There is so much healing that needs to be done. After a year of Covid and isolation and sickness, political fights, protests for justice, gun violence even here in our own
neighborhood—the world is crying out for healing.
Does it ever feel overwhelming? Are you so busy just trying to survive that you can’t possibly stop long enough to rest before attending to the next set of tasks? Does your soul resonate to hear Demi Lovato’s words “you feel too exhausted to pray” when she sings “it’s okay not to be okay?” It is a beautiful thing to want to provide healing, to have skills to share with others, to follow the call of Jesus in bringing the kind of healing and transformation that is God’s will. But all the good will in the world can’t prevent burnout. Even Jesus knows this.
When I attended community organizing training, it was incredibly empowering to learn about social movements, to get people talking together about how to build up a community, how to bring healing through relationships and insisting upon accountability for people in power. It can feel really good to have success, and it can feel really bad when things don’t go as planned. But seasoned community organizers will say: you have to live to fight another day.
If you’re going to take seriously the work of healing, you have to take seriously the discipline of rest. Even when you’re successful at healing, as Jesus successfully healed so many people that there was no end to the stream of people coming to him, there remains the need to rest.
I once heard a story of a pastor who justified his seven-day-a-week work schedule by saying “The devil doesn’t rest, so why should I?” Um, I don’t know, GOD rested on the seventh day of creation, and also: whose example do you really want to follow? Would you rather adopt the habits of the devil or of God? As people of faith, we have a name for this holy rest: we call it Sabbath. It’s not just a nice idea; it’s a commandment.
Today’s Gospel lesson immediately follows last week’s lesson—Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and casting out demons and healing people who are sick; that’s what he does on the Sabbath! For those who do such work on the Sabbath, the need remains to rest. Even Jesus’s divine power of healing needed to be refreshed—in Jesus, God resides in a human body, which requires rest and prayer. Even Jesus had to stop what he was doing sometimes and go away to a deserted place and pray.
Some of us who have been quarantined in a house with family members, or with little kids, or spouses working from home—HOW MUCH WOULD WE LOVE TO GO TO A DESERTED PLACE?! DOESN’T THAT SOUND AMAZING?! Jesus got to run away and hide for a little while; wouldn’t you love to do that too? The good news is that there’s not just one way to pray.
Martin Luther had a habit of spending time in contemplative prayer, sometimes hours at a time. He had a large family with lots of kids; who knows? Maybe sometimes he was praying with a kid in his lap. It still counts.
But Luther had a lot of things to say about prayer. He understood how important it is to remain connected to God, to study God’s Word. Even though he knew the Bible very well, backwards and forwards—he was a pastor and a university professor, and he even translated the Bible from the original languages to his own modern-day language—even with all of that knowledge, he knew there is always more to learn. He even sat with his children to study the catechism—it kept him humble. Teaching children can be a way of
being in God’s Word and being in prayer.
In the Large Catechism, Luther explains the commandments. The third commandment is in the first set of commandments that regard a person’s relationship with God: “you are to hallow the day of rest,” or sometimes we say “honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Here’s how Martin Luther explains it:
“Let me tell you this. Even though you know the Word perfectly and have already mastered everything, you are daily under the dominion of the devil, and he does not rest day or night in seeking to take you unawares and to kindle in your heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against these [first] three [commandments] and all the other commandments. Therefore you must constantly keep God’s Word in your heart, on your lips, and in your ears. For where the heart stands idle and the Word is not heard, the devil breaks in and does his damage before we realize it. On the other hand, when we seriously ponder the Word, hear it, and put it to use, such is its power that it never departs without fruit. It always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devotion, and it constantly creates clean hearts and minds. For this Word is not idle or dead, but effective and living. Even if no other benefit or need drove us to the Word, yet everyone should be motivated by the realization that through the Word the devil is cast out and put to flight, this commandment is fulfilled, and God is more pleased than by any hypocrisy, no matter how brilliant.” 1
Being in God’s Word is a way of prayer. Meditating on God’s Word in blissful silence is a beautiful way to dwell in God’s Word, but there are many ways. In worship, we are surrounded by the words of Scripture. If you’re curious just how much of our liturgy reflects Scripture directly, you can refer to the back of the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal, starting on page 1156—some of you have these hymnals at home, which is wonderful! Please do use it for your own personal devotional prayer time. It’s filled with prayers and songs—please do pray with singing!
And when we gather for worship as an assembly, even if we’re not in person together, we encounter prayer in many forms as part of worship. We have some time for silence and reflection, like at the beginning of worship when we hear the chime of the singing bowl, to call us to worship, to leave space to listen for God’s voice. We have prayers of intercession, when one person lifts up prayers on behalf of the whole church. We have prayers before reading Scripture, prayers for our offering to God, even the Lord’s Prayer which we can memorize and recite—even in different languages, we are all saying the same words given to us by Jesus. Such an experience of the dominion of God to be in a
multi-lingual setting and hear the Lord’s Prayer in many languages at the same time.
Even reciting or chanting the Psalms is a prayer—these are ancient prayers of the people of God. We revisit them to remind ourselves where we come from, taking on the words of our ancestors who testified about God’s wonders, who openly struggled through challenges, who praised God in victory and in defeat. Our Jewish brothers and sisters pray these same Psalms, so keeping them as part of our Christian worship is a nod to our interfaith commitment. And in keeping the Psalms before us, the Word of God continually creates and forms us.
We know that Jesus studied and meditated on the Psalms in his lifetime, and those words were so much a part of him that some people heard echoes of those psalms in the last words Jesus uttered from the cross. The Gospel-writer Luke recalls Jesus’s words, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit,” echoing Psalm 31. Mark’s Gospel records Jesus saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” which are words from Psalm 22.
Kathryn Schifferdecker, professor at Luther Seminary, writes this about praying with psalms:
“The same psalmist who invites us into a life of prayer and meditation on God’s
Word also promises that such a life of prayer will grow into something beautiful.
Those who follow her counsel will be ‘like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither’ (from Psalm
“Trees planted by streams of water are beautiful in any season and in any place.
But particularly in the Near East, where the shade of a tree can be the difference
between life and death, a tree is not only beautiful, but useful, and even necessary for life. A tree that gives both shade and fruit is a great gift indeed.
“The lesson is clear, I tell my students: be like a tree. Study torah, pray with the
Psalms, pray with Jesus, enter into the privilege and responsibility of a life of
prayer and study, and (here’s the point; here’s where the tree imagery leads us)
do it not just for yourself, but for those who will rest in your shade and be
nourished by the fruit of your studies. Be like a tree.” 2
Jesus knew how to return to the nourishing Word of God in prayer, in faithful Sabbath observance, even if it’s not on the same day as everyone else—just as all rostered leaders like pastors and deacons, as well as other church workers, know that while we spend the Sabbath day doing the holy work of teaching and leading others, we must observe our own holy Sabbath time. We ignore this at our own peril, and we put the people of God in danger, and endanger our community, to burn ourselves out.
So the question before us today: how will we be refreshed in the presence of God? There are many ways to pray, and there are many more that I didn’t even mention today, but what way of prayer will be yours today? Worship, for sure, but can you savor some aspect of life as a gift from God, spend a moment in gratitude to God? How is God calling you into God’s own presence right now? And even if you feel too exhausted to pray, there’s good news for you, too: God hears your prayer in your sighs too deep for words.
Don’t be afraid to answer God’s call to rest, to just be. Be nourished and fulfilled. The work can wait while you receive strength from God. It’s a mystery how this works, but look to Jesus and trust that God can do this.
As the psalmist writes, “God is not impressed by the might of a horse, and has no pleasure in the speed of a runner, but finds pleasure in those who fear the Lord, in those who await God’s steadfast love. Hallelujah!” 3
Pastor Cheryl Walenta Gorvie
1 Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church,
edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, page 400.
2 Kathryn Schifferdecker, “Praying the Psalms” in Word and World: Theology for Christian Ministry, Winter 2015,
3 Psalm 147: 10-11, 20c