Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
It is so good to be back with you. As I have returned from sabbatical this week and worked my way through a mountain of mail and more than 3,500 emails, I have been reminded over and over again what a tremendous blessing it is to be called to serve alongside each other through this place we call Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Thank you for the gift of sabbatical that you offer to the pastors who serve this congregation and thank you for being you – children of God who are not afraid to step outside of the box once in a while in order to fulfill our mission together to “share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”
Earlier this year, as I was preparing to begin my first sabbatical experience I asked for wisdom from several clergy colleagues, mentors, and former professors who have had sabbatical experiences before I began my own sabbatical journey. Without question their common response to a sabbatical was, “you need to be open to the rhythm of the new schedule.” I didn’t really know that meant initially. After visiting 17 states and logging more than 9,000 miles in my Subaru, I think I’m beginning to understand what my colleagues and mentors meant when they said I needed to be open to the rhythm of a new schedule. And I think that this idea speaks to all aspects of our life together in Christ – not just during the days of sabbatical.
Maybe you’ve noticed this. Maybe you haven’t been to worship enough this summer to notice. Our worship has settled into the rhythm of the schedule that Jesus offers us in the 6th chapter of John over the past several weeks.
Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I will be so bold to say that you and I who are followers of the risen savior Jesus the Christ claim to believe that statement. We believe that God sent Jesus to live among us. Very simply put, God came to us. God with us. The rhythm of the relationship we have with God is God making the move, not us. As stewards of God, disciples of Jesus – we do not go to God. God comes to us – always has and always will. How does the movement of God fit into the rhythm of our schedule? When you and I first wake up to begin a new day, what impact does our belief that God comes down have as we enter each new day?
Before I really thought about or tried to live by being open to the rhythm of the new schedule that God coming to us in Jesus brings, I have to admit it – most of the time I acted and sounded a lot more like the community in our gospel reading today. They complained. Complained. Am I open to the rhythm of Jesus in my life – the new schedule that begins and ends with God coming for me in Jesus. Or – am I just complaining.
So I want to share this with you today. One of the most significant transformations that I experienced during this three month sabbatical as steward of God, a disciple of Jesus, who also happens to be blessed to be one of your pastors is this – complaining has gotten me and will continue to get me nowhere. I don’t know, maybe that speaks to you today too?
You see, the good news of Jesus, the good news of being open to the rhythm of a new schedule, is not about complaining until we get our way or have God contained in the boxes we think God should exist. The good news of Jesus, is that the savior of the world, the living bread that came down from heaven, came for you. And for me.
I was at a worship conference with Bishop Craig Satterlee a few weeks ago in Atlanta. In one workshop, he shared a story about an experience he had during the ELCA’s National Youth Gathering in Detroit this summer. Bishop Satterlee and another ELCA bishop were assigned to stand at a large baptismal font in the Cobo Center and offer a baptismal remembrance ritual to youth that walked by the font.
As I share this story with you, it’s important to paint a little picture of this setting, because Cobo Center was far from intimate and quiet. It is a huge convention center in downtown Detroit and one of the central locations for more than 30,000 high school students attending the gathering. It’s also important to remind you that these 30,000 young people are Lutheran youth. Doing something like voluntarily coming up to a large baptismal font with a couple odd looking men, we call them bishops, in order to participate in a ritual is not nearly as exciting as riding the zip-line that was nearby.
Needless to say, business was slow for the bishops at the baptismal font. So they decided to take a different strategy. They literally started yelling – “You, come over here!” to people who walked by the font and even grabbing onto the t-shirts of kids and adult leaders and dragging them to the font. At the font they placed a little water on their fore-heads and said something like, “Beloved child of God, remember that in your baptism you have been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever.”
That’s pretty cool, right. And it would be a great story of witnessing the living bread that came down from heaven if we stopped right there. But that’s not the end of the story. While the bishops were calling kids to come to the font and offering them a blessing, others in the Cobo Center were watching – namely several of the Cobo Center employees who were working in security and maintenance. At the end of the day, several of these employees walked up to the bishops, took off their hats, and asked if what they were doing at the font with the youth and adult leaders was only for those who were participating in the youth gathering or if they could be part of it too. Yes, was Bishop Satterlee’s reply – this is for you too. And so, as tears rolled down faces, water was poured, and blessings were shared.
In a commentary on today’s gospel reading, this same bishop offers us these thoughts. Bishop Satterlee wrote, “The risk of setting out on the journey, which is trusting and following Jesus, is that, even when we think we have a map or a plan, we do not really know where we are going or where we will end up.
The good news is that Jesus, rather than our knowledge and understanding, is the source of our calling and the source of our strength. What makes it good news is that, in those moments when we understandably have enough of this life that we cannot trust Jesus, Jesus has not had enough of us. So, rather than turning to our knowledge, perhaps we can turn to Jesus, recognizing that we cannot have enough of him.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is the living bread come down from heaven for you. For me. Jesus is the life-giving rhythm of each new day.
May you be blessed as you open yourself to the rhythm of the new schedule that is our life together in Christ. And may you be a blessing as you share that good news with everyone God places in your life this week. Thanks be to God. Amen.