An Eastertide sermon related to Genesis 2:4b-10a, 15
That the Easter vision of resurrection is an Anastasis of Creation as well as all humanity.
Genesis 2:4b-10a, 15
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed an a-dam from adamah, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the a-dam became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there God put the a-dam whom God had formed.
Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flows out of Eden to water the garden…
The Lord God took the a-dam and put it in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
For the Word in Scripture
For the Word among us
For the Word within us
Thanks be to God.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Hebrew word play here is missed in English. As I’ve said before, it is not Adam, a male human being with a personal name that is formed, but, in Hebrew, an ‘a-dam made of the ‘adamah, ‘an earthling made of earth.’
You and me, we, are earth. All that is here on earth is of earth, a family of earth, relatives. As the Lakota say: Mitakuye Oyasin, “All my relations.”
My friends, to be faithful to this sacred story, we must acknowledge that the relationships among earth relatives are troubled, due mostly to the number of humans and the nature of the activities of human beings. I won’t belabor the data, but the picture is deeply troubling and with each re-evaluation, like the recent one from the UN panel on climate, we see that our window for action to alter or mitigate the damage grows smaller by the month and year. The predictive models have not overestimated the speed of this undesired change, rather they have generally underestimated it.
Science and technology are not lacking here.
We know enough to act effectively for positive, life-giving change.
Adaptive cultural and political patterns are lacking.
Spiritual and psychological wisdom is lacking.
There is trouble on the inside of our personal and cultural psyche. There is a spiritual malady, a deep infection of spiritual dis-ease that keeps us from being loving neighbors to our earth relatives.
Theologian Thomas Berry says,
The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than as a communion of subjects….The world about us has become an it rather than a “thou.”
Or as the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner said,
“To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory.”
As I said, it is not the science that is lacking.
The cultural and religious stories related to the earth that we in the West have held in the modern centuries and that are still largely in effect are not life giving, but life taking and life draining. They are so because they largely objectified and commodified the rest of Creation. We must reclaim the Genesis story of our sacred origins as the story of our earthiness, our earth-being-ness. Religiously true, scientifically true. We are earth.
The spiritual shift invited here is the shift to an earth identity and story of relationship, of communion. With such a shift, our favorite earthly outdoor place is not merely an it, an object, but becomes another earth being like us, and then can become a friend, a sibling, a companion, or maybe even a teacher, an elder, a cherished relative that our sacred story asked us to care for and to keep, to be in loving and balanced relationship with so that the garden might flourish.
And, in this Eastertide, we must reclaim the full sacred story-truth of Resurrection which we have largely lost.
Anastasis. Do you know the word?
It’s Greek. It means ‘up rising.’
Above murals depicting the resurrection story of Christ, on the walls of many ancient churches of the East, written in Greek, is the word anastasis, up rising. These images show Christ breaking down the doors of the land of the dead, standing atop and subduing Hades, and grasping the wrist of Adam and Eve and leading other saints in an uprising, a jailbreak triumph over death. In his book Resurrecting Easter, John Dominic Crossan documents these images and what we in the West, Protestant and Roman Catholic, have lost;
the sense that the Resurrection is a universal resurrection for all humanity and all Creation.
Recognized in the mythic language of its time, it is a vision of triumph as a Christ-led countercultural way of life and its power to overcome ‘the soul and body death’ way of being of the empire. In the West, we too often limited the Resurrection story to an individual story of Jesus and maybe as a story of individual hope, while in the Eastern side of Christianity, the Resurrection was an anastasis, an uprising, a universal uprising at that, not against mere individual mortality, but against the imperial and cultural powers of death, the power of Caesar, of Pharaoh, of all those internal siren voices and external fear-filled forces that claim life and peace is served by a law and order of violence, of domination, of intimidation, of punishment, of separation, including separation from Creation (as if we are not also of earth).
We have forgotten that Resurrection is about rising up, together with Creation, throwing off the powers and principalities of death, the systems and values of domination.
To truly be an Easter people, a people who sing of and have a trust in the story of Jesus and the power of Resurrection, we are called to rise up like the A-dam (earth creature) and Eve (mother of all living), taken by the wrist by the Risen Christ rising up with Creation and all of our earth relatives into another way of acting, another story of what is possible.
Another story of what is possible.
We must have a story that leads to action. Yes, we can act effectively, especially if we act together as a body, reducing the carbon and water footprint of our church property, voting together for policies and candidates who support the environment, teaching our children and learning from them. Indeed, if you can’t quite feel the passion to act here maybe you can feel it if you focus on the children, grandchildren, and the seven generations to come.
It seems it is easier to act against a short-term drama like Pearl Harbor or 9-11 than it is to comprehend and act in the case of this slow-moving emergency of environmental crisis. But that does not mean that it is impossible to do so nor that it is not imperative.
I have seen the depth of that imperative at Standing Rock.
The Lakota Reservation that borders the Dakotas rose up in 2016 to fight in the courts and on the land against ‘the black snake,’ the Keystone XL oil pipeline that was deemed too risky to put upstream of the white community of Bismarck, but not too risky for the First Nation Lakota peoples water supply. When my wife and I spent a week there at the camp in late October of 2016, we were impacted by the determination of the people to protect the water and the life of Mother Earth. In Lakota, it was spoken simply, mni wiconi, water is life. And we were impacted by the clarity that this encampment was a prayer meeting where the sacred fire never went out and where the prayers that supported their actions never ceased.
My friends, I believe that we at Plymouth Congregational as a community of faith are well meaning and well-meaning toward God’s Creation. What I have not yet seen is that intention cultivated into the fullest fruit of collective action for the earth. I have not yet felt what Dr. King would have called the ‘urgency of now’.
It is time, time for our prayers and actions to strengthen.
We have, in our faith, the spiritual resources and impetus to support this intention. And we have stirrings in our congregation to do just that. I believe Spirit is moving now at Plymouth for earth action, not only through the strategic plan calling for concrete action for the earth, but in the passions of those in our midst. We had/have a Forum today to move us forward as well as sign-up sheet for a new earth action oriented team, and a handout detailing actions that you can take now.
The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai, the late Kenyan environmentalist and political activist said,
We are called to assist the earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own -- indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder.
Oh, and lest you think this is some new-fangled recent fad of faith, hear the words of none other than John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism.
I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyards, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.
--John Wesley (1701-1791)
On this Earth Day Sunday, in this Eastertide season, we are called as an Easter People of the Resurrection to rise up with the Risen Christ against the powers and systems of Death. That means honoring the earth story that we received from our ancestors of faith: that we are earth beings, a’dam from the Adamah, and therefore kin to all other forms on the sacred earth. As the Lakota say: Mitakuye Oyasin, “All my relations.”
The New Creation envisioned in faith is a place where love of God and love of neighbor IS love of all our earth neighbors and God’s precious earth. Following the Risen Christ, it is time we at Plymouth deepen our faithful action for Creation on every front; prayers, votes, messages to government, purchasing and consumption habits, everything within reach and maybe a little beyond that. Like the Risen Christ, let us rise up so that together we can do something faithful and meaningful!
May this be so. AMEN.
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Plymouth Congregational Church, UCC
Fort Collins, CO
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti! Christ is risen! Risen indeed! Such a blessing to be with you all this morning. I love the hymn we just sang. As those of us in the preaching business say, “It will preach! That hymn will preach!” So if nothing I say today resonates….go back to that hymn.
On this Easter Sunday, our resurrection story is from John. I love each gospel’s resurrection story. Each one has some significant revealing detail to share with us as we encounter the mystery of the resurrection. However, of all the resurrection stories, I find John’s version the most personal and intimate, the most embodied in its telling. If we listen closely, with the ears of our hearts and imaginations, we may feel the grass of the garden wet on our feet in the dark early morning, the cold shadow of the tomb as we look inside, the warmth of the sun on our shoulders as it rises. We can hear the pounding of footsteps running, the heavy breathing of runners, the weeping of a shocked woman. What smells and even tastes might this story hold if we listen with our bodies, our senses and not just our heads? Garden smells, the taste of tears? What new thing might you see in your mind and heart’s eye as you hear this story that may be very familiar to you? Or perhaps, you are hearing it for the first time? Deep Breath. In and Out. I invite you this morning to be aware of how your body experiences the story of Mary and the disciples discovering the resurrection of Jesus.
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“I have seen the Lord.” What an unbelievable blessing to say this affirmation of resurrection! I long to be Mary in that moment. I long to say that affirmation with my life, “I have seen him, Jesus, the Teacher, the Lord.” Not just to hear the story and know that in the context of our Christian faith it offers hope. I long to live Mary’s resurrection affirmation with my whole being. “I have seen the Lord.” What about you?
It is not easy to experience, let alone think about resurrection, as 21st century, rational, scientific, progressive Christian people. We hear the story and so quickly move to hmmmm…..how did that really happen? Did it really happen? Did the writer of gospel talk to Mary and get a first-hand account? Or to Peter or the other disciple whom Jesus loved? So quickly we move from our bodies where our imaginations live and from our hearts where our emotions live to our rational thinking heads. We have been taught in our yearning for truth to discount our bodies, our imaginations, our hearts in favor of our minds, in favor of figuring out what really happened. What if we learn to include it all? Recently I heard psychologist and author, Brené Brown, say, “We are not thinking beings who also have emotions. We are emotion beings who also think.” This helps me encounter scripture and particularly, today, the story of the disciples and Mary’s discovery of resurrection.
I need to encounter this story with my whole being this year. Believe me, I read again the exegetical, theological, and homiletical commentary from scholars that I deeply respect. Surprisingly it was there that I found the prompt to go back and remember that in reading I experience the story with my whole being, body, mind, heart and soul. Here is what I found listening in this way.
The gospel stories that we call accounts of the resurrection are really accounts of the discovery of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection has already happened. We just discover it with Mary, with the women of the other gospels, with the disciples. How the resurrection happened? What that was like? Was it bodily or spirit? We don’t know. No one was there but Jesus and God. What I do know, with Mary from this text, is that Jesus died. In the previous chapter of the gospel, John tells us that Mary Magdelene stood at the crucifixion with Mary, Jesus’ mother and Mary the wife of Clopas, Jesus’ aunt. Mary saw the whole agonizing process. She heard Jesus’ last words, “It is finished, completed.” She saw the soldier pierce his side to make sure he had died. She was very likely there when he was taken down from the cross and when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body, prepared it for burial and placed it in the garden tomb. Mary knew with her whole body that Jesus was dead. I’m guessing that most of you know that bodily feeling that comes with the extreme shock of grief of any kind, the rock in the pit of your stomach, your heart that seems to literally ache, the shaking feeling in your muscles.
Our bodies imagine the shock, the sharp inhalation of breath, when Mary sees the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. The worst has happened, but now what? Another body blow of tragedy? Someone has taken the body of our beloved. What else can happen? Our bodies can feel the fear of the disciples as they hear the news and run to the tomb. Our bodies can feel the giant, “WHAT?” when the tomb is found empty and not just empty, but the grave clothes, the winding sheets are empty, the head covering is separate from the clothes, and set aside, folded neatly. Perhaps, we are shaking a bit from the early morning chill as well as the shock. Then we “believe?” How does that feel? A realization, chills down our arms, a calm, a bemused state of wonder as we head home? What next?
Mary is too overcome with grief to even think, “What next?” She simply weeps. She sobs even as she encounters the empty tomb and two angels, even as she sees Jesus himself but does not recognize him. She weeps because she knows Jesus is dead. She saw that. She experienced that in the marrow of her bones. Now she cannot even weep over his body and say goodbye. His body is gone. How can he be gone? We can feel this in the depths of our solar plexus. This utter, utter grief. This pain. Then, she hears her name…”Mary.” And hearing her name, she recognizes Jesus. “Teacher!?!” He is not gone? He is not gone! He is here. How is he here? He is here.
Imagine for a moment, Jesus calling your name in the moments of your deep grief …. Really. Take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine Jesus calling your name.
This is Mary’s resurrection when she stands in the presence of the resurrected Jesus – not merely resuscitated but resurrected into a new creation by the power of God’s love to conquer death. I like to imagine that she flings her arms around him….the tightest hug imaginable. I can feel that hug in my body. Can you? And I imagine that Jesus laughs….maybe they both laugh….till they cry. Then Jesus says, "Don't hold on to me. I have work to do with God. Go tell my brothers and sisters that I have work to do with my Father, my God and your God.”
How hard it must be to let go of the one you love when you feel that you just got them back!? I feel that tingling in every cell of my body. Yet, Mary trusts that this is not the end, but the beginning of something new that has never been experienced before. She trusts. She goes and becomes the first resurrection preacher, proclaimer. “I have seen the Lord.”
My friends, we, too, through Mary’s story, are invited to proclaim. “I have seen the Lord.” I know that we often do not feel up to the task. The burdens of our times, of our personal lives, weigh us down. How can resurrection even exist? We are immersed in so much bad news it is hard to hear good news. Anxiety and fear are real in our crazy times. AND I say to you as one who has stood at the foot of the cross with tremendous grief believing that the whole of life, the whole world was lost, almost annihilated by the obscenity of death, I say to you, “Listen for your name. The resurrected Christ is calling you.” It is God’s purpose of love, not ours purposes, as well-intentioned as ours might be, that ultimately prevails. And God’s is Love. Love is the Victor. “Death is not the end. The end is life. God’s life and our lives through God, in God.”
Trust the story today as you have experienced it. Keep bringing your whole selves, your whole being, to the presence of God. Trust your body and your heart as well as your mind, to know God’s presence here in worship. Trust that God will meet you as Jesus met Mary in the garden out there in the world.
Christos Anesti! Alethos Anesti! Christ is risen! Risen indeed! We have seen the Lord.
May it be so. Amen.
©The Reverend Jane Anne Ferguson, 2022 and beyond. May be reprinted only with permission.
 from Frederick Buechner’s 1966 sermon collection, The Magnificent Defeat; shared in an email
Listen to Podcast here
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech. 9.9-10)
Those words come from the prophet Zechariah, written roughly 20 years after the Judean exiles started returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian army. It is from this prophecy that the author of Luke’s gospel tells us about Jesus and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. The vision you heard in the prophecy — a king, humble and riding on a donkey, breaking the tools of war (chariots, war horses, bows), commanding peace to the nations, and with a reign of peace that extends to the end of the earth — this is an important reference to how the early Christian community thought of Jesus. This nonviolent, peaceful realm is an important vision of who Jesus was and what he came to do. It is entirely congruent with his proclamation of a new liberating reign. It just didn’t happen the way most people in Judea thought it was going to happen.
We know the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem before Passover and being welcomed with cloaks thrown down on his way and with palm fronds waving (at least according to Mark and Matthew). Basically, Jesus is getting a royal welcome, but mounted on a donkey and not on a war horse, like those ridden by Roman troops streaming into Jerusalem to quell any potential unrest during the Passover pilgrimage into the city at the same time.
Do you see and hear the irony of it all? This is meant to be a king, but he isn’t clothed in royal regalia. He isn’t powerful in the sense that Caesar, Pilate, and Herod are powerful. He is propertyless. He is a pacifist. He upsets the conventions of the religious authorities of his day. And he certainly isn’t what the people of Judea expected from a messiah. They wanted a military leader who would come in and kick Rome back to Italy and out of the Judean homeland. And instead, they got a prophet who healed people, lived in poverty, and talked about God’s reign of shalom, rather than a workaday Mediterranean empire bent on taking other peoples’ land.
We have the advantage of knowing how the story unfolds. We Christians have been telling this story for nearly 2,000 years. But the people in occupied Jerusalem and the first followers of this Mediterranean peasant, Jesus, had no idea how things were going to work out or what lay in store in the next week. We know that Jesus would be welcomed like a king on Palm Sunday, overturn the tables in the Temple, eat a Passover meal with his disciples, experience betrayal, arrest, a sham trial, flogging, and meet the ignominious end of torture on the cross.
This is an insane week that rolls from triumph to tragedy and then back to the triumph of Easter. It’s not just a roller coaster, it’s an out-of-control ride on the Crazy Train. (In 25 years of preaching that is my first reference to an Ozzy Osbourne song…and it’s probably my last reference as well.)
Personally, I don’t really like being in the midst of emotional drama. Both of my sons were in theater growing up, and I told them to keep the drama on the stage and not at home. But this last week of Jesus’ life is insanely dramatic. And if you just come to church on Palm Sunday and Easter you only get to experience the high points, and it must seem as if everything is rosy for Jesus. We skip right from the triumphal entry to the empty tomb…it’s all the good news with none of the shadow of death and desertion. It’s what happens between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday that makes is all real, but none of us likes to face tragedy, do we? Perhaps we’d rather not have to deal with the messy feelings of Judas’s kiss or Jesus being relentlessly beaten or nailed us in the most humiliating public torture Rome could invent.
What is lurking in the shadows of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday? Is it our own fear of death? Is it feeling the depths of despair for Jesus, whom we love and follow?
All of us know the story, we know what happens. But what if we choose to avert our eyes and look the other way? What if we just can’t take the tragedy this year, after two of the most bizarre and draining years in our lives? It’s understandable.
One of the ways we learn how to deal with tragedy in our own lives is by experiencing it partially during Holy Week. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. At some point, people may have thought we were wonderful and then turned their backs on us when the going gets tough. We may have had the experience of sitting around a dinner table with dear friends and family and then later having one of them betray us. We may have had to make choices that involve self-sacrifice, when we willingly put the good of others before our own self-interest. And we, all of us, are going to reach the end of our lives. As one of our members said to me, years ago, “None of us makes it out alive.” Death is a reality that all of us will experience. This is all very tough stuff to deal with, isn’t it?
Because of his own experiences of tragedy, Jesus shares some incredible lessons us during Holy Week for how we live our own lives. But you don’t get the lessons if you gloss over the shadows of Holy Week, skipping from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Having gone through it completely, Jesus provides the model for how we deal with the great disappointments and tragedies of our lives.
Mother Theresa had a poem pasted on the wall of her orphanage in Calcutta, and I wonder how Jesus would have heard it after Palm Sunday and how we might hear it today: “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
You and I are living through difficult times. Pandemic, economic uncertainty, war in Ukraine, systemic racism, dismantling white privilege, the prospect of climate-change devastation. It can be too much to take in, especially if we have the TV news on in the background all the time. (I can’t even listen to NPR in the background anymore.) There are some things we can do beyond quieting the 24-hour news cycle. We can do even more unplugging. Read the news on your own time at your own pace, so that if it gets too overwhelming you can slow down or come back to it later. We have choices about how much TV and online time we spend. We can limit OUR screen time as well as our children’s!
The other thing we can do is to rest in the knowledge that God isn’t going to let us fall into oblivion. Yes, there is tragedy in this world. Yes, there is war, devastation, hatred, and injustice. God is in the thick of it with us. Yes, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are real. And God stands with us on the side of compassion. God will be with us even as we die and even in life beyond death, whatever that looks like.
Nobody said life was going to be easy. It’s not. But God does promise to be there with us every step of the way. Under the palm branches and even up to the cross.
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
© 2022 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact hal at plymouthucc.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
Sabbath as Perspective
2 of 2 in a series on Sabbath, related to Luke 12:13 – 21
Sabbath time is different in its awareness and valuing of time, the blessing of now, the focus on non-commercial relationship, and an appreciation of kairos.
Someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus said to him, “Man, who appointed me as judge or referee between you and your brother?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.”
Then Jesus told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”
For the Word in Scripture,
For the Word among us,
For the word within us,
Thanks be to God.
Fill in the blank: Time is _____. (money)
Not if you were W.K. Kellogg in 1930. It was then that he decided his cereal factory would move from three 8 hour shifts to four 6 hour shifts. Amidst the Great Depression, immediately there were 30% more jobs available at Kellogg. Kellogg paid his six-hour shift workers for 7 hour shift the first year, and for an 8 hour shift the second. Productivity rose significantly not just from new technology, but from new work incentives and these new hours. When the US Dept of Labor surveyed the workers after a couple of years of these shorter shifts, the workers overwhelmingly preferred the time more than the money they might have made. Nothing could replace the time with family, for taking care of the home, and for leisure and civic activities. Relationships and the freedom of time were more important than money. After the Depression was over, Kellogg workers consistently voted to stay with the six hour shifts for the freedom it provided them. (Not until 1984 did the workforce vote to return to an 8 hour shift.)
Time is NOT money.
In this morning’s story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is confronted by a man wanting money from an inheritance. As he so often does, Jesus does not respond with a simple answer or even agree to be in the role he is asked to be in. He chooses instead to tell a parable about a rich man who was having a banner economic year. This man says to himself, ‘I will tear down my barns and get bigger barns to hold it all! I’ll never have to worry or be anxious. I’ll have enough stuff, enough money.’ I think he was saying ‘I’ll be secure.’
But what money and goods can’t buy him is time. His time for death comes and all the money in the world will not give him more time. Jesus follows up this parable in Luke’s Gospel by telling people not to worry about their material security, and that worrying does nothing to make it happen by using the story of the birds and the lilies of the field where neither birds nor lilies worry, yet they seem to do just beautifully. Somehow God and God’s Creation supports them.
A few weeks back I talked of Sabbath and how it is a sacred exhale, like God exhaling on the seventh day. Indeed, we must exhale in order to fully inhale, both are important to the rhythms and cycles that make for vitality.
Likewise, our vitality comes from the perspective that Sabbath time can bring. After that sacred exhale, a different quality of time can be realized where we can appreciate what is truly worthy, what true riches are. An illustration about time can be helpful here. The Gospels and letters we have in what we often call the New Testament were written in Greek. While the English translation can come out the same as simply ‘time’, Greek language can talk of both chronos, measured chronological time on a watch or calendar, and of kairos, or God’s time or sacred time. Kairos doesn’t go in a straight line or at an even pace. Kairos is a time like the seasons, moving in cycles, dependent upon the relation of things to the whole, waiting until the time is fulfilled, until its own conditions have come to be, until it is the ripe and right time. You can sense kairos time by the way something feels, by the length of shadows, or by color and shade, or by how soft or firm a fruit is in one’s hand. Kairos certainly doesn’t respond to our measured schedules or personal plans and wishes. Kairos time certainly cannot be bought.
Jesus says to not hoard things, or to worry or be anxious. Allowing ourselves to be in kairos time of Sabbath means we have faith amidst the present unfolding of things. We rest in God. We let go of production time and getting more done or making it happen. We get out of social media and the news cycle and repetitive cycles of anxiety. Instead, we rest underneath the fruit tree and trust that things will ripen in time. We let go of obsessing about tomorrow’s outcome and let ourselves be held by God in the now, releasing the anxiety and worry of tomorrow. In this sabbath “Kairos” perspective, we remember and live not as chronos and commodity, but as a child of God and as an earth and human community. We remember our relationship to life and each other, grateful and humble. The keeping of Sabbath time, whatever day or time one does that, can bring one into the quality of the Divine perspective, sacred rhythm, and relation to the whole, to what is really important and deeply true from the perspective of Spirit.
This practice helps us resist the cultural flow toward only busy-ness and distraction, toward narrow and limiting frames of reference where we no longer see the forest, but only the trees.
During World War II, the British wanted to know how they were doing in producing enough stuff to fight the war. They decided to measure the sum of all goods and services produced. They called this the ?????. That’s right, the Gross Domestic Product. The U.N. and the rest of the developed world adopted this standard. Whenever we hear on the news that the economy grew by 2% or shrunk, it is this measurement to which they are referring. And we all seem to cheer when it goes up as if this is good for us all. But the GDP doesn’t discriminate between social activities. Indeed, you could make more bombs, or build and staff more prisons, or clean up after disasters, and the GDP would go up. There could be more income equality though the GDP goes up. More is better as far the GDP is concerned and it is only more if it can be measured in money and more stuff in bigger barns. The GDP is not necessarily just, or healthy or, as our story says, "rich toward God."
And what about the things that money can’t buy?
What about the effort of any volunteer or family member who takes the time and energy to care for the home or family member, to help a neighbor, or to serve the community? The GDP won’t recognize this, let alone value it.
Wayne Muller’s book, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, references those who bemoan the lost values of our society. Muller notes, “All these ‘lost’ values are human qualities that require time. Honesty, courage, kindness, civility, wisdom, compassion – these can only be nourished in the soil of time and attention, and need experience and practice to come to harvest.”
Keeping Sabbath time means taking the time to honor and nurture these kinds of values. Money is of value and the chronological time that is related to money has its place, but it is keeping Sabbath time that can maintain our perspective, can keep us from forgetting the other kinds of value and time and rhythm that are not as valued by the capitalistic, individualistic, materialistic culture at large. This is Sabbath as perspective, helping remember the whole and what is truly of value in God’s Creation.
As our story suggests, one of the great interrupters of chronos and business as usual is mortality, death. It is on my heart and mind this morning because just last night we helped our 16-year-old cat to take her last breath. With family gathered around and with many tears, we did the right thing to end her suffering and it put us in a different sense of being and time.
And, just as those humans nearing death will say, that transition moment with death near put things in perspective.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Ware writes of phenomenal clarity that people gain at the end of their lives.
Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. Missing their children's youth and their partner's companionship.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. (They did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. Old patterns and habits got in the way.)
I invite us all in this Lenten journey to look at our lives and see if there are practices that regularly connect us to what is deeply true so we don’t have these regrets, so we don’t forget what is most important. Jesus called it being rich toward God. This is Sabbath as perspective, practices of sacred exhale and shifting out of our everyday habits of doing. Maybe it is….
I invite us all to enter more deeply a Sabbath time and space, like sitting on a mountaintop vista, where we can see the big picture and wonder, let go of our burdens and trust in the unfolding of this moment (no matter where our lives are), where we can focus on relationship with Creation and with each other, where we can value all those things that money can’t buy and be grateful for the blessing of life.
We can practice being in a Sabbath time that has a taste of God’s time, that has a Sabbath perspective of what is truly rich toward God and is truly life giving.
J.T. comes to Plymouth as an experienced interim pastor, most recently, as Bridge Minister at University Congregational UCC in Seattle. Previously, he served congregations in Denver, Laramie, and Forest Grove, Oregon. Read more