Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What is your Spiritual Practice? - Proper 16C

21 August 2016
Proper 16C

As you may have guessed, I am a lover of words. Today’s gospel passage shares with us the story of Jesus healing a woman and the fall out that comes from his actions. Healing, literally means to make whole. A perfect definition for what Jesus does for this woman in the synagogue. He makes her whole again. 

Jesus healing this lady was a gift, a gift of compassion. Not sought for, not asked for. This woman never asked to be healed. There she is minding her own business in the synagogue and Jesus interferes with her life. Simply a gift out of the goodness of Jesus' heart. He saw her and felt for her and knew he could make her better. 

Yet, this gift from Jesus was quite disturbing to the leader of the synagogue where it took place. Interestingly, the leader of the synagogue doesn't seem to be surprised that the woman is healed of a demon that has kept her bent over and away from God for 18 years. No. What surprises and bothers him is the fact that she is healed on the Sabbath day and that's not what that day is for. This leader seems to be a man who thinks that God should follow his rules. However, we know, God does not follow our rules. Jesus does not follow our rules. Jesus broke the Jewish Sabbath laws in this story in multiple ways. First, by calling this woman to come over to him in the men’s section of the synagogue from the women’s section of the synagogue. Second, by touching the woman on the Sabbath day. As an unclean person, such a touch would have ruined Jesus’ purity for the Sabbath practice. Third, by healing this woman on the Sabbath day! This woman whom he has called and touched and healed, on the day that is supposed to be dedicated completely for rest and God. Three strikes and you’re out. Jesus’ compassion cannot be confined by our boundaries, his compassion goes beyond all our rules. 

Last week, Jesus told his followers, now is the time. Today he makes no statements, no grand gestures, yet he leads us by example. After last week, when Jesus practically issued an altar call telling us that now is the time we should be paying attention, now is the time to get right with God, now is the time to be in a relationship with God, we see him putting his thoughts into action. He reminds us that now is the time to be with God. What better day than the Sabbath day? 

The Jewish leaders of the time taught that the Sabbath day was about God and doing no work. Nevertheless, it seems there is another kind of understanding about the Sabbath day at play here. Jesus seems to say, that the Sabbath day is about spending intentional time with God. And many times, this doesn't feel like rest at all. It isn't calming or easy. So we have definitely misunderstood what Sabbath means. What does Sabbath really mean? What does it mean to incorporate Sabbath into the schedule? Jesus didn't call the leaders of the synagogue hypocrites because the Sabbath is simply about rest and they do a little bit of work on the day. Yes, he can get nail them on that because it was part of the rules and they loved to live by all the rules and have all the little t's and i's dotted and crossed. But the Sabbath is really about spending time with God. Intentional time. Not just unexpected time when something comes over us, but week after week, year after year, spending time with God for listening, conversation, and learning. Spending Sabbath time with God should be as intentional as spending time with friends or family. The woman is healed and reunited with God in a way and what better day to do that then the intentionally set aside day to be with God. It was as if someone complained about confession and absolution shouldn't be done on the Sabbath day because it was work. But we do that every Sunday on our Sabbath day! Because confession and absolution brings us back into alignment with God. Which does sounds like the Sabbath day. Healing is an act of work designed to bring us back into relationship with God. 

How can we practice Sabbath then?
By coming to church! Check! Well done! 

We can practice Sabbath in a myriad of ways. Daily devotions of any kind, reading a devotional book, reading a theological book, reading scripture, practicing meditation, centering prayer, lectio divina, prayer during daily activity, gratitude lists or jars, sharing God’s healing in this world in community service.. almost anything can be a spiritual practice, designed to build our relationship with God. What matters is the intent. What matters is building our ability to listen and be open to the spirit. I said almost anything, because there are some things that cannot be spiritual practices. Being mean. Being selfish. One of my seminary professors, while teaching us about spiritual practices told us, "Can you pray while washing dishes? Yes. But can you wash dishes while you are praying?” Our intention and focus matters, even in spiritual practices. But even if taking a few minutes out of your day to be with God seems selfish to other people, who constantly want or need you, it is not. No sirree, and you can tell them I said so. If you have a hard time finding time to spend with God every day, let me know. I will do my best to help and support you. We believe that when we die, we go to be with God. And that will be very awkward if we don't already know God. 

It can be hard to start a spiritual practice when not used to doing so on your own. Christianity is a very communal religion, but it is also a very personal one. Having a personal practice both enhances worship for everyone present, and strengthens your own spiritual relationship with God. Some of the easiest practices to start with are the embodied ones. Finding a specific way to sit or stand or kneel in a specific place to pray or be with God. Jesus used touch throughout his ministry, and we continue this practice in our communities today, in reaching out to each other to share the peace, in holding hands together in prayer, in baptism, in communion, in touching and tasting bread and wine.

How is God calling you to be in relationship with him? We tend to save thinking about specific spiritual practices for Advent and Lent, when we know that we are trying to prepare ourselves for something to come. However, God is not calling us to be relationship with him during Advent and Lent. God calls us to be in relationship with him always. As a priest, as your priest, it is not my job to tell you how to have your relationship with God. It is my job to support you in your relationship with God. Which is a very different thing. Like your best friend or a family member, who supports you in your marriage, but doesn't tell you how to have your marriage. Who gives you suggestions and advice, who challenges you, but who doesn't end up talking to your husband, wife, or significant other in your place. In the end its your choice how to be in relationship with those around you. Including God. But I'm here to tell you the benefits of such a relationship are immense. God wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us.