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
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Part One of series on Sabbath, related to Genesis 2:1-3
Sabbath practice is a core practice of the soul; rest, quiet, slowing, appreciating, blessing, enjoying, celebrating, intentional remembering and focusing, valuing, re-creating
Genesis 2: 1 – 3
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.
For the Word in Scripture,
For the Word among us,
For the Word within us,
Thanks be to God.
Breathe. That’s all.
Let’s all take a breath together: inhale…….exhale.
Two more: inhale………exhale……… inhale……… exhale.
It’s a cycle, isn’t it?
Both parts are important.
On the seventh day, God rested, says the first Creation story. We just heard that in our morning’s Scripture reading. What you didn’t hear was that the Hebrew word for refreshed “vaiynafesh” literally means exhaled. The Hebrew text is saying that on the seventh day God exhaled. Our culture is more inclined to inhaling, to taking in; do more, want more, gain more, be more, take in more information, more data. Being busy can even be seen as a sign of importance.
But are our lives busy or full? Did you know that the Chinese pictograph for ‘busy’ combines heart and killing. The Christian mystic Thomas Merton actually went so far as to equate activism and overwork with violence.
Are our lives structured not just to inhale, but to exhale?
Do we know how to exhale and rest in the arms of God, in the cradle of Creation?
A big part of the first Creation story in Genesis is the teaching of the importance of Sabbath to the Jewish community. It was a characteristic practice to stop all work on Friday at sundown when the traditional Jewish day ends and to enter into Sabbath time until the next sundown. There is a story told of Jesus walking with his disciples on the Sabbath. They plucked some heads of grain to eat. The Pharisees, who tried to protect the people’s piety and to respect Torah law through lots of rules, accused them of sinfully breaking the Sabbath. Jesus’ wise response was that the Sabbath was made for the people, not the people for the Sabbath.
So how can Sabbath as an exhale be for us?
How might we learn from and be served by this teaching?
In the Lenten journey at this church, we have been invited to seek being Full to the Brim. I suggested at our Ash Wednesday service that, like our cycle of breath, we cannot be vital and ‘Filled to the Brim’ without the whole cycle. Likewise, we cannot be whole and vital without rest. And our first sacred story of rest is the Seventh Day story of the first Sabbath, the first great exhale.
I’m not talking about a return to dour restrictive rules of Sabbath that drain life; no dancing or card playing or visiting with people or frolicking and such. I’m talking about the wisdom and the necessity of exhaling in the service of the cycle of life. Go ahead, inhale fully again and then feel a long exhale again. Let it bring you to rest and ever closer to stillness.
Exhale, that’s Sabbath.
It completes the energy cycle of life, re-balances it.
In that first Creation story, we are given an image of the earth as without form and void. It is a kind of chaos that seems empty. Creation happens out of a kind of emptiness. We have to exhale in order to make room for the inhale. The womb has first to be an emptiness in order to be filled with the growing creation of a new life. This emptiness is not so much a denial of life as it is a letting go and a letting be. It is a kind of re-balancing. In our human body, it is a chance to blow off CO2 as a part of our life-giving cycle of respiration, in preparation for bringing in more O2. The first Creation story begins in emptiness and ends in a kind of emptying, a resting, a stillness, an exhale, a Sabbath.
Like a hibernating animal, like a planted bulb or seed in winter, there is an appropriate and necessary time to rest, to lie fallow, to not do.
I was trained as an exercise physiologist after college. It is a basic principle of exercise training that the process of becoming more fit and healthy requires rest after we challenge and exercise the body. It is in the rest time that the rebuilding to a better state happens.
How many of us trust that cycle?
How many of us here are practicing Sabbath rest?
I’m not talking about just laying down on the couch, although that could help. I’m not talking about kicking back and watching TV, although some quality viewing occasionally is renewing. We are invited into a Sabbath space and time that has a sacred intention, a certain quality of delightful exhale that puts us back in touch with the blessedness of Creation, the part of the first Creation story when God says, “It is very good”.
Pastor Jane Anne, before her recent sabbatical suggested that all church committees take time in our Lent season meetings for forms of Sabbath, not doing tangible committee work, but sharing in Bible study, prayer, and connection. She was inspired by the book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, in which Wayne Muller suggests we embrace “Sabbath as a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity.”
Our worship celebration here could be a Sabbath practice if it helps us remember who we truly are…
as images of God made of the dust of the stars,
as humble mortal beings of made of mud,
as a people called to Grace and to justice,
as part of a wondrous Creation with other wondrous Creatures and features.
Our worship celebration or any practice that we have can be a Sabbath practice if it slows us down enough, focuses us enough toward Spirit that we remember and feel again in our bodies and souls the Grace of God and the gift of life. Any practice could be a Sabbath practice if it truly re-creates in us a sense of rest, renewal, gratitude and connection to the GodMystery. It doesn’t have to be Saturday or Sunday, or a particular ritual or prayer, though those things might help.
In our Gospel stories, we often have Jesus going not toward the people and crowds, but, after his healing work, away from them to solitude and prayer. One way to translate what is translated as prayer is “to come to rest.” Jesus had the practice. He went to rest and renew. (And the disciples came after him, “hunted” him some translations say.)
It’s not that Sabbath time is superior to work time.
It’s that our work time is served by the wisdom and energy of balance and wholeness, Sabbath rest and its intention to be in a different way of being serve balance and wholeness. The spiritual paradox of this Sabbath rest and not doing is that it does create in its own way. The Rabbinic tradition says that on the seventh day God created menuha; tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose. The Jewish tradition also says that on the Sabbath we are given an extra soul, Neshemah Yeterah, a Sabbath soul which more fully appreciates the blessings of life and the fruits of our labor.
How are we nurturing our Sabbath soul?
I watched my Dad for years come home from work, empty his pockets and often change his clothes. It was a simple ritual of shifting from work to home. Now, I love the moment I get home and empty my pockets of keys, cell phone, and all the things I use in the outside world of work and marketplace. I empty my pockets and exhale. This can be a Sabbath moment on any day if I use it to really slow down, breathe, and pause to appreciate the gift of the day, of life, of the whole Mystery.
And even if you are not working outside the home, or are not ‘doing’ as much as you once did, you are not exempt from the call to Sabbath, for it is possible to fill all our not doing time with things that don’t help us exhale, rest, and renew in the whole-making Spirit of the Divine.
That’s because Sabbath is not just a time or even space that we reserve. It is also a quality of presence or consciousness. It is effortless, nourishing rest. It is stillness that can produce a unique kind of renewal and insight. It is an awareness, a return to perspective, a sacred perspective that is about depth and delight, about re-balancing and re-creating, about remembering and feeling that we belong to God, to the Mystery, and that we are to love ourselves, each other, and all Creation.
There is a poem by Jane Kenyon that may help us feel into Sabbath time and space. The poem is related to the traditional Jewish day beginning in the darkness right after sundown.
Let Evening Come
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don't
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
As we continue in a Lenten journey of becoming Full to the Brim, I invite to us to remember that there are rhythms and cycles that make for life, ultimately, that make possible our coming back to acting for compassion and justice, to acting in service and offering a helping hand. No matter our age or stage, in our lives and in our culture, we can distort those rhythms and cycles and then distort and compromise the life force that sustains us and Creation, not allowing ourselves or the Earth to exhale, to rest, to renew.
God exhaled on the seventh day, resting and savoring the blessing that is Life. Today, the sacred invitation is simple. Remember the Seventh Day and exhale. AMEN
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
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
By nature, I’m someone who tries to think optimistically. I attempt to track down sugar and water to make lemonade with the lemons life gives, and then to pour a partial glass of lemonade and consider it half-full instead of half-empty.
This pandemic, though, is giving my optimism a run for its money. I’m realizing that we don’t have the answers, the solutions, or even the ingredients for lemonade.
We are in a time when the old, tried-and-true answers don’t work. All of us — teachers, accountants, clergy, HR folks, factory workers, healthcare workers, attorneys, restaurant workers — have been given a brand-new set of challenges that require us to think in different ways.
Ron Heifetz at the Kennedy School at Harvard famously defines the tried-and-true solutions as being applicable to what he calls “technical challenges” — the problems that have a straight-forward fix. You see a lightbulb has burned out, and you replace it. But the situation that all of us are finding ourselves in right now requires out-of-the-box thinking, lots of experimentation and making mistakes, learning as we go. Heifetz refers to this as an “adaptive challenge.” One of the facets of adaptive challenges is that working toward solutions tends not to come from a single expert viewpoint, but from a large body of stakeholders experimenting together and learning from successes and failures.
So, that’s one of the factors that makes living through this pandemic challenging to us. We’re all having to realign our priorities, the way we spend our time and money, finding ways not to become too isolated from the world, and do things differently. You and I are having to figure out new ways to be a community of faith and to maintain our sense of spiritual connection.
Yet, with all of these challenges, we also encounter some opportunities as we do thing in new ways.
If you’ve spent any time perusing the news or flipping through Facebook, you may have seen a few before-and-after photographs of visible air pollution in major cities around the world. I’ve downloaded one, so that you can see for yourself what the atmosphere has looked like in Delhi. We know from personal experience that people are not driving or flying as much as we did. In major European cities, nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped 30-60 percent. That reduction in our use of fossil fuels — not just in transportation, but in industrial production — has had an impact on air quality.
I don’t want to neglect the fact that people are ill with and dying of Covid-19, that millions have become unemployed, that small businesses are struggling mightily, and that many of us have seen retirement savings and other investments tank. But you know the bad news already.
About seven weeks ago, when we were hearing about Covid-19 in China and Italy, my friend, Mike, in Masters Swim class made the comment, “Maybe the planet is telling us we need to unplug it for a few weeks and then try restarting it.” I’ve continued to think about that in the ensuing weeks.
One of the resources that we have in the midst of this crisis is scripture, which can function as a dialogue partner, a comfort, a challenge, a source of stability. I hope that you have a practice of reading the Bible regularly, but in case you don’t, here is something that got me wondering. Both in Exodus and in our reading from Leviticus today, we read about the need of the earth to have a sabbath. The planet needs a break, and the prescribed amount of time is one year out of seven, a sabbath year. What if we are giving God’s planet an unintentional sabbath? Could we make an environmental sabbath intentional?
When you think about the way Orthodox Jews observe the sabbath each week, doing no work, no cooking, no driving to synagogue and living within walking distance — it’s one day a week set aside exclusively for God and community. One day is about 14% of a week. Imagine the impact of God’s planet if we would observe sabbath and reduce humanity’s use of fossil fuels and other sources of pollution by 14%.
Too often, we in developed nations have wasted and taken for granted the opulence of a lifestyle that is very hard on the environment, whether it’s driving a long commute or flying as often as we do, or using paper towels and plastic bags in our kitchens with reckless abandon. We have had a lifestyle that is not worthy of God’s trust in us as stewards. I’m not saying we can never use paper towels or fly anywhere…but what if, in addition to advances in solar and wind power, we gave God’s world an environmental sabbath and cut back by 14%? Maybe telecommuting, online meetings, further investment in renewable energy are a sensible first step, and we’ve proved we can do it.
Personally, there are some things I have liked over the past month, like not having to drive as much and spending more time cooking and baking. I have loved seeing Plymouth members do grocery shopping for others, sew masks for other people, offer to do tech support over the phone, and stay in touch with intergenerational pen pals. I love that our deacons and others are in the process of calling every member of the congregation to check in. Many of us are spending more time doing things like taking walks, offering help to our neighbors, connecting with people, really appreciating and thanking essential workers. And some of us are finding that we get a sense of joy from that shift.
What are the things that you have rediscovered or realized for the first time during this pandemic — activities or ways of being that nourish your soul? How will you hold onto those positive aspects of your life after the pandemic?
As we look ahead, we get to make an intentional choice about the kind of changed world we want to rebuild and create. We can decide that we want to return to the previous North American cycle of rushing everywhere, pushing the limits of our physical and mental health, living life as a highly leveraged business model that has no room for breathing, and destroying God’s planet. We can opt for that. But we don’t have to.
There is an old saying: “Never waste a good conflict,” and that can be really helpful for removing a log-jam in a relationship or in a congregation that is stuck. And I think we have a new corollary in our midst: “Never waste a global crisis.”
This is perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink our priorities, our lives, our faith, our place in God’s world. We can examine the things that are working, whether it’s realizing who is an “essential” worker, our city providing shelter for homeless people, more time with your kids, connecting with your neighbors, or just slowing down. We CAN change the things that are not working, whether it’s the broken American system of healthcare, economic inequality, or an administration run by someone who seems to care more about himself than the people he has sworn to serve. We can change the positives and the negatives. But it will take enormous fortitude to stand up to the specter of broken normalcy that already is screaming for our attention and to people literally banging on statehouse doors demanding a return to the old normal while the virus is still rampant…not to mention a president who foments such rebellion. It will cost lives.
Sabbath is calling to us. The kingdom of God is calling to us. We have an alternative vision of life available to us — it’s a vision that includes environmental sabbath and true social justice. Let’s not let this crisis go to waste.
In some ways, we are not so unlike the Hebrew people who are wandering for 40 years in the wilderness (though for us, it’s only been about 40 days, though there are times it’s felt like 40 years!). They are in a dramatic “threshold time,” emerging from the wilderness into a new land, and the writers of Leviticus are structuring the ethical, moral, and religious precepts for a people moving not just into a new place, but into a new chapter of their civilization. They are making intentional decisions about what kind of world God would want them to create, and they answer in part with the idea of “a sabbath of complete rest for the land.” (v.4)
We, too, are in a “threshold time.” Walking through doorways of transition and transformation are never comfortable, but if we are to step across the threshold into newness and faithfulness, we can’t long for the good old days when we were enslaved in Egypt.
My friends, we are a people of resurrection, and we can help bring Christ’s presence into the world if we have the will to do so. We are moving into a new chapter in the history of our civilization, and we can — we must — be intentional about the kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in. At Plymouth, we talk about and pray for the kingdom of God, here and now and still unfolding. Now is our best chance to help put precepts into practice. With God’s help, we can make it so.
© 2020 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph,
Plymouth Congregational Church UCC Fort Collins, Colorado
Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be good and pleasing to you, our God, our rock, and our redeemer. Amen.
I bet by now you can guess what I am preaching on today: Sabbath! Today, preaching on Sabbath, I am really having to admit that I am very worried. I am worried for all of you. I am worried for our country and our world. I think we need a bigger Sabbath than just Sundays in pews. I believe that many of you are nearing burnout in one part of your lives or another—with how much you do, with the stress of work, the stress of keeping up with technology alone, the stress of caregiving, and the stress of carrying the political burn of an unprecedented time… all need Sabbaths. Perhaps we are even at a place of cultural burnout. Today, I will share a humble word on this topic, but I hope that you make it your own. As a minister, my starting place for these hard topics is always to go to Scripture:
“On the sabbath, he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.” I love this passage of the Gospel of Mark about Jesus and his disciples on a road trip. Imagine with me what this would be like if it took place in modern times! Let’s retell this story together: Picture Jesus on a car trip with his best friends! Can’t you picture them making their way through the cornfields of an ancient Iowa in the same way that many of you will on trips of your own this summer. Iowa is the promised land after all! I mean, who doesn’t love a good summer road trip with their very best friends? Right?
Imagine Jesus and the disciples piled into the equivalent of an ancient church van, which I guess we could call be more of a “caravan.” They have a favorite book on tape in the cassette player (maybe Deuteronomy), and a road trip custom mixtape. For those who don’t know what a mixtape is; think of a Spotify station that repeats itself every hour! Finally, we envision the open road ahead of them. We can almost hear them singing along to their favorite track as they went along the countryside. [Singing to Congregation]: “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again. The life I love is making disciples with my friends. Just can’t wait to get on the road again.” You always knew that Willie Nelson looked a lot like Jesus for a reason—both like car trips!
Like any road trip with friends, there is always one person who needs to stop at EVERY gas station or camel watering hole, right? This person in the group needs to stop at every oasis rest stop to use the restroom. In Jesus’ group, I imagine that person was Philip. Philip calls out, “Can we stop again please. I need to use the bathroom?” “Of course, you do,” sarcastically grumbles Judas, who is stewing in the back row. He is sitting next to a very carsick James and John. Judas isn’t much for these group trips anyway. Peter, who was always hungry, replies from the co-pilot seat next to Jesus, “Yes, please, let’s stop… I need a snack!” “We haven’t stopped since Nazareth at that Runza.” Who here is the one on a road trip who likes to stop for a snack?
So, Jesus pulls the camel caravan over to the watering hole, and the disciples get out/ or off. At this cornfield rest stop, the disciples try to buy some ancient near eastern popcorn and crackerjacks before hitting the road again. When they go to pick the grain, however, the local minister is standing guard at the door of the 7-11. “Who are you and what do you think you are doing on the Sabbath?”
They are scolded by the local authorities because it is the Sabbath, the day of rest—and the old rules say no snacks allowed on this day! This town’s clergy have decided to not allow the sale of food on Sundays to the traveling, hungry group of disciples and their leader Jesus. They would rather see this group just move along hungry than break a rule. “Get out of here now, the ministers say, 'it is the Sabbath, and we don’t like sinful eating today.'”
Jesus steps-up and confronts the local minister in the cornfield, who looks startled by being confronted and backs away, “Hey, Sabbath is for people, for rest, for good things, and not just for the sake of self-denial. What is this nonsense about not snacking on Sundays?” “Come on friends,” Jesus says turning to his unhappy disciples, “let’s get back on the road, this isn’t our kind of town anyway.” They pile back in the caravan, and they leave the town in the dust!
Jesus yells out the window as they drive away (tires squealing), “The sabbath was made for people, and people were not made simply to serve the silly, antiquated rules of sabbath. I am the lord of rest…”
Our story continues in the next village. Since it is Sunday, Jesus and his disciples decide to stop by a local church as part of their cornfield car trip adventure. I mean, it is never a bad thing to go to church even when on vacation, right Plymouth? Everything was going fine until coffee hour. That is when all of the trouble started. It usually is. During coffee hour, a man starts to choke on a donut. Now, this sounds like a joke, but I have heard of people choking during coffee hours. How many of you know the Heimlich Maneuver? Well lucky for that church, Jesus knew the Heimlich and rushed over and saved the man’s life! This was all much to the horror of the minister who came over to criticize Jesus for saving a life on Sunday! This was the day of rest after all. “How dare you.” “He would have been lucky to die on a Sunday… in church!”
Jesus replied, now a little spooked because all of this was just a little Children of the Corn, “Is it okay to do good or bad on the day of sabbath rest, to save a life or to kill?” The whole congregation, holding their coffee cups, just stared at Jesus in zombie-like silence. Now, this just made Jesus angry and deeply sad to see how rigid they were about some antiquated rules! Jesus didn’t have much patience for extremists or fundamentalists, you see. He didn’t have patience for them 2,000 years ago and doesn’t have patience for them today either. As Jesus and the disciples ran back to the van to get away from the crowd and sped at full speed out of the church parking lot, the congregation followed them determined to kill them. Like I said, this story is VERY Children of the Corn. For the word of God in Scripture… for the word of God among us, for the word of God and stories made relevant for our time. Thanks be to God.
How did we all become so dogmatic about Sabbath and what makes “good” sabbath behavior and what makes “bad” sabbath behavior? Yes, even in the progressive Church this is a problem.
In preparation for this sermon, I read several Christian blogs on the subject from Christians on both the progressive and conservative side of the spectrum, and you know what they all had in common: dogmatic views. Yes, especially the UCC clergy people were dogmatic about this topic. Sabbath, in their opinion, is about removing ourselves from stress but not allowing ourselves to be distracted. Basically, my clergy colleagues from many traditions have made sabbath unattainable for the average 21st Century Christian. Again, the way Sabbath is being defined as “done well and correctly” is unattainable for modern life. Only those who are naturally introverted, have a lot of spare time, and are good at centering prayer can achieve true sabbath. Do you all know this Sabbath is for Introverts narrative? That, Plymouth, is a bunch of hooey. It is the same sort of extremist nonsense that Jesus and his car-trip friends encountered at the rest stop and in the coffee hour.
One minister Christian blogger has laid out three rules for Sabbath: 1. Sabbath is not about entertainment. 2. Sabbath is not about being lazy or sleepy. 3. Sabbath is not only about going to church, although that is a big part of her argument. 4. Sabbath is not for recreation. She then lays out what sabbath is: 5. Sabbath is for purposeful, undistracted, pure rest.
What I see in this is something called clergy-privilege. The focus of our lives in Spiritual formation. We even get time in our contracts for retreat and restorative practices. That is not the case for most of you. How many of you have paid time off for retreat?
Okay, I am an extreme extrovert, and when reading what that minister describes as “Sabbath,” self-isolation, meditation, maybe some church attendance, but basically quiet introverted peace sounds like it would leave someone like me more exhausted than refreshed. Sabbath is for all people and not just for introverted people. Sabbath friends isn’t God’s way of showing preference to one personality type over others. It isn’t an unattainable level of enlightenment borrowed from other traditions and applied to Christianity. The Christian or Jewish concepts of doing Sabbath right is not the same as Buddhism’s idea of enlightenment or Karma. While we should find common ground with other traditions, false equivalencies don’t do justice to either tradition.
In Christianity, there is no such thing as a “correct” way to do Sabbath. Sabbath is rather whatever makes you heart sing and brings you closer to God. It doesn’t even have to be confined to Sunday. Jesus wants to liberate all of us from guilt, from shame, from self-imposed oppression on the subject of Sabbath observance.
Plymouth, as your minister, it is my observation that many of you live stressed, full to capacity, busy, complicated lives. You juggle so much, and yet still find time to be in fellowship with each other and to bless this congregation as volunteers. The last thing I want to give today is a sermon that says that anyway you spend your Sabbath is wrong. Sabbath is for people. Sabbath is for how you need to spend your free time in order to feel whole, to be well, to be complete with community, with yourself, and with God. Never let anyone tell you that your way of doing Sabbath work isn’t right. Jesus shows us otherwise in this story today about his car trip with the disciples.
As an extreme extrovert, Sabbath for me is walking door to door for political campaigns in my free time and talking with random strangers. Every new door to knock on is endless opportunity for random conversations. FUN! Don’t worry, I won’t ever knock on your door. I skip Plymouth houses out of principle as your minister. That certainly is NOT real Sabbath behavior according to the sages of introverted Christianity like Dianna Butler Bass, Belden Lane, and others. Retreat is only as restorative as the human interactions I have. Some of you are introverts and need quiet, neutral time. If that is you, embrace it. If that doesn’t sound like you, then find your own way to restore your soul.
What does your Sabbath look like? What do you need to feel whole? Are you taking the time to get coffee or tea with a favorite friend? Do you take the time to be alone if needed? Do you know what Sabbath means for you?
I know that some of you work on Sundays, or you are nearing burnout from caring for a spouse who is aging faster than you, taking care of parents or grandchildren who need your support and your financial resources, being responsible for whole local movements for justice in areas from food to homelessness to youth. I know some of you are nearing technological burnout as yet another data reboot upends your computer or phone. Some of you are at burnout at work either from over work or being in the wrong field for your skills or maybe a lack of institutional vison that you need to thrive. Burnout, remember isn’t when things stop happening—it is when things speed up in the wrong direction: divorce, break-down, hurt, loss, etc. Burnout isn’t running out of gas, it is usually hitting the peddle to the metal full speed ahead in whatever direction you are facing.
Jesus and the disciples went on a road trip. They found different communities with rigid rules and concepts about what made for a correct Sabbath. What they found was that nobody could make their rules for them, so Jesus inadvertently started Christianity over this issue above all others: Sabbath. It was his changing the rules around work-life balance that made them want to kill him in the first place. This Sabbath business is that important. It is so important that a whole religion, ours, was partially founded over its substance. What will you do with your Sabbath?
 I went to Grinnell College and loved Iowa, so this comment is in all seriousness and love.
The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph ("just Jake"), Associate Minister, came to Plymouth in 2014 having served in the national setting of the UCC on the board of Justice & Witness Ministries, the Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Chairperson of the Council for Youth and Young Adult Ministries (CYYAM). Jake has a passion for ecumenical work and has worked in a wide variety of churches and traditions. Read more about him on our staff page.