15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Before I begin my sermon for this morning, I invite you to join me in becoming more present in this time and place. Take a moment to breathe deeply, in and out. Allow the busyness of your week, your to-do list, and your worries to take a back seat for the moment and allow your focus to be here, in this present moment.
Notice the parts of your body where you are holding tension, and if you can, stretch, move, and intentionally let that tension go. Straighten your back, let your shoulders drop, unclench your hands and your jaw, and feel your body settle more comfortably into your seat.
Let’s take another deep breath in and out. Thank you for doing that with me. I hope that it helps you feel more centered and present as we enter this time of reflection together.
Last week I preached about how we are going through unprecedented times. Over the past two months, we have been experiencing a shared trauma that psychologists say is causing a strain on our mental health. It is normal for us right now to feel scattered, unable to focus or remember things as well as we usually can. Many of us feel exhausted because our brains are stuck in fight or flight mode, waiting for the next bit of news that will change our lives yet again. In this time, we are all trying to learn how to cope under challenging conditions.
It is so important that we find ways to care for our mental and physical health right now. God’s greatest commandment to us is that we are called not only to love God and love our neighbor, but also to love ourselves.
When we are able to care for ourselves—our bodies, our minds, and our spirits—in a way that keeps us healthy and happy and whole, then we are truly able to open ourselves up to love others in ways that can help them be healthy, happy, and whole as well.
One of the ways that we can care for our own health is through our Spiritual Practices—those things that help us to deepen our relationship with God. Jackie Wells Smith, author of the book: “Spiritual Practices for Happiness” describes them this way:
“Spiritual Practices are habits or rituals that are performed on a regular basis to strengthen your faith and deepen the connection you feel to God and to other people.”
In her book, she uses the work of Andrew Newberg, an MD who is the Director of the Center of Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. His research included studying the effects of practices like prayer, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, breathe work, quiet reflection, and creative activities like art and music.
What he found was that spiritual practices have a profound effect on us, especially when they are done regularly. Some of these effects are:
-Feeling healthier and happier in our lives
-More emotional stability
-A greater sense of calmness
-A more alert mind with better cognitive function
– Natural healing of emotional illnesses
– and increased feelings of contentedness and well-being.
All of this is amazing, right? The effects of slowing down and spending time focused on our spiritual health actually helps us to have happier and healthier lives.
However, for Christians Spiritual Practices should do more than help us to grow healthier and happier. They should also help us to become more connected to and aware of the presence of God in our lives.
Our scripture for this morning also calls us into deeper connection with God. In it, Jesus describes himself as the grape vine and his disciples as the branches that are connected to the vine. The more time we spend connected to the vine, the more nourishment we get from it and the more we grow.
The same can be true of spiritual practices. When we intentionally spend time connecting with God through a spiritual practice, we give ourselves the opportunity to see and feel God’s presence as a more integrated part of our lives.
In my own life, I have begun integrating a spiritual practice called the Daily Examen. The Daily Examen is a tool that Catholic theologian and priest Ignatius taught back in the 1500s. I was introduced to the Daily Examen last summer in my Justice Ministry Education Certificate Program. My instructor shared with us that she ends each day praying the Examen, and that it helps her to be more aware of where God is in her life.
Since then, when I remember to do it, I have also tried to incorporate the Daily Examen into my nightly routine. What I’ve found is that when I am faithful about doing it, I am more aware of how God is moving in my life.
This has been life-changing for me. For example, a few months ago, I went to bed after a long day and began praying the Examen. I had spent five hours that day at City Hall, advocating for Kansas City to pass a ban on Conversion Therapy for LGBT youth.
When you speak on a heated topic at City Hall, they separate the speakers into two groups. Those for the proposal, and those against the proposal. I was FOR the proposal, but somehow my registry card got moved to the bottom of the pile so my name was not called in my group. I was disappointed that I wasn’t called until the end, and a little nervous about speaking after hearing several harmful and cruel opinions from people who approve of putting children through conversion therapy.
While I was praying the daily examen that evening, I realized that by being moved to the end, my testimony as a Christian minister who cares for LGBTQ youth probably had more of an impact! Because of a mix-up, I had the opportunity to declare that LGBTQ youth are loved and beloved children of God JUST as they are….and I was able to do it after several people spewed hateful opinions. The Daily Examen gave me the opportunity to reflect on my day in a new way, and see God in a moment that I had originally been disappointed in.
Starting a new spiritual practice can be a daunting task, especially if you are starting on your own. So, I would like to take a few minutes to walk all of us through praying the Daily Examen silently right now. It is my hope that through practicing it together you can learn if this is a tool that might be helpful for you in your own life. I have a handout that I will email out to the church next week, so if this is helpful for you, you can remember how to do it.
Are you ready to get started? Let’s all settle into a comfortable position in our seats and begin by focusing on our breathing. The first step of the Examen is to enter a time of prayer. I’ll give you a few moments now to begin praying and giving thanks to God for the last 24 hours. When it’s time to move on I’ll give you the next set of instructions.
Now, let’s transition into a time of reflection on the last 24 hours. What happened? Where did you see God present in your day?
If there was a something that happened in the last 24 hours that you wish you had done differently, I invite you to ask forgiveness or reflect on how you will change the way you act if that situation comes up again in the future.
As we enter the next 24 hours, I invite you to consider where you need to feel God’s presence with you. What do you need to make it through the next 24 hours in a happier and healthier way?
Loving God, as we close this spiritual practice together this morning, we thank you for your presence with us. Help us to continue to move forward with our hearts and minds set on you. Amen.
Thank you all for being open to trying something new this morning. I hope that you found practicing the Daily Examen helpful, but if you didn’t I invite you to consider what spiritual practice might work for you.
Starting soon, I will be setting up a zoom meeting once a week for us to do a spiritual practice together. Once I work out the details I will send them out via email. Anyone and everyone is invited to join me, and you don’t need to have experience with any spiritual practices to be a part of this time. You may find that one of the practices I introduce will resonate with you more than the Daily Examen did. Or you may want to explore different types of practices on your own.
If prayer or reading of scripture is what works for you, I invite you to be intentional about adding it to your daily routines. If you see God in nature, try spending a few more minutes each day outside. If music or art helps you see the beauty of God as Creator, find some time to appreciate something creative every day.
Richard Rohr once said: “Spirituality is about awakening the eyes, the ears, the heart, so you can see what’s always happening right in front of you.” So whatever spiritual practice works for you, I encourage you to find opportunities to intentionally connect with God. May that connection help you to be happier and healthier in your spiritual life and may it help you to see God at work all around you.