march madness: “the madness of our restless pace and the loss of restful Sabbath,” march 13, 2016

busy pace

Responsive Call to Worship
Amidst all that makes us so very busy—
amidst schedules and routines—
things to do—places to be,
we pause.
Within time, we set aside time —
this time—
for gratitude—
for praise—
for remembering—
this time to let go of the world
so the world will let go of us—
freeing us
to hear and tell and live
the story that will keep us free.
We gather to worship,
but, it’s true, sadly,
we don’t necessarily celebrate Sabbath.
Work intrudes—stress—
chores—homework—housework.
We don’t prioritize—
don’t plan for Sabbath—
time protected—
to rest—to play—to wonder—
to converse—to reflect—
to be still.
We do take this time.
We do take this time.
May we realize ever more, its relevance,
its power and potential,
for making us and our world healthier—
more whole—
more holy.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Genesis 2:3
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,
because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

Exodus 20:8-11
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
This March, as some of us await the excitement of March Madness,
we’re taking time in our worship
to consider the various madnesses we take for granted—
madnesses we justify—condone—even anticipate.
And we’re wondering what sanity we forfeit
in taking madness for granted.

Last week, we considered the madness of our for-profit culture,
the priorities profits dictate,
and the lack of prophets taking us to task
for tacitly and explicitly condoning such madness.
This week, we reflect on the madness
of the restless, relentless pace of our culture
and the corresponding loss of downtime—
of rest—of Sabbath.

Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston’s
Graduate School of Social Work, writes,
“It seems that living and loving with our whole hearts
requires us to respect our bodies’ need for renewal.
When I first researched the ideas of rest, sleep and sleep debt—
the term for not getting enough—I couldn’t believe
some of the consequences of not getting proper rest.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep
is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions,
such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression….
Yet, somehow many of us still believe
that exhaustion is a status symbol of hard work and that sleep is a luxury
(Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection:
Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be
and Embrace Who You Are [Center City: Hazelden, 2010] 101).

In our culture, the busier we are, the more important we feel—
the more important we think we look.
And so we have become “a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults
raising over scheduled children” (Brown, 101).
Y’all know this. You live it.
You know it in your bones.

In utter, absolute contrast (redundantly speaking—
for highlighted, underscored emphasis),
Jesus, in Eugene Peterson’s translation of Matthew’s gospel,
says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me, watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly”
(Matthew 11:28-29).

Even long before Jesus though, Sabbath is,
from the beginning, so clearly an expectation of God—
a hope of God—God’s hope for us.
Named a commandment,
but a commandment, it would seem,
less for any need of God’s
as for our own benefit.
You need this; I command it.

Barbara Brown Taylor notes,
“Look the word [Sabbath] up in the book of Exodus
and you discover that Jews were observing Sabbath
before Moses brought the stone tablets
of God’s holy law down from Mount Sinai.
The first holy thing in all creation, Abraham Heschel says,
was not a people or a place but a day.
God made everything in creation and called it good,
but when God rested on the seventh day, God called it holy.
That makes the seventh day a “palace in time,”
Heschel says, into which human beings are invited
every single week of our lives.
(Barbara Brown Taylor, “Sabbath Resistance,
in The Christian Century, May 31, 2005)

Many of us have grown up with some sense of the Sabbath rules—
what can and can’t be done on the Sabbath,
based on Sunday School lessons and sermons—
Jesus saying, “the Sabbath was made for y’all,
not y’all for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
We may, in truth, think of Sabbath rules with a bit—
or more than a bit of self-righteous superiority.

“To open a refrigerator door on the Sabbath,
one must first disconnect the interior light ….
Letting warm air into the refrigerator also creates a problem,
because that will cause the compressor to activate
before it otherwise would have.”
so you install a timer that turns the compressor on
on a set schedule rather than in response to a thermostat.
or you only open the refrigerator door
when the compressor’s already running.
“a doctor may drive on the Sabbath [to get to] an emergency,
but … should start the engine by turning the key with two fingers,
not the usual thumb and forefinger.
As to the vehicle driven to the emergency,
the doctor must leave the engine running,
as turning off the engine is not necessary to save life.”
(http://www.tidings.org/studies/legalism0699.htm)
(I’m not sure what happens when the doctor goes home!)

At their best, such rules were designed to protect the Sabbath—
to create a hedge around the basic commandment to honor the Sabbath.
As noted, easy to mock,
but do you hear in such custom a profound respect many of us don’t begin to know?

We, in our tradition, have cultivated the freedom to say “No.”
And people do.
No to this and that responsibility at church.
No to Sunday School.
No to worship.
I value that.
I do!
We thus protect our response to God
from becoming rote duty.
But we also risk
(it’s the flip side of a strength)—
we risk not honoring the Sabbath—
not honoring God.
We have cultivated the freedom to say no,
but Sabbath is also about cultivating the discipline to say no.
To say no to the rhythm of the week—
to rest.

I asked this past Wednesday night for suggestions as to ways to cultivate Sabbath.
I think I was struggling
struggling with the idea of balance—
balancing the week with the Sabbath—
balancing a week at work
with a heavier dose of God on the Sabbath—
struggling to balance
the various benefits of sabbath and rest—
the physical,
the emotional,
the spiritual.
And trying to figure out how to include God
in what seemed just physical, for example.

But the idea of balancing different aspects of self
is breaking the self into parts.
It’s taking something meant to be whole
and making it something other than whole—
something broken.

So hear now the good news:
keeping sabbath means napping.
Keeping sabbath means exercise.
Keeping sabbath means a good meal—
maybe a good meal with friends.
Keeping sabbath means a walk.
Keeping sabbath means mindfulness—
means being alive in the moment.

Steve mentioned an ongoing, focused
dynamic assessment of balance.
Do you do that?
Regularly?
What do I need to do
and to not do
to balance?

We went up to New York City, Friday.
Susie’s sister and her family are up there
for her brother-in-law’s business
from Amsterdam.
We got back last night.
Lost an hour.
I was up early this morning
not feeling particularly rested.
But
we got to sit around tables and eat with family.
And laugh.
We were outside and got to do a lot of walking.
And maybe this afternoon, I’ll get a nap!

Now I will confess that this morning I posted a note
to the preachers’ camp Facebook page,
“I resent being up early and being tired
and working on a sermon about sabbath!”

So some particular questions for you to consider.
What would it be like to go for a day without technology?
Without any music other than the sounds of that day?
You ever been struck by the sound of the rain?
The song of the birds? Or of a neighborhood—
children, horns, dogs, sirens, the wind?
We too often mask the specifics of our day.
We can not get wet on a rainy day—
never have to absorb the heat of a hot day—
fight the chill of a cold day.
We go from one artificial environment to another.
We can insulate ourselves from what’s real.
It’s easy to do.

At our house, we have times technology is not allowed
that we enforce to varying degrees of effectiveness—
after a certain time of night,
during meals.
We’re talking about moving to the other emphasis—
to have times technology is allowed.
We’ll see!

So critical for our times to remember that when
Jesus told the disciples, “The sabbath was made for y’all,
not y’all for the sabbath,”
that the same is true for technology!
We need a sabbath from feeling like people are checking on us—
assessing us—
that what we’re doing needs to be assessed—
that it says something about our own value.

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat,
the roots of meaning of which
go back to ideas of resting and ceasing/stopping
(http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Sabbath.html#.VuTJE8f0T0N).

Cease—stop doing what you’ve been doing all week.
Stop checking Facebook, snapchat, email.
Unplug.
Go for a walk without headphones—
listen for that music of your particular neighborhood.
Take two walks in two different neighborhoods
and compare the music.
Stop. Cease. Rest.

Now, I think there’s a healthy corollary,
thinking about balance,
that would say start doing some things you haven’t done.
Have you been outside?
Have you had quality time with friends—with family?
Have you played?
Have you been whole this week—
your whole self?
I dare say probably not.
So say no. And say yes.
Say no to what’s been
in order to be more—
to do more—to do something else.

Now at an even deeper level,
there is something to the exhortation just to stop.
Be still and know that I am God?
Yes. Sure.
But also be still and know that you are you.

We talk with the girls some—
especially in this plugged in culture of ours:
do you know how to just stop?
Do you know how to just be?—
to take in what’s going on around you—
to be in the moment?
Are we modeling that for you?
Do we model that here?—
being present to the moment?
Can we not check in to see what anyone else is doing?
Disconnect from the sense of needing to know what we might be missing,
so as to not miss right now?

So at the deeper levels, it’s about saying yes.
Yes to something more—
to something bigger richer deeper.

Thus says the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads and look
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies,
and walk in it, and find rest for your souls …”
(Jeremiah 6:16a).

In 2009 the Woodbrook women’s retreat theme
was Seeking Sabbath and focused on the rhythms of work and rest.
Kathy Baker led that retreat,
and I have benefited from notes and resources from that retreat.

Wednesday, Marsha Garrison shared the idea
of a Sabbath pause or a holy pause.
The idea is named in a book by Wayne Muller,
Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives.
He relates a story about Thich Nhat Hahn
and the Buddhist community of Plum Village, in southern France,
where periodically a Mindfulness Bell is rung.
When the bell is heard everyone stops
and takes three silent mindful breaths.
Then they go back to work or whatever,
“awakened ever so slightly by the Sabbath pause.”
The writer goes on to say that we can choose something
to help us to stop like this,
some common sound or act during the day,
like a ringing phone—
so that when we hear a phone,
or whatever we choose to signal a Sabbath pause,
we stop and take three silent, mindful breaths,
then move on.
Yes.
Anyone not have time for three breaths?
Stop.
Breathe.
And then move on.

So we were on the bus up to New York City Friday.
I was looking out the window—
looking across fields and through a thin copse of trees
to see what I thought were sails.
I didn’t realize we were that close to the water, I thought.
What water might that be? I wondered.
And then I realized,
those weren’t sails.
What I thought were sails
were actually the sides of houses.
The fronts of the houses—the fronts,
the long sides, darker, weren’t catching the light—
blended into the horizon.
The backs not visible at all.
That one side—with the triangular peak going up to the roof—
that was facing us—
catching the light.
My regatta was a neighborhood!

I was reminded of the time my friend James Strange was with us.
Some of you may remember,
he suggested the basilica of early churches
was modeled on the physical structure of the roman road—
the tall center section, the nave, with the columns on either side.
The columns separating the nave from adjacent aisles.
The nave representing the road itself.
The adjacent aisles on either side of the nave
often with a lowered ceiling—
basically the sidewalk—the shops.

I have, ever since, loved that the people of the way
created a place to gather
that was the way—
the movement.
But today, I also love that within the movement—
on the way—
they created a place to be—to rest.
And I particularly love
that those geniuses
took a common feature of the culture—
representing movement and busyness—
representing the military
(because that’s why the roads were originally built—
for moving the armies)—
representing commerce,
and then inverting precisely all that
into an alternative place of stillness and rest
on the way.

We are called to a living more whole and more holy
than any our culture models for us.
We are called to a deeper, richer balance
of our whole and our holy selves.
And if we don’t figure out how to do that,
and if we don’t model that for our children,
who’s going to?
Within this frenetic, frenzied,
relentless, restless culture,
who is going to?

May it be us.

Witness of the Open Canon, ii.
Jonny Diaz, “Breathe

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Isaiah 58:13-14
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Ezekiel 20:12-13
Moreover, I gave them my sabbaths,
as a sign between me and them,
so that they might know that I the Lord sanctify them.
But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness;
they did not observe my statutes but rejected my ordinances,
by whose observance everyone shall live;
and my sabbaths they greatly profaned.

Hebrews 4:9-11
So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God;
for those who enter God’s rest
also cease from their labors as God did from his.
Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest,
so that no one may fall through … disobedience .…

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