A Spiritual Brunch, for Saturday Morning

“Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

-Hebrews 13:20-21

Our Deepest Gratitude

Around many tables this afternoon, probably at the table where you’ll be sitting, a moment will come when each person will be asked to reflect and recount the things for which she or he is thankful.

Some people do this all year round, a friend of mine thinks of three specific things he’s grateful for before he lets his feet hit the floor in the morning.  I know a few people who keep gratitude journals, jotting down events, or people, or moments during the day.  The journals let them look back and remember these treasured moments in the following weeks and months, which makes them feel grateful again–because they’ve probably forgotten those little fleeting gifts in the interim.

It seems that for us humans, it’s often much easier to remember negative things than positive things.  Look at the ancient Hebrews–I don’t mean to pick on them as exemplary in this area, because they certainly aren’t–the Bible is made up of common life examples, situations in which any person would do the exact same thing.  As God’s people are wandering around in the desert, they complain to Moses–do you remember those stories?  They’ve just seen God’s protection of them at the Red Sea, cutting off the Egyptians from pursuing them, and with the image of the great waves crashing over the heads of their enemies still burned into the backs of their minds, they turn to Moses and say, “Are we there yet?!  We’re going to DIE out here!!  This is absolutely HOPELESS.  We should go back to Egypt.  Let’s take a poll–who wants to go back to Egypt??”  It sounds a little like the back of my mom’s minivan on the way to summer vacation.

Do you remember what happens next?  Our Gospel lesson alludes to it; God provides food for them in the wilderness by raining down manna on them.  The manna is something that can be baked into bread which the Hebrews gather up every morning when they wake up–it falls and rests on the ground overnight, like dew, the Bible says; maybe something like the frost we experienced on our lawns this morning.  The word “manna” in Hebrew translates as, “What is it?”  Its substance is mysterious, we don’t know exactly what it is, even today.  But in another way, we, as well as the Hebrew people, know exactly what it is–it’s a blessing, it’s a witness to God’s love and care.  So the Hebrew people gather up these little scraps that remind them how much God loves them and cares for them.

What is our gratitude except Manna?  The journals my friends keep are proverbial baskets full of manna, pages and pages of reminders of God’s goodness and love toward us.  Our greatest gift which God sends from heaven as a symbol and reminder of his love is Jesus Christ, his only Son, God incarnate.  In today’s Gospel lesson, some people ask Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?  What work are you performing?” (v.30)  Do you recognize the skepticism?  Maybe first-century people aren’t so different from people today.  “How can you prove that God exists?”  “How do you know that Jesus is God?”

Jesus responds to his interlocutors that it was God who was behind the manna their ancestors ate, as they well know; and besides, God has provided for them the true bread which is standing right in front of them.  They’ve already seen signs–their ancestors witness to them about the manna provided in the wilderness.  The actual eyes beholding Jesus in first-century Capernum didn’t see the manna falling, or ingest it into their own bodies, but their very existence was evidence that their ancestors hadn’t starved in the wilderness, but that they’d been sustained by something–by manna, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were told.  And so, these children generations later knew and trusted that the manna had fallen and had been a tangible testament to God’s care for His people.

It’s the same for us.  We haven’t seen Jesus in the way that the people in our Gospel lesson today did; we haven’t seen Jesus the way that Paul did on the way to Damascus or Jesus’ disciples did after his resurrection.  But we know Jesus came, and lived, and died, and rose again because we have our ancestors’ witness to those events.  We stand on the shoulders of our great-grandparents in the faith, trusting their testimony about the God made human in Jesus Christ.  Further, because we exist as Christians and children of God, we ourselves are witnesses, we are a testament to God’s love and power.

Our great-grandfather-in-the-Faith, G.K. Chesterton said, “The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom.  Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts or toys or sweets.  Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?  We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers.  Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?” (Orthodoxy)

Psalm 131 Mash Up

20130925-095507.jpgHebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NRSV)

Psalm 131 is a prayer, describing the thing we’re urged to do in this passage from Hebrews, “lay aside every weight.”  This psalm ought to be read, I think, as a plea to God for the truth of the words being uttered–it’s more prophecy than observation of present circumstances.

(1) O Lord, I am not proud, I have no haughty looks.

(2) I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me.

(3) But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.

(4) O Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth for evermore.

(via the Book of Common Prayer)

Jesus came because our sin is too heavy for us, because He can and does carry it himself.  Our propensity to turn away from God is too great to overcome ourselves, we must, in humility, lay aside the weight of making our own salvation happen again and again.  All to Jesus I surrender.

Through that laying down, through truly letting go of trying to control or to work ourselves into righteousness, our souls become quiet, our souls and our selves thereby inhabit the place we’re made for–we’re rightly out of the driver’s seat, listening, and being quiet.  We’re being, or practicing being, the humans that we are.

We Gentile Christians are grafted into Israel because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and just as people have waited on God for centuries–thousands of years, even–our occupation is to wait upon the Lord.

A Psalm 131 Rewrite:

Lord, keep us from being proud, and from looking down our noses.

Help us to remember that You are God, You are almighty, and we only need to be servants.

Quiet our hearts before You, drown out voices of worry and despair; relax our frazzled minds into trust in You, let us feel your hands holding us up.

Throughout all time, O Master, your servants have listened to your directions.  We now join with your witnesses from all time, waiting for Your coming again.

In the name of Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.