Summer and Sabbath

“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” goes the old Nat King Cole song.

Does that sound like your summer? The description of the season as “lazy” makes us think of picnics and swimming and ball games and a lot of other recreational activities we don’t get around to often enough. We intend to do those things, but it’s easy for the “crazy” part of summer to take us captive. After all, kids may get a break from school, but the rest of us still have jobs and obligations.

Yet there is something about summer that calls us to slow down and enjoy, and in that sense summer reminds me of the concept of Sabbath. Let me suggest four points about Sabbath to ponder this summer.

1. Rest. God created the world in six days, then rested on the seventh (Genesis 2:2–3). When we rest from our labors, we recall the marvel of creation and God’s gift of the world for us to enjoy. Perhaps this is one reason people take pleasure in outdoor recreation in the summer and getting close to nature. Rest that connects us to nature also connects us to God in both body and spirit.

2. Rediscover. God said to the Old Testament people, “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you” (Exodus 31:13). God did not give us the Sabbath as a rule to keep, but as a sign of the relationship God offers us and of the opportunity we have to be God’s people. If our schedules change during the summer for vacations, long weekends, or more sports with the kids, we can also use this time to rediscover our connection to God. Sabbath is a time to rediscover that we belong to God, not to the demands of our daily lives.

3. Restore. Perhaps the most familiar Old Testament phrase about the Sabbath comes in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We forget to rest. We deny our own need for restoration of body and spirit, so God reminds us. The commandment to keep the day holy helps us remember to set apart time for Sabbath. Creating this space in our lives brings benefits that restore our health. As you make your summer plans, think about how you would like to be restored through your choices.

4. Reclaim. The plain fact is that Jesus healed on the Sabbath (John 5:9), even though the legalistic Jewish leaders of the day regarded the “work” involved in his compassion as breaking God’s law. By healing on the Sabbath, Jesus reclaimed the day for God’s purpose of using it for our health and well-being. Maybe it is time for us to reclaim the Sabbath as well. Summer is a great time to consider developing new habits that are healing in body and spirit.

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Of Little League and Holy Ground

I was in elementary school when my family moved to the north side of Atlanta and joined a new United Methodist church start. My mother was constantly at the church, and I never balked about going with her. At the back of the property was a standard Little League field. I played ball on Saturday and went to church on Sunday—where I would reconstruct every play in conversations with anyone in my path. The exuberance of both weekend habits intertwined for me.

I will never forget being 11 years old and playing in the championship game. It was the bottom of the third inning and the score was 0–0. With a runner on second base, I came up to bat.

As I was walking from the dugout to home plate, my grandfather boomed, “If you hit a home run, I’ll give you five dollars.”  

The pitcher was the best in the league. I took the first pitch, but the second one was right down the middle. I swung as hard as I could. Thwack! It only cleared the fence by a couple of inches, but it was home run. That night, as I touched home plate, it became holy ground.

Like every kid who hits a home run in Little League, I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Somehow the scouts never called me.

David, shepherd become king of all Israel and Judah, dreamed of the big leagues. Once he was settled in as king, he looked around and said, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (2 Samuel 9:2). David wanted to build a temple, a holy place. The ark of the covenant—God’s own holy presence—would reside there.

But God had other plans. God’s response was that God did not need a building to be present among the people. God had always been present, manifesting glory. In the end, it was David’s son Solomon who built the temple, and the ark was kept in the Holy of Holies. In the centuries of Israel’s history, the temple was destroyed and rebuilt; the ark of the covenant was lost and regained. In 70 AD, the temple was destroyed a final time and the ark permanently lost.

So if God lived in the Holy of Holies and the temple was destroyed, where does God live?

To this day, orthodox Jews believe that the Shekinah, the glory of God come to dwell among humans, never left the temple mount. They pray at the Western Wall, all that remains of the temple, because they believe God is still there. It is still holy ground, and not just to the Jews but to Muslims and Christians as well.   In the United States we build churches at an astounding rate. Some of them are modern cathedrals holding thousands of seats, only without the work of Michelangelo to adorn them.

Our churches, our homes, our work places, even our Little League fields can all be holy ground. David gives us this lesson. What makes a place holy or an event sacred is the movement of God in what transpires.

Are we on holy ground?

This is the question for our churches and for individual Christians living faithful lives of love and joy that take them closer to God. We know we stand on holy ground when we seek God there, live out our faith there, respond to our calling there, and expect and welcome God’s presence. Not everything will be a home run, but God is present and shows healing glory in our lives.

The Longest Light

Here in Memphis summer is in full swing. It’s downright hot and going to get hotter, I’m sure. But the long stretches of daylight and warm weather are welcome.

Have you noticed that you see your neighbors more because it’s not dark before you’ve had your supper? Kids can play in yards and parks. Gardening and mowing lawns bring folks outside, and church softball leagues and other community sports give us reasons to be out enjoying the evenings. Riverfronts and golf courses call us to come soak up some sun. In the northern hemisphere, the month of June brings us the day with the longest amount of light for the whole year, and getting out in the light chases away the winter blues.

As we revel in summer’s light, let me suggest another light to celebrate.

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).  

The transition from the darkness of winter to the light of summer is a living metaphor. Even as we yearn for the sun’s light for our bodies, we crave God’s light for our spirits. In Matthew 4:16, Jesus quoted the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The book of Isaiah contains plenty of scathing passages as God called the chosen people from their sinful ways into repentance. But it also includes gems like these words that remind us that our pasts do not hold us captive any more than winter lasts forever.

Jesus himself was the light that dawned with a message of hope. When we are in the midst of regret, loss, or grief, the darkness is midnight black. In the shadows, we don’t see the way out of our circumstances or the solution to life’s challenge. Believing the light will dawn is the essence of hope.

Every time I hear of someone who took his or her own life, I am profoundly saddened. I hate to think of any person so steeped in darkness that the person cannot even imagine that light will dawn. Jesus came to deliver us from the darkness, not to beat us over the head with every wrong thing we have every done or every feeling of inadequacy.

Light liberates! Light points to a new day, a new season, a new opportunity, a new possibility.  

Perhaps the month that brings us the longest day of light is also a fitting time to take stock of where we see the light of God breaking into our lives and how we can help break the light of God into the lives of people who sit in darkness.

Power In The Bloods

On December 31, 1969, President Richard Nixon proclaimed that January 1970 would be Blood Donor Month, an observance that has continued ever since.

Our culture offers vampire books, vampire movies, vampire television shows, vampire fangs and capes. Though the word vampire is only a few hundred years old, the notion of beings who drink the blood of others in order to sustain themselves goes back thousands of years.

Obviously blood matters to health, even if folklore approaches the subject from a gruesome perspective.

But why do we let blood be a gruesome subject when it is so fundamental to health?  

Every 12 seconds, someone in the US needs the hope that comes from another person’s blood. One donation, separated into plasma, platelets, and red blood cells, can help up to three people.

Because of various health issues, not everyone is eligible to donate blood safely. Still, close to 40 percent of the population could donate, but only about 10 percent do. I don’t say that to inflict guilt, but to point out opportunity. It’s easy to assume somebody else is donating blood without realizing the importance of joining the ranks if we are able. Some people are squeamish about needles or blood, much less both in combination. But for many others, the thought of donating just never occurs to them.

In a time of illness, blood is life-giving and hope-giving. It restores health.

I can’t help but think of the life and health that comes to us by the blood of Christ. Peter wrote, “You know you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ … Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God” (1 Peter 1:18–21).

God used something as visceral and physical as human blood to bind us to God and open a way of health in both body and spirit. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we find nourishment in the body and blood of Jesus. We remember that Jesus gave blood so that we could experience the health of God’s salvation.

Maybe we need to take blood back from the shadows of vampires or our individual fears and celebrate it as the gift from God that it is—and then give the gift of health to others as we are able. When we share health with others in this simple sacrifice, we can also remember the wholeness that comes to us because of Jesus. There is power in the blood.

Give Me Your Best Sermon For Healing

More than a decade ago, I challenged 15 other preachers to give me their best sermons on healing. I suspect I could not get them to agree on the price of a cup of coffee, yet each passionately felt the need for people of faith to get involved in an active healing ministry. The result was a book called I Am the Lord Who Heals You (Abingdon, 2004).

Here are a few great quotes from those great minds.

“The exodus narrative is an attestation that the God of Israel, in ways visible and in ways not seen, has all the power of all creation to turn life to flourishing and well-being. This God works not only by one-on-one remedies but also by facing the systems of death and robbing them of authority. It is the same God who is present in Jesus of Nazareth.” —Walter Bruggemann

“When something terrible is done to us, of course are are victims. If we physically survive, we are survivors. But often that is where people stop. The next step is not taken—to become a victor, to move from being an object of history to becoming once more a subject; to become what that wonderful word in Scripture speaks uf as being cocreators, being the coworkers of Christ in building God’s kingdom. You see, if something terrible happens to us, we never remain unchanged and unmarked. It will either diminish us or cause us to grow.” —Michael Lapsley, SSM

“Early rabbinic literature understood the truth many of us are just discovering: there are multiple dimensions to the experience of illness and healing, and each dimension affects the others. The traditional Jewish prayer for healing, for instance, speaks of healing the nefesh (the soul, spirit, or whole person) and healing the guf (body). … We can elevate the souls of others, and thereby affect their recovery, by tending to their spirits as well as their physical ailments.” —Rabbi Micah Greenstein

“It is very surprising to a sophisticated mind and very humbling to a Christian to be aware that, of all the ways in which God could effect healing in the world, he chose the church to be the instrument of the healing ministry of his Son.” —William E. Swing

“Takeout the healing stories from the gospel and you’ve got pretty much a skeleton of a story left. For Jesus’ ministry was preaching, teaching, and healing. They ere there at the very center of his ministry.” —James A. Forbes, Jr.

• What about you? If you were preaching on the topic of healing, what would you be sure to say?