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And all is at Rest

Sermon Series on Brian McClaren’s book Naked Spirituality

Preached:  April 14, 2013

For those of you who have been to worship any time in the last three months, you may be aware that we have been in the midst of a sermon series based on a book by Brian McClaren: Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words.  Over the last weeks, we have been re-introduced to simple spiritual practices to deepen our journey with God.   We began with the word here – Here I am God, and here you are with me.  Invoking God’s presence.  The next word was Thanks: remembering to offer our gratitude to God – thank you for this breath, for this day, for this place of worship, for my friends, for my family.  The words continued – we practiced confession and intercession through the words sorry, help & please.  We went through the season of Lent with words of despair and desolation – when, NO! and Why?  And when Easter arrived two weeks ago – we met the resurrected Jesus with the word Behold!  And last week when Jesus asked Peter if he loved him, we heard Peter’s response of YES!  Yes, Lord you know that I love you.  It was a word of commissioning.  And the final word in this series – the last of the simple words is surprisingly no word at all.   (……)  The unspoken word.  The word that we hear in the Psalm, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Don’t speak. Simply be.

Before I get to the Gospel lesson, I want to go back in time to connect with a story from the Hebrew scriptures, a story about the prophet Elijah, when Elijah had just won a might battle with Jezebel, the pagan queen, showing her that his God was bigger than her god.  But then we discover that Jezebel had murderous intentions toward Elijah.

Elijah is in trouble and runs into the wilderness in defeat. He had been zealous for God and all it got him was a death sentence. Overcome with depression, he prays to God to end his life. But God is not about to give up on Elijah.  As Elijah tumbles into a deep sleep, angels from God step in to comfort and feed him. He ate and drank, and then dozed off again. Sometimes the most spiritual thing a person can do is get enough rest.

Then God leads him through a time of reflection on a 200 mile, 40 day trip to a cave in the mountainside to Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai.  While Elijah sat in the cave, he heard a voice ask him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”   “I am not sure what I am doing here, except that I’m scared and frustrated. I defended you and won a contest that proved you were the one, true god, stronger than the god Baal. But there are still many people who do not believe in your power, and many who refuse to keep their covenant with you. And queen Jezebel is after me. She’s angry that I won the contest. Now I’m afraid for my life, and I don’t know what to do.”

The voice spoke to Elijah again. He is commanded to go out and stand on the mountain. God will pass by him. Elijah came out of the cave, hoping he might feel God’s presence and know what to do next. While Elijah stood there, a great, strong wind whipped around the mountains, breaking off pieces of rock all around which went crashing down. But Elijah did not hear the voice of God in the wind.  Then an earthquake shook the mountain up and down, with a terrific rumbling, but Elijah did not hear the voice of God. Then came a fire, sweeping across the mountain, but God was not in the fire, either.

Elijah expects to see God in the wind, the earthquake and the fire. But God was not in any of these things.  God is not necessarily encountered in the sound and fury of loud and spectacular events. Elijah discovered that God is encountered when the activity ceases and the words stop. When his mind and heart are finally empty of ambition and self-promotion, Elijah heard God speak out of that silence.

God’s word came to him in the silence that followed. Many translations of the Hebrew phrase is a still small voice, but the original Hebrew says sheer & utter silence.

I wonder if there is a similarity in what Thomas was needing from the resurrected Christ.  He wasn’t going to believe until….until what?  Lots of prerequisites.  I think there is a parallel in our spiritual lives as well.  We get caught up in our prerequisites for how God speaks to us, or what faith should be.

And how does Jesus appear to the disciples?  Through the closed doors of the upper room, a metaphor for the closed door of their hearts.  And he breathes on them.  Just like God breathes upon creation at the very beginning of the Bible.  Jesus breathes out the Holy Spirit upon them.  Not a big earthquake, no thunder – no a simple breath.

Jesus breathes on them…more than that, he breathes in them… they inhale his spirit as he proclaims, “receive the Holy Spirit.” They are spiritually revived.  Suddenly, the whole room is alive with Jesus breath; he is risen from the death, and he has revived them from their own spiritual death by his Holy Breath! Jesus’ resurrection message is peace and empowerment.

God still breathes through us, giving us life, insight, and energy. Every breath reveals God’s Life in you.

This is what Brian McLaren is getting at in this word of his book – a word that is no word at all.  It’s more like the sound of a sound of a breath. It could be called contemplation- or holy receptiveness to the possibility of God among us.

Jim Wallis: To be a contemplative means to find a motivation deeper than the hope of results.  To be successful you must finally give up the demand for success and do what you do from the deeper motivations of what you believe is right.

Thomas Merton once described in a letter to a friend –  his progression in life and work:

Movement from working for results, to working because of the value of the work itself, to  working for specific people whom I love, to allowing myself to be used by God’s love, to being open to God’s power working through me, and finally, simply living.

Shift from self-consciousness  – “How am I doing? Am I doing enough?”
to God-consciousness of “What is God doing? How can I fit in, support, participate?”

Imagine that from now on every breath you inhale is a gift from God, and that every breath you exhale is a prayer.  Let us breathe in and simply say “thanks” – thanks to God.