After my old one quit working, a week or so ago Fed Ex delivered my new Fitbit. Not only does it tell time and remind me of the date. It also displays my pulse rate and tracks how many steps I take each day and how many calories I burn and how much I exercise. Whether it has to do with my compulsive behavior or my competitiveness or some combination of both, I like it. I find it a helpful tool to remind me to exercise and to walk my 10,000 steps each day. But my new Fitbit has one other feature which my old Fitbit did not. Each hour it reminds me to get up and to walk at least 250 steps. When I have sat for too long, my Fitbit vibrates and a little figure appears on the screen asking me to take it for a walk. I appreciate the reminder because without it I would too easily forget. Or become distracted. Or sometimes just get lazy.
In whatever way you do…
We build reminders into our lives to keep us in touch with what is important.
The question for this morning is what are those reminders you build into your day and into your week and into homes to remind you of or to reconnect you to God?
A couple years ago, a young man who grew up in this congregation and who now works in underdeveloped and developing countries around the world through an international economic development organization sent me an email from Somaliland where he was working for several months. The community in which he was living and working was predominantly Muslim. He wrote to tell me about his experience with the Muslim practice of praying five times a day. When the call to prayer sounded from the mosque, no matter what they were in the middle of, all work would stop and his Muslim colleagues would gather, turn towards Mecca and join in the obligatory prayer. Rather than being put off by the fact that what they were talking about or working on came to a screeching halt, he found those moments renewing. While he did not join in the Muslim prayers, he grew to appreciate the reminder to pause and to take those few minutes to meditate and to pray and to pay attention to that inner part of his life.
The scripture reading for this morning from Deuteronomy tells of a similar reminder.
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”
This affirmation of faith…
Stands at the very center of the Jewish faith.
For many Jews, this verse is written on a piece of paper, rolled up and place in a mezuzah and attached to the door or the gate or strapped to an arm. A concrete reminder of who they were and how they were called to live which they would see each time they entered or left their homes or each time they touched their arm.
Which brings me back to you and me.
While it was never really enough, because we were Christian and Christian in this country and because most of the culture around us called itself Christian, the assumption became that attending worship once a week or once a month or, for some, once or twice a year was enough.
Cultural Christianity may work that way and get by with that, but…
If you believe faith calls you to something more…
If you believe that a relationship with the Holy goes deeper than that…
If you believe things like gratitude and seeing others as neighbor need nurtured and supported and practiced…
Then, how do you do that?
What are those reminders you structure into your life which, if even for a moment, pull you…
Out of the routine of the day,
Out of the tasks that just have to be done,
Out of the tension of the situation in which you find yourself
And open your eyes and mind and heart to that Something Else? That Something More?
Open your eyes and your mind and your heart to who you are and how you are called to live?
What about something like this?
Maybe before you check your email or check in on Facebook or read the morning paper you read a verse from the Bible and take a moment to be quiet or read some type of devotional guide which helps you orient or reorient your life and your day.
Or, maybe you begin your lunch break or begin dinner by taking a few moments to remember the gift of food and those who do not have enough.
Or, maybe you sent the alarm on your phone to vibrate two or three times a day and when it does for you to stop what you are doing and to say thank you for two or three things.
Or, maybe you try to learn to pray constantly (see 1 Thessalonians 5).
Pick a Bible verse – “God’s steadfast love endures forever…” or “Remember, I am with you always…” Or a simple phrase like – “Be with me God.” And, practice saying it over and over again until it is just there in every moment of your day.
Or, maybe each day you take a moment and sit with your children and each of you write down two things you were thankful for that day. Put the scraps of paper in a jar on the table where you eat meals together. Then sometime during the week you take turns pulling out what was written and reading it to each other.
Maybe when you go grocery shopping or buy school supplies or buy new clothes you purposefully buy something for someone else. Those who don’t have enough food. Or don’t have a notebook for school. Or seldom, if ever, get new clothes. And, don’t just do it, but remind each other why you do it.
So, what do you do…
What reminders do you or will you put in place…
So your days look different?
So your home looks different?
So your eyes see new things?
What will you do so your hearts take a new shape
Each day closer to the image of the heart of God?
Yesterday I reread this poem by Mary Oliver.
Her words linger with me.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
– Mary Oliver
Thankfully, the story looks like it will have a happy ending.
Even if it did have a bumpy start.
Here is what I mean.
Growing up, Shodie had visited the Presbyterian Camp in Johnsonburg, NJ several times with her father. So when it came time for her to think about a summer job she applied and was hired to be a camp counselor there. As I was graduating from college and trying to figure out that “what next” for my life and Shodie and I were trying to figure out our relationship, Shodie was looking forward to some space and to returning to Johnsonburg and time with the good friends she had made there. As for myself, thinking I would like to spend more time with her, I decided to apply for a job there as well. Are you beginning to see where this is going? No surprise, but Shodie and I tell this part of our story a bit differently.
But what I would like to share with you this morning is not about Shodie and me, but about one of the things I learned that summer at Johnsonburg about God and faith and working with children and paying attention. During our orientation to camp and to the responsibilities of being a counselor and working with children, the Director of the camp told this story about the “God is wonderful” lady. She was an older woman. At least older than I was then, but probably younger than I am now. A volunteer who, each summer, gave a week of her time to be a counselor at the camp. To sleep in cabins on creaky bunks. To cook meals over a campfire. And, to care for and about a dozen or so children. She did this year after year. Over that time, she became known as the “God is wonderful” lady because any time she and her group of campers would be walking somewhere – on a nature hike, to the lakefront, to the Arts and Crafts Center – she was constantly stopping to look more closely at what she saw. The flower. A bug. The pattern sunlight made through the leaves of the trees. And not just pausing to look at them herself, but having her group of campers stop and gather around look as well. At the end of each of those moments, when it was time to move on to wherever they were going she would say, “God is wonderful.”
The children who were her campers probably didn’t learn how to tell the difference between a white oak and a red oak or about how bugs help in the decay process in the forest, but they did learn to notice what was around them. They did learn to pay attention to the flowers and the bugs and the sun shining through the leaves of the trees. They did learn to take a moment to stop and to appreciate what they saw. And, they did learn that God is wonderful.
So, where am I going with this?
Here we are.
In the first few official days of summer.
School is out.
The days are longer.
We are outside more.
Vacations are on our calendars.
Trips to the shore or to the lake or to the mountains.
Or somewhere in between or farther away.
Wherever you go and whatever you do, do this.
Slow down a bit from the normal hectic, push and pull of your life.
Notice the flowers. Not just that the petals are yellow, but look more closely to see what other colors are hidden inside. God is wonderful. Pay attention to the the smell of the air just after a thunderstorm. Pay attention to the way the summer breeze moves across the lake or moves the leaves on the tree. God is wonderful. Pay attention to the warmth of the sun on your shoulders and the coolness of the water around your feet. Pay attention to the delight and the laughter of the children as they jump in the waves. God is wonderful. Pay attention to the moments you have when you go for an evening walk. Pay attention to the presence of your family or your friends when they are gathered for a summer meal together. Pay attention to the sound of their voices and to the way they look at and care for each other. God is wonderful.
So here is an idea and an invitation.
Wherever you are this summer or wherever you go, as you pay attention and whisper or say your own version of God is wonderful…
After you have done that, take a picture.
Take a picture of that flower which you noticed.
Take a picture of your children or grandchildren.
Take a selfie at the ocean or around the picnic table.
And, then send it to us.
The hashtag for our summer pictures will be #GodIsWonderful.
We will post the pictures on the church’s Facebook page.
In the midst of the craziness of the world as it is, maybe our paying attention and our pictures we will remind us and remind each other of beauty and family and wonder and awe.
God is wonderful.
And the waters were gathered together and the dry land appeared.
And God saw that it was good.
And, the earth brought forth plants and trees.
And God saw that it was good.
And God made two great lights. The greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. And God saw that it was good.
And God created every living creature that moves and swims and flies.
And God saw that it was good.
And God created humankind, in God’s own image.
And God saw that it was good.
All, very good.
God is wonderful.
This morning I sat in our backyard with our dog.
I sipped my coffee while she sat at attention keeping watch over the yard for any stray squirrel or bird that might venture into her domain. As I watched, her nose began to twitch as she used her sense of smell to search the yard and beyond for that which she could not see.
It made me wonder…
How do I search out and come to know what may be there, but which my eyes cannot see?
Beyond what we know or name, O God,
You brush up against our lives.
As beauty which stops us in our tracks and takes our breath away.
As the quietness which both centers us and strengthens us.
As the hope which inspires.
And the forgiveness which heals.
And the anger which unsettles us and stirs us from complacency.
May we pay attention to all those moments in our lives
And learn to recognize them for what they are.
Open our eyes that we might see.
Open our ears that we might hear.
Open our hearts that we might understand.
Open our mouths that we might speak.
And, as always, O God
May our lives follow where our prayers first lead.