Psalm 138: 1-3 & 8
MATTHEW 16: 13-20

August 27, 2023

Pause friends … close your eyes … or leave them open but in our life full of ongoing challenges my question of the day is, ‘Are you ready to get your soul in a good place? To get your soul in a good place for the rest of your life … with God by your side? Do you long to sense God’s Holy Spirit nudging you to take you in the right direction each day? Are you honestly there with the psalmist and excitedly able to declare, “I give thanks to you with all my heart, LORD! I sing your praise before all other gods?” Do you rejoice in the Lord, ALWAYS?

Several weeks ago, I urged each of you … my friends … the members, attenders, and participants in the worship services of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church of West Deptford … to add something to your weekly life’s journey, FOR LIFE. I asked you, I actually called it homework, but it was truly a call out in love for you to take the first step on your life’s soul workout that WILL help change all of the days of your life … I asked you to read the Twenty Third Psalm once a week for life … investing YOUR TIME every week to read approximately 120 words (118 words in the King James’ translation that many of us know so well) ONCE a week from the Bible or your Bible app. EVERY week.

The Lord is my shepherd … I desperately want God to be there for me. He leadeth me besides the still waters … He RESTORETH my soul. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for HIS NAME’s SAKE … not mine not yours not some athlete’s or movie star’s sake not even for some politician’s sake … FOR HIS SAKE, THE LORD GOD’s; if in these turbulent times you want to find your peace then you need to get your soul right by getting your relationship with God into the right place. I believe that you and I desperately need to have our souls restored and our souls cannot be restored without our active participation and agreement. So, pause with me to watch this video of Phil Wickham featuring Tiffany Hudson as they sing the 23rd Psalm for us.

<<PLAYING “PSALM 23 by Phil Wickham featuring Tiffany Hudson on YouTube. This can also be listened to on any streaming service. >>

Most of you know that Don Strock was briefly in the hospital this week. When a hospital technician heard him say my name, Pastor Dave, over the phone she guessed that Don must be a man of faith so she found a piece of paper and wrote this note to Don, “Be still and know that I am God …. Be still and know that I am …. Be still and know that … Be still and know … Be still … BE!” Psalm 46 verses 10 and 11 read, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is OUR REFUGE.”

And, friends as August morphs into September as the summer of 2023 turns to the golden leaves of autumn how are your souls doing? Do you have the time for stillness and in that stillness have you again welcomed the SPIRIT of the LIVING GOD? You are amongst the faithful; you are here amongst the church goers; but when was the last time that you really focused in on YOUR soul? Focused in ON giving YOUR soul a good faith workout? To get you and that soul of yours ready for the short term and the long-term journeys in life? That is truly THE CHALLENGE for Christians in the 21st century, are we willing or even interested in making our faith stronger? Is that our focus in life?

Many of you like me are prime examples of time invested into our physical well being. Perhaps you belong to a gym like I do … perhaps your gym bag is always at the ready in your car like mine is … and perhaps when the motivating urge such as improved health and a better life hits home you do like I do and admire the gym bag in the car and tell others that you belong to a gym even though you know you need to get into that gym.

A woman named Terry often asked me, “Pastor Dave, why can’t I hear the Holy Spirit? Why can’t I sense the Spirit of God?” My response to this good woman was ‘let’s look at your schedule; let’s map out the amount of time you set aside to read God’s Word, to pray, and to actually worship God without worrying about how long or short a time period you need to worship.” She would laugh and say, “I have two teenagers, I have a job, I am involved in a couple of community organizations, but I do come to church most Sunday’s.” Basically, she was showing me, reminding God, and if she listened, she was informing herself why she did not hear God’s Spirit. She would even tell me that sometimes church went so long that she had to leave before worship ended to get to the kids’ activities. This is a good and faith-filled woman active in her church but like many of us overwhelmed with the world and left wondering how God wants to use her life even though in her mind there is no time available for an ongoing soul workout.

So church, I will ask the question that Jesus asked of His disciples along the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea not far from the Roman enclave where Pontius Pilate and his legions maintained their headquarters for the Holy Land …” What about you? WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?” And, I might add to that question what investment of your life and time is Jesus worth? Schedule a little too full for Jesus or your connection to God?

No, this is not a critique of any of you and I do not hold an answer book with the right and wrong answers as to how you answer the question but as people of faith, we need to be periodically pausing to consider our answer to the question as to who Jesus is.

We began today’s worship with a quote from our former Bishop, Suda Devadhar, as he quoted Gandhi in one of his sermons, “If every Christian practices Christianity, we don’t need anything else in this world.” Bishop Devadhar’s last name means “follower of God” and this dear kind man lived a life as a follower of God … in the paths of righteousness for God’s name sake. Suda would call pastors when we were sick or someone in our family was sick. His favorite phrase was “by the grace of God.” I read one of his sermons after COVID struck and his words touched a nerve when he said “In reflection of our religious faith, we need to express the content of our faith in the clearest and most coherent language. We must worship the God of life in both TRUTH and SPIRIT.”

We MUST worship the God of life in truth and spirit … but what I will always remember is how Bishop Devadhar would bring a halt to the activities of our Annual Conference meetings or of clergy gatherings whenever there was disagreement, conflict, or just confusion by saying in his Indian accent, “Brothers and sisters in Christ … let’s pause and sing together SPIRIT of the LIVING GOD … fall afresh on me.”

You see in our SOUL WORKOUTS it is not about what was, but it is about where are we now and what can our faith walks be in the coming days for God and Jesus Christ. It is not about retelling everyone how we came to know Christ but in how we are actively showcasing our faith to the world today; shining Christ’s true light in the world. Christianity is an ongoing process … living in faith is a real and active lifestyle … each of us needs to regularly and consistently give our souls a workout and Bishop Devadhar chose that hymn, which we sang this morning as a reminder … SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD FALL AFRESH ON ME. The song’s lyrics don’t offer thanks to God for taking us on mission trips in the past or for our days teaching Sunday School decades ago or attending a Bible study back in the 1990’s the song says, “Melt me, mold me, fill me, and use me.” A today message that we all requested of God this morning.

So, in planning your soul workouts for the rest of your life you need to make that call to the Spirit … FALL AFRESH ON ME … we need to ask our GOD to … LEAD ME BESIDES THE STILL WATERS …

I was gifted this week with Henri Nouwen’s powerful book, ‘Sorrow Shared,’ and one of the steps in Nouwen’s recovery is mentioned in the forward, [1]“He found a safe house in which to dwell, until he could discover the strange joy of becoming a man in a new way.”

Every year, Bishop Devadhar took teenagers from wherever he was serving God to the Taize retreat in France hoping that the young people could find God away from the distractions of the world. My daughter Colleen was blessed to have travelled with the Bishop and it was truly one of the most important moments in her faith journey.

We need to escape the world … we need to actively start our faith’s SOUL workouts … and join in Bishop Devadhar’s guiding principle, which was to “love everybody.” AMEN

The LORD will do all this for my sake. Your faithful love lasts forever, LORD! Don’t let go of what your hands have made.”

[1] A Sorrow Shared by Henri J.M. Nouwen published by Ave Maria Press

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