August 15, 2021
SCRIPTURE READING: Nehemiah 8:8-12
I’m returning to my sermon series on issues that are presently capturing my attention when I think of direction for St. John’s. It may be of some surprise to you that one of my focal points is FUN. Maybe it doesn’t seem serious enough for the church.
I suppose it is easy to let this category of fun, party, celebration, and laughter slip into the non-essential, luxury department. My goal this morning is to help us all reevaluate it and move it to a truth quite essential for a healthy, growing, spiritual community. It is this:
SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN WHEN YOU AREN’T EXPECTING IT AND ONLY HAVING FUN!
That “something” that is likely to happen is critical to being Beloved Community and it happens more often than not when we are simply being together, having fun, enjoying each other’s company.
- We begin to see one another as brothers and sisters.
- Relationships start and are deepened.
- We see each other as simply human beings like everyone else.
Joy and celebration seem to be woven throughout the scripture as an essential ingredient in the way God’s people live together. It is something powerfully spiritual while it feels just like fun.
It is so essential and so spiritual that I titled the sermon: “Good Medicine!” (You’ve heard the expression: “Laughter is the best medicine.”)
In all of the planning that has gone into my recent travels for family gatherings and for family to come to our house, I doubt there has been much of any discussion about the spiritual benefits that might be expected from our togetherness. But I’m here to tell you that if you are paying attention, at the most unlikely times there is a moment that pops up now and again where the Spirit seems to show up like an invitation to enter another world.
How can I explain this? You know how often it is that we live and converse about things that don’t really matter. We stay on the surface, we talk about this and that, we debate or argue about nothing. And then, suddenly, you find yourself face to face with an opportunity to let yourself enter a realm that is real and deep and important.
Maybe it is a moment where you just know someone needs a word of comfort or appreciation, a gesture of love, a child’s eyes are asking for a few minutes on your lap, a conversation just wants to leave the trivial and move to a topic that is deep and powerful. These are just moments, but it is like the Spirit is waiting for just that moment and you must be ready.
WE CAN BE BLINDED BY SEEING LIFE IN ONLY BLACK AND WHITE
If you tend to believe that “spiritual things” and “secular things” (things that are NOT spiritual) are distinct separate categories and that you can tell which is which by WHERE things are happening (for e.g. if they are happening in a church building) or to WHOM they are happening (for e.g. if they are happening to people who believe just like you believe), then none of this will make much sense to you. But if you believe that God is at work always and in every facet of our lives, then you can understand how even when we are having fun, the Spirit of God wants for us to be alert and awake and listening for those very special moments where God becomes SO REAL that you just know you are on holy ground!
JOY AND THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
Now, I don’t know exactly why this is or how to predict those moments, but here’s what I believe: those moments happen with greater frequency during times when we are just “hanging out” together having fun, treasuring each other’s company, and laughing than we usually expect.
That’s why I believe that we all need to do what we can to plan plenty of that kind of time with one another in the Beloved Community as long as we can do so without jeopardizing each other’s safety and health.
When the Women’s Fellowship gets together for a party to play games, that is not frivolous or inconsequential. That is just one more opportunity for the Spirit to intersect our lives and do something unexpected! The church picnic coming up is not trivial, nor is the Tour de Donut event or the Harvest Home Sunday, or when the little ones play in the playground, or when men have a breakfast together or when couples get together to share a meal. Sacred times!
In the book of Nehemiah that was read to you this morning, the Hebrew people (Jews) had been violently removed from their homeland many years ago. It was, in some respects, their own fault because they had neglected God and ignored God’s plan for their lives. They were uprooted from their homes and taken captive in neighboring countries.
After some time they were allowed to return and rebuild their sacred places and after the walls were repaired, Ezra, the priest, declared that it was time for them to once again hear the sacred words and instructions that God had given them so many years ago, but that had been so neglected. He began to read and the people heard and began to weep because the reading was done with such clarity that their mistakes were unmistakable! Their repentance was totally appropriate but their spiritual leaders knew that sadness was not ALL they needed.
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”Nehemiah 8:8-12
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH! Remember, though, it is not JUST a matter of entertainment where we do fun things to keep from hearing the word of the Lord. It is living into the joy of the Lord while also paying attention to the words of God.
That’s GOOD MEDICINE! And that, I believe, is something that St. John’s has been good at doing and can do again! It is a part of the prescription for good health and living as the Beloved Community whose vision is set on following Jesus.