Saturday, July 18, 2015

Take a break by the river

Psalm 23; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Have you ever seen the Insurance commercials featuring a guy who represents all sorts of mayhem? A car accident because of texting drivers, raccoons in the attic, a fall down the stairs, a fire in the cargo area from a still burning grill, and so forth. The tag line is always something that reminds us that quality insurance protects us from mayhem better than cut-rate insurance.
It’s not my intent to tell you to get a certain insurance, but to reflect on how mayhem is everywhere. It may be the stuff that happens to us – accidents, financial stress, serious illness. There is always something unexpected in our lives that creates some mayhem.
And lately in the news around the country and around the world, there has been plenty of mayhem: shootings, riots, wars, politics, financial worries, hunger, poverty, racism, and the list goes on and on. As I shared last week, we can take a break from the constant news by turning it off, by not reading the newspaper. However, we can’t turn off the mayhem in our own lives in the same way.
There is plenty of mayhem in any age.  A few weeks ago, Jesus has sent the disciples out on a mission trip. While they are gone, Jesus remembers how John the Baptist faced his own life-ending mayhem.  In the meantime, we assume Jesus has been inundated as always with requests for healing.
Then the disciples return home and report on the successes they had in healing sick people and casting out demons. Jesus recognizes that they need some time apart, to debrief—hear the stories, get some rest. They try to escape, but the crowds keep following. Wherever they go, there is mayhem.

Today, we have as one of our readings the 23rd Psalm. It always seems to remind us of God’s care for us, and invites us to come away with Jesus and rest.
So, let’s take a stroll through the psalm and see how God can help us find some rest and some time away from the mayhem of life.
We begin by remembering that God – Jesus – is the Shepherd, and like all good shepherds, we are loved and cared for. We are fed and nourished in every way. There may be things that we want, but we receive from God all that we need.
We are invited to stWop and sit in comfort beside God’s still waters. The gentle waves of calm seas, of inland lakes and rivers reflects our own heartbeat. When we stop our frantic effort to do something, to compete with each other, when we take time to listen only to the waves lapping the beach, we can hear God’s voice – My beloved child, I love you!
When we listen and hear God’s love for us, we are made whole. We want to please the one who loves us, so we make choices that please God. We treat others kindly, passing on God’s love, so they, too, may know that wonderful love.
Even in the midst of life’s mayhem, we can find this place of respite because we know God is always with us. God’s Spirit surrounds us, behind and before us, beside and within us, above and below us. This knowledge of God’s presence reassures us, even though the mayhem remains.
In the face of mayhem, God offers us an abundance of love and mercy, an over-flowing cup-full of blessings. When we stop and listen for god’s heartbeat, we can count our blessings, and discover that they are endless.
Knowing we are so blessed leads us into deeper and deeper relationship with the divine. We know we belong to God, we are beloved children of God, and we love God in return. Taking time to be with God leads us to want more time with God.
To spend time in God’s presence, we often have to plan it. We are so surrounded by mayhem for most of our lives that it becomes easier and easier to believe that time with God is not essential to us.
It’s good, then, to occasionally hear this call to stop, to sit by the river or the sea, or even by the pool, and breathe in God’s fresh air. It’s good to ignore the mayhem for a few minutes and spend time in God’s presence.
I invite you now to do just that. Find a comfortable position. Breathe slowly, in and out. Imagine Jesus is sitting here with us, so we can have that physical reminder of God, or use whatever image of God you prefer.
Now, listen as I read the psalm. Imagine that you are a contented sheep – or lazy teenager – hanging out on the river bank. Hear and see the water lapping on the shore. Hear the birds calling to each other. Notice the squirrels playing hide and seek and the lizards defending their territory as they skitter around you. The animals have all they need. So do we.  

Psalm 23 (from Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

1The LORD is my shepherd; / I shall not be in want.
2The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures/ and leads me be side still waters.
3You restore my soul, O LORD, / and guide me along right pathways for your name's sake.
4Though I walk / through the valley of the shadow of death, / I shall fear no evil;
          for you are with me; / your rod and your staff, they  comfort me.   
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
          you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
          and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. 

This week, take a break from the mayhem of errands, doctor visits, house work and laundry, yard work and car maintenance, earning a living, and taking care of children. Take a break, and spend time each day with God.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, you called the disciples to come away with you for a time of rest. Even you found it hard to do. Encourage us, challenge us, and then be present with us. Amen