To Be a Spiritually Renewing Church

Amidst the hillsides and farms of southern Indiana, sets St. Meinrad Archabbey. Dr. Bill
Leonard guided my second visit to St. Meinrad, in 1982. My first journey to St. Meinrad was
seven years earlier, as a university student majoring in religion. Our professor took us there for a
three-day spiritual retreat with Benedictine monks. I remember one monk saying, “Life is noisy
and crowded. If you are going to follow Jesus, you must nurture a listening heart.” As a nineteen
year old Baptist boy, I remember thinking, “what does a monk living in this quiet, secluded place
know about noise or crowds?” As it turns out, he knew a great deal.

Please hear my affirmations of you. Your desire to have a relationship with God that
enriches your living and the living of others is obvious. Your aspiration to serve the purposes of
God is clear. Your pursuit of living in such a way that God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is
done on earth as in heaven is unmistakably evident. You invest your individual energies and our
life together, as a community of faith, in ways that contribute substantive influence in the world.
You are committed to God, through Jesus as Lord of your faith, so that the life of God’s Holy
Spirit at work in you and in us offers spiritual vitality throughout metro Charlotte and beyond.

Yet, while each of these affirmations is completely true, it is also verifiable that life, like a
moth on a garment, eats away at these desires, aspirations, pursuits, investments and
commitments. “Life is noisy and crowded. If you are going to follow Jesus, you must nurture a
listening heart.”

Therefore, just as we must give attention to our most significant human relationships, we
must also care for our relationship with God. We must care for and nurture our listening hearts.
We call this spiritual renewal and it is both personal/individual and communal/congregational.
The spiritual life of St. John’s is determined by how we care for our individual spiritual lives.

How are you tending to the spiritual core of your life? How are we caring for the spiritual
core of our congregational life? What are we doing to assure that we are a spiritually renewing
church? How are we nurturing a listening heart?

Last Sunday, I reminded you that Jesus went into the wilderness to be alone with God
because he wanted to be spiritually literate. Jesus knew spiritual literacy is about more than
reading or reciting scripture passages. Spiritual literacy is incarnating servant faith rather than
selfishness; living with a singleness of heart rather than duplicity; and relating through humility
rather than arrogance. Today, there are many voices suggesting they speak for God while fleshing
out selfishness, duplicity and arrogance. Last Sunday, I called you renew yourselves to God
through spiritual literacy, by following Jesus in servant faith, singleness of heart and humility.

Today, I ask you to follow Jesus in caring for your spiritual renewal? And, I ask you to
renew your commitment to be a spiritually renewing church. Consider the ancient idea of
Sabbath; a spiritual practice observed by Jews, Muslims and Christians. For Jesus, Sabbath was a
practice for spiritual renewal.

First, Jesus Used Sabbath As a Gift From God. Imagine that UPS has delivered to you
a special gift from God. You would protect that gift above all others. Sabbath is God’s gift to
you. In our faith tradition, Sabbath is not an option; Sabbath is a commandment: ‘Remember the
Sabbath day and keep it holy.’ This means, ‘You need to create time and space in your life to
focus on God and you need to protect this time and space as God’s gift to you.’

Every parent has said to a child, “You need a nap.” Even adults can need a nap. And,
friends, when your spirit becomes tired, unfocused, lacking energy, frazzled, fatigued, fragmented
and frustrated, you need some Sabbath time; you need to stop and focus on God. Sabbath is God
saying, ‘you need a nap.’ The practice of Sabbath is sacred, not because God’s ego needs you to
stop and pay attention to God. The Sabbath is holy – set apart – sacred – because you need to stop
and focus on God. If you do not build into the structures and schedules of your life this practice
of Sabbath, your life will become increasingly fragmented, frazzled, fatigued and frustrated.

The practice of Sabbath is God’s gift to you so you can nurture a listening heart. Friends,
your desires, aspirations, pursuits, investments and commitments are spiritually renewed as you
treat Sabbath as God’s gift rather than as an interruption in your noisy and crowded lives.

Second, Jesus Used Sabbath as an Opportunity to Be with God’s People. It was Jesus’
habit to gather with the people of God on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16). In today’s scripture story,
Jesus is with his disciples. He knew the importance of participating in a community of faith and
gathering to worship God with others.

The charter members of St. John’s wrote into our church covenant – “We will be faithful to
the public worship of God, gathering with the family of the Church to celebrate God’s glory and
remember God’s grace.” I think they were purposeful in naming this covenant statement first. We
gather on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath, because Jesus’ disciples discovered his tomb empty on
a Sunday morning. This day is a gift of God. This day calls us to celebrate God’s glory and
remember God’s grace as we celebrate the life we share through the risen Christ. Friends, you
nurture a listening heart for God and your desires, aspirations, pursuits, investments and
commitments are spiritually renewed as you invest time with God’s people.

Third, Jesus used Sabbath for Service. Matthew tells of a Sabbath day when Jesus and
his disciples were hungry. As they walked, they plucked grain and ate. The legalists were lurking,
as they always are, waiting to catch someone violating their understanding of God’s will. The
legalists pointed out the discretions of Jesus’ followers and Jesus put them in their place. He
brought to the memory of the legalists a story from 1 Samuel 21. David and his hungry men,
while hiding from King Saul, ate the holy bread representing the Presence of God. Jesus knew the
legalists interpreted David to be doing the will of God on that day. So, Jesus pointed out to the
legalists that just as David was not wrong, so these disciples of Jesus are not wrong.

These legalists, being true to form, pushed the envelope. A man with a withered hand was
in their midst. They asked Jesus if it was lawful to do the work of healing on the Sabbath. Jesus
pronounced that people with needs are more important than a sheep in a ditch. Jesus healed the
man with a withered hand. Friends, as you observe Sabbath, your heart is freed from slavery to
the cynicism and legalism of this world. When you practice Sabbath, your priorities and your
visions become realigned with the priorities and visions of God.

May we be a spiritually renewing church! May we be followers of the Jesus path by
nurturing listening hearts in a noisy and crowded world! Amen and AMEN!

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