As the rotating Earth moves around the sun, the light of day follows the dark of night. The activity of our waking hours brings us to restful sleep. It is from sleep that we awaken to being anew.
Every year since forever, summer has given way to fall which has passed in to winter and brought us to the renewal of spring which flows forward again in to summer. Divine rhythms beat eternally.
Our lives are a flow of constant, steady, interwoven rhythms, over which we have no control and those we create. There are those rhythms which are pleasing and those pure rhythms we barely notice but without which we could not exist.
Our lives are filled with rhythms. Rhythms sustain us, physically and soulfully. They are a source of beauty, harmony, and strength.
The miracle of rhythm is found in the systolic and diastolic beats of the heart. The normal successive contractions and dilations of the chambers of this vital organ propel our blood to stream throughout our bodies. The beats of our heart are repeated about 5 billion times over a typical life.
When romance strikes we say, “my heart skipped a beat” as the most vital part of our God-given rhythm has been given to our lover.
We breathe in…. Then we breathe out…. We breathe in to start Life. After that first breath some 500 million other breaths are taken over the course of a Life. We don’t even notice most of them and then at the end, we commonly breathe out as our last act of life.
There are cosmic rhythms. Consider the comets. Halley’s Comet has a rhythm of once every 75 to 76 years as it travels from remote parts of our galaxy to pass into view on Earth. We’ve heard of Halley’s Comet because it is the only comet that is likely to be seen at least once in someone’s lifetime. There are other comets that travel in view of our planet but their observance is measured in the hundreds if not thousands of years. Proving, time does not constrain rhythms.
Before winter sets in bears, toads, badgers, earthworms, and bats – among many others – find a safe place to rest, their heart beat slows way down, they barely move, yet each spring, they regain their vigor, head outside again to forage, feed, defend and reproduce. Then winter returns. The beat goes on.
I love frogs! Do you? Have you ever held a frog? If not, surely you’ve startled one as you hear it plop away from you in to a pool or stream nearby. This little mass of amphibious cuteness, how cool!
At the onset of every autumn, frogs in temperate climates like ours bury themselves in to the ground. Some species go as deep as six feet. They settle in with a heart rate that’s nearly non-existent. No feeding. No movement for months. In the depths of winter they’re there, alive….as they have been doing for eons. When warmer days become common again, they emerge. Rhythm.
Some four to five thousand years before Christ, ancient Egyptians found that the sun returns to its original position every 365 days. By observing a rhythm in the solar system, a year was discovered. And following the path of the sun, seasons were noted, too. The summer solstice, the autumnal equinox, the winter solstice and the vernal equinox – these positions of the sun each mark the beginning of a new season.
Many of the world’s most famous structures built across the ages were designed and positioned in such a way as to fully capture the sunlight of the vernal equinox, the first full day of spring. The great Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt, Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the Stonehenge in southern England, the Great Pyramid of Giza, Westminster Abbey and Notre Dame in Paris, all were built to maximize their exposure to the sun on the vernal equinox – an annual day of hope and renewal.
Any one who has been to the ocean knows of the soothing rhythm of waves lapping on the shore. A steady sound that is so reassuring, so relaxing you can buy a CD of it to help you sleep. And, if that doesn’t work, try the sleep-inducing magic founding in the rhythmic counting of sheep.
A precious memory of my childhood is falling asleep listening to the tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock of an old clock we had on the mantel above the fireplace. Though my bedroom was upstairs, I could hear it faintly. What a friend. Many a day came to a contented close to the rhythmic tick and tock of that clock.
And, who doesn’t love some form of music. Rhythm is the foundation of nearly all music in most cultures around the world. From Haydn to Beethoven to Joplin to Gershwin to Robert Johnson to Elvis to Ornette Coleman to even The B-52s, some of the most innovative musicians in the history of western music were provocative in their day not only due to their treatment of harmonies and melodies but also due to their manipulation of rhythm. Can your toes stop tapping to the beat of rhythm and blues?
Where would dance be without rhythm? Think of the beauty of the Joffrey Ballet or the spell-binding movements of tap or the motion of break-dancing then think…. Elaine Benes. Seinfeld fans can never forget the infamous herky jerky dance scene that was so hilarious because she was so wildly out of rhythm. Mind if I demonstrate? You do?! Oh, ok.
A 75-year old friend of mine and a lifetime golfer told me recently that the secret to a good golf game is being in rhythm. For those of you who are sports fans like me, we say when quarterbacks, tennis players, basketball players, most any athlete is doing uncharacteristically poor, they are said to have lost their rhythm.
Rhythms are so miraculous yet so common; the truly extraordinary in the ordinary; the miracle in the mundane.
In these dog days of summer, who doesn’t love to sip lemonade on a porch swing or while rocking in a rocking chair! As soon as I said it you could feel it, couldn’t you? Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth…. Why is such a simple thing so very good?!
My wife, Virginia, and I were drawn to our current home in part because it has such a great porch swing on such a great porch.
Rhythms are so vital to us that we create our own rhythms around those elements of our lives that are important to us. Ask Pastor Beal about that cup of coffee with half and half every single morning.
And what about Pastor Lentz closing the door to his office from 8 – 11 every single weekday morning. On Mondays that time is used to prepare his next sermon, only to refine it on Friday morning and deliver it to you the following Sunday morning. I hear it’s been that way for about 17 years now. You could say he’s found his rhythm.
You have your own rhythm that is just right for you. I certainly do. Every day after work, I can’t wait to come home and walk Misto and Greta – our adorably happy dogs. To be sure, the morning and evening walks with Virginia or me are absolutely an essential part of their daily rhythm.
And most every morning, typically before dawn, I quietly get out of bed, descend the creaky stairs, and head to the dining room. There I get out a candle, gather an assemblage of reading material and my journal and with a cup of coffee at hand begin my day in rhythm. The next 20 minutes or more are filled with quiet contemplation, reading, reflection, and journaling. It’s been that way for over 9 years.
On those days when I can not get to it, I feel out of sorts – out of rhythm. The effects spill out through the entire day. While those around me may or may not notice it, I certainly do. And the days I get back to it, such a relief.
Take a second to think about your own rhythms.
No matter where we live, what our age, despite our background, income level, race, political affiliation, religion or whatever on the surface may seem to set us apart, there are a vast multitude of rhythms we all share.
Divine rhythms beat eternally.
Rhythms help to form our unity. Through these gifts that sustain, nurture and inspire us, we are one. We share them within our species the world over. We share them with the world itself. We even share them with the universe as much as we understand it. Rhythms speak to what is imperishable, what is beyond the conditioning of time, space and circumstance. Yet the rhythms of our bodies and within our souls do not belong to us. They are gifts from God. Rhythms are shared with all that is, all that has been and all that will be.
Consider today’s passage from Ecclesiastes:
“I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”
Rhythms remind us that whatever goes on in our world, whenever things don’t turn out the way we want, there is a greater force out there, a mystery beyond our understanding. The God whose peace surpasses all understanding becomes known in part through his handiwork. We meet God in the Created Order.
Everything God has made has divine power and love behind it. Consider the flow of love. To me that is the ultimate rhythm. As The Beatles sang at the end of the last song on their last album, “And in the end, the love we make is equal to the love we take.” Love given is love returned. The Love you give unconditionally, unreservedly – even to your enemies – finds its way back to you in God’s own time.
We enhance our impact on Earth by listening for rhythms, finding our rhythms, and by honoring the rhythms all around us. Divine rhythms beat eternally. Tap in to them. God’s gifts include not only those rhythms found in the physical realm – our beating hearts, the changing of seasons or the movement of celestial bodies – but also those of the spiritual realm which are every bit as real and powerfully never-ending.
Those who seek a God-centered Life depend on spiritual rhythms. Many who are assembled here today share a common spiritual rhythm. Even though it’s in the middle of the hottest part of summer, it’s Sunday morning and you’re at Forest Hill Church. It didn’t matter that some guy you never heard of before was giving a lay sermon, you had to be here.
There are many ways to be in spiritual rhythm at Forest Hill Church. I’m new as a member – about 3 years new – some of you are newer. Some were new 50 years ago. But this place and what it represents brings us back, gives us a meaningful rhythm along with all others woven in to our lives.
I invite you now to stretch yourself a little bit.
Today let’s take a slightly different approach to the Offering. We are used to the Collection Plate solely as a vehicle for carrying our financial resources forward to help support God’s good works through Forest Hill Church. Today, I ask that in addition to offering our financial gifts, we also use the Collection Plate today to offer our gratitude. Consider this a Gratitude Offering.
It’s quite simple. You are invited to write on a slip of paper a word or phrase that expresses that for which you are grateful about this place, this community, this avenue for spiritual awakening called Forest Hill Church.
It could be that you are grateful for the Mission trip the Youth Group just took to Washington, D.C. or for the spiritual care a loved one received in a time of need or for spiritual growth you’ve personally experienced through adult education classes or for the care given to the homeless or for the music by Anne Wilson and the choirs of Forest Hill Church.
Or you may want to choose a keyword such as “hospitality” or “community” or “stewardship” to express your gratitude. There’s a lot to be grateful for here but please choose just one. Let it come to you spontaneously. Let it come from your heart.
And for those of you who are visitors, your expressions of gratitude are welcomed and valued as well. So please, every one – express you gratitude. In the pew in front of you, take a sheet of paper from the pad used to make prayer requests, record your gratitude, and place it in the collection plate as it passes by. Together we can share our gratitude for Forest Hill Church with God in a new way.
Divine rhythms beat eternally. Tap in to them. For, you’ve got rhythm; I got rhythm; all God’s chillin’s got rhythm!
Let us pray.
I pray that we may find and celebrate our rhythms boldly. Through them may we more fully realize the vitality of our own existence and the permanence of yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.