Vacations are wonderful times of rest and refreshment. They can help remind us that God is always with us and that God is the true source of all that is good in life. They provide quality time with family and friends and help us keep perspective on what is important. We all love vacations but they do not last forever. As great as the mountain top or beach experiences have been, there comes that time when we have to go home again. Arriving home does have some blessings. We get to sleep in our own bed and the entire family can get back into a normal routine. For parents, this week will be a sweet relief because as school starts, families will get back into the routines that provide the structure and balance that are helpful for children, youth and parents.
But heading home and back to work or back to school has its own challenges too and today we can learn from Jesus how to be equipped and ready. Jesus and three of his closest friends, Peter, James and John, went on a type of vacation. They went to the top of a mountain and when they got there Jesus was transfigured in front them. Jesus clothes became dazzling white. He was literally radiating the glory of God and then standing with Jesus were Moses and Elijah. The presence and power of God had come down onto the mountain. Mark 9:2-4
Peter is so overcome by this he really doesn’t know what to say or do so he suggests building three booths, one for Jesus, one of Moses and one for Elijah. Mark 9:5-6
There are several ideas about what Peter might be thinking here. One is that Peter wanted to set up camp on the mountain and just stay there in the glory of God. It was such a wonderful and powerful moment that Peter didn’t want to leave. Isn’t this often how we feel on vacation? Sitting at the beach watching the sunrise or the waves roll in we often think to ourselves, I’d like to stay in this moment forever. One of my favorite places through the years has been the Smokey Mountains and I love to sit at the top of Mt. Leconte and I have often thought how great it would be to just stay there forever – or at least until the next storm blows through.
Peter may be thinking that this is the moment they have been waiting for and so they should stay there and not return to the stress and problems of life, but this could also be a call to worship. God told the people to worship him once a year by building and living in booths that reminded the people of how God led them through the wilderness and into Promised Land. Building the booths and spending time there wasn’t like the Grange Fair – it was more an act of worship. So maybe Peter is saying that they need to stay in worship on the mountain top, but either way, he is wanting to stay there.
But in time the glory of God fades and Jesus and the disciples head home again and it is what happens when they come down off the mountain that can help us when we have to return to the real world. Mark 9:14-29.
How many of you have gone home and been immediately overwhelmed with all the work you have to do. The grass has to be mowed, laundry has to be done and you have to go to the store. Then you head to work on Monday and you find your desk full of problems and people waiting in a line at your door to talk to you about all the things that didn’t get done while you were away that need to get down now. Those are the moments we ask ourselves, why did I come home? I’m sure there was a part of Jesus that was thinking, why didn’t I stay on the mountain? In fact, we hear some of Jesus’ frustration when he says How long shall I stay with you and how long shall I put up with you.
Jesus has come back from vacation only to be confronted with the ongoing needs of the people, a child who has been possessed by a demon his entire life and is in need of healing, and the needs of his own disciples who still can’t do the work Jesus has for them to do and a crowd that still doesn’t understand who Jesus is and what he has to offer. There is some frustration Jesus has and some weariness at getting back to the “real world” and yet, Jesus does the work he has been sent here to do.
Jesus calls the boy to come to him, he listens to the father and has compassion on their situation. Jesus uses the moment to teach the people and calls everyone to have greater faith in God and then he heals the child. Jesus has jumped back into work and from his example we learn what we need to when we arrive home or start back to work or back to school or get back into the routine of life.
The first thing we need to remember is that Jesus is not coming down the mountain the same person he was when he went up. On the mountain top, Jesus has been transfigured, the power and glory of God infused his life and gave him power and perhaps a renewed sense of purpose and meaning. Jesus comes down the mountain with renewed energy and focus which helps him confront the burdens and problems of life and that is the value of worship.
Regular times of worship are important because this is our opportunity to enter into the presence of God. This is where the glory of God can infuse our hearts and lives and help clear and prioritize our minds so that we can face the burdens, responsibility and challenges of life. Worship can be a wonderful time of fellowship and a great time of learning but the single most vital element of worship is that we believe it is here that we are able to enter into the presence of God. Jesus said, where two or more are gathered together in my name, I am there with you. While God is certainly always with us, worship is the time for us to intentionally be in and open ourselves up to the power and presence of God. This is what helped Jesus deal with the stress and challenges when he came down the mountain and this is what equips and empowers us to handle all that life throws at us.
Regular times of worship are needed so we can face the struggles of our jobs, disappointments of life, the trials of our families and the needs of those around us. Worship is where we get strength and power and while we may not feel it week in and week out, it is in our times of worship that we are fed and nurtured and strengthened. As you head back to work or into this new school year there will be a lot of competition for this time on Sundays. There will be family events, household chores, sports and school activities and sleep that will all pull us from this time together but Jesus shows us that this time of worship is crucial if we are going to face all that life throws at us. Worship helps strengthen us and prepare us and equip us.
But it was not just worship that took place on the mountain top, when God spoke he said something important. Only two times in the gospels does God speak and both times God said the same thing. This is my Son, whom I love. But this time God added another sentence – a directive really – listen to him. We are not just to worship God and draw strength from God’s power and presence but we are to listen and learn from Jesus. So worship is important but so is the study of God’s word.
Listening to Jesus in a small group setting where we can work together to understand his teaching is important. Look at Peter, he was right there with Jesus on the mountain top and yet didn’t understand what was going on. The disciples watched Jesus heal the boy but they didn’t understand how he did it. They needed small group time to ask questions and learn. We all need help in understanding what God is saying to us and we need to support one another in figuring out how to live out what we hear. As we head back to work, back to school or just back into the normal routines of life as the summer comes to an end, I want to encourage you to read, study and reflect on the word of Jesus.
Take time to personally listen to Jesus by reading his word daily. Pick up a devotional, go online or just start reading the story of Jesus in one of the gospels to hear what he has to say. Our children and youth are going to be reading through the story of the Bible in our children and youth ministry this school year so now would be a great time for them to get connected. Each week we provide Bible studies, Sunday School classes and small groups where people come together to listen to God’s word and discuss together how to apply it to our lives. As a new sermon and small group series starts up in a few weeks, now is the best time to get plugged in.
Growing in our faith doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just happen by being present in worship or being in the glory of God – we must also take the time to listen and learn. God gives us all we need for life and all the instructions and guidance we need to face every stress and problem that comes our way, but we have to make the time to listen and learn what God has said.
When Jesus came down the mountain and faced the problems of the people and the failure of his disciples, He also took the time to reach out in love. Jesus had the boy brought to him. Because of his love, Jesus saw and felt his pain. Jesus invited the father to share his heart and story, he encouraged him to have faith and then he offered hope and help. This is love. Love is seeing the pain and problems that people are going through. Love is inviting people to share their story, Love is offering encouragement and faith and then offering hope and help. Jesus loves and as we head home, as we head back to work and back to school and back into the routines of life we also need to take every opportunity we have to love.
Loving others starts by seeing the pain and problems of others. How often do we stop to see beyond our own pain to the struggles and hurts that others are going through? Love calls us to see beyond our own lives and families to the pain of others. Love calls us to put the needs of others before our own. It is so easy to get caught up in our own lives and problems that we fail to even notice those around us who might simply need someone who will listen to them and love them.
Love is also listening to people. The fast pace at which we move often leads us to think that there is no one who will listen to us, no one there really for us. As connected as we are through social media, people also feel more isolated and alone today so it is an act of love when we will take the time to stop and listen. In our families are we really taking the time to listen? At our jobs and with our coworkers, are we willing to take the time to listen? We can be a blessing when we listen but the truth is that we are also blessed when we listen. Loving others blesses us.
So as we head home again, Jesus shows us that worship and study and love are important routines that are needed in life, but there is one more specific thing that Jesus directs us to do and that is pray. When the disciples ask why they could not drive out the demon and do the same work Jesus did he told them in that situation what was needed was prayer. Mark 9:29.
Prayer is essential to our lives. Prayer is what give us power and helps define our purpose and opens the door for God to fuel us with his passion. Daily prayer can focus our thoughts and shape our schedules and lead us to the people and places where God wants us. Prayer is not an easy thing. I told myself in college that I was going to pray for an hour every day. I sat in my room, shut the door in about 4 minutes I was done. I couldn’t think of anything else to pray for. I had prayed for everyone and everything – literally. But I sat there for another 56 minutes and it was hard. The disciple of prayer is not easy, but it can be learned and we can use the prayers of the bible as models and examples and actual prayers to pray.
The book of Psalms are prayers that we can pray every day. If you want to develop the habit of daily prayer than commit to reading one psalm every day for the next six weeks. Before you leave your room in the morning or before you leave the breakfast table each day – read one psalm. Print out a psalm and take it with you to read at lunch or during a break at work or before a class starts at school. Read one psalm before you go to bed at night. It is prayer that gives us the strength and the power to do more than what we can do in our own and that’s really what Jesus is saying here.
The disciples asked how to drive out that demon, how can we do what you Jesus? Jesus response was – pray. If you are heading home again and feeling overwhelmed, if you are heading back to work or back to school and feeling like you aren’t going to be able to do all that is going to be asked of you, pray. Prayer reminds us that God is with us, it reminds us that God loves us and that God is for us and prayer gives us strength and power and peace.
Vacations are over and we all have to head home again. We head back to school, back to work, back to the real world and as we do there are 4 things that Jesus shows us and tells that can help.
Vacation – Home Again
• Commit to being in worship every week. Make this a priority for you and your family and guard the time when other events and activities come along.
• If you miss Sunday morning worship, create times of worship at home by reading God’s word at a meal and spending time in prayer.
• Join a Small Group, Sunday School Class or Bible Study this fall.
• Make sure your children and youth take part in church ministries this year so they can learn “The Story” of God as told in the Bible.
• Take 5 minutes at work, school and in your neighborhood to notice the people around you.
o What needs do you see?
o What hurts can you address?
o Who needs someone to listen to their story?
• Reach out in love to help meet the needs you see.
• Pray one psalm every day to build a habit of prayer.
• Pray as a family at meals, at night or before children leave for school in the morning.
• Pray for all students, parents, teachers and school workers as they begin this new school year
God, watch over our students as they head back to school. Keep them safe, healthy and growing in knowledge of you. Bless those who work with our children and youth and bless all families during this school year. AMEN