We all know the benefits of exercise. We look at our children, how bright and beautiful they are, how full of potential. They are starting a new school year, and school is almost entirely about exercising them in various ways. They do language exercises in reading and writing. They do math exercises. They do science and art exercises. They do physical education.
One thing the public schools cannot do is help them exercise their faith. That has to be done, if it is to be done at all, at home and in church.
We have looked at several aspects of faith the last two weeks. First we explored trust and anticipation, which fuel the hope that faith brings. How important is hope? Life is so very hard and often wracked with pain. Trusting and anticipating God’s provision and purposes for you in this life and the life to come are in themselves life-giving. Last week we touched on perseverance, the tenacity of hanging on to our faith through all the trials and tribulations we face.
Today, we look at faith as an exercise.
This poor woman in today’s Gospel (Luke 13:10-17) has been bent over with a spirit that has crippled her for 18 years. Our minds leap to the physical picture of someone with osteoporosis, but the physical manifestation here has a spiritual component. Luke chose to include this account because of the teaching that it illustrates.
St. Augustine put it this way, “The whole human race, like this woman, was bent over and bowed to the ground… The devil and his angels have bowed the souls of men and women down to the ground. He has bent them forward to be intent on temporary and earthly things and has stopped them from seeking the things that are above.” (Sermon 162b)
The most awful thing, the most tragic thing, is that someone, anyone, would live a life that is bereft of the mercies, the joys, the judgments and the redeeming grace of knowing the Father, of knowing Jesus, of knowing the Holy Spirit and to have their eyes fixed, stuck, entirely on the dust and ashes of this world. The dust and ashes may well come in the form of very nice things, of comfortable lifestyles, of the benefits of hard work.
The exercise of faith is the practice of raising one’s posture toward God. That’s why we need Sabbath time, time set apart week by week and day by day for us to raise our eyes and our hearts to God.
Regular worship, prayer and study of God’s word and engaging authors’ and friends’ reflections on the Word and its application to life are key elements of spiritual exercise. That starts at home in your own personal prayer.
And exercise includes participation in the life of Christ. Jesus calls us to work, to serve, to labor in various ways. He’s calling you – but how and to what? That is the focus of this Connection Sunday.
We have not come to something that can be touched. (Hebrews 12:18-29) Our church buildings and campus look nice from the street, but people always remark at how beautiful it is on the inside. Our high ceiling, our stained glass, our liturgy and music, our altar, the bread and the wine, all of it, is pointing to something quite beyond themselves, something we cannot see yet we know to the very depths of our hearts and souls. We are a community consecrated to it. We are much more beautiful on the inside.
We are in the presence of the living God. We are the body of Jesus Christ. We are driven by the Holy Spirit to do just as he did with this crippled woman.
Much of our world is bent and focused on temporary things. We were driving over a causeway to Cocoa Beach a few weeks ago and noticed a rather large sailing trawler about half-sunk, listing at a 45-degree angle. It looked like it had been there a long, long time, abandoned and beyond repair. I wondered who had left it, wondered if anyone would take the time and effort to restore it and if it could possibly be worth the cost of such a project. It seemed such a waste.
People are harassed and hurting from the sin, accidents and injustices of this life. They are listing at a 45-degree angle. Many have never seen the life of faith from the inside. They are always worth our time and effort as agents of Christ’s healing grace and love. Who will help with such a project?
You’re going to have opportunities to investigate and try various ministries within the church. That’s important. It takes about 40 volunteers each week to have the worship and fellowship we enjoy on Sundays. There are others who help in other ways during the week, teaching our children, helping with pastoral care, helping in the office. We are pretty busy during the week. All of that is important to the life of this parish, but we are not meant to be an end unto ourselves.
You’re also going to have opportunities to investigate ministries outside our campus and congregation. Our thrift store provides a much-needed service to this community, low cost quality clothing and other items. They need volunteers. We’ve invited two of our key partners in ministry to the community, the Care Center and Polk Avenue Elementary so you can meet them. The Care Center has a long list of ministries for which they always need volunteers, especially, currently, “meals on wheels” drivers. We serve Polk Avenue in a number of ways, including backpack feeding ministry, teacher appreciation and mentoring of students.
All ministries look nice from the outside. We can appreciate them. All of them become much more beautiful from the inside because people find God’s grace and truth and love active and moving through them in his service. Exercise your faith and raise your eyes to Him.