It doesn't seem like Jesus was trying to make friends, does it? As we read through Luke, Jesus is provoking all those he encounters and today's passage is no different. On two different Sabbath days he does something that he knows will anger those who care about religious tradition. He plucks grain one day and heals in the synagogue on another. He does both these things knowing it will anger some and he does it to try and suggest that the rules are changing. The understanding about how it is to faithfully follow God is changing. The rules about Sabbath observance were good rules made by faithful people. But Jesus is telling them that the Sabbath traditions might need to change. After all, the lord of the Sabbath is now among them. I read in a commentary this week that suggests that the real question in these texts is this: How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances? How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances?
And boy is that ever our question, too.
The world is changing at a breakneck speed. Headlines come every day or every hour that seem to signal big shifts in our world. The religious landscape in our denomination, our country and our world is changing more rapidly than we can even fathom. The church as an institution's identity and mission is in flux. Even on this Sunday when we look back at what the church has done and been in the last year through our congregational meeting, we continue to look toward our future as well, knowing that our circumstances are ever-changing. How do we do what church's do when the world seems to be so different, when what we do seems less relevant all the time to a lot of people? This is the question I've been wrestling with this week.
Then I saw that Dr. John Vest, whom I know and respect, who is the Visiting Professor of Evangelism at my seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, shared a blog post by Richard Rohr, the well known Franciscan author and speaker. And Vest shared the blog saying, "This perfectly captures what I think Christianity ought to be encouraging today. This is what I think churches ought to be focused on. This is what I'm most interested in."
The idea that Richard Rohr was writing about as a way forward for the church was to recapture our role as mystics. That's an unfamiliar term to some of you, it's a scary one to others. To be a mystic is to be one who has moved from mere belief to actual inner experience of God. Now this is an idea that Presbyterians have often been wary of. Theologically we affirm that we are flawed, flawed creatures and so we can't fully trust our experience of God. We are more comfortable putting our trust in our interpretation ofScripture, the traditions found in our confessions, in the life of the mind. And Those are good.
Here is what Rohr had to say: Christians speak of the “paschal mystery,” the process of loss and renewal that was lived and personified in the death and raising up of Jesus, as the pattern of transformation. We Can affirm that belief in lovely song and ritual, as many Christians do in the Eucharist. However, until we have personally lost our own foundation and then experienced God upholding us so that we come out even more alive on the other side, the theological affirmation of the paschal mystery is little understood and not essentially transformative. It is a mere liturgical acclamation.
This congregation has been through this process of losing your foundations and discovering that God was there for you in the midst of it all, transforming you so that you might come out the other side more alive. I know this has been true for me personally and I know that most if not all of you have stories of transformation because of God's presence in your life. This experience of knowing God is what helps us keep going when times get scary, it's what can give us courage when we need to stand up for what Christ stood up for - feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, healing the broken.
That is the kind of transformation that experience of God, or mysticism, helps create. How do we faithfully identify with our community's tradition in light of ever-changing circumstances? I would like to suggest one way is to invite others to experience God. Not to recite a set of beliefs about God, not to teach them into love of God, but to invite them into an experience with God. This is what Jesus did. He asked people to look less at the rules of faith and get to know more the God that the rules were meant honor. After teaching and provoking and healing, he went away to talk to God. He sought out direct experience of God before he continued with his work. Diana Butler Bass, a historian who focuses on the history of Christianity suggests that “Christianity did not begin with a confession. It began with an invitation into friendship, into creating a new community, into forming relationships based on love and service.”
I would like to suggest that this is something that the world needs from us. Forming relationships based on love and service. With our many divisions, with our 24/7 nature, with our emphasis on doing and creating and achieving, the worlds needs us to offer another way. An experience of God so that they know that they are loved not for what they do but because of who God is. A transformative experience of God that makes them more alive, move loving, more giving. These mystical experiences can come when we are marching or when we pray, when we are out in mission or even in church on Sunday.
And so, I'm not going to talk to you anymore about Sabbath. I am going to invite you to experience Sabbath, a brief Sabbath, just 2 minutes of silence. To be quiet before God, to know that your worth comes not from what you can achieve, a chance to breathe in and breathe out. My hope is that this experience will give you a little more peace, a little more strength as you head into another week in our fast-changing world. May you experience God.