In the Name...
A church put a sign out front which read “You will pay for your sins.” But, somebody wrote below it, “If you have already paid, please disregard this notice.”
We have had some wonderful Gospel lessons recently. Last week, Jesus transfigured in glory. Today, Jesus walking on the water. Grand events described in grand language. Indeed, it often seems the life and ministry of Jesus is just one big thing after another. One minute casting out demons or healing lepers, the next raising the dead. Jesus rushing from one crisis or miracle to another. And, that's how a lot of people, maybe some you know, maybe yourselves, try to live. In constant motion, rushing from dawn to late night. But, today's lesson shows us that wasn't true of Jesus and it shouldn't be of us.
Because, at the very beginning of the lesson stand a few words, almost a footnote really. "And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray and when evening came he was there alone."
There is, in this quiet act, set between two highly dramatic ones – the feeding of the 5,000 and the walking on the water - an example of the profoundest meaning for us. That in the midst of life's demands and disappointments, our needs and those of others, we can only do as much as we maintain the capacity to do.
Psychologists say that human beings are a "psychosomatic unity" - that is a union of body and soul. And as the body needs food, fuel, to sustain itself, grow and develop, so too the soul needs feeding if it is to do the same. I'm sure we all take great care to ensure our physical feeding, maybe a bit overmuch sometimes, but, spiritual feeding is just as essential to our health, if not so obvious.
We all know the seductive illusion of credit cards. And people can end up in financial trouble as a result. In fact, the story is told of one fellow in deep trouble who asked a religious friend of his what he should do. Open the Bible, he was told, and the first words he saw would be the Lord's answer to his problems. So the fellow went home and did just that. He opened his Bible and the first words he saw in big letters were "Chapter 11."
But, that's what happens to people who try to live without keeping their spirits well fed. When driven to their knees by crisis they find the bank account is empty. They've put nothing in so there's nothing to draw out.
St. Paul gave us the best means to stay healthy when he wrote to the Thessalonians, "Pray continually". Pray continually. That doesn't mean be on your knees all the time. It just means feed and rest your soul.
Talking to God is good, saying prayers or devotions, but, there are other ways, like meditation, centring prayer, reading not only the Bible, but, other spiritual books.
In Europe, along the roads you'll see old roadside shrines. Some are just simple crosses and others are more elaborate. Today they're quite neglected, but, in the days when travel was slow, by foot or cart, these marked places where a traveller might pause and not only rest his feet, but, also his spirit by taking time with God, reflecting and being energized by the eternal.
They met a specific human need to sense God along the stages of a journey. Public worship was, of course, centred in the towns in the churches, but, God was needed on the road, as well. And likewise as we travel through the week from Sunday to Sunday, we need God on the other days, so, it wouldn't be a bad idea to build and maintain some private roadside shrines, weekday shrines of our own.
They don't have to be very elaborate, in fact they could just be a few key words we write down and put somewhere we can't miss them. Words to focus on every day like "God", "myself", and "others". For example, we might think about God and what it means to call him Father. How his resources are infinite when ours are lacking; how when we are confused, he provides direction; how when we are afraid of life or death, he is Lord of both.
We might think then about ourselves as children of the Father, as sisters or brothers of Jesus, as temples of the Holy Spirit. How do those relationships impact our lives? How do they encourage and strengthen us?
And we might think about others, because having given thoughtful reflection to God and self we are inevitably drawn to consider those around us and how they are also spiritual beings.
We could write down many more words, "gratitude", "compassion", "forgiveness" - the possibilities are endless. All we have to do is dismiss the crowds, to seek out times and places where we can be free of distractions, and just be with the Lord.
Granted, it's not easy, at first. Even in the 1950's, the poet Ogden Nash wrote of the pace of life, "This is the age of the half-read page, the mad dash and the quick hash, the brief stop and the plane hop, the lamp tan in a short span, and the brain strain and the heart pain." It's not gotten any easier since, which is why resting, both physical and spiritual, is more essential for our good health than ever.
Because very often in life we are asked to feed the five thousand and walk on water. The only way we can even imagine being up to the task is if we follow the example of Jesus. Dismiss the crowds and be there alone with him.
In the Name...