Every couple of months lately at church we have been watching these Nooma videos and Kyle has asked me to write a thing on them to read afterwards. A couple of people after church asked me to post it, so here it is.
Most of us here are spiritual refugees.
At some point in time, or perhaps slowly over a span of time, and in some way, we encountered Jesus. And it was like the song we sing. All of our lives we were in hiding. We hoped there would be someone just like Jesus. We found him. He found us. And we knew he was the one to believe in.
To put it in the language we used to use… we were saved. But unlike our old vernacular where we used “saved” as a word to describe who we were and what we were like… “He’s cool, intelligent, saved, and handsome,” “saved” was a verb. It was what happened to us. We, were, saved. Saved from ourselves. Saved from a lifetime without God. Saved from hopelessness.
We found God. God found us.
We entered into relationship with God because we encountered Jesus. God was our life. God was our breath. And no matter where we lived, the Kingdom of God was our home.
There are rhythms and rituals in every town, whether they are written down or not, that help you be a better citizen of that town… that make life a little more enjoyable.
In my home town the rhythm of life centered not around the Gregorian or Julian or Chinese calendar, but on the calendar voted on once a year by the area school board. In the summer nothing much happened because the school calendar was blank. In the fall you could set your clock to Friday Night Football and if you wanted to understand and be understood by your community, you ceased your labors and you showed up at the stadium. Early if you were smart. Winter brought on basketball and parties. In the spring everything either pointed to or away from Spring Break and late spring you sensed a finality to the year, then you rested in the summer, then it started all over. Tick. Tock. Snap. Snap. You lived your life by the rhythm of the community.
The rituals were more numerous but more subtle and nuanced. You’re driving, one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on the gear shift. Another vehicle passes by. Whether you know the driver or not your grip on the steering wheel loosens and you extend your fingers upward into what is known as the Texas wave. You do this out of kindness. You do it to express solidarity. You do it if you know what is good for you, for if you fail to do it you may unknowingly set off a feud between families that lasts for generations. (It happens.)
You run into people around town, you ask how their parents are. You see your neighbors are away, you pick up their newspapers. You hold the door for people within thirty yards. You break silences with small talk… weather, sports, but never politics or religion. If you have a garden you give away part of it to your neighbors, no questions asked. You look the other way when you sense people need their privacy.
Rhythms and Rituals.
We entered into relationship with God because we encountered Jesus. God was our life. God was our breath. And no matter where we lived, the Kingdom of God was our home. And we realized and observed and were taught that life in the God’s kingdom also had its own rhythms and rituals.
Rhythms. Sundays were meant for worship, communal meals, rest (which included naps and the Dallas Cowboys) possibly worship again, and a reflection on the week ahead. Prayer meeting on Wednesdays. Christmas pointed to Good Friday which pointed to Easter which was made possible by Christmas, and over and over again.
Rituals. Prayer. Prayer is communication with God. Scripture Reading. The Bible is the account of God revealing himself to his people, of his people responding, and what that looked like, so we read and studied the Bible to get a glimpse into God and the people of God. Stewardship. We were careful with our time and with our money and we gave at least a small amount of our time and money to the Kingdom of God because we recognized that all our time and all our money belonged to God anyway.
We entered into relationship with God because we encountered Jesus. God was our life. God was our breath. And no matter where we lived, the Kingdom of God was our home. And we realized and observed and were taught that life in God’s kingdom also had its own rhythms and rituals. Those rhythms and rituals served a purpose. They helped us know and love God. Then two things happened. One… our hearts at some point stopped beating for God and started beating for the rhythms and rituals of the Kingdom of God. We began to care less about communication with God and more about when and where and how we should pray. Scripture reading as an act of communion and worship gave way to Scripture reading as an act of memorization and one-upmanship.
Two… it seemed that the number of rhythms and rituals began to grow exponentially with every passing week. What we considered basic at the beginning was no longer basic. In addition to prayer and Bible Study and worship we added not hanging out with certain people and not saying certain words and to listening to only one type of music and reading only certain types of books and reading a certain amount of scripture a day and telling people where they fall short and living by a certain image and before we knew it our life was consumed with a passion for rhythms and rituals and not with God.
The next part of the story is simple. We left that world. Either willingly or by coercion because we didn’t live up to expectations, we left. And somehow in the midst of the confusion we ended up here.
Most of us here are spiritual refugees, seeking refuge from a world where rhythms and rituals were ends, rather than means to an end. We are trying to reclaim our fascination and passion for Jesus. We are asking ourselves what it means to be a follower of God. But you know what some of us are finding out? We are finding out that some of those old rhythms and rituals, when seen in the right context, are helping us expand our fascination with and passion for Jesus.
It’s no different than in our other relationships. I have a friend that I call in June and he calls in December and we talk twice a year. There’s someone I spend most Thursday evening’s with watching episodes of the greatest television show ever, Ed. Eating a meal with one friend is generally preceded by a blessing. Other friends I try to email my schedule to once a week. I’m not passionate about phone conversations and watching television simultaneously with someone else and meal etiquette and the sharing of agendas. I’m passionate about the people I love.
Prayer means nothing if all we are concerned with is how and how much we do it, but it means everything if it expands our relationship with God. Tithing means nothing if we do it out of obligation or a hope for something in return, but it means everything if it creates a sense of excitement about God’s work in the world. Scripture means nothing if we use it as a fact finder or weapon or a textbook, but it means everything when read as a window into the mind of God.
The rhythms and rituals of the Kingdom of God mean nothing if they aren’t a celebration of our encounter with Jesus.