Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Mike Turgeon Momentum for life: “Devotion in motion” February 5, 2012
"That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do."
Momentum for life: “Devotion in motion”
A wise person once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Maybe you’ve heard this. Today’s scripture lesson shows us how Jesus pulled this off. During the day he worked; he healed, he ministered to those in need. Here we see him responding to the urgent needs of an entire city gathered around his door, curing the sick, the diseased, the possessed. There may be no more packed agenda than the one Jesus conducted daily on his journey.
And when the morning comes, where do we find him? Alone, in prayer, with God. Jesus worked and Jesus prayed, prayed and worked, and it was the balance between the two that let him keep on doing the main thing--proclaiming his message of hope in the midst of hopelessness. This is now our mission, still proclaiming that you can take courage in Christ despite the discouragement and dysfunction of life.
The spiritual life is a matter of balance and like the art of dance, your spirit thrives most when it is on the move, in step with the Holy Spirit.
What is your main thing?
So what is your main thing?
Your main thing is the thing you are devoted to. Devotion is a word we hear a lot in religious circles, as in I have a daily devotion. So when we think of devotion we also think of commitment, though they are not quite the same thing. Let’s call them cousins. It’s easy to make a commitment, but keeping that commitment for life is your devotion. Ask any married couple. Standing at the altar saying “I do” is an easy commitment; yes, it’s a bit nerve-wracking but anyone can do it, anyone can say the words. Check back with the married couple after a few years and you’ll get a whole different reading on the relationship than you did on the wedding day.
From everything we read and know about Jesus, he understood the difference between commitment and devotion; to keep his commitment to proclaim the Good News of God’s kingdom, he knew he would have to keep his devotion in motion, maintain his spiritual momentum; keep his spirit fresh, his eye on the prize, his priorities in alignment with God’s will.
Spiritual momentum, the momentum for life of which we’ve been speaking these last few weeks is not a lot different than physical momentum, really. Like a body in motion, the spirit, once engaged, tends to stay in motion. And when the body or the spirit is not in motion, it tends to stay that way, too.
I guess my favorite example of momentum comes from the world of sports. Seven years ago now, those of you who are baseball fans witnessed one of the most improbable tales of momentum in modern sports history. I’m speaking, of course, of the 2004 Boston Red Sox playing against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Right from the outset, it didn’t look good for the Sox. And those of you who know baseball history are aware that the Red Sox have one of the worst records of post-season futility there is. The curse of the Bambino refers to the year 1918 in which the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. What were they thinking?! It was a pure business transaction, or so they thought.
Since that trade, the Red Sox went 85 years without a World Series Championship. They made it into the Series four times during that span, but each time they lost the deciding game seven to add to their heartbreak. The only grace here is that they weren’t the Chicago Cubs, who had an even worse post-season record.
And the depth of the heartbreak is legendary. The last time before 2004 that the Sox got close enough to smell complete victory was in 1986 when they were a mere one out away from the ultimate prize. That was the infamous Bill Buckner game. Bill Buckner, the first baseman, went to catch an easy ground ball hit right to him and it went through his legs into right field, giving up the winning run.
So the 2004 World Series looked to have the Bambino’s curse all over it as the Yankees won the first three games of the series. No team had ever come back after being down three games to none. Boston would need to win four straight and the last two games would be in the hallowed cathedral known as Yankee Stadium.
That is about when I lost interest and gave up on the series entirely. I thought I knew where it was all headed. Then the Sox won games four and five, it was now three games to two. I tuned back in for game six--they won again. And the rest, as they say, is history; the Red Sox did what no other team had ever done, they won the Championship Series after being down three games to none. Incredible! They went on to win the World Series in almost anti-climactic fashion, beating the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games.
How did that work? How did they generate all that momentum after being left for dead? It’s hard to say, sometimes gaining momentum is so subtle you don’t even notice where it comes from. And sometimes momentum is built by taking that first step, or praying that first prayer.
In our scripture, we see Jesus going off in the morning to a deserted place by himself to pray; from what we see in the Gospels, this is part of Jesus’ daily routine, a daily ordering of priorities; he re-commits himself to his main thing, staying in close relationship with God.
How momentum begins may be somewhat of a mystery, but I think we all know how momentum ends in the spiritual life. We stop praying, we stop setting aside time for God.
In preparation for this sermon, I had to ask myself this question, what is my main thing? Am I as devoted to my relationship to God as I am to work, say. And it occurred to me that I don’t ever need to be reminded to work; however, I must constantly be reminded to pray.
I know what you’re thinking, wait a minute, I thought pastors spent their entire day immersed in prayer and good works.
If only that were true! The reputation of pastors has taken a tremendous beating over the last 30 years, but people still carry an image that pastors somehow have a leg up on the spiritual life. Let me burst that bubble for you. My fear of the Lord is good for about 24 hours max, then it’s back to square one.
Momentum for life:
I believe the key to keeping our main thing main occurs every morning in that waking hour, you know the one I mean. Each morning when you come aware that a new day is dawning, we tend to respond in two ways: “Oh, God, it’s a new day,” or “Oh, God, it’s a new day.”
Do we approach God’s new day with a heart bursting with the gracious love of Jesus Christ in it? Because if you do, that is the place where you will find a deep well of courage Or in that waking hour, do you decide to discount God’s blessing, and accept dis-couragement as your mantle of the day?
Discouragement is literally a lack of courage, and it goes against what Jesus demonstrates here and what Jesus asks of us. Five chapters later in Mark 6, at the time when he came out on to the sea to save the disciples from the storm, it’s instructive what Jesus said, “Take heart, it is I.”
Courage = heart
Take heart. Take courage in Christ, act from your heart with Christ.
Discouragement comes when we lose track of our main thing. Discouragement is being lost in the woods without a compass or a guide. Discouragement is what we get when we climb ladders that are placed against the wrong wall.
That is such an apt image for some of the ways we go about living our lives. Whatever wall you’re scaling, you better make sure there’s some there there.
It’s kind of like the old saying, “No one on their deathbed says I wish I had spent more time at the office.” It’s like that when we seek deep spiritual sustenance in so many shallow places, discouragement becomes our companion. Discouragement comes when we get lost in the urgent, limited perspective of the day. The urgent is not necessarily the most important.
The disciples here get kind of caught up in the urgency of things. “Where in the heck are you, Jesus, don't you know you are needed, everyone is looking for you?!” Jesus is not fazed by their frenzy. He is prepared, in balance, fresh from his time alone with God. He doesn’t admonish, doesn’t scold, but he does invoke the main thing, staying true to his mission. His devotion is in motion.
On Tuesday of this week I visited with Olaf Hanssen, the 90 year-old patriarch of the Hanssen clan, husband to Heddy. We had quite a good conversation. He is looking back on his life now, aware that he is at the end. He said a remarkable thing to me, he said it in Latin:
Ora et labora
Ora et labora = pray and work
Olaf was re-stating his philosophy of life, his mantra, as it were. I was stunned, as I often am in my conversations among you how relevant it was to this morning’s scripture.
Pray and work; stay in close contact with God, be in ministry with Christ. The balance between the two is what orders our steps. Keep your main thing main, keep your devotion in motion.