Bread – Motions

February 9, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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We have a saying, “He is going through the motions.” We know what that means. Who “he” is, he is merely following a pattern of life laid out for him; he is not trying, he is not committed to either the task or the end of the task. He is living life shallowly. He likes like he is doing right, but he is not doing right. His heart is not in what he is doing. He is acting to please whoever he feels like needs pleasing. The show is there, but none of the substance.

In our religious activities, there is much which passes for true commitment but which is only show. There are many religious motions we go through, but our heart is not in them. We make much of prayer but we do not pray. We make much of worship and attendance at worship but we do not worship. We make much of trust and faith, but we have little of either.

In today’s readings, we see a lot about going through the motions and discover that God is not impressed. For example, in Isaiah God addresses fasting. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Fasting like yours will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? … Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house…?” Isa. 58:3b-7 We can deny ourselves by going through the motions of not eating, hoarding our food until the fast is broken and we can feast. Or we can fast for real, giving away our food so that there is no feast of food, but poverty of food. In the first instance, we have set the conditions for poverty of the spirit because all we have done is delay gratification, not denied it. In the second, although there may be poverty of food there is richness of soul, because we have given away that which we have in reliance upon God’s replenishment. The motions look like the real thing but they are not the real thing. The real thing may not look like much but it has high payoffs.

Similarly, in Mark the disciples are going through the motions of being disciples but are not engaged in the reality of being disciples. The disciples are hanging out around Jesus but they are not engaged with Him. For example, Jesus tells them plainly that He will be killed and will rise again on the third day. However, Mark reports that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” If the disciples were engaged with Jesus and struggling against their own limits to be with Him, talk with Him, and love Him, they why did they not ask Him what He meant? They did plenty of other times. What about this mystery caused them to go through the motions of discipleship but not the reality? Maybe it was because of the topic – not kingship but death, not the presence of the kingdom but an end to a kingdom, not things that “tickled the ears” but things which were agonizing. We go through the motions when we are not interested in being engaged, either because we are afraid of the outcome or because we are bored or because we just don’t care. Perhaps all this talk about death and resurrection was just too boorish for the disciples, particularly as they selfishly discussed their places in the kingdom and jealously considered others who were preaching in Jesus’ name but who were not listed in their little band of brothers.

As we go through this week, we will have many opportunities to display our Christianity, either in our silent prayer or study, our participation in group discussion, or our opportunity to just talk about church. Perhaps we will even have the opportunity to go to church for some reason during the week. When we do these things, will we just be going through the motions or will we be engaged, enlivened and empowered by our walk with God.

Too often we are going through the motions. Why? To please ourselves? – we typically do not like exercise and we typically do not engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, fasting, meditation, or worship with any particularly zeal. To please others? – do we really find it necessary to act “Christian” to please our friends or family, or do we just think we do? To please God? – God is not pleased with fake prayers, study, fasting, meditation, or worship.

So why go through the motions at all? One might be inclined to say at this point “we don’t” and then quit. However, there is an answer. As we go through the motions in prayer, if we are trying to reach out to God about ourselves, our world, our needs, our hopes, and each other, is the “motion” truly empty? As we take the time to go through a fast, even when we hoard our bread for ourselves, and we are doing the fast because God calls us to lay aside our wealth every so often to focus on Him, is the “motion” truly empty? As we attend church because we “ought to” and not because we “want to,” is the tiniest little piece of worship which ekes through our self-centeredness wasted?

God has redeemed us unto salvation by His sovereign grace? Do we really think He cannot redeem our motions toward Him, no matter how weak or self-centered? Is His hand so short that He cannot take the mustard seed of faith and turn it into a tree of blessing in time?

See, there is a reality to all this which transcends our human understanding. We never should just “go through the motions” but we should also never stop going through the motions.

Perhaps the difference between the two statements is the word “just.” If we are just going through the motions, we are not reaching out to God. But if we intend to reach out to God, then our feeble motions are an offering and a fragrant one at that.

So why are we going through the motions? To please others? To please ourselves? Or to please God? The motions look the same to the observer, but not to God.

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© 2015 GBF

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