The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
~ Psalm 24 (NRSV)
(Today with the scripture reading we practiced Lectio Divina, listening not for the scripture’s story, but for a word or a phrase that might stand out to us.)
I wonder, did anyone have a word or a phrase that jumped out for you? Now, I know that this practice is new, and it’s okay if nothing jumped out for you, but if you did, I would encourage you to think about that word or phrase in the week ahead. See where it shows up and what it means for you. Because words can be very important.
This summer, I have been thinking a lot about words and I’ve been reading and reflecting on a lot of inspirational quotes. Actually, I have many of them written on slips of paper on my desk, and on the background of my computer. But to be honest, most of them aren’t about Jesus, or the church or even the Bible. They are “motivational quotes,” which focus on how we as human beings look at the world around us. Because, though the Bible is very important to our faith journey, we sometimes need to look through or even beyond its stories to fully understand. The inspirational quote that I spent time focusing on this week, both through a personal lens and through the lens of the church, is: “If you want something in your life that you have never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.”
The truth is when we walk through our days doing what we always do, doing what we think we are supposed to do, and doing what we are comfortable doing, then we often have our eyes and ears closed to the world around us and more importantly closed to God’s still speaking voice. Sure, we come to worship each week, and after the scripture lesson we take a deep breath and we take a moment to center ourselves and to quiet our souls, as we listen for God’s still speaking voice. But we know that within a minute or two, the sermon will begin, and we can start to focus on something else. Even the young ones in our congregation have learned the rhythm of worship by experiencing it week after week. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a wonderful thing.
There can be a real comfort in ritual and repetition, but every once in a while, we need to make a change. We need to step out of our comfort zone. We need to look at the world around us through a different lens.
Last week, we read Psalm 48 and we took time to look at its historical context, learning about what was happening in Jerusalem at the time and how that would have affected the psalmist. We tried to get inside his head, to imagine what life was like and how we would react if we were in that same situation. We talked about how amazing God is, and the fact that God is bigger than anything we can fathom. And how we, as human beings, sometimes forget that we are made in God’s image because we are often too busy trying to make God in our image.
But sometimes when we dissect scripture like that and research it to the “nth” degree, while we may be able to understand it a little more historically or chronologically, sometimes I think we lose the point because we forget to listen for God’s voice in it and we don’t allow room for the Holy Spirit to work through it. We become too busy trying to break it down and control it. We want to be the all knowing ones. We want to have all the answers. We want to understand the ins and the outs because as human beings we like to be the ones in control.
To be honest, that’s why I love the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina, because it takes that need to control, out of our hands and it teaches us the importance of opening our hearts and simply waiting for the movement of the Holy Spirit. Over the years, the part that I have learned to cherish the most about Lectio Divina is that sometimes we hear God’s voice and sometimes we don’t. It’s not a sure thing. We can’t make it happen. It’s not up to us, and it reminds us that we are not always in control.
As many of you know, I wait until Saturday to write Sunday’s sermon. Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend lots of time during the week with the scripture, because I do. Usually, on Monday and Tuesday, I research its background, and who wrote it. I look at the audience for which it was written and the theological issues and themes that it contains. I read what other theologians have said about it and about what else was happening historically and chronologically in the world at the time. Then once that work is done, I believe the real work begins. Because I take the rest of the week to simply listen and to see how and where I experience the scripture in the world.
I remember early on, I used to start to panic if I didn’t have a rough draft, or at least an outline, early in the week. But now I know that the more I try to control it, the more difficult it becomes and the more struggle I’ll face as I try to piece it together.
This week as I was sitting with scripture, the same phrase kept jumping out at me. Over and over again. I kept hearing the words, “Lift up your head.” “Lift up your head!” As I went through the week, I started to notice how many times I walked through the day with my head down, simply focusing on the task at hand or following my daily routines. Those words started ringing in my ears, “Lift up your head!” I imagined God saying, “Lift up your head! Look at the world around you. Get out of your fog. I’ve filled the world with amazing things! You are surrounded by beauty and grace. Open your eyes and look! Open your ears and listen!”
Friends, by lifting up my head this week, I saw the world anew. At night I sat outside and looked at the stars which I know have been there all along, but I hadn’t taken the time to see them. I saw a mother bird fly up into her nest just outside my office window, to feed her babies, again which I hadn’t seen before because I didn’t take the time to look. And I was filled with childlike joy as I looked up at the clouds and imagined what pictures they portrayed.
Now sometimes we can just try a little harder to pay more attention to what’s happening around us and other times it takes some type of a shift to push us from our regular routine. I had to laugh this week when I received the Stewardship Corner from Jim Fennell because it was in the midst of my listening time when I was waiting for inspiration. In Jim’s Stewardship corner, he shared the message: “Summer is a season of Sabbath. Remember to take time out of the ‘busyness’ of everyday life and enjoy the gift of the Sabbath that God has given us. When truly observing a Sabbath, we receive a ‘recharging’ that cannot be obtained any other way.”
Friends, one of the gifts that we are given, that we don’t always use or appreciate the way we should, is the gift of Sabbath. A time when we can step back from our routines, lift up our heads and appreciate the beauty and grace around us.
I know it sounds crazy, but I always tend to get nervous when I am about to go on vacation. I try to make sure that everything is in place for whoever is filling in for me here at the church and that everyone has what they need before I leave. I know that the church will be fine for the week, but I guess it’s the caregiver in me that worries about leaving the flock unattended. I’m starting to think that the message “Lift up your head” might have been God’s way of telling me to take a break from my daily routines. To take time away from my computer screen and my busy schedule. That it’s okay to take a week off. just use your Sabbath time wisely, taking in all that I have given you. Pay attention to the world around you. Don’t get caught up in the human drama, but be filled and fed by the seas and the rivers, the stars and the clouds. Lift up your head and give thanks for the simple beauty all around you, that your heart might be fed and nourished.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, lift up your heads! Don’t get caught up in the human drama all around you, but look for the beauty that has always been there. Listen closely for God’s still-speaking voice in your life, and take time for Sabbath so that you might be reminded of how truly blessed you are.
My friends May it be so, thanks be to God. Amen!