It’s getting to be that time of year again. Every so often I wake up and look out the window and in my mind, I think there’s going to be that amazing chill in the air when I walk outside. We’ve been really lucky recently to have some of those brilliant brisk mornings. But for the most part, summer is still hanging in. But as the end of August draws near, and the kids get ready to go back to school, we know that fall is on the horizon.
At Weight Watchers, our topic for this week is, falling back into routines. It’s always been funny to me that so many of us think this – when we haven’t had a summer break in a long time. I understand for families with kids, there definitely is something to this – about getting back to school, back to activities, back into the regular routine. Parents get back to normal at home, with the kids back to their routines, as well as back to normal at work.
But there is definitely a sense for all of us that things have gotten a little crazy over the past few months, that we have fallen into a relaxed rhythm and let our regular routine fall by the wayside, but that now it’s time to straighten back up, and get back to normal.
Our first reading this morning comes from Jeremiah, and reminds us that God has created each and every one of us for a purpose. God has marked us as God’s own from before we were born. Sometimes it’s very apparent what that purpose is, other times it’s harder to discern. But that is why we need a regular routine of being in relationship with God – being in worship, studying the Scriptures, being in prayer, and being attuned to the movement of the Holy Spirit. This routine takes work and dedication – and it is a routine that needs to be shaken up regularly, not settled into eternally. Sometimes God shakes up the routine for us – changing our life situations by bringing new babies, or job transitions. Even death and disease shake us out of our routines, but are not examples of God punishing us for getting off course. God uses the natural rhythms of life to help mold and shape us into the people God has made us to be.
I have to be honest – I have a hard time with some of these routines myself. Even though it’s kind of my job to be deep in theological thought. Granted – I’m not a full time pastor in a congregation, preparing weekly sermons and bible studies. And I occasionally use the excuse that I work in an interfaith context as a reason to not be so deeply entrenched in Presbyterian and Christian theological contexts. But the truth is, for me, faith is personal, and the best way to build up my personal faith and relationship with the God of the Universe, in the person of Jesus Christ, is to be immersed in my Presbyterian heritage. And I’ll let you in on a little secret – a lot of pastors struggle with this. I tell you that not to tell on MaryAnn, but to let you know that it’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to have questions about what you read in the bible and what you hear in church on Sunday morning. In fact, it’s vital to not only have those questions, but to ask them. God doesn’t promise us that faith is without question and without struggle. God promises to be with us through it all – every step of the way. It’s up to us to recognize God’s presence in our lives and to lean on God when we need to, and even when we don’t.
In seminary, during our preaching class (yes, we take classes for that), our professors invited us to find some place out of the ordinary to read our text for the week, to try to see it in a new light. Being in Atlanta at Columbia, some people read their passage on the MARTA, on the downtown streets, in new and different coffee shops, or even just in different places around campus. Now, we weren’t reading the passage out loud to other people, we were just reading it in a venue where the surroundings may have opened up new understandings about these thousand year old words. To be honest, I can’t remember where I did my reading that week. But what I do remember is the idea behind this assignment. Reading scripture in new places, and even at new times in our lives, can lead us to new understandings about what it has to say to us today. That’s the amazing thing about the bible. With the work of the Holy Spirit, the bible is a living, breathing document that, even though it was written millennia ago, speaks to us in today’s world. It gives us a way to learn more about this God who has claimed us and created us for a purpose in the world. It also helps us better hear God speaking to us in the still, small voice, and leading us through the Holy Spirit to the work we have been called to do.
God calls each and every one of us to service in God’s kingdom. And you thought the only call was for us pastors! Not quite! No – God has a plan for each person’s life. So it is important that we create routines that help us stay attuned to this plan, and strengthen our relationship with the God who calls us to whatever work we find ourselves doing. The great thing about fall at church is that new bible studies are starting, new opportunities to get involved in the life of the congregation are kicking into gear. Just like New Year’s is a great time to set new goals for yourself, the Fall Kick Off is a great time to set new goals in your relationship with God and with the church. Take some time this week to think about your commitment to your faithful relationships, and consider how you might shake things up.
But that’s not the end of the story, not where we left things this morning in our reading of scripture. Our second passage is a little wonky. I have to tell you, I wasn’t sure which New Testament passage to use this morning, because like a crazy pastor who decides on a theme before scripture, I knew what I wanted to talk about this morning, but not necessarily which scriptures to use. Well, that’s not entirely true. I read through the readings for this week, and starting with the Old Testament readings, a picture started to form about this sermon and fall routines. But then I got to the New Testament readings, and was a little thrown off. There are so many other great passages from Hebrews that could have fit in nicely with this theme, but this was the one we were given for the day. The gospel lesson was about Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath, and I didn’t think that one really worked, so I went with the reading from Hebrews. Looking back, maybe it would have been easier to go the other route!
But something in this passage spoke to me, even about routines. Let’s read it again:
What this passage is saying to me, is that God, through the sacrificial death of Jesus, is creating a future of good for us. We are brought to Mount Zion, to the holy mountain of Israel, not to the fiery mountain, to worship and to be redeemed. But this passage too challenges us to consider the path we take to get to that future. The passage closes with the statement that God is a consuming fire. There are other passages in the bible that speak of the refiner’s fire, the work of being brought through fire to be molded and shaped into the vessel of God’s work in the world. This consuming fire can be difficult to endure, but as it is God’s fire, it is one that is meant for good, it is meant to refine us into God’s people, doing God’s work in the world.
I also want to draw your attention to verse 25: see to it that you do not refuse the one who is speaking. In this case, God. The thing that pops into my mind when I hear this is the Godfather, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Let me tell you, I think it’s much harder to refuse the word and will of God, than the godfather! But we also need to acknowledge the last part of the phrase – the one who is speaking. If we are so caught up in our busy lives, in making our own dreams come true, how can we hear God speaking or notice the movement of the Holy Spirit? We have to create a routine for ourselves that allows for silence enough to hear God. For me, this routine includes running. When I run, I put everything else out of my mind, except the feeling of running, my body experiencing the sights and sounds – and sometimes the pains – of pounding the pavement. It is the only time my mind is quiet enough to hear God. But I need to add more to my routine, to put myself into the frame of mind to hear and understand God. I need to add more disciplined study of the scriptures, to be in constant prayer, to find a group of faithful disciples to share my struggles and joys with. This is what it means to be a follower of Christ, to be in relationship with the God of the universe.
Finally, I have to say a word about routines when it comes to caring for creation – because you know, it’s what I do. There is lots of debate on the issue, lots of “undecideds” when it comes to the issues of climate change. But the truth is, regardless of science, as people of faith, we are called to be good stewards of this earth, to care for it as the God of the universe cares for it, to leave it for future generations to enjoy the way we have enjoyed it. We are called to be good neighbors to our brothers and sisters across the globe. But we have failed. Our “business as usual” routine has left people of island nations struggling to find higher ground as sea levels rise, has created famine through drought conditions, and blisteringly high heat waves in Russia and even Alaska. The beauty of God’s creation withers in these conditions, changing the way we remember the majesty of the Grand Canyon and the mountains of Appalachia. Our routine MUST change to stem the tide of climate change. Our routine as it has been is not so good – it is not creating a healthy and sustainable future for all. Our routine has been selfish, considering only our needs now, not the needs of generations to come. We must consider a new routine, one routed in our faith, grounded in the knowledge that God has created each of us for a purpose to further God’s kingdom and care for God’s children, a routine that considers that we borrow the earth from our children, we don’t inherit it from our ancestors.
All of these routines must come together to bring about the future God has in store for all of God’s creation. We must first ground ourselves in our faith, through regular reading and study of God’s word, both alone and through study groups. We must wrestle with the scriptures, struggling with the questions we have with trusted friends and colleagues. We must find ways to strengthen our faith, to guide us through the difficult times, the consuming fire that seeks to refine us into the people God has created us to be. Our routine must be constantly adjusted, through the movement of the Spirit, to bring us to the path God has laid out for our lives. We must be willing to go where the Spirit takes us – which can sometimes mean difficult changes, and new landscapes. But we must have faith that God goes with us. And we must also consider our routines when it comes to the way we relate with the world. Our faith calls us not only to be in right relationship with God, but to be in right relationship with God’s creation – both the people in it, and the world itself. We should consider our actions when interacting with other people, remembering always to consider them as children of God, and deserving of God’s love, even when it’s hard to love them ourselves. We must find ways to create a sense of community with our neighbors – both near and far – and consider what community really means. And we must consider our impact and interaction with the natural world, and how what we do here and now impacts our brothers and sisters through space and time.
To be called Christians, disciples of Christ, is to follow the one who created us to be much more than we could have ever imagined for ourselves. To be true followers of Jesus, is to recognize that before we were even born, God laid claim to our lives, and set a purpose for our lives, to bring forth the kingdom of God. We must consider our routines – and not fall blithely into them, forgetting their purpose – but refresh them regularly, to call us back to the path God has laid out before us, and to remember that God goes with us, every step of the way.