July 10, 2016 / Pastor Sara Wolbrecht / Living in the FLOW 2: Hearing the Good Shepherd / Psalm 23
Friends, to get us where we’re headed this summer and this morning, we begin with a question: What is faith? So often, faith is often boiled down to a question of: Do you believe or not? Last Sunday we kicked off our new summer sermon series, a series on Living in the FLOW the rhythms of God in our world and lives. This series will challenge this very question – exploring how the question of faith – particularly the question of following Jesus, is much less about Do you believe or not? Instead the questions is: Would you like to enter the flow? To begin our journey, last week we watched a video called Rhythm, a reflection naming one way to frame our understanding of living in the flow of God. To catch folks up – and by way of a review – here is a one-minute snippet of the longer video we watched last week.
Rhythm Trailer, Nooma, Rob Bell, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FNHoYl8a78
We began our journey last week by talking about being in tune. That Jesus offers us an invitation to step into the flow of God, to listen for the song and live our lives in tune with the rhythm that has been happening across the world for thousands of years. And in the weeks to come, in the midst of savoring our summer experiences, we’ll also explore and encounter the flow of God – within us and around us – together.
Asking people this question this week, I heard responses like: a love letter from God, life-giving, deep and wide, filled with wisdom, grounding, overwhelming, intimidating, familiar yet foreign. What is the bible to you?
Today, we are turning to the Bible because the Bible offers at least two vital perspectives for us as we consider the FLOW of God.
First, 1. Reading the Bible teaches us what the flow of God is like! Getting familiar with what it says helps us to learn about the life of Jesus and the story of God. That is what it’s about, right? The place we begin to know, embody, understand who God is, who Jesus is, is by actually opening the Bible and seeing for ourselves. This is how we begin to see how to tune our lives to this song that has been playing throughout the centuries. If we don’t know how it goes, we won’t recognize the flow in ourselves or in the world.
Second, 2. Reading the Bible is an experience of the flow of God. As we read the bible, something happens. It’s like sticking our toes into the warm water of the flow of God simply by opening up these pages and prayerfully opening up ourselves. We open ourselves to notice, to hear, receive from God something that speaks to us in the moment and our circumstances.
This is why we are turning to the bible today. And I am mindful that this may or may not have been a regular experience in our lives – but today we name this as true. Even though we hear the Bible used as a weapon of oppression, as something that is thumped around and slammed against people to draw lines between us and them, who is in and who is out – we reclaim today that this is not the way that the bible can and should be used. Today, we take the radical stance that the Bible leads us into the flow of God. Which is a flow of love and grace and an invitation into a way of life for all people.
And we choose to make space to experience that together today. We’re going to do that by using an ancient practice – it’s a contemplative approach to reading scripture which we tried two months ago. Something we’ll do together as a large group, but really a practice designed to do on our own or in smaller groups. Did you hear that? This is something we can use on our own to experience the flow of God. In the morning when we wake up, as we wait at the bus stop, during our lunch break. We’re doing this today with the hope it may be something we take away and try later.
It is a practice that was first used in the 3rd Century (you know the 3rd C, just a few years back) initially practiced by monastics, by folks we would call monks who lived away from the world in intentional community and with a particular ear toward God. And through the centuries, this practice became much more widely used, and it was formalized into four steps in the 11th century.
This practice is called Lectio Divina. The Latin “Lectio” means word or reading. And “Divina” means holy, sacred, divine. And so what we’re about to try is called Divine Reading, or Holy Word. Lectio Divina.
Lectio, the process uses repetition – reading through the text many times listening for a word or phrase that gets our attention, then prayerfully reflecting on how that word or phrase connects with our lives.
Lectio, and listening to Scripture and contemplating it in this way, affirms two things. First, it reminds us that we believe Scripture to be God’s LIVING word. It has a pulse and breath and continues to speak to us in fresh, alive ways – it’s not just a static, ancient text. It keeps flowing. And second – Lectio affirms that we are also changing, living in transition, we are always being made new. God’s word will speak to us in new ways TODAY because WE are in a different place today than we were five years ago or even last week. There is always a fresh word to hear in the midst of the rhythm and reality of our lives. So that’s Lectio Divina.
So friends, let’s get ready to rumble. To Lectio. Let’s get comfortable and ready to listen. I recommend closing your eyes and just listening for the words. But if you are a more visual person, pull out that bulletin insert and you can follow along with the words.
And get comfortable in your seat. Roll your shoulders back. Please become aware of your breath – and continue to feel the air flowing in and out.
Our reading is Psalm 23, perhaps the best-known and most beloved psalm. Maybe the best-known passage in all of scripture.
The first step in Lectio is READING. Our first time reading is to listen for a word or phrase that touches our heart, that gets your attention. That’s what we listen for – one word or phrase. Do not expect lightning to strike, just something that shimmers for you. When the word or phrase is found, gently recite it, repeat it and reflect on it during the silence that follows. (We’re using The Message version, so you’ll hear this passage a little differently than usual).
Let us pray. God, we let our breath slow down, we settle into this space, yet we also attune our ears, minds, hearts to you, with great anticipation that you are here – and we are listening now as we turn to scripture…Amen.
Psalm 23 (The Message)
God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
(Silence) If you are willing, I invite you to share out loud the word or phrase that has touched your heart. Just the word, no commentary yet.
…Thank you for sharing. The next step is REFLECTION. We each ponder the word that has touched our heart and ask where the word or phrase touches our life today. As we do this, do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of ourselves that, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of our self. Embrace those things that come up, listen to them. Continue to repeat your word while holding it in dialogue with God, listening for WHY this word grabs our attention today, as we hear the text again, this time read by Thomas, with silence after.
Psalm 23 (The Message) – Thomas
(Silence) We’ll have a chance to share what we’re hearing in a moment, after our final reading.
The third step is RESPONDING. The third and final reading is for the purpose of experiencing Christ "calling us into the flow." What is God in this text calling us to do or to become today or this week? God is always inviting us into the flow, and into transformation, into seeing our live sin a fresh way. How are we invited to be or to do differently? We listen for our response, as we hear the passage a final time.
Psalm 23 (The Message) – Sara
And now we make space to share, for those who would like to. You do not have to worry about sounding smart or insightful or being articulate – you can be brief. I’ve noticed in my experience, our own willingness to speak up of how we’re experiencing God – God always uses it to speak to someone else. And in the week that we have had in our country, I know many of us are hungering to hear words of grace from God spoken by others – this is a great way to practice that. So let’s see together: what word/phrase spoke to you and what have you been noticing about it? How are you invited to respond? (For this part we’ll use a mic so that we can be sure everyone can hear).
…Thank you for sharing, friends. For experiencing the flow and sharing that experience. Before we get to the final step of Lectio, I want to pause for a relfeciton and make a connection to another place in the bible.
Which is John 10. Last week we named how John’s gospel is where we find the seven “I am “ statement of Jesus – I am the Bread of Life, and last week we heard, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” In John 10, Jesus is talking with his disciples and he makes a bold claim. He says: Jesus: “I am the Good Shepherd.” Every Jewish person in that culture knew the Psalms, they had large parts of what we know as the Old Testament memorized, or at least very familiar. So for Jesus to say this, immediately his disciples detected the resonance of Psalm 23 in His words. They knew that he was calling himself this kind of good shepherd, these very words we have been listening to. And Jesus was saying: this is what I am like.
Friends, this has been the kind of week where it is easy to forget what our God is like. When people are dying in the streets and the realities of racism and privilege and fear and hatred feel so flagrantly thrown around, when we find ourselves with tears on behalf of those who have been killed and those who remain, when we start worrying about our own friends and children – we wonder: what do we do? I have spent this week so disoriented by the grief and pain in our headlines – Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, five police officers in Dallas. It feels so surreal – have you felt that way? And that feeling of knowing that there is something we need to do, yet feeling so paralyzed.
Friends there is so much I do not know – what to do, how to respond. But I know it is time to do something. And I know that this something is birthed in us by the Spirit of God, that the courage and insight and compassion to respond with humility comes as we step into the flow of God. And we have heard that happening here in what we have heard from one another. The toe stuck into the flow of God.
And it is birthed in us as we come back to this place of remembering who our God is. And therefore, who we are as the Beloved of God.
So Psalm 23, this is the kind of flow Jesus invites us into – a flow of trust and assurance lived in close relationship with our Good Shepherd – who yes, leads us to green meadows and to drink from quiet waters and allows us to catch our breath and find our way. And that final line about being at home in the house of God – Jesus is not describing a far off heaven, but a lived reality here and now where there is a place for us to belong no matter what happens, no matter where we physically find ourselves. This is the flow, that according to Psalm 23 sounds so idyllic and nurturing and even utopian, yet also acknowledges that yes, there are times when we walk through Death Valley, that yes, we will be face to face with enemies. There are those times, too. And yet the Good Shepherd stays at our side.
In this week, and in all that are to come, we remember Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and the Bread of Life, and the Light of the World, and so much more. This is who our God is! And this absolutely defines who we are as God’s people. Beloved: no matter what. And absolutely called to respond as the Bread and Lights and Shepherds this world needs here and now.
The fourth and final step of Lectio Divina is to REMAINING. To simply rest as the Beloved of God in the presence of God. To hold what we have heard spoken through the bible, spoken through each other, as a word of grace and hope for us. So let’s continue to hold that kind of space for each other as the band comes up. Let’s pray as we remain with God, together:
God, if we’re honest, we are people who long to hear from you, who long to experience something sacred and bigger than ourselves. And so we thank you for the beauty and fun and wonder of this time we have shared. We thank you that you are a God who is not far-off and distant, but you are a God who is in this world, in our lives, and continues to speak to us – including through your Word. This ancient text, this collection of writings, that we believe can form us and inform us even two-thousand years later. That’s incredible. Thank you, thank you for what you evoked in us. Thank you, too, for the brave words shared in this group. We hold them in confidence and with the great privilege of being community for one another. And as we sing now, we pray God that you would continue to percolate those words and possibilities and anything else you would have us hear from you today, anything you’d have us notice and pay attention to, and anything you might change in us for the sake of following Jesus into the flow of God. We’re here, we’re thankful, and we remain with you as we sing of who you are, and who we are…