begun in Jesus’ resurrection.

For reflection:
– In what ways are you like Thomas today, facing obstacles to your belief in Jesus’ resurrection?
– Beyond intellectual “faith,” what obstacles might be standing in your way of letting go of your vision for your life and beginning to learn about God’s vision for your life?
– Is there a relationship in your life that needs to be reconciled?
– Is there a disappointment in your life that you need to confront God about?
– Is there a wrongdoing you’ve committed that you need to confess and be free of?

May you know new life this Easter!
Pastor Mike

Re:Lent – Resist

I was thinking this week about the early-2000s TV show, “Supernanny.” Jo Frost visited parents struggling with extremely resistant children, even kids who got violent and screamed “I hate you!” Psychologist Dr. Deborah MacNamara writes that childhood resistance “stems from a human instinct called counterwill…when [we feel] coerced or controlled by others…Kids are only supposed to follow and obey the people they are attached to.  The only thing that trumps the counterwill is that of the attachment instinct.”

Mark 14:1-9 records a story about those who resisted Jesus and one woman who was truly attached to him. As this week brings us toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we’re going to look back to its very beginning, when he was subjected to three temptations in the wilderness, to see that Jesus resisted and overcame, because of the strength of his attachment to his heavenly Father.   

Jesus’ first temptation was for instant gratification. In today’s passage, the disciples were tempted to try and make Jesus their expectations of a messiah. The disciples needed to learn that as satisfying as it would have been to have Jesus gallop in on a stallion and retake Jerusalem by force, it would be a short-term reward, challenged sooner or later by whichever worldly king was next in line with bigger horses and  sharper swords. Immediate gratification is alluring.  But Jesus faced another temptation, too: the temptation of worldly success.

Jesus’ second temptation was for success. For Jesus, it was the temptation to prove his legitimacy as the Son of God by offering a mighty show of power.  For the disciples, it was the temptation to prove their legitimacy, by offering a mighty show of their own goodness. They had good intentions to feed the poor, I’m sure. Nevertheless, while the woman is devoted to Jesus himself, the disciples show that they are putting their work before their Lord.

Finally, Jesus was tempted with honor. Satan offered to let him be Lord of “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.” Now, I don’t think the disciples faced quite that same kind of temptation!  But if Jesus was who they thought he was — the king who would liberate them from Rome — then they would have seen honor coming in the near future.  James and John even made this audacious request of Jesus: ““Teacher…Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”  They wanted to be honored right alongside Jesus.  

In all three of the temptations we’ve looked at here, there is a stark contrast between the ways of God and the ways of the world.  These temptations may seem familiar, as we all face them at some point, in some form.  That’s why Jesus gives us the opportunity to have repentant hearts, and live repentant lives.  To resist the temptation to settle for anything less than the abundant life God wants us to experience.

For reflection:
1) When you think of “resisting temptation” was typically comes to mind?
2) Some things that tempt us are petty, while others are more important. Can you think of examples in each category?
3) Paul writes that our struggle is not against things of this world — what do you think we are we struggling against spiritually?

Many blessings,
MM

Re:Lent — Rethink

There is a sentiment in our culture that I find pretty fascinating, and it’s wrapped up in a brief little expression: “You do you.” (Or maybe, “Just do you.”) On one hand, I get it. We want to give people the space they need to live the way they need to live. And that personal freedom is a hallmark of American life. But “You do you” seems too general, too all-inclusive. It doesn’t leave room for wise discernment. And the irony is that most people who advocate for a “You do you” society can actually have some pretty strong opinions about just what “you do.”
Take a look at this recent Diet Coke ad for an example of “Just do you.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEpuN7tRFRU

I’m not the only person who thinks that there needs to be room for wise discernment. This parody of the Diet Coke ad suggests that there probably should be limits on our personal freedoms:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI8AcL_LKME

Both the ad and its parody are trying to navigate the question of when we should or shouldn’t care about or comment on other people’s lives. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus addresses this balance with one of his best metaphors: the ol’ plank-in-the-eye. People love to quote the first three words of this passage: “Do not judge.” And they’re right to quote it. There are times when it is simply wrong to pass judgment on someone. And it is probably always wrong to presume to pass ultimate judgment on someone. But did Jesus mean “Just do you, whatever that is”?

Whenever I’ve heard people cite Jesus’ command, “Do not judge,” I have never heard them follow up with his command at the end of the passage, in verse 5: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s [or sister’s] eye.” The truth is that while we are forbidden to do what only God can do and “judge” someone, we are also forbidden to notice a speck in someone’s eye and ignore it like it doesn’t matter. To be hyper-aware of others’ sins or to ignore them are both off track. Jesus is calling us to repent of these easy paths and instead exercise “sound judgment” (Prov. 3:21). There are times when it is more loving to address the smudge on someone’s face. But the point is in how we should do it.

If we want to do good for someone, to “remove their speck,” we will be more Christ-like when we begin with the grateful attitude of a recipient of mercy. That is, when we remember that the source of our goodness is God. And because of God’s goodness in Christ, we are given mercy, sinners though we are. To identify ourselves this way is not “negative” or “shaming.” It’s just true. Acknowledging it can enable us to humbly “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and earn a hearing with our sisters or brothers, because they know that while they may have a speck, we have had a plank in ours. So there’s no “judgment.” But there is help. And hope.

For reflection:
– Can you think of ways a “just do you” sentiment could be bad for a person, or even for a community?
– Can you think of any examples from world news in which someone is casting judgment without dealing with the plank in their eye? What is the “speck” they seem to be noticing? What is the “plank” they’re ignoring?
– Why do you think Jesus uses the comparison of “speck” and “plank?”
– Take a look at all of Matthew chapters 5 through 7 — in what other practices does Jesus accuse people of hypocrisy?
– Do you have a plank in your eye that you have been ignoring? What can you do to address it?

Many blessings,
MM

Re:Lent – Rebuke

“What is your name?” From the very beginning of creation, we have been given the ability to name things, including ourselves. Conversely, we have the opportunity to be known by name as well. Jesus was known by name. Known even by the demons.

In a memorable story from the book of Luke, Jesus traveled to a region called the Garasenes, a place where no respectable rabbi would ever go. And once there, he was accosted by a man Luke describes as demon-possessed. The man was naked and had lived outside for a long time, among the dead. Imagine that scene for a moment. What kinds of reactions or feelings would this scene arouse in you, were you in Jesus’ place?

Add one more element — this man knew Jesus by name. “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Before Jesus answers, he insists on an admission of true identity.
“What is your name?”
And the demon’s response: “Legion.” (That always gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

How we define our identities matters much more than perhaps we think it does, and if we define ourselves based on untruths, we are bound to suffer. But when we are tempted to believe those lies, we can respond as Jesus did. And this kind of repentance is called “rebuke.” In contemporary culture, we rarely use that word (“Yeah, the boss totally rebuked me today.”) But it is the word that describes what Jesus does to Legion here. It is how Jesus responds to the lie that Legion was living out — and forcing one of God’s beloved people to live out too.

A few weeks ago we talked about the first miracle that Jesus did in the area of repentance — he called people to drop their nets. Nets for these fishermen were a symbol of identity. And long before they knew anything or had any reason to trust Jesus, they had to drop what and who they thought they were and let Jesus begin to re–create their identity based on the Truth.

One lie that makes it hard to “drop our nets” is that God is untrustworthy. Another lie is that God will make you do something awful, or make you sacrifice everything you love. And finally, another is that God cannot actually save you, so it’s a waste of time to give Christ your life. These are, of course, the same kinds of lies Jesus is tempted by in the wilderness.

And just as Jesus rebuked Satan in the wilderness, and just as Jesus rebuked Legion in the Garasenes, we too can rebuke the lies of God’s enemy. When we don’t, those lies can grow around us, slowly and invasively, like ivy climbing the trunk of an otherwise strong tree and sapping it of its life.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can rebuke the enemy and all his lies, and experience freedom to be the adopted daughters and sons of God through Jesus Christ that God calls us to be. We can live the truth that God redeems us to live.

For reflection:
1) Who are you? How do you define your identity? Whose influence over your identity do you allow into your life?
2) Legion tries to negotiate the terms of the exorcism — in what ways do we, even when rebuked in our own lies, still try to grasp at control?
3) Describe the man after the demon is gone. How would you describe his identity? How would you describe his experience in terms of “repentance” and “salvation”?

Many blessings,
Mike

Re:Lent — Repent

Wednesday March 6, 2019 was known as “Ash Wednesday.” It is the official beginning of the season of Lent (from the word meaning “spring”) which is the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday (not counting Sundays). Lent is a season during which Jesus’ people recognize their mortality, their need for God’s grace and mercy, and prepare themselves to fully embrace Jesus’ gift — his own life for our sake (1 Peter 2:21-24). Since that time, Christians have been able to look back in the assuring knowledge that the cross would not have the final say, but sin and death themselves were defeated, and Christ’s victory was sealed in Jesus’ resurrection, which inaugurates God’s new creation and the inbreaking Kingdom of God.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This Lent, UPPC will engage in a teaching series called “Re:Lent,” a chance to contemplate the process and meaning of repentance. The word “repent” essentially means a change of disposition. Some might say a “change of heart” or “change of mind,” but more holistically it means both…and more.

When Jesus first called his disciples, they were in the middle of working their trade — fishing. This was likely a trade they had been handed down not only for generations, but even for centuries. But when Jesus called them to follow him, they “left their nets and followed him” (Mark 1:9-20).

What a powerful image for us to recall today, when Jesus calls us to follow him. It is a call, in essence, to change. And hey, everybody loves change, right? Wrong. Change is hard, everyone knows that. But change is what it takes to experience abundant life in Christ. What needs to change?

There are three myths that we tend to believe, and ways we can “repent” or “change our dispositions” toward them.
Myth 1) “You are in control of your life.” Yeeeah, no. Sure, you might get to choose what kind of breakfast cereal to buy. But look a little deeper. All it takes in the Seattle area is a dusting of snow for the whole Puget Sound to panic, realizing how little control we really have over, well, anything.
Repent with Surrender. When the Israelites had to survive only on God’s daily gift of manna, they learned how to surrender control and trust God completely. While we are called to be responsible and wise, when it comes to ultimate control, give it to the only One who has it.
Myth 2) “Your life is all about you.” This one is sneaky. Who else is my life about?! But anyone who has felt the joy of blessing someone else knows there’s a lot more to life than living it for oneself.
Repent with Service. Jesus said it, and it proves to be true generation after generation: anyone who loses their life for Jesus’ sake will save it (Luke 9:24).
Myth 3) You’ll live forever. Okay, no one really believes that, but we often live like we do, right? But while no one likes to dwell on it, the truth is that mortal death will come to us all.
Repent with Resurrection. Actively remember Jesus’ resurrection and promise that one day all who have given him their lives will live eternally in God’s new creation. And live like you believe it, that is, turn away from all that leads to death and turn toward God, who alone gives life. Repent.

For reflection:
1) When you think of the word “repent,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?
2) Which of the three “myths” is the trickiest for you?
3) Jesus is calling you to follow him — what “nets” do you need to leave behind?

Godspeed: Names

The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep — He calls his own sheep by name

Pastor Aaron revealed this morning that when he was a young child he decided to run away from home. His first stop? 7-11. After gorging himself on candy, he remembered seeing his mother coming down the street.
“Aaron David Stewart!” she called. His mother was justifiably angry (and probably scared), and to this day, even though he was only four years old, Pastor Aaron recalls the importance of hear his mother call out his name. In what was undoubtedly unpleasant in the moment, it would become an unforgettable moment of grace and mercy.

Consider also the amount of time and energy we put into naming our children. We know it matters! In our day of increased disconnection and loneliness, the presence of God to us, represented by God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit, is so often represented by our connection with each other. Especially when we practice that connection by name. Isn’t this part of the reason why visiting a new church can be so daunting — because no one yet knows your name? And isn’t it the reason that belonging to a community of faith is so joyful and liberating?

In today’s passage, John 10:1-6, Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep and shepherd to illustrate this intimate relationship. In the middle east, the shepherd will walk into the middle of sheepfold and call them by name. And they come to him! He knows them each individually: their coloring, their tendencies. But those sheep will not respond to the voice of someone else, who is not their true shepherd. People were wondering, “Is Jesus the Messiah or what?” To give them assurance, Jesus likens himself to the ideal image of a benevolent king — the shepherd.

In our most honest moments, what do we really want? No matter how much theological prowess we may have, no matter how much money in the bank, no matter how many people we influence or how much attention we warrant…In our heart of hearts, we want our Good Shepherd to call us — to know us — by name.

But if I want the sound of that voice to be comforting, I must be willing to “go out” with him. I must be willing to leave the comfort of my pen and go where he leads. Psalm 23 reminds us that he leads us in paths of righteousness. He leads us beside still waters. He also leads us to the cross, to lose ourselves for his sake, only to have him restore to us our complete and full identity in him.

Here’s an oxymoron — “Impersonal Church.” Such a thing should not exist! Because if the Church is to embody the hands and feet of Jesus, the voice and tenor of Jesus, the love and healing touch of Jesus, then it must be a place where we are known — and know others — by name.

For reflection:
– In what communities are you known by name?
– Are you known by name in a community of Jesus’ people? If not, what risks could you take to be known?
– Do you want to be part of a community who knows you by name? Why or why not?
– If you are well-known by name in your community, how could you challenge yourself this week to know others by name?

Many blessings,
MM

Godspeed: Pace

God is a great gift-giver, even though we often neglect or refuse his gifts. One of the most famous is this invitation from Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Right away in the next verses, Jesus shows us one of God’s main gifts — Sabbath.

Sabbath basically means “rest,” and ever since the beginning, it is the way God has set the pace of our lives. It’s even one of the ten commandments! Over the centuries, there have been countless interpretations of what it means to honor the Sabbath, and during Jesus’ earthly life there were two basic approaches, which I’ll call External and Internal.

The external approach is like the “letter of the law.” You consciously choose to do what it says, regardless of circumstances. The internal approach is like the “spirit of the law,” when the focus is on whether or not the law’s goal is being met, and then adjusting your practice accordingly. These two basic approaches are the crux of many arguments about how to honor the Sabbath: either an objective or subjective approach. But an either-or misses the mark.

Jesus’ approach to Sabbath was both-and: we both make intentional, measurable choices to shape our lives around the Sabbath (external), and we remember the purpose of Sabbath and make occasional adjustments so the purpose is being met (internal).

When Jesus’ followers picked grain on Sabbath, they weren’t abandoning God’s law. They were hungry. And Jesus used the occasion to show us that in every situation we can shape our lives around God’s pace — we can intentionally set aside time and adjust when we need to.

One of the most helpful ways to understand Sabbath comes from the Jewish theology of the temple. In the Godspeed documentary series, N.T. Wright highlights that “The Jews will tell you that the Sabbath is to time what the temple is to space…the temple is the place where heaven and earth meet, and the Sabbath is when our time and God’s time intersect.”

Are we accepting God’s invitation to experience this intersection of the divine and earthly? To fully know that God is both transcendent and imminent; both beyond us and intimately near? This is the gift of Sabbath, and we’re being invited back to set our pace by it and live at Godspeed.

For reflection:
– Take a look at this week’s schedule. Consider canceling one appointment or somehow opening up just one hour to create Sabbath-space.
– Consider what you might do in your Sabbath-space that lifts your spirit heavenward (plain old idle time rarely does the trick); make a list and fill your Sabbath-time with those activities.
– As you make a habit of creating small Sabbath-spaces in your schedule, challenge yourself to gradually increase that space with the goal of having a full day each week that is an experience of God’s presence.