First Baptist Church is a place where individuals respond to the word of scripture and seek their own interpretation. Where Separation of Church and State and religious liberty are taken very seriously. Where we hold our Baptist beliefs with deep conviction but we hold them in modesty.
» Life in Motion, Leaving to Return, A Sermon by Rev. Joe Bumbulis
You’ve likely heard it a million
times. All the hours we spend sitting at work, at home, in our cars, watching
TV are adding up: and hastening us to our deaths. According to some studies,
people with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as
people with standing jobs.
Our bodies, our beings are designed
to be in motion.
If, somehow, you’ve missed the
cultural moment, all this talk about “sitting killing us” has transformed
workplaces with such wonders as yoga balls as chairs, stand up desks, and the
infamous treadmill desk, (so that way the already super-productive people at
work can now own all their tasks and then some Plus walk five to ten miles a
day while at work…Charlotte).
We humans are made to move. To be
alive and flourishing and whole; MEANS movement.
Life is motion and motion is
The sacred stories we as Christ
followers read in the Bible are replete with people finding not only
Life, but God’s very self in movement.
Abraham’s story begins by leaving Ur.
Moses and the newly rescued slave
people spend 40 years in the desert, walking the slavery out of their bones and
memories in order to be God’s blessing people in a new land. Motion.
Faced with the stagnation and
injustice of a corrupt kingdom, the Israelites were lead into EXILE…forced from
their land. Motion.
Jesus lead his disciples to cross
border and boundaries. Motion.
And, the church in Acts was empowered
by the Spirit to go out into all of the world. Motion.
While today’s lectionary Gospel
reading isn’t necessarily about movement, (or even what I’ll be preaching about
today), I wanted to keep it because the because the tax collector’s prayer
brings to mind one of my favorite ways of praying called: “the Jesus prayer.”
“The Jesus prayer,” for those
unfamiliar with it, is a very short prayer to be memorized and said over and
over again in one’s mind. It’s a prayer of repetition that’s meant to center
and remind the one of God’s presence and mercy.
It goes like this:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have
mercy on me, a sinner.”
In seminary, when I began practicing
this prayer with my small group, the challenge was to sit and repeat in my mind
this short prayer…which I found nearly impossible except when I was
But one day, because I was praying,
“Lord Jesus Christ, Song of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” over and over in
my mind at random times, the words came to me while I was running.
It was like a magical moment when my
love for moving and using my body became a spiritual discipline. Not only did I
fall in love with the power of repetition to focus my entire self on God; but I
began to reclaim the goodness of my being as a "bodied being" not
just a spiritual being.
So when this past summer, at the encouragement
of our former interim pastor Steve Jolly, I was hurled into the opportunity to
take a sabbatical, and with short notice and little time to plan, I wasn't sure
what I needed; but as someone drawn to spirituality as motion,
I was drawn to pilgrimage. To travel
with intention or as famous theologian Richard Niebuhr writes:
Pilgrims are poets who create
by taking journeys
In our modern context of travel and
vacations, pilgrimage has lost much of its appeal or we’ve lost awareness that
it exists as a spiritual discipline.
And while some of my time away was
vacation, much of it was pilgrimage…a journey of risk, renewal, and
As printed in the worship bulletin,
Douglas Vestal reflects on pilgrimage…
Several sages over the centuries have
written that the real point of traveling is not to arrive but to return home.
As promised a few weeks back by our
new pastor Griff Martin mentioned that you would be hearing all about my
sabbatical when I preached.
Before I begin, let me say that in
many ways I’m still in process with it…and for all the counselors in the room
you’ll be happy to know that as part of my sabbatical, I took the last week to
find a therapist to help me with the process. Some things are still too
personal to share; but otherwise, I’d here are a few reflections I’ve come home
My first reflection:
As someone who has spent the last 8
years dedicating my life and time to the question of
“how do you nurture faith and
community in the church’s youth;”
more than ever I’m convinced that
FAITH is not some moment of religious acceptance nor is it being socialized
into good church members.
Faith is a way of living in the
world, a way of seeing reality and seeking for God’s new life within it.
My first week in Europe was spent
with Charlotte as vacation and rest in Barcelona. I began to feel the urgings
toward travel as something deeper when we visited Montserrat one early
Montserrat is a monastery built into
the side of a mountain just outside Barcelona. Our morning began with a hike
along a prayer stations guiding us through the life of Christ using both icons
and sculptures. The stations of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ended at
the chapel of the Black Madonna where in a time of silent reflection I was
moved to light candles in prayer for some friends of mine who are hurting
The space became thin as it was
palatable with God’s presence.
We began our ascend back up the
mountain and made it just in time to hear the boys’ choir which has been in
operation for over 700 years at Montserrat.
I remember having a profound moment
of worship, watching a woman bow her head before a crucifix statue before
slowly walking forward to kiss Jesus’ crucified feet.
Finally after purchasing a whole
wheel or two of Spanish cheese for almost nothing at a small farmers market, we
rode the cable car back down the mountain.
As Charlotte and I were resting our
weary feet waiting on the train to take us back to Barcelona, we listened quietly
to a couple resting on the platform right next to us, reflect on their
It was obvious that one of them was
in charge of planning that day’s activity and the other seem completely
disengaged and disappointed. You could tell the one who had planned the day
felt deflated, while the other offered no real suggestion of that they wanted
to do…just what they didn’t want.
Later, when Charlotte and I were
talking about the conversation that we “eavesdropped” which to be fair, might
not be okay in itself, I remembered something I had read in preparation for our
Traveling without the ability to see,
is a useless endeavor. It is not about the sites, but about the sighting, the
way we see.
Faith is about learning to see every
moment full of God’s possibility. Every moment being pregnant with expectation
of God’s new life. Faith is about seeing the world as full of openness for the
divine to break in…even in the face of our pain…even in the face of our
My second reflection:
At the center of my pilgrimage to
Europe, the reason I wanted to travel was to visit Taize, a monastic
community in the middle of no-where France (which by the way, is nothing like
the middle of no-where Texas….it’s lot less Texas Chainsaw and a lot more
Taize is a monastic community that
draws thousands upon thousands of young people every year for prayer and
Having worshipped in 2013 with some
of the brothers from Taize at Pine Ridge, South Dakota overlooking the
beautiful Badlands and then helping to host them here at First Austin in 2014,
I was excited to go worship with my monk friends at their home: Taize.
What I wasn’t expecting was how much
I would struggle to connect with worship. Taize worship had been a very
powerful experience for me in the past, and I thought for sure getting to pray
3 times a day for 7 days would be even more powerful; yet from the start I had
a difficult time connecting to it.
There are reasons I think I found the
worship difficult to connect with,
But in reflection, I see that my
disconnection with worship, lead me to a deeper connection with another part,
maybe the most important part of Taize: the community.
You see, here in the states, Taize is
often equated with style of worship or singing; but in Europe, Taize is
synonymous with community.
For several young Europeans,
Taize is their church community. Nearly every young person I spoke with
told me that they come to Taize every year, but rarely if ever go to church.
Many told me that church is for old people.
I recently came across a TED talk
titled, “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.”
Maybe you’ve seen it.
In it, Robert Waldinger talks about a
recent survey among Millennials…my generation…of what we think makes us happy,
or what makes life worth living. 80% said wealth; 50% said fame.
But in this 75 year study, the
longest study of adult lives that has ever been done, where 724 men’s lives
were tracked (and now their children’s lives are being tracked); some who would
become Harvard graduates and go on to fight in WWII; and others who grew up in
some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods; a few things stood out.
One, is that many of the inner city
Boston men would ask every year when the researchers called, “Why do you want
to keep studying me, my life just isn't that interesting.” The Harvard grads
never asked that question. (i just thought that was funny).
But most importantly, the key insight
from this study in trying to learn what makes people happy or gives them a
fulfilling life is that it doesn’t come from wealth, or fame, or even working
Good relationships keep us happier
and healthier. Period.
We as human being are made for
relationships. NO matter our age, no matter our place in life…we need one
another. So the greater epidemic isn’t sitting that is killing us, but
loneliness. The type of loneliness that can happen in a crowd or marriage
A third reflection:
After my week at Taize, I left and
spent 3 nights in Paris and then 2 in London. In Paris, I rejoiced to go alone
to the Louvre and the Orsay. To get some time being confronted by some of the
world’s most renowned artists while reflecting on my time thus far. While I
loved my time in Paris, by the time I arrived in London, I was done with
paintings and sculptures.
So, I decided to see a play. By
chance, I got a day of ticket, front row for $40 dollars to see Wicked at the
And I have to confess, I cried, like
a big cry during “Defying Gravity.” Like, the guys sitting next to me were
confused by the guy sitting alone, weeping.
If you know Wicked, which I’ve
learned I’m pretty late to the game and just about everyone has seen it, then
you know the power of Elphaba taking ownership of her life in that moment, of
her swearing off her dreams that were never really real in the first place and
choosing a new way:
or in the words of Elphaba:
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by
The rules of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes
It's time to try defying gravity
I think I'll try defying gravity
And you can't pull me down
In an interview with Oprah, Father
Richard Rohr explains that many people live by listening to their false selves,
or their egos which hate change. We aren’t good at letting go, but we are good at
holding on…holding on to resentment, past hurts, or negative feelings.
As Rohr explains, many Americans live
their whole lives out of an identity built around victimhood. In other words,
we often use our wounds and hurts as ways of getting sympathy or getting out of
serving the world.
The power of Wicked in the story of
Elphaba is, I believe, one of the most powerful spiritual and faithful acts of
faith we can come to in following Jesus- agency…to own our actions in the world
and not be defined by the wrongs we incurred or the pain we carry. Instead
letting our lives be written by the rules of someone else’s game, a game of
being a victim or making victims; we can be free.
But, Giving up on being the victim to
our circumstances or life or even bad choices is hard, difficult work, yet it’s
the best thing you can do.
To recap, a few of my
1Life is motion. Is it any wonder that
the major metaphors in the Bible for the Holy Spirit are dynamic, energetic,
and moving. God is life, and life is motion…which means in every moment we are
called to change.
2) Faith is learning to see the world
as God sees it: full of possibility in every moment, whether that moment is
full of pain or in our boredom .
3) We are made to be in relationship.
4) We must choose to own our actions
in the world and instead of having victim-identities; we must have wounded
So what does all this mean for
the church, for you and me?
Our church is in a new time, marked
by growth. In Richard Rohr's newest book on the Trinity, the Divine Dance, he
remarks that the key to growth is vulnerability. To live undefended, in
constant openness to others invites pain and hurt.
If I could boil down all my
reflections into a word: it would be vulnerability.
This last Tuesday, David Brooks wrote
in the NYTimes a piece called the “Power of the Dinner Table.”
Brooks writes about a couple in
Washington DC who’s teenage son had a friend who was hungry. So they invited
him over. And that friend had a friend, so they invited him over.
On any random Thursday night in Kathy
Fletcher and David Simpson’s home, you might find 15 to 20 teenagers crammed
around their table and later some will crash in the basement or a in one of the
few small bedrooms upstairs.
The kids who show up to David and
Kathy’s have endured the ordeals of modern poverty: homelessness, hunger,
abuse, sexual assault. Almost all have seen death firsthand — to a sibling,
friend or parent.
But kids, hungry for food, but so
much more, gather around a table to share a meal. Phones are banned in that
This couple is making a difference in
the face of modern poverty. As Brooks writes:
“Poverty up close is so much more
intricate and unpredictable than the picture of poverty you get from the grand
national debates. The kids can project total self-confidence one minute and
then slide into utter lostness the next.”
In the same piece, a youth activist,
when asked what programs turn kids life around, he answers, I haven’t seen one
program change a kids life; what changes people is relationships. Somebody
willing to walk through the shadow of the valley of adolescence with them.”
The article ends this way:
Sometimes Kathy and David are asked
how they ended up with so many kids flowing through their house. They look at
how many kids are out there, and respond, “How is it possible you don’t?”
Life is motion; AND God’s call to the
table is full of commotion, a turning upside of our lives in the redemption of
our lives in vulnerable relationships…