First I read this:
A basic trouble is that most Churches limit themselves unnecessarily by addressing their message almost exclusively to those who are open to religious impressions through the intellect, whereas ... there are at least four other gateways -- the emotions, the imagination, the aesthetic feeling, and the will, through which they can be reached. A. J. Gossip (1873-1954)Over the years I have found that preaching the gospel, especially to junior high and high school students, required me to be very creative. Not because I sought to somehow "entertain" them, but because it quickly becomes apparent that each child learns in a different way... and no one way is "right." (For more insight into this, read this article -- it had a profound impact on me years ago.)
Some of my kids liked small group discussions... some needed to use their hands in an active (and productive!) way... some learned quietly in a large group... some needed silence to reflect in a journal... still others loved getting up front or raising their hands frequently with questions or comments. You get the point. There are a multitude of ways that each of us learn. I personally need to write notes when I listen to anything. Once the words go from ear to brain to hand to eye... it's in there. I rarely refer back to the notes. The act of writing itself helps me remember what I'm hearing.
So why would we think the act of preaching the gospel is limited to expository preaching?! I love a hearty sermon more than most, I promise you. Given my aforementioned propensity to take notes, I can easily track with the speaker and concentrate for up to an hour as a good word is given.
Nevertheless... I also hear Jesus in Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, or Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son or in a songbird at the birdbath in my front yard. I smell Jesus when I walk through poor villages in the volcanic highlands of Guatemala or when I am grilling six dozen burgers for youth group. I feel His presence when I am talking with a college student about her sense of what God might have for her future, or when I hear an elderly woman behind me sing a hymn in church. So, so many ways that we may apprehend the presence of our dear Christ in, through, and with our senses. The longer I know and follow Him, the more often I am surprised by how he communicates. How can anyone deny this?!
Soon after my mind wandered down this path of reflection, I was further blessed by today's reading from the Book of Exodus, chapter 31:
The LORD then gave these instructions to Moses: “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the LORD. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’”I have preached more than once about the Sabbath, camping on Exodus 20 and the giving of the Ten Commandments. I have made a strong point that this fourth commandment is treated by most of us believers as a great suggestion rather than a commandment. If we treated the other commandments this way -- about lying, murder, stealing and so on -- we would be in far greater trouble than we already are!!
Yet I have never included this poignant follow up section from chapter 31. Here we are reminded of God's earnest call for intimacy with His people. Our relationship with God is one of deep, abiding, safe love. How foolish we are to treat so casually.
More importantly, I find that the more steadily I practice Sabbath, the better I see, hear, taste, feel, and think about God. Sabbath helps me "sharpen my saw." All the more reason to practice it!
Finally, I was moved by this keen reminder. On this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa, twenty-seven years after being put there for being convicted of plotting to overthrow the government because of its hateful and oppressive policy of apartheid. At one point he wrote:
“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”As we enjoy God's presence in a constant and intimate way through all of our senses, as we especially revel in that holy relationship through Sabbath practice, I know that we will be unable to not desire the way of Jesus, a way that respects and enhances others' lives. As we are set free, once and for all, and in new ways each year, the proclamation of the gospel can simply flow out of us. As it says in Luke 19:40, the stones would cry out with its truth and beauty; it cannot and would not be suppressed. May it be so, Lord.