Sermon: Take Me To the River

13 May 2007

The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
May 13, 2007

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Mother's Day/Festival of the Christian Home

Take Me To the River 

Acts 16:9-15

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

The middle of last week Carol in our office who prepares the press releases for what will be happening here at the church asked what my sermon title was.  And I said, “Ummmm.”  So I went home that night and in my prayers I asked for the Spirit to be with me and to help me with this sermon.  Well, I woke up the other day with a picture of my Grandpa Troland in my mind, very excited about a new present he had received.  You see my Grandpa Troland, my mom’s father, was an avid fisherman. So one year as a birthday gift one of my aunts gave him one of those fish…the ones that sing and flop around on your wall.  And it sang “Take me to the river.  Put me in the water.”  So if there are two things I am sure of: (1) is that God has a great sense of humor, and (2) is that I will never make it on Broadway.  So “Take me to the river,” I thought to myself.  “Sounds familiar.”  And then I looked again at the scripture reading for today and sure enough there were Paul and his fellow gospel proclaimers are walking down to the river to spend some time in prayer and sharing the gospel with the folks around on the Sabbath. 

As I read the text for this week the thing that stood out for me was the fact that none of the things that happen – the trip to Philippi, the conversations by the river, the baptisms – would have done so had Paul not first followed his vision and then taken the time after what was presumably a tough journey to seek out a Sabbath rest—time to spend in prayer with others and with God. 

There are Sundays when I feel like I am preaching more to myself than to any of you.  This is one of those Sundays.  I realized that yesterday as I sat at a Mother/Daughter retreat at the Mercy Center in Madison, and my mom and I talked about needing to sit down with our calendars to schedule time in pen (that cannot be erased) to spend with one another.  And I thought back to a time when I was younger and time with those who were closest to me and with God did not involve the need to sit down with a calendar. 

You see, I had a favorite river growing up.  It is a river that runs through the woods at Kettletown State Park in Southbury where I spent (and continue to spend) a lot of time during the summers.  It is by that river that I spent a good amount of time talking to God on adventures as a little girl, during those teenage years that seemed so difficult, and as I grew older and needed to make decisions about my calling and the relationships in my life.  It is by that river that God and I grew closer.  When things get hectic in my life now I tend to have my own visions – visions of a safe place of rest…a place where I can be with God, and a place where I can spend time with those people in my life who mean the most to me.  It is times like those when I want someone to take me to the river, a place where I know I am safe and secure – a place where I am surrounded by the presence of God’s spirit and those who know me often times better than I know myself.

I shared a story at Serendippers the other day about the young people we work with in the Dominican Republic, those who volunteer with the groups and work as translators as well.  They are young people in their teens and twenties who work for the mission, but some also play for the church band, are students, teach church school, teach English to other students, play on sports leagues, and work other jobs.  Their schedules seem not that distant from those of the young people here in the United States.  Except theirs is a culture that values faith and relationship above all else.  So they spent one afternoon at lunch debating…not about who was the best new music group or who played baseball better than another.  Rather they spent the time talking about Sabbath.  The debate itself was about whether there is a specific day that is designated as the Sabbath or whether to observe the Sabbath means to spend some time each week alone with God, resting and restoring oneself, and working to improve their relationships with friends, family, and their church community as well through activities of fellowship and study. 

In that debate I heard about the two “R’s” of Sabbath…Relationship and Rest.  One of the purposes of Sabbath is to build relationships.  We are called to spend Sabbath time building our relationship with God…spending time in prayer, study, and silence—listening for God’s voice, rejoicing in the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and feeling the calm of the Spirit.  We are called to realize those hopes and dreams that God has for us.  Also along with the first “R” comes the call to build relationships with the people in our lives.  We are called to spend Sabbath time with one another in this community in worship, supporting one another in times of need and concern, and relaxing with one another in times of fellowship.  We are also called to spend Sabbath time with those who are closest to us—with friends and family—time relaxing and getting to know one another better.

I have recently had a chance to spend some time visiting with some of the members here in this community.  The amount of wisdom that I gain from spending time and being in conversation with all of you – from the youngest among us, to our teenagers, to all of you adults out there – is a true gift from God.  The other day as I was visiting with someone we spoke about the importance of spiritual growth along all of our journeys.  We spoke about the fact that we each need to take time away in prayer and in conversation with others – with people in this community and in our families – to talk about and grow in our faith in God.  That way, no matter what the occasion, we could call on anyone in this place to pray and to witness to his or her faith – which is the way that Paul managed to gain a captive audience by the river that Sabbath day so long ago.

The second “R” of Sabbath is the idea of rest.  Two of the phrases I read in an article about our modern society and the time crunch recently were “hurry sickness” and “time poverty.”  No matter how we might try to justify it, the pace at which we live our lives in today’s society is not healthy.  Whether you are 5-years-old, working to support your family and raise children, or retired we seem to manage to overbook.  We live in a 24-hour society where we want everything now.  We can shop or work through the night if we wish with the internet.  Our young people cannot find time to sleep with their involvement in so many activities on top of their regular school schedules.  As a people who have everything at our fingertips 24 hours each day we have lost touch with the natural rhythms of life…sun up and sun down which used to regulate work, time with family, and sleep.

Another visit that I had recently involved a conversation with the mother of one of our youth fellowship folks.  She mentioned that there is a sense that we seem not to be able to wait for things to happen in our lives.  We have a monumental impatience.  “I can’t wait until Suzie graduates and heads off to college.”  “I can’t wait until I get that promotion.”  “I can’t wait until I have the printer finishes my document or picture.”  “I can’t wait until Johnny holds his own bottle.”  (Now being the aunt of two-month-old triplets there are moments in time when I have thought that I have said that last one at least.)  We live in a society of  “can’t waits” and often forget to appreciate the little things in life.  We forget to slow down and actually experience the life that is going on in and around us.

We need to spend time resting.  We were not made for the 24/7 life that keeps us constantly on the go.  In fact we are called to spend time in our lives at rest – in restoration and renewal.  It is one of the earliest lessons we learn in the Bible, as we look to God who rested on the last day of creation – who took a step back and named creation good.  And it is one of the earliest laws we receive from God in the Ten Commandments as well.  Jesus tells us in the Bible that Sabbath time was made by God for us.  It is a gift that we have been given…one that we should not allow to collect dust in the corner but rather that we should use and take advantage of each week of our lives.

If ever there were two people who understood the purpose of the Sabbath it was the people who are mentioned in the scripture for today.

Lydia was a woman who, although not a believer in the traditional sense, was considered an associate of the traditional Jewish people.  She spent time in the synagogues as she traveled on her business of selling purple cloth.  Lydia was a successful businesswoman who perhaps dragged her family to church as well.  We know that her family was with her because after spending Sabbath time by the river, listening to Paul and his associates speak about the gospel message and the amazing gifts of God, she and her family ask to be baptized and then offer hospitality to the community builders themselves.  Lydia had a deep desire to take time out of her busy and profitable life to spend time growing in faith with others in community and in fellowship with others as well.  She was seeking out what was most important to her.  In a city where she had come to do business, she was taking time with her family to seek out and spend time with a community of believers to help build her relationships and understanding in her faith.

When we imagine what we would have missed had Paul & his associates not traveled to the river that day it is pretty extraordinary.  If Paul had not gone to the river to spend time in the place of prayer he would not have spent time renewing himself after his long journey.  He would not have spent time speaking with Lydia, who became the first convert in Europe.  Paul would not have received the hospitality that he not only needed but probably desperately desired after his long journey.  He would not have received the new energy that we can imagine he gained from beginning a community in Philippi.  And this community became one of Paul’s closest Christian communities, as we see by his letter to the Philippians that he writes after leaving them. 

Paul took time.  Paul took himself and others to the River.  Paul realized the importance of the Sabbath – of taking time to pray and to share his belief—the good news of God in Jesus Christ-- with others.  

My prayer for all of us as we continue in worship here this morning, and then as we leave the protective shelter of these walls, is that we too will spend time at the river.  That we will remember to spend time in prayer and study – growing closer in our relationship with God and with one another. That we will realize the amazing gift we have been given not only for ourselves but in our relationships with those around us. That we will take time to reconnect with the Source – to be refreshed and renewed for the mission ahead of us – one that means the fulfillment of God’s hopes and dreams for us—that means our sharing of the good news with others as well.  Amen.


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