This past weekend was a quite awesome worshipful weekend. We had a worship and testimony evening on Friday, with folk sharing testimony based on a favourite worship song, and then we would sing the song ... it gave so much more meaning to already beautiful songs. During our time of worship, our worship artist, Kerryn Stopforth, painted this picture, using only coffee! On Sunday it was used as a pulpit drop while I preached on How is Your Soul?
Psalm 34:1-8 1 Kings 19:4-8 John 6:35, 41-51
As we read today's Gospel reading, I understand why those who heard Jesus call himself "bread of life" and "bread that came down from heaven" (see last week) started to complain. It was confusing. Jesus can't have come from heaven, since he came from Nazareth, right? It's still confusing today. This is about Holy Communion, right? Or is it? Scholarly debate is often confused, and confusing. Perhaps Jesus' words are just as fresh today: "Do not complain among yourselves."
Even if we cannot answer every question, we see how Jesus draws on ways God has worked in the past. Elijah was instructed, "Get up and eat." Jesus declares that whoever eats the bread that came down from heaven will live forever. The psalmist invited us to "taste and see that the Lord is good." Jesus announces that everyone who comes to him will never be hungry. Manna fell from heaven, and was for this world only. Now it is Jesus—both bread and flesh—that is given for the life of the world, "that one may eat of it and not die." This is all good news for the spirit and food for the soul ... so ... How is your soul?
At the end of this service we are going to sing Kristene Dimarco's huge 2014 hit It is Well (watch it here) and hopefully be able to join in the chorus and shout out: "It is well with my soul!" ... but, in the event that perhaps we know right now that it is not well with our soul, we are going to look, or perhaps just be reminded and affirmed, at how our souls are fed.
And, as we are reminded so often (read here for my most recent sermon on this subject) everything begins with God, so too the feeding of our souls begins with God and is by the grace of God.
Definitions of grace are many, but perhaps the simplest is: grace is undeserved love.
If you remember the Exodus story, the Israelites leave Egypt (by the grace of God) and one of the first things they do as they set out for the Promised Land ... is ... complain! "We had food in Egypt" they say ... and so God sends them manna. That is grace.
Then they began to complain: "In Egypt we had meat!" ... and so God sent them quails ... this is grace.
The care of our souls is by the grace of God ... our God is gracious ... and we, created and re-created in the image of God ... are called to be gracious as well.
Grace is undeserved, unmerited love ... grace is forgiving your enemy ... grace is loving your enemy ... grace is loving your neighbour ... grace is wanting for your neighbour the things you want for yourself ... grace is reaching out with loving arms to people who turn away from you ... grace is having 99 sheep in the fold, but going all out to find the 1 who is missing ... grace is having eternal life in the most glorious of places, heaven itself, and wanting to share that glory with others who could never on their own do anything to deserve heaven or earn a way into it.
If God has arteries and veins, then what flows through them is not blood, but grace. If it is true that what comes out of the mouth is what the heart is full of, then God's heart is GRACE and full of GRACE.
Grace underlies all of God's dealings with humanity: He love us because of His grace ... He forgives us because of His grace ... He has mercy on us because of His grace ... He saves us because of His grace. So if we were asked to describe God with one word, I think the best word is grace. And because the work of the Holy Spirit in us is to restore the image of God to us, to make us more like Jesus, one of His works in us is to grow us in grace.
Grace is the key to our becoming more like Jesus, because from it will flow the other things necessary in the Christian life, the things that make a soul well. When grace abounds, then love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, humility, self control all abound as well. If grace is the blood flowing in the body of God, then grace is the good soil in our lives from which an abundant crop of soul food grows in our lives.
How is your soul? ... is it loving, joyful, peaceful, etc.
Without a life/soil rich in grace, imperfect fruit will grow. And, too many of us are happy with imperfect fruit. So, there is love, but it is reserved for some and with held from others ... there is forgiveness, but it is conditional ... there might even be mercy, but it is given grudgingly .. there might even be peace, but it is tortured and short lived. The less grace in our lives, the more we have to work at being loving, kind, forgiving, etc. The more grace (unconditional love on our part), the less we have to work at these things, because they just happen in us, and the more we can say with confidence: "It is well with my soul."
How is your soul? ... Your soul might be saved, but is it well?
The wellness of our soul begins with God's grace and continues with our grace ... therefore, we need to pray for grace, we need to pray to grow in grace, and we need to learn from those, past and present, who have shown grace in their lives, we learn from them how it happened.We always begin with the Scriptures, and as we look at Biblical folk of whom it could be said that it obviously was well with their souls, regardless of outward events or suffering in their lives, we, rather unsurprisingly, find there are some common features in all their lives, things they embraced, that seemed to be channels of God's grace to them ... food, by which God seemed to nourish their souls. And we find as well that these things are common in the lives of people today who say: It is well with my soul.
What are these means of grace in Old and New Testament folk, and in folk today, things that nourish the soul?
They are PRAYER ... SCRIPTURE (reading and studying) ...FELLOWSHIP (with God's people) ... FASTING ... and, from New Testament times was added SACRAMENT (baptism and holy communion). Now, there are several other ways that God conveys His grace to us, but these are the most common. I remember them this way: PSSFF.
These are soul food ... these are the ways that God, mysteriously, conveys Himself to us. A soul with no PSSFF is going to struggle to be a well soul ... and vice versa.
God's desire and provision for us is a soul that is well. How well is your soul? Well is good ... weller is better ... wellest is best :-) ! With my disgraceful English I'm really just saying that even the soul that is well can, by the grace of God, be more well. Soul health, like all other health, needs to be constantly desired, maintained and nourished. We go to the gym for our bodies, we go to PSSFF for our souls.
Let us sing: It is Well