Sermon for Sunday, October 18, 2015
Scripture references: Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
Do you have Fall Fever? This is an entirely new malady, and unlike Spring Fever, this is much easier to treat. First, the mild temperatures provide much relief from those sweltering, muggy summer days. Second, the shortening days make it easier to get needed rest. Thirdly, the sunshine provides a healthy dose of vitamin D, if you can get outside during or after lunch. And finally, the dose of an apple a day is one of the most cost effective and tasty prescriptions any doctor can recommend for patients of all ages.
Another Christian malady is one John Wesley called poor holy tempers. Certainly the medical field has advanced significantly since Wesley’s lifetime, but this particular issue needs little modern intervention. Rather, the treatment directly affects one’s spiritual health.
In the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV), the core term holy tempers is defined within the book of Psalms. Holy tempers are more than feelings. According to the notes, feelings are “simply passing temptations”:
Our tempers are discerned in the shape and quality of our lives. Most clearly, our tempers are seen in our relationships with God, our neighbors, and ourselves. . . . a life of holy tempers is seen when our joy comes when freely giving service to the needy, when injustice kindles our indignation, when God’s forgiveness inspires a life-changing gratitude. (p. 679)
If you are suffering with a malady you thought was Fall Fever, maybe you really are struggling with your holy tempers. Reading Psalms 65 and 104 certainly will improve your holy tempers and for those with Fall Fever to experience the delight of God’s creation we witness this week.
The beauty of our mid-American fall or autumn (which sounds more poetic) has included blue skies, warm sun, and delightful colors. We are witnessing the type of October that creates a ‘heaven on earth.’ Try googling autumn versus fall images and you will discover the power of a word’s connotative meanings.
Reading the two psalms create vivid pictures in our minds that relate God’s creative power. The psalmists wrote these hymns as praise. They put theology in action through the power of words. They followed Psalm 104’s closing instruction—“Praise the Lord.”
How does one praise the Lord in a world racing from point A to point B failing to see the glory of these autumn days? The pressures we have placed upon ourselves seem to squeeze out the healthy spiritual practices God expects from us. Wesley, over 300 years ago, knew that humans could be so focused on the basics of living that maintaining holy tempers would not be a priority.
Are we in the same crisis as the working people in Wesley’s England or the Americans struggling to survive in the young nation when he rode the circuit? Our lives are either too busy or too challenged by economic stress, health issues, or family obligations that maintaining healthy spirituality or holy tempers loses priority status. Holy tempers are in critical condition.
Consider the autumn beauty that you are witnessing this year. The colors are vivid, the temperatures are mild, and the sky is sparkling blue during the day and filled with twinkling jewels at night. There are moments that one’s breath is literally ripped away as the eyes fill with the beauty of this earth.
And what do we do in these moments? Do we connect the sense of delight we experience to God or do we ignore Him? These are the moments that Wesley would probably check on one’s spiritual health. He would probably prescribe some work to improve holy tempers.
The praise that we utter when we see the glory of these autumn days go to God. If our holy tempers are functioning well, then Fall Fever is not an illness it is an act of praise. Wesley would acknowledge that praising the Lord is proof that one is spiritually healthy. Just try driving along our Ozark roads that wrap around the lakes here in Missouri. The glory of God is breathtaking!
This breathtaking experience is how spiritual respiration feels. For Wesley, faithful Christians “. . . must breathe God in order to live spiritually.” Spiritual respiration is a core term also explained in the Wesley Study Bible:
. . . When God fills our lives the way that air fills our lungs, we are refreshed, alert and energized for God’s work. . . . If we stop breathing God, we lose the connection that is essential to our spiritual lives. . . .so we have to concentrate on it through prayer, Bible study, worship and other practices that help us cultivate our spiritual lives. (p.755)
The practices are the Wesleyan acts of piety. Fall Fever has hit, but if we are not spiritually healthy, we will not praise the Lord for all that he provides, for his grace, and for the promise of life eternal.
On delightful autumn days we have very little trouble praising God for all He has provided. But what if we were living in challenging crisis day after day? Would we be spiritually healthy enough to see God’s glory despite the challenges? Paul is an example of one who lived in crisis. His ministry established the universal church. His own life is a testimony of God’s grace and the transforming power of loving one another
In Acts 14, Luke the physician again shares Paul’s challenges in Christian ministry. The struggle to demonstrate God’s healing power ended in stoning. Yet in those verses 14-17, Luke reports how Paul and Barnabas respond to the Lystrians’ misplaced praise:
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, 15 “Friends,[a] why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, 17 but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. (emphasis added) For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.”
Paul and Barnabas, in the midst of the hysteria, demonstrate their holy tempers. There efforts to share the good news may not have been easy, but even in this personal crisis, Paul praised God for all the goodness he provides.
Are your holy tempers so healthy that the Fall Fever is not an illness but is evidence of healthy spiritual respiration?
If you are unsure, consider Paul’s situation and whether or not you are able to share God’s good news even in the midst of a challenge/crisis. This fall the prescription for improving spiritual health surely includes a look around this world God created for us. One study note put it this way: “When in doubt about God, look around and you will see abundant evidence that he is at work in our world.” (Life Application Bible, p. 1983)
If your holy tempers are healthy, then you are praising the Lord with every breath. You are “breathing God.” You are experiencing “joy [that] comes when freely giving service to the needy, when injustice kindles our indignation, when God’s forgiveness inspires a life-changing gratitude.” And when you look at God’s creation and your breath is taken away, you praise the Lord!
Wesley understood how important praising the Lord is to maintaining one’s spiritual health. When we are beaten down, worn out, persecuted, or even suffering with debilitating illness, our spiritual health or holy tempers will keep our spiritual respiration strong. Paul’s stoning is just one example how important breathing God regularly, automatically, is.
Practice praising the Lord. Each week, attend worship service as a spiritual practice. Worship includes praises. Read the Bible regularly so you can hear God speaking to you and you can develop your holy tempers. Praise the Lord for all the glory he created, but also for all the grace, the love, and the strength to live healthy, spiritual lives so we can put our theology into action.
Dear Glorious Father,
Thank you for the beauty of the earth
You have created for us this autumn day.
Thank you for lessons written into scripture
That guide us in keeping our spirituality healthy.
Thank you for all the leaders of our church:
Paul , Wesley, and even today’s theologians.
Help us improve our spiritual health
By improving the use of Wesley’s acts of piety.
We want to breathe in God each day.
We want to feel our lungs fill with the Holy Spirit.
We want to breathe out the love of one another.
We want to live our theology
In praise of you, Lord. –Amen