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First Reading = John 14:23-29
23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
We are continuing our series where we are learning how to practice peace, how to grow and cultivate peace in our lives. Last week we talked about focusing on the things that are actually in our hands.
For our text today, we’re actually going to skip over the healing. That’s right, even though healing a man covered with leprosy is impressive, we’re going to skip right over it. We’re going to focus on the very last verse in this story. I bet you already know that Jesus healed lepers. But did you know he did what he does in our final verse today? Let’s find out.
Sermon Reading = Luke 5:12-16
12Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he ordered him to tell no one. “Go,” he said, “and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.” 15But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
Jesus Regularly Paused
Since we’re recognizing All Saints Day today, I’ve been thinking about the families I have met with over the years while planning funerals. I ask families if there are any trademark phrases or stories that really capture the essence of their dearly departed. And often times someone will call out a memorable phrase, and everyone else goes, “Oh yeah!” For example, I can still audibly hear my great grandmother saying, “Well you didn’t eat much!” Or my grandmother who is still alive says, “Endeavor to persevere!”
As you think about some of your dearly departed loved ones, do any of those memorable phrases or notable habits come to mind?
In our text today, we get one of those, “Oh yeah!” moments for Jesus. We just heard Luke 5:16, “But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” Let me add Mark 1:35 to that, which says, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” And let me add Matthew 14:23 to that, which says, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all remembered that Jesus regularly, habitually, went off by himself to pray. So they tossed it in as a kind of “oh yeah!” line in the midst of their narratives. It wasn’t the main action like healing a leper, but all three of them thought it was important to share this habit that Jesus had of going off by himself to pray. Jesus had a habit of taking a breath, taking a pause, taking a time away from the infinite demands on his life and ministry.
In fact, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all highlight the same three components of Jesus’ habit of taking a breath: he went to a place, to be silent and alone, and he prayed. In the midst of his whirlwind three years of ministry, Jesus regularly paused to take a breath by going to a place, to be silent and alone, and pray.
Finding A Place
So let’s take those in order. Our first tool for taking a deep breath and practicing peace is to find a place.
In our text today, we heard that Jesus went to deserted places. Even on the night he was going to be betrayed, he withdrew by himself to the Garden of Gethsemane – an orchard outside of town. He connected with God in places that were deserted and often wild.
But that doesn’t have to be your place. Sometimes I connect with God well in a crowd when all of the noise just blends into background energy. Like a Panera or Starbucks. Maybe for you it’s a trail. Maybe it’s your basement.
What’s a specific place you can connect with God without being distracted?
When we got the most recent snow, I went out on a hike late at night while the snow was still coming down pretty hard. It was about 7 degrees plus wind and snow, so I was pretty bundled up, but I connect with God when I am hiking through the deserted snowy landscape. Usually it’s just my boot tracks, but this time a fellow crazy person had left tracks with their fat tire bike. Maybe they were connecting with God in the deserted snowy landscape as well.
I’ve also invested in my ability to just sit on my porch. We got an infrared heater that I hung on the ceiling of our covered patio. When I’m sitting directly underneath it, I can look at the distant mountains behind my house even if it’s below freezing. Being alone outside, and especially if it’s a snowy landscape – that’s my place.
What’s your place to connect with God? Do you need to invest in that space like I did with the heater or by getting better snow gear? What’s your place?
Silent and Alone
For our next tool from Jesus, we’re gonna have to go there, people. Let’s talk about the “s” word – silence. Jesus was silent and alone. A few years ago, Pastor Carol led a mostly-silent retreat. Our group was…not the most skilled at the silent part. What’s so hard about silence?
Sometimes when my younger son is asking me a million questions and my older son is banging on coffee cans, silence sounds mighty nice! Archelaus, an ancient king of Macedon, was in the barber’s chair. And his barber, a typically gregarious fellow, asked the king how he would like his hair cut. And the king responded, “In silence.”
So silence can be golden. But you can also have awkward pauses. When you’re public speaking, every second of silence feels like an eternity. When my children are suddenly very quiet, I’m afraid something’s wrong! What’s so tough about silence?
The spiritual author Richard Foster took his best guess on this question. He said, “We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silence, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.”
I love that ending – silence is intimately related to trust. It’s kind of like if you have a really long silence on a first date, that’s bad. But it’s not always bad if you have a long pause after you’ve been married for a long time. It’s a sign of trust. Or your spouse is mad at you. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the hearer.
So I believe part of our struggle with silence is that it requires us to trust. We have to trust that the world will keep spinning even if we aren’t exhaling our words. We have to trust that it’s OK to just be still instead of always doing something. We have to trust that God will be present, as he was for Elijah, in the sound of sheer silence. And we have to trust God enough to let him set the agenda in our silence, for we have no words with which to guide the conversation.
The Hawaiians use the term Haole for non-natives. It’s not a compliment. A native Hawaiian once told Max Lucado that the term means “no breath.” And it was associated with the European immigrants because, “our forefathers thought the settlers were always in a hurry to build plantations, harbors, and ranches. To the native Hawaiians they seemed short of breath.”
So if you feel like you’re always in a hurry, stop and take a breath. If you feel like you’re short on breath right now – short on the breath of God in your soul – spend some time in silence.
If you haven’t spent a lot of time in silence, it’ll probably feel like slamming on your brakes in your car. It’ll be jarring. But as you develop a habit of silence, as Jesus did, it becomes a welcome respite rather than a jarring stop. If you’re out of breath, embrace some silence like Jesus did.
Obviously if you chose one of those Panera or Starbucks kind of places to connect with God, you’re not going to be silently alone there. You might need a different structure to be silently alone.
And I don’t want to skip over the “alone” part, either. If you’re an external processor, you want to talk about the things you’re thinking, right? That’s great! But sometimes you also need to let God do the talking instead of you. Sometimes you need to let God be your sounding board instead of a friend.
So we’ve heard about finding your place. We’ve heard about being silently alone. Jesus’ third tool was praying.
Seeing a beautiful sunset is nice. It might even give you a little tingle of momentary peace. But connecting that sunset with your Creator through prayer cultivates peace throughout your entire life. It’s prayer that can take that beautiful sunset and turn it into beauty in your soul.
There are different forms of prayer, but when you’re trying to take a pause, to take a breath, to take a break, I would recommend saying or thinking as little as possible. Let God do the talking. Receive God’s words instead of hurling your words at God.
I’ve used cultivation as a metaphor for this sermon series. So imagine that you are the corn. Can you will yourself to grow taller? Can you stress your way to growing more kernels? Can you force your way to the top of the plant so that other ear doesn’t steal your sunshine? No.
You grow as you receive sun, as you receive the rain, as you receive nutrients from the soil. So try to pray in a way that receives from God rather than throwing things at God.
There’s a song called “Word of God Speak” that captures this image, I think. The chorus goes, “Word of God speak. Would you pour down like rain, washing my eyes to see your majesty. To be still and know that you’re in this place. Please let me stay and rest in your holiness. Word of God speak.”
Let God’s words rain down. It might be a gentle rain. It might be a drop or two. It might be a deluge! Receive God’s words in prayer. In fact, while I was typing those words, the Holy Spirit squirted me with some of God’s words and told me to send a note to a specific person that I had neglected to do the last two times the Holy Spirit had prompted me. So I stopped right then and sent the note.
So when you find your place, and you are silent and alone, and you pray to receive the nourishing rain of God’s words, watch out! You’re in a splash zone! It’s like Shamu at Sea World – if you sit in God’s presence you might get wet with the Word of God! And like Shamu splashing you at Sea World, that would be a good thing to hear from God.
Sisters and brothers, if you want to cultivate and practice peace in your life no matter your circumstances, Jesus shows us how important it is to take a breath. To take a pause. To find a place, to be silent and alone, and pray to receive God’s words like nourishing rain.
Where’s your place? Where do you connect best with God? How can you intentionally go to that place this week?
Do you have opportunities for silence and being alone with God? How can you seek those opportunities this week?
When was the last time you just sat and received God’s words in prayer instead of throwing your words at him? When can you sit and listen to what God is speaking this week?
Taking a breath sounds easy, but it takes work. Jesus had to send the crowds away. Jesus had to tell his disciples to stay behind. He had to manufacture his own deep breaths and pauses. We might have to manufacture those opportunities in our lives, too.
But if you do…if you place yourself, silent and alone, in God’s splash zone, I bet you’ll get a little wet with the Word of God.
Wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air? Amen.