August 25, 2019

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Isaiah 58:9-14 Psalm 103:1-8 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17
As I read through the lessons for this week there were two, very vivid images that came to mind. The Psalm begins “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name”. I can’t read that verse without thinking of sitting on the benches at the hillside chapel at camp watching kids pop up out of their seats as they sing (group one jumps up and shouts) “Bless the Lord” followed by (group two jumps up and shouts) “Bless the Lord”. Then together they sing “And all that is within me bless His holy name”. I found the song by Andrea Crouch on YouTube but it didn’t have the obnoxious yelling and echoing. Kids love it!
The second image comes from reading the Gospel lesson in which Jesus heals a woman who had been bent over for 18 years. Whenever I hear this lesson, I think of my Grandma Mortensen and Less Larson, our former organist’s father. Both people of strong and devout faith; both suffered severely from scoliosis which made them literally bent in half by the end of their lives. This struggle did not keep either of them from coming to worship on a regular basis. Both, very strong examples of great faith.
When we read scripture, we can’t help but bring our own lives with us. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it is something we have to be mindful of. Sometimes our own experience can give us a very real image of what is going on in what we read and that can help us connect more personally to what God is saying to us. Other times, what we know in 2021 and the way our lives are today, can be a road block to hearing what God has to say. These images I have of today’s lessons I think, are very faithful to the text.
We come to church to praise God and to worship God. What does that mean for us? I think of praising God as our way of saying thank you to God. More than that, showing God that we know that all that we are is given to us by God and we want to acknowledge our understanding and gratefulness of that. We worship God by coming to God with all that we are and laying our heart and soul before God to say “I am Yours, poor sinner that I am”. It is taking the time to rest with God and be present with God that we might hear God calling to us. But what does it mean for US to bless GOD? How can we possibly “Bless God” when it is God who gives us all things and blesses us?
As I think of what it means to Bless God, I think about what it is like for a child, who is old enough to know that a macaroni picture is not an amazing gift for mom and dad, to think of something to do for them at Christmas. How many families have this conversation at Christmas: “Hey, what are you getting mom and dad for Christmas?” “I don’t know. I guess I will get them movie ticket and some gift cards to go out to dinner.” That is our “go to” gift if there is absolutely nothing else we can think of. But, does movie tickets and gift cards to go out to dinner really “Bless” them? No. They appreciate it and it does allow them to eat out more and enjoy the movies they like to go to, but let’s face it. They would do those things anyway. To Bless them is to do something that touches their hearts. Something deeply meaningful. This year I did a picture frame. Rick is one of 5 so there was a current picture of each of the 5 families as well as a picture of our daughter Kelly and our nephew Tyler who join us for Christmas from heaven. A deeply meaningful gift. That is, until I realize I did the same thing a few years baIck. Ugh. It is hard to truly bless our parents. Or is it.
When we hear the psalmist say “Bless the Lord, O my soul”, we are reminded that our lives should be continually blessing God. But what does that mean? I think in many ways, it means the same thing to Bless God as to Bless our parents. To live a life that reflects the heart of God. When our lives are lives that reflect God’s love and grace to the world, God is blessed. What parents would not be blessed to see their child grow up to be loving and caring to the world? So, how do we do that?
We bless God when we are able to live the way that we were taught through the life of Jesus. If we can live as Jesus did, we will certainly be blessing God. So let’s take a minute to look at what we are taught through the life of Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson we find Jesus in the temple to worship. Jesus was a faithful Jewish man. He followed the laws of God and on the sabbath, Jesus attended worship. When they were traveling from one place to another, I am willing to bet that on the sabbath they stopped and worshiped as they would in the temple, and they rested. Sabbath is a holy day. The law to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy”, is one of the big 10. God calls to us stop and rest and remember that all that we are and all that we have is from God. We are to rest.
Just a little side thought here. As people of faith, and I would say not just Christian, but Jews and Muslims as well, we are quick to point to the 10 commandments when it comes to pointing out sin. But most of us (not all. Some are incredibly faithful), most of us would never confront someone out on the golf course and tell them they are sinning because they have not kept the sabbath holy. Imagine storming into a football stadium on Sunday afternoon and getting on the loudspeaker to confront all those heathens who are not keeping the sabbath holy! Yikes. Jesus didn’t stop being a good Jewish man when he began his ministry. He was faithful. And so, on this day, he was in the temple.
Jesus came to worship and to be with other people of faith. To worship is to stop the world for a moment and center our hearts and our minds on God and to listen to God’s word for us. But seeking this connection with God is interrupted by a woman who walks in front of him who is obviously suffering. Take note, this woman did not come to Jesus seeking healing from Jesus. She came to worship to put herself before God. This text does not indicate that she was seeking Jesus at all. But Jesus saw. Jesus’ focus for worship and rest is interrupted but his compassionate heart. Jesus is so moved that he stops what he is doing and goes to her. He asks nothing of her. He simply calls her over and tells her she is healed and she begins praising God. Take note, she was there to praise God before she was healed. She came to the temple bent over expecting nothing, only being faithful. And the temple leaders are horrified. How could a good man of faith heal this woman on the sabbath? They are so focused on the law that they have forgotten the love of God. Jesus doesn’t make that mistake. Jesus first thought is of love and compassion. He hasn’t forgotten the law. He is simply living out the love with which the law was given.
The woman was suffering physically and yet, she was able to come and lift her eyes to God even if she couldn’t lift her head or her hands. She came to honor God in the midst of her suffering. These leaders of the church were not hindered in any physical way and yet, they are unable to see, let alone praise God for God’s goodness because they were bent over reading the law and couldn’t see the law being fulfilled before them.
Most of us are able to sit up, if not stand up, and lift our eyes to God in worship. Yet, whatever our physical posture may be, our souls can easily be bent over and keeping us from truly seeing the great acts of mercy and love God has called us all to live out. For each of us, those things that draw our eyes to Earth rather than Heaven may be different, but if we are to Bless the Lord, we have to look up to honor the love of God even if it seems to hinder the law.
Our collective soul as human beings will not be healed until we are willing to be faithful to what God has called us to. I am not talking about our individual calls. God does call us to different things in life. But, we are united in the underlying call of God that we all should be living into. That call is to “Love the lord our God with all of our heart, and all of our strength and our of our might. And, love our neighbors as ourselves.”
So, that brings me to what I feel like I say every Sunday morning, but it is the Gospel challenge: How is your life reflecting the love of God found in Christ Jesus? When you take time to know Jesus, are you living your life the way that Jesus taught us to live? The answer for all of us is “sometimes”. But as people of faith we should be seeking to make the “sometimes” a little more time every day. What keeps us from being the one who goes against the culture and the law to be sure that someone else experiences God’s love and compassion?
FEAR. It kind of all boils down to fear. I know some of you are thinking “I am not afraid of anything, and why would fear keep me from being faithful to God?” I am not talking about your fear of bugs or mice or snakes or the dark or black cats or whatever else might make you jump. I am talking about that self-centered fear that we all have. It is that fear we have that our lives might have to change. It is the fear we have that I might have to have less in my life. It is the fear that someone will take what I have worked hard for. It that fear of change that keeps us from opening our hearts and our lives to others. It is the fear of what and who we do not know that makes us judgmental and unwilling to hear what others have to say. I think our fears of things like spiders and mice are a source of great laughter for God. As we jump on tables and run from tiny creatures, I think God laughs. But, those other fears, those cause great sorrow for God. They do the very opposite from blessing God.
To “Bless the Lord, O my soul” we have to do so “with all that is within me”. All that we are, and all that we do, and all that we say, should be done in love and obedience to God. Our first responses to people should be compassion and welcome and love, not skepticism and fear. When we someone who does not have enough to eat, our first thought need to be, “what can I do to help this person” not “That person is lazy and won’t get a job”.
Every act of mercy; every act of forgiveness and every act of grace Blesses God. Every word of mercy, every word of forgiveness, and every word of grace that we speak, blesses God. Every time we substitute fear or self-centeredness or judgement, God weeps.
Jesus lived out the law even when it meant going against the law to care for someone else. You and I, as people who say we follow Jesus, need to go and do likewise. Our society tells us the total opposite. Society says to be wearing of everyone and expect the worst out of people. Protect yourself so no one can get what is yours. Jesus says to welcome the stranger and if someone ask of your coat to give them your shirt as well. It is against our culture, but it is what means to bless God.
So, where can you open your heart just a little to let the love of God shine through you? Who can you reach out to and show and speak God’s word to make their life better? Who do you avoid and what do you run from doing that God might have you do in God’s name? Take time to consider all of this. Take time to ask God to help you open your heart so that you can do these difficult things. Go out and Bless the Lord this week as you love the world and the people God has given you.
AMEN