Psalm 23
JOHN 15: 9-17

May 5, 2024

I have again found words that I need in the middle of a book, a book which was left for me to pick up and read this week. A book gifted to me by someone who cares about me and sort of understands that in the month of May 2024 I needed and need the book entitled, ‘As Long As You Need’ by J.S. Park. Amidst the pages I soon discovered the author’s use of the Zulu phrase[1],”Ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” The phrase roughly translates to “a person is a person through other people.”

In this life … as we struggle … as we consider life and our role in life it is so true that we need other people. We become the person we are from our earliest days and hopefully as we continue to grow and learn through our current days … we develop through people in our lives. People of faith who reminds us of God. And, then if we hear God’s call we also impact those around us. But our directions begin with ourselves. Where we go … how we live … who we listen to … whether God matters begins with you and me.

An interesting concept that is the headliner of a chapter in the book is entitled “Lifting in Mist, We Drift.” Life’s fogs, life’s challenges, life’s health realities, as well as our sense of confusion and loss often sets us adrift into being less of ourselves as our focus seems to have no rational direction any longer. Perhaps we use that as our excuse for not living life in the fullest way possible. We ignore God and we get lost and never try to get back.

And, as we come to worship today … on a Sunday when the Table of the Lord offers us the minimal human substance of a tiny piece of bread and some juice of the grape I realize that some here and in other churches may be more focused on complaining about the type of liquid they are consuming or on the bread or the process rather than allowing God to overwhelm them in a special Sacramental worship moment. I know I have complained in the past and probably will complain again about dry tasteless wafers used in Communion at some churches. Yes, we are humans … we slip and fall and even in church sometimes we want to complain, gossip or even take down others in their human realities.

It seems we do drift a lot … we lose our focus … we allow ourselves to become unaware of our surroundings or direction or use words we wouldn’t want to have used against us and yes, all too often we lose our simple boyish or girlish charm.

The global society of which we are all a part of has these days allowed us to pull apart and be dismissive of each other. We are called to identify what’s wrong about another and some even return to junior-high school practices by name calling groups of people silly names intended to minimize those they dislike.

Our children’s generation and those even younger may lead the parade but vast numbers of human beings, including myself, are far too focused these days on little screens on our telephones that are constantly pumping information from who knows what sources with games and gossip, and opportunities to rant and rave about each bit of minutia that we can grasp onto especially if it allows us to highlight someone else’s faults and shortcomings. Don’t you miss the landlines and not carrying around a powerful computer wherever you go … do you even remember the days of talking with rather than against your neighbor? When you actually were disconnected from time to time?

I was talking with a former volunteer firefighter earlier this week who said ‘young people do not want to give their time’ to keep neighborhoods safe and another conversation noted that employers no longer allow their management members to be community activists through the Rotary or Kiwanis not that anyone really wants to be helpful in the community any longer.

And, we see the Sunday attendance numbers shrinking and more folks not stepping up. Bible studies take too much time. One wonders what the future holds but then friends our current realities that we complain about … they come back full circle. To each of us.

Life … you and me. Our days … our journeys … our needs … the future because we can’t change the past … it all begins with you and me. How do we care for ourselves? It begins with you … it begins with me.

In Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE we hear the psalmist declare, “GOD my shepherd!! I don’t need a thing because YOU have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. You let me catch my breath. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing, I’m back in the house of God.”

Yes, God is always ready. It’s easy to say God will rescue us and care for us but unless we actively choose to be cared for it can’t happen. You and I we need to declare and live as if God is our shepherd. As if Jesus is not a name from history but is the One who has changed our direction for living … changed the words we use … changed our ability to forgive others their mistakes, shortcomings and human weaknesses. And, we need to allow our lives to be taken over by God.

In his book, ‘Here I Am,’ Quentin Schultz writes a challenge to you and me. An interesting curve ball perhaps for people of faith who just get by. He writes, “[2]the Bible describes a personal God who calls followers to become living sacrifices. Throughout Scriptures, God’s voice engages people interrupting their own agendas and directing them to become faithful followers.” He notes that “God calls all of us in the midst of our own fears and doubt and we don’t know in advance what God will ask us to do. Nevertheless, we are called.” God wants us with God.

Revival has been a term used by people of faith for rally’s … evangelists shouting JESUS SAVES in front of crowds of folks before they move onto another location. Frequently sprinkling the idea across the tent or auditorium’s seats that one moment is all you need but in this life … in our world … in our God-connection frankly you and I need more than a singular God moment to be a believer. We need more than a yawn-filled moment in worship when we spend time casually glancing at our cell phones thinking no one notices. We need our faith to be a self-initiated personal care determination that whenever that original moment of belief in the God who created the universe … whenever we realized that the tomb was empty Jesus Christ was Risen <<HE IS RISEN INDEED>> that we become changed people and yes, it begins with you and it begins with me. God is calling us and offering us God-driven care to make us better humans … but we choose what we want.

And, it begins within today’s Gospel and it begins again with a choice. Jesus said, “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” Of course Jesus continued by reemphasizing that starting point for personal revival … that change we can choose to make or not make that then will open up the restoration I think we all need … Jesus very pointedly said, “This is my COMMANDMENT … love each other just as I have loved you.” A commandment from Jesus that we can choose to accept and follow or we can stay with the world … loving ALL … loving each other …

In that new book on my shelf, which is again serving to help me in my grief, J.S. Park in the chapter entitled “Every Wound is a Calling” includes two quotes that I found applicable on this Communion Sunday. Quotes about restoration coming from self care. The first is from 1919 and the Korean Independence Women’s Declaration, which states, “for the time does not come twice, and the work cannot pass, so let our work run fast.” And, the second is from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “Think of Others,” “As you think of others far away, think of yourself (say: If only I were a candle in the dark.”).

Friends, I know all too well the challenges of health … in fact a dental implant fell out Friday night, which was the day I was scheduled for a health procedure I need but that didn’t happen because the doctor’s office never told me to take an anti-biotic and they never sent the prescription to Rite Aid so I never could have taken it even if I had known. I know how life can get in the way of living. I know how to slip and fall and make stupid mistakes with the best of them even while I am in pain but the Table that is before us always brings me closer to God even in its simplicity … it is a moment of self care from God and I hope it blesses you in the same way.

So, from the beginning of time … God has called. God is calling. God is urging humanity to separate from human stresses and struggles to merely love God back. To embrace God. So God can help us recover.

Jesus declared, “everything I have heard from my Father … I have made known to you.”

So, I believe we need to pause and reflect on who we are for the sake of our health … for the sake of our futures. Believe me, since May 1st of last year I am fully aware of our physical shortcomings and I still have more of my own to deal with along with my other human frailties but I believe that God provides us with a chance to get better … we need to make the choice to go there.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He majesty me to lie in green pastures. He LEADETH be besides the still waters. He RESTORETH my soul. He LEADETH me in the paths of righteousness for HIS name’s sake.”

It begins with you … it begins with me … restoration awaits. AMEN

[1] ‘As Long as You Need; Permission to Grive’ J.S. Park published by W Publishing Group
[2] ‘Here I Am’ by Quentin Schultze published by Baker Books

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