Finding Our Groove (in the Jesus way of contemplation and action)

Occasionally there is a technical hiccup and our church service doesn’t record and/or upload to all the socials… and this Sunday was one of those times. Because this message is so central to our church, I feel like the notes are essential and should be on record. So, here they are:

I worked at the Rainier Beach Veterinary Hospital from my 15th birthday through high school, college, and my first couple years of marriage. This was not glamorous work. It was odiferous. And challenging. But it paid the bills, got me through some important phases of my life, and I mostly liked it. Saturdays were always challenging. It was the biggest day of the week. Crazy number of non-stop appointments. And all the cat and dog bathing we could manage.

One Saturday, I personally bathed over 100 animals.

There it is. My claim to fame.

“Our pastor is on Television. Our pastor is a social media influencer. Our pastor is an entrepreneur. Our pastor wrote the definitive book on raising children.”

Wow. Wow. Wow.

OK. Fairwood–what is your pastor known for?

“He once bathed over 100 cats and dogs in a single Saturday in the Rainier valley.”

Is that like animal baptisms?

No. just shampoo and conditioner and flea dip.

Oh. OK. Huh. I mean, that’s kinda weird.

Yeah, you’re not wrong.

Our pastor is, whispers, “special.”

The veterinary hospital was not open on Sundays. But animals were still there – recovering from surgery, being treated for infection and disease, being boarded. So, we didn’t need all the workers, but someone did have to come in and let the dogs out (who, who?).

Someone did have to come feed all the cats, clean all the kennels, feed the dogs, feed the random goat, bird, bunny, Vietnamese pot belly pig…

Stuff like that.

I liked the extra money, so I always volunteered to take care of the animals on Sunday nights.

The office was quiet, empty of people.

The animals were happy to be fed and given attention.

It was nice… my favorite day to work there.

And, even though I was paid by the hour and filled out my time card on Sunday night before leaving, the Veterinarian, Dr. Young, would always tape a $20 bill to the white board for me and any specific instructions about animals and their medications.

This same white board, on a Saturday, would have the name of every animal that needed to be bathed, dried, brushed, and sprayed with our signature pet cologne…

Seeing the volume of pet names on a Saturday would stress me out. But also, it was kinda like a challenge. Could it be done? Could I do it? On time?

Somehow, it always worked out. And I felt satisfied AND DONE.

You know what I mean?

But, also, those Sunday nights with no list of animals to be bathed, those Sunday nights with cash taped to the white board, those Sunday nights of quiet and calm…

They were my favorites.

I guess, when I look back and think about it, I’m thankful for the experience.

And I’m definitely thankful for the ebb and flow, the balance, the equilibrium, you know?

I’m thankful not every day is Saturday. I’m thankful for Sunday.

In many ways,  Sunday was the reward for my work on Saturday.

Chaos, followed by quiet.

Or was it quiet that prepared me for the coming chaos? Mmmmm hmmmmmmmmm.

So, that back-and-forth… that intense activity, followed by quiet and undistracted attention…

That’s what I hope to speak about today.

Not so much about cats and dogs or animal hospitals or even work schedules, but our spiritual lives… our relationship with God and with one another, our participation in nitty-gritty-need-meeting-ministry activity within our community, and our rest… our quieted selves, ready to receive, ready to listen.

The title of my sermon today is FINDING OUR GROOVE in the Jesus way of contemplation and action.

To begin, I would like to review some of what was said last week in my message about having “a more contemplative faith”

Over the past 17 years or so, I have intentionally shifted to a more contemplative expression of my faith. What’s that, you say?

A pursuit of God that is more quiet and humble and attentive… paying attention, listening, waiting, watching, and being open to experiencing God.

I think of it as less flashy and showy and demonstrative than my Pentecostal upbringing.

I also think of it as much less militant and judg-y than the fundamentalist/legalistic flavor my childhood church had.

The act of contemplation is to make sacred space for careful observation, to make room to be attentive to God.

Contemplative spirituality is to be “with God in the temple,” or to be in God’s space and attend to God’s presence.

This kind of spirituality is rarely focused on what everyone else is doing or not doing. Rather, it is the opening up of oneself to God—listening, waiting, observing, reflecting, meditating… paying attention.

It’s the awareness that God is at work in me, and this is my task: to be alert to what God is doing and saying in me. 

Luke 10

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.

39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.

40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!

42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The Word of God, for the People of God, Thanks be to God

I have heard this story referenced and preached with varying degrees of ministerial incompetence, ministerial over simplification, and ministerial malpractice.

The cheap and easy version goes something like this:

Jesus wants us to be like Mary. Just sit and listen.

Martha is the problem. She’s so busy, so very busy that she misses all the important stuff.

Be Mary. Don’t be Martha.

End of story.

But, I’m sorry, it is not that simple.

Life usually isn’t.

So, let’s embrace the complexity, the nuance, the grey tones… OK?

This is less a story of either/or and more a story of when… timing… understanding what is called for in this moment.

Jesus isn’t against cooking. How do we know this? Look at the end of the Gospel of John. Jesus cooks for his friends – over coals… fish and bread. It takes time, effort, work. For crying out loud! Jesus knows how to make bread.

Jesus isn’t against food workers. How do we know? He enlists his own disciples to distribute the bread and fish to hungry crowds.

The other thing I’d like to point out about the Mary / Martha story… there is the typical “woman in the kitchen” vibe with the whole,  “Who do you think you are sitting at the feet of Jesus” which is where disciples sit – followers of their Rabbi, students of their teacher.

Mary takes the position of student, disciple, follower of the Teacher. And this is rather scandalous in the first century because that’s a position for men and men only.

Yet Jesus speaks in favor of Mary – saying she has chosen the better thing.

So, is Jesus against work? No. Jesus does work himself. Is Jesus against cooking? No. Jesus cooks.

Is Jesus saying that doing nothing but sitting and listening is always better than working?

No. That’s not the point.

The point is about timing. Knowing what the moment requires.

There is a time to cook. And there is a time to listen.

There is a time for action and a time for contemplation.

It’s not about either or. It’s about the expansive land of and.

Should we be contemplative people or should we be people of action?

Nope. Wrong question. The answer is no.

Is God calling us to contemplation and action? Yes. The answer is yes.

In Luke chapter 9, where the story of the feeding of the 5,000 is recorded, it begins with this:

1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,

and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.

Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.

If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet.”

So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.

10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida,

11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him.

Luke describes the disciples in a flurry of important activity. Busy. Getting stuff done.

Then, when they return to Jesus, he suggests they get away from it all.

Not exactly what they were wanting.

They were high on the work. Excited about the results.

But Jesus knew what time it was. Time to be quiet, still. Time to listen.

In Matthew’s Gospel, it says,

13 As soon as Jesus heard the news (about the death of his cousin Johnn), he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns.

14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

18 “Bring them here,” he said.

19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people.

20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers.

21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home.

23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. //

I really love this story.

Jesus wants to get quiet with his friends and suggests they go to a remote place.

But the crowds follow and Jesus feeds them.

5,000+ of them.

What a day!

Quite the accomplishment. I’d say that was a success.

And what does Jesus do after?

Gets away to be quiet, to listen. To get rid of every distraction.

It’s the groove. The back-and-forth. The rhythm. The Jesus way…

Active ministry to others. Followed by quiet seclusion, reflection, contemplation… listening.

Contemplation AND action.

Action AND contemplation.

The expansive land of AND.

Isabella Lilias Trotter was born in July of 1853 and grew up in London’s exclusive West End. Her spiritual sensitivity was evident even in childhood but deepened in her early twenties. She learned that intimacy with God always shapes and prepares us to express God’s love in service to others.


Lilias already was sensitive to the plight of the poor in London, particularly women. She was active in the YWsCA aJohn nd founded London’s first affordable public restaurant for women so that they would not be forced to eat bag lunches on city sidewalks.

She went out alone at night to find and befriend prostitutes at Victoria Station, offering them safe housing and vocational training. Lilias led Bible studies to share the good news of Jesus Christ and introduce women to the Good Shepherd of their souls. She was a beautiful soul and wonderfully alive with the joy of the Lord.

Paralleling her zeal in service to others was a passion for beauty, matched by an exceptional God-given artistic talent. It was her unique gift for watercolor that brought Lilias to the attention of John Ruskin, an acclaimed artist and adjudicator of art in Victorian England.

When Lilia’s mother showed him her daughter’s work, Ruskin immediately took Lilias under his wing to tutor her as a budding artist. ​“She seemed to learn everything the instant she was shown it,” he said, ​“and ever so much more than she was taught.”

Following three years of close observation, Ruskin made an offer. ​“Ruskin says I could be England’s greatest painter,” Lilias confided to a friend, ​“that I could do things that would be immortal. Please understand that it is not from vanity that I tell you, at least I think not, because I have no more to do with my gifts than with what is my color of hair.” Ruskin had explained that there was a condition to his offer, Lilias must conclude her life of service and ​“give herself up to art.

While Ruskin’s generous offer was received by her family with great enthusiasm, it shook Lilias to the core. She was very much attracted to the idea of a life devoted to painting, yet she hesitated.

Lilias immersed herself in prayer, asking Jesus what He wanted her to do. Her request was answered: ​“I see clear as daylight now, I cannot give myself to painting in the way [Ruskin] suggests…

No one knew better than she how her refusal of Ruskin’s offer would impact her life, yet her decision gave Lilias ​“an independence of soul,” which she later described as ​“the liberty of those who have nothing to lose because they have nothing to keep.” Lilias threw herself into her London mission work with renewed passion and joy, assuming that she would continue in this work indefinitely. But God had other plans.

Something was growing inside Lilias… it came so quietly that when the moment of recognition arrived, there was almost an inevitability about it.

Lilias had heard a missionary speak of Muslim people in North Africa who knew nothing of the saving work of Jesus. At the close of the meeting he asked, ​“Is there anyone in this room whom God is calling for North Africa?” Lilias rose to her feet, and said, ​“It’s me. God is calling me.”

God calls people to serve Him in many different ways. What we share in common is a willingness to reject whatever stands in the way of God’s design. The root of our contemplative life with God will bloom and come to life in the way that best fits God’s plan and our abilities.

Lilias applied to the North African Mission board to serve overseas as a missionary. When she was turned down for health reasons, she and two friends prayed about it and felt compelled to commit their own personal resources to go on their own. Even though they knew no one in the country and could not speak a single word of Arabic, thirty-five-year-old Lilias and her friends set off for Algeria. They secured lodging in the poorest Arab section in the city of Algiers and set about learning the language of the people.

Over the next 40 years, Lilias and her small team established mission outposts all along the coast of North Africa and south into the Sahara desert, sharing through word and deed the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Lilias published a collection of beautifully hand-crafted gospel stories with pictures in Arabic, illustrated by her own paintings.

Over the span of her ministry, Lilias worked tirelessly to do all that Jesus put in her heart to do.

Her practice of contemplative prayer gave Lilias a new way of seeing.

The physical toll of the ministry was significant and the results were difficult to measure, yet what she could see was children believing in Jesus, women being saved from abusive relationships, women learning marketable skills, young men devoting their lives to Jesus — all evidence of changed lives. She was learning to trust God for all that remained unseen.

Through all the days of her life in Algeria, Lilias kept journals—a page for each day, illustrated with watercolors to record the messages she received through her times of meditation on Scripture and nature. In the end, she did not give up her art, but used it to illustrate the lessons she received through prayer.

There is a time to paint. And a time to be still.

There is a time to cook. And there is a time to listen. 

There is a time for action and a time for contemplation.

It’s not about either or. It’s about the expansive land of and.

That’s what finding our groove in the Jesus way of contemplation and action is all about. 

God is calling us to wholeness.

Our theme, as a church, for 2023 has been:

Grace, for everyone

Love, the Eternal One

And Liberation for all, every injustice undone.


Grace is our orientation

Love is our motivation

And Liberation is our job description

Coretta Scott King famously said,

The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace, and a soul generated by love.

Compassionate actions

Heart of grace, soul generated by love.

What’s that? Action AND Contemplation… WE HAVE NOW FOUND OUR GROOVE. It’s the Jesus Way.


When God looks at you, there is a smile on God’s face. God embraces you in love, sets a place for you at the table, serves you, converses with you, delights in you incessantly, and invites you to be part of God’s loving actions in the world.  —Brother Lawrence

May the Lord bless you and keep you

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you

May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace…

Now and forever more.


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

1 Comment to Finding Our Groove (in the Jesus way of contemplation and action)

  1. Brian, I am inspired by this message. “Jesus knows what time it is.” The balance and the rhythm were definitely missing from my early days as a believer. Now, so many years later, I crave this kind of spiritual life.

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