Avoiding the Summer Slump May 5 and 6
Scripture: Psalm 1, John 15: 1-17
Well hello again! I know it’s only been two weeks, but I’m glad to be back. From time to time, I think it’s important that we break out of our routine and do something different, to remember that we’re not human “doings,” but human “beings.” For me, that usually means a time of retreat, a time of getting away and remembering who I am and whose I am. Those times are good for the soul. My spiritual cup has been refilled! And what’s more, I had the privilege of passing the preaching baton to Pastor Dawn, who did a superb job. Pastor’s Dawn voice is an important voice for all of us to hear, and you can expect us to share the preaching duties a little more regularly. Leaders always need to listen to the wisdom and passion of others, to sit at their feet and receive. And that’s what I did on my retreat. I read, I prayed, I listened. And God reminded that the most important calling I have in my life is to connect with Jesus. You and I will never have any work that is more important than this.
Jesus himself talks about this holy work in today’s passage in the Gospel of John. It’s typically referred to as “The Vine and the Branches,” and the point Jesus makes is that everything we’re looking for and everything our hearts desire is found only in connection with him. That’s what the story’s about. “Abide in me,” says Jesus. Remain close to me. Keep me at the forefront of your thoughts. Stay connected to me, because I’m life.” And what I’ve come to discover is that many of us passionately pursue Jesus September through May, but once the unofficial start of summer hits, something shifts. I’ve never quite understood why, but summer has a way of messing with our spiritual lives. Maybe it’s the busyness? Maybe it’s all the activities that we couldn’t do in the long, dark days of winter. I can’t pinpoint a surefire answer, but for some reason, we sort of let loose and let our guard down and our connection to God grows weak. And that’s what I want to help us think about today. How do we avoid what I call the “summer slump?”
How many baseball fans are in the room? If there’s one thing a baseball player fears, it’s the dreaded slump. Slumps aren’t good for baseball careers. If you want to make a living as a baseball player, you have to be able to hit the ball. If not, you can pretty much bet that your playing days are over. Or you’ll go down in history for all the wrong reasons. Any Pirate fans remember the name Mario Mendoza? What’s he famous for? He couldn’t hit the ball! He had a career .200 batting average, which isn’t good. That statistic is now referred to as the “Mendoza Line, “ and baseball players spend all winter working on their skills and conditioning so they don’t fall prey to the dreaded “Mendoza Line” during the dog days of summer rolls around. Now, it didn’t used to be that way. In the old days, the offseason was filled with vacations, rest and relaxation. It was family time. But something has shifted over the years. A hobby became a job, or in our language, a discipline. For those who play the game a long time, more than just a cup of coffee in the big leagues, baseball has become a way of life.
I think that’s a good way to talk about our faith. We have remind ourselves that Jesus isn’t a hobby, an experiment or a nice friend to have around for the tough times, but he’s a way of life. In fact, He’s the way, the truth and the life. He’s the one who desire to be our center. And every season is a season to practice putting Jesus Christ at the center of all we say and do. But the first question you have to answer, and something you have to answer every day is whether or not Jesus has any say over the big AND little things of your life.
There’s a vivid story I heard once about a young man who went away to church camp and had a powerful experience where he met Jesus and gave his life to the Lord. He was on fire. Nothing could douse his newfound spiritual fervor and he vowed that everything would be different for now one. And for a few weeks, everything was different. He would read Scripture, pray and almost see Jesus everywhere he went. But one day, a friend asked him to go to a party and to let loose a little. And the young man hesitated, not sure it was something he should do, until his friend reminded him that the girl he had his eye on would be there. Finally he relented and said, “Ok, I’ll go.” But just as he got up to leave, he noticed that Jesus also got up to go with him. “No,” said the young man, “I don’t think this is a place for you. Just stay here until I get back.” And so he walked Jesus back to the couch. Once again he made his way to the door, but he looked back, and there again was Jesus following him. The young man started to get agitated, and said, “No. You’ve got that stay here. I won’t be gone for long. Plus, there’s this girl I like, and I don’t know what she’ll think about you.” And he walked Jesus back once more. On his third time third attempt, the same thing happened. Jesus was relentless!. And by this time, he was furious. So he took Jesus, put him up against the wall and nailed his arms and legs to the wall and said, “You stay right there.”
Sometimes I think that’s what happens when summer rolls around. Now, I don’t think most of intentionally choose to leave Jesus behind, but it happens. We make a small decision one weekend to not attend worship, and before we know it, we’ve been out of our worship routines for a month. We take a break from our busy lives and we give ourselves a vacation, which is good, but more often than not we focus so much on our own needs that we end up shelving God for the entire summer season. We get into a slump. But that’s not the vision of life God has for us. God’s plan for us is one of intimacy, of staying connected to the life-giving vine. When we claim that intimacy, when we stay connected to the one who is Life itself, we discover everything we’re looking for.
John Wesley once wrote about this life. He said the character of a disciple is this: One who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart…who loves the Lord his God with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” That’s a bold vision for life, isn’t it? That’s the kind of life I want for all of us. So is it possible? Can we really live this way? Especially heading into summer, when we tend to let loose and do whatever we want? Can we avoid the spiritual summer slump and instead of shelving God to the rear, can we invite Christ to be the center of all we do? I think we can. And here’s how. John Wesley was a master of helping his followers keep both eyes on Christ, keeping them committed to God’s ways. And he had three simple ways (General Rules) that serve as a blueprint for a faithful way of living even during the summer months.
Here’s the first rule of thumb: Do no harm and avoid every kind of evil. That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? It probably doesn’t bear repeating, but harming others is not a recipe for godly living. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors and to pray for our enemies, which means we should do all we can to bless others, whether we like them or not, and agree with them or not. But here’s where I want to push you a little. We know that harming others isn’t God’s way, but what about harming yourself? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people tell me, “Listen, I’m not hurting anyone else. The only person I’m hurting is me.” I’ve had people tell me that when they choose to drink; when they choose to let down their sexual guard; when they do things they wouldn’t normally do. I’m only hurting me. If that’s your thought process, I just want to remind you that God has something to say about you. God says you’re beloved; God says you’re his Child! And God says that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit; the very presence of God is meant to fill you, to live within you and empower you. You’re meant to be a reflection of God in this world, a sign to all of creation of the beautiful life of joy and discipline and peace that only God can give. And if you harm yourself, you’re making a statement to the God who so loved the world that He gave His son for you! God has called you to a holy life, which at the very least means a life that seeks to bless and do no harm, even if that means you. Do no harm this summer.
The second rule Wesley advises is to do all the good you can. This where I think we can be wonderfully successful. The summer season is a motivating season; we’re out and about; we’re active. So what if we transformed those regular activities into ways to bless others? And there’s a lot of good that can be done in this world, wouldn’t you agree? We talk a lot about changing the world, but changing the world happens one decision at a time. It happens when we ask our neighbor if we can help him or her; it happens when we slow down enough to listen to someone who just needs to unload; it happens when we offer to volunteer even though we’d rather go shopping or out to eat. It also happens when we choose to not do some things: to avoid talking about others when we haven’t talked with them first; to avoid criticism when we haven’t offered to be a part of the solution; to refuse to laugh at the joke or acknowledge the reference because it demeans others rather than lifts up. Doing good is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that God is the center of who we are. Here’s one simple test you can use when you wonder if something will be good. Will this decision reflect God’s love, God’s character and God’s goodness? If not, proceed with caution. If yes, move forward. Do all the good you can.
Wesley’s last piece of advice, which has been reinterpreted for our day is simply this: Stay in love with God. This seems like another easy step, but it might be the most difficult. Remember the words we heard last week about the church in Ephesus? They had lost their first love. For a season, this once vibrant church had abandoned their devotion to the Lord. It can happen to the best of us. Even Jesus reminded Peter of this after the resurrection. Do you love me Peter? Do you love me, Peter? Do you love me, Peter? That’s a good question to wrestle with every day. Do we love Jesus? And are we committed to staying in love with him? To stay in love with God is to invite Jesus to go everywhere with us, or better yet, to invite Jesus to be the one who leads us where we need to go. Open your Bible. Get on your knees. Cry out to God. Devote your self to his ways. And stay in love. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. These three simple rules are gifts that remind us to keep the main thing the main thing. And if we do these, we’ll not just avoid a summer slump, but we’ll hit a homerun and remind the world that we march to the beat of God’s drum. Amen.