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