All activity in the kingdom of God flows out of rest. The pattern for participating in God’s work is rest, vision and action. Rest takes several forms - listening to God’s affirmation and allowing His voice to be heard in one’s heart, being known by God by relaxing one’s defenses, and meditating on scripture, that is, to enter into the story via imagination and engage the unfolding events as a participant in the tale. Vision comes in a variety of ways - sometimes as words, sometimes as mental images, sometimes as stories, sometimes from a scripture or series of scriptures. Action transforms vision from spiritual to physical, from concept to activity in the world.
In Luke 6, two episodes are juxtaposed, one in a synagogue on the Sabbath, the other on a mountain at night. Together they reveal this pattern as Jesus on the mountain rests, sees, and then in the light of day acts and thereby critiques the Pharisees’ idea that simply ceasing to work keeps God’s rest. Jesus spends the night in prayer. He rests in God’s favor and envisions God’s visions, and the next day enacts the visions by selecting 12 apostles for training, bringing God’s power for healing to those needing it, and preaching a profound sermon. His night of rest and vision flowing into a day of action starkly contrasts with the Pharisees’ “rest,” their opposition to God’s passion for human restoration and their inaction to relieve human suffering.
This is the narrative ‘big idea’ that Luke is making, when he put the two stories alongside one another: the sequence of rest, vision, and action is God’s intention for genuine Sabbath keeping.
Like many biblical prophets (think Abraham, Moses, and Elijah), Jesus scrambled up a mountain to pray. Such a simple word, pray. What does it mean? Jesus spent the night resting in God’s grace, dreaming God’s dreams and welcoming God’s power. Jesus filled those hours in the dark mountain resting, dreaming, and receiving, that is praying-all so that God’s love might enter and heal our world.
Jesus clambered up the mountain to pray. In the night, the stars and galaxies, planets and comets, and Luna herself declared the glory of God in their brilliant dance in the heavens. So obscured has our view become that to see what Jesus saw requires backpacking in the mountains in the big sky west. The sight brought praises to the living God bubbling up from Jesus’ heart through His lungs and cords, teeth and tongue so His voice might mingle with the silent praises of the night sky.
Perhaps lines from Psalm 8 burst from Jesus, “When I consider Your heavens, O Lord; the moon and stars You ordained, ‘What is man that You think of him, or the Son of Man that You consider him?’” Praises leads to wonder and humility. Adoration stretches the heart. Worship, heart engagement expands one’s vision of God. This stretching and expansion makes room for God’s power and life in the human heart. God’s might pooled in His heart.
The question, “What is man?” drew Jesus’ memory back to that grand moment of God’s strong and sustaining affirmation at His baptism. “You are My Son, chosen and marked by My love, pride of My life.” Because memory clusters the sights, sounds and smells, the tastes and touches of an event, the fragrances of orchards and groves north in the Jordan Valley sweep again into His nostrils, the cool and then cold water splashes afresh against His warm skin, He sees again the sun burst through the torn sky, feels the Spirit swelling His chest, and hears in echo the tender voice speaking pleasure and delight into His ears. Resting in prayer, He was there again. Claimed by God, loved by the Creator. Blessed by the Beloved One. From that living memory, from that Spirit-breathed remembrance, He had solid footing on rocky terrain for His night prayers. Jesus rested in God’s love.
We do, too. We rest in the Father’s love as we pray. He calls us. He claims us. He makes us His own by grace. We relax. We rest on His love. In fact our prayers begin in that day of Jesus’s affirmation. Our baptisms lead us to His. And our feet find solid footing to stand in God’s presence because the Father’s blessing reaches to us through Jesus. We are bold to pray, as we rest in God’s embrace. The Spirit whispers in our heart of hearts. “You are Mine, chosen and marked by My love, you are My pride and the love of My life.”
Perhaps Psalm 8 further guided Jesus’ prayer, “Yet You, Lord God Almighty, made Him little lower than the angels; You put all things under His feet.”
Clearer vision of God leads to clarity of our vision of ourselves. Jesus had been given authority – authority He passes to you and me. Lean into God’s vision. Rest on His dream for you.
If rest characterized Jesus first movement in prayer, then vision for ministry is the second motion. In the previous episode in the story of healing a man’s withered arm, Jesus experienced a first. In that story, He met a previously unknown intensity of opposition. In Luke, until now, until this Sabbath, this synagogue, and these Pharisees, Jesus and the Spirit had been able to turn the tide of resistance, to temporarily reorient the opposition to divine purposes. Not now. Jesus recognized the resistance to His ministry had strengthened.
Never again would He be able to overcome the opposition with displays of divine power. From that moment His arguments fell upon unhearing and unheeding ears. With this change, He needed vision for ministry.
In the night of prayer, Jesus brought to the Father this troubling new development, that the torrent of divine life in the form of healing powers and provisions for life could no longer flow past the critics’ obstacles. What now?
Resting in the Father’s affection, present to His uplifting grace, Jesus could dream God’s dreams. And He did. The evidence can be found in His actions the next day – an ongoing ministry shift, the presence of power for healing, and the teaching Jesus shared. With the morning sun, Jesus selected apostles, the Twelve, and began to train them. The divine power pooled in His heart flowed from Jesus and healed all manner of sickness. In His sermon, Jesus blessed those who align themselves with God’s gracious kingdom as it enters the world and declared divine judgment against the privileged, the wealthy, the comfortable, the powerful. He outlined the fundamental approach to life for His disciples – love others, love your enemies, refrain from judging, be generous, be humble, bear the fruit of good works from a good heart, and build your life on My words. What He modeled, follow. Do as Jesus did. Rest. Dream God’s dreams. Welcome God’s power. Then rested and energized, translate dreams into kingdom realities.
Rev. Henry Andrew Corcoran, M.Div., Ph.D. can be reached at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, 2105 Highway 501 E., Conway, by phone at 843-397-4914 or by email at email@example.com.