Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost 8/3

          You remember WWJD, “What would Jesus do?” the little bracelets that became pretty trendy 10 or 12 years ago.  The bracelets are still around,   you can still buy them, but the fad kind of passed as such things do.  The fad passed but the sentiment behind it shouldn’t.   

          With WWJD, the point, and it’s a good point even for Lutherans who get nervous if anything smells of works righteousness, is to think about the model of behavior Jesus gives us as we think about how to live our own lives and make decisions.   Not that we can always do it, not that it’s going to earn us points on the heavenly scorecard, but it’s still good to think about what Jesus might do in any given situation. 

Sometimes it’s easy to know;  for example, Jesus’ willingness to interact with just about anyone including those considered unacceptable, unclean, unworthy for whatever reason tells us that we should be careful about who we might self-righteously decide are unworthy of our association.  It’s a reminder that we should be welcoming and compassionate as Jesus was, understanding that we’re not the judge.  So in encountering those who we would like to think are outside of God’s grace it’s easy to know what Jesus would do; he would welcome them; the teaching is pretty clear, even if it’s sometimes hard to do.    

          Jesus’ teaching about caring for the poor and hungry is pretty clear too, but as clear as it is, we quickly slip into lots of gray areas, lots of questions.  Are they really in need?  Is it someone who is just milking the system for every handout available?  Do they need money for food because they’re spending the money they have on booze, drugs, cigarettes and lottery tickets?  Sometimes I say that Jesus calls us to be compassionate, but he doesn’t call us to be stupid.  The trouble is that he doesn’t account for all the “what ifs” for every situation and that muddies things.  It makes knowing what he would do difficult sometimes.

WWJD sounds good but it’s not always clear.   It might just be us finding excuses because we really don’t want to do what Jesus would do, but sometimes we honestly don’t know. 

          Today’s story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with five loaves and two fish doesn’t seem like a WWJD text because we know we can’t do that.  But there’s a verse that begins this story and a verse that ends it, that tell us very clearly of something that Jesus did regularly, something that we could do, but which we most likely don’t do because we find it very difficult.

          Verse 13 reads, “Now when Jesus heard this (referring to the death of John the Baptist), he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”  Then verse 23, which is the beginning of next week’s gospel but is also the end of the feeding of the 5000 story, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.”

          This is a pretty regular pattern for Jesus in all of the gospels.  Much of his time was spent in interaction with others, teaching and healing and so forth; but there are also those times when he has a need to get away, for times of solitude and prayer.  Knowing for certain what Jesus would do in some ethical situations can be problematic, that’s true; but here’s something that we know Jesus did, a behavior that he modeled quite regularly that we don’t pay much attention to.

          I should note that this is intentional solitude that Jesus models.  In other words it’s not just being by yourself.  A lot of people spend time by themselves, sometimes extended periods, sometimes by choice, sometimes not.  For some such solitude can be re-creative, re-energizing and welcome, sitting quietly by the lake at camp for example; for some it can be a burden, too much time alone caused by the death of a spouse for example or physical problems that keep one homebound.  But what Jesus models here is time of solitude for the purpose of deepening one’s relationship with God.  In his humanity Jesus spent time alone, in prayer with the God he called Father.

          As Christians, deepening our relationship with God should be a priority.  Our relationship with God should not be a casual, occasional, “Hi, how are you?” relationship but one which is of vital importance and significance to us.  Jesus himself really doesn’t provide a lot of advice on how to deepen this relationship; he didn’t write a how-to manual; but what he does do is to model this rhythm of interaction and solitude.  When we ask WWJD, we tend to think about what Jesus did during times of interaction.  We should also pay attention to the times of solitude as for Jesus that seems to have been important time.

          In some ways this gets to the deeper question of what is the purpose of life or the goal of life.  A lot of the time I think we go through life doing what we have to do, trying to make ends meet without thinking too much about the heavy questions so maybe this will give you something to think about on a summer Sunday afternoon, but let’s think for a moment about Jesus and the purpose of his life.  On a grand theological scale we could say the purpose of his life was to be the savior of the world, the revelation of God, the mediator between God and humanity.  All of that is true.  In the activity of the earthly Jesus though, we could say that the purpose of his life was to serve and be in relationship with others and to be in relationship with God and I’m not sure that you could say that one was more important than the other. In his relationship with God, solitude was a significant part of it.

          A couple of weeks ago Kathy and I watched a DVD called Into Great Silence.  It’s a look at the life of the monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery nestled in the French Alps.  These are monks of the Carthusian order and while they are a community, much of their life is spent in solitude.  There is little interaction between the monks other than in their times of corporate worship and prayer; they don’t take a vow of silence but it’s close; in a three hour movie there probably wasn’t more than 5 minutes that included dialogue. 

          It’s filmed very beautifully although I must confess it gets a bit long at times (we didn’t watch the whole thing at once) but I found it kind of fascinating because it represents a group of people who have a different understanding of what life is for.  For them, the main focus of life is on nurturing their relationship with God in solitude.  It’s not a way of life that many can do or are called to do.  It’s not a higher form of existence either; just different.  To many of us it might appear that these monks are giving up a lot of what the gift of life has to offer.  Some might even object to their way of life as not being particularly useful or productive in the usual sense.  They also could be criticized for not doing what Jesus would do in terms of serving the needy or welcoming the stranger (visitors aren’t allowed).  It’s counter to what we think of as normal, so to appreciate their way of life means one must suspend some of the values that we consider right and good.

          What this film and these monks did for me though was to highlight  relationship with God as that pearl of great value that was part of one of last week’s little parables.  They carry it to an extreme that we have trouble relating to or that we might even be uncomfortable with, but it made me think.  For people of faith, being in relationship with God is part of being human.  Without that relationship we would say that something is missing.  The model that Jesus gives us indicates that periods of solitude are part of a normal life cycle and part of a relationship with God.  Are we missing a dimension of life if we don’t find time to go away to a lonely place to pray to offer our petitions, even our complaints, and to listen for the voice of God?

          It’s something to think about.  It’s not the only way to be faithful and serious about life as a Christian, but it’s something to think about.  The how to’s of it can’t be unpacked fully in a sermon; it’s not a one size fits all thing, and I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert but I would be happy to talk more with anyone who is interested or perhaps engage in a Bible Study conversation because I do think it’s important.  We have been given a gift of salvation and forgiveness.  In baptism we have been given an identity as children of God as in the water we die and are raised to new life in Christ, invited into a divine relationship.  As is the case with any meaningful relationship, it requires our attention. 

For Jesus, paying attention included times of intentional solitude and prayer.  When it comes to WWJD this is a case where we know for sure, without question, what Jesus would do.  It’s something to think about.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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