July 9, 2017
“Holy Time Out”
How many of you grew up keeping the Sabbath? Do you remember when stores were closed on Sundays? I’m not ready to advocate that everything should close on Sunday because Christians call it Sabbath, but I’m aware that times have changed and very few places close on Sundays any more. Even the post office is delivering packages on Sundays now.
I’ve just returned from a trip to New York City, often called The City that Never Sleeps. From there, I went to the United Church of Christ General Synod. We began each morning at 6:30 am gathering with delegates from other Western conferences. Most days we finished at 10 pm. I loved both places and I was grateful to experience New York and General Synod for the first time. But I didn’t come home rested. I came home tired.
How often do we ask people how they are doing and hear “I am so busy.” Or “I am tired.” We wear that in our culture like some kind of badge of honor. Busy and tired are not things I aspire to. I may live that way sometimes, but I’m not proud of it.
Several years ago, I came across a book by Wayne Muller called Sabbath. I was leading a young adult Bible study at the time and the group was very interested in practicing Sabbath. It was so counter to what they normally did. We made a commitment to observe Sabbath each week during Lent. We did not script what Sabbath would look like for each person but we checked in weekly and heard how group members had practiced Sabbath. We did it with varying degrees of success and varying amounts of time each week. But we were eager to experience the renewal that can only come from a “spiritual time out”.
How often do we hear Jesus calling us to do one more thing? The call to take care of those on the margins is nonstop and there are needs in front of us every day. We can’t ignore those who struggling, but we also need to be able to be present to them. That really does mean taking time to rest and renew our souls. Some of us get this and create time for rest in our routines. Others might think it is important, but we can’t seem to make it happen unless we are sick. Then we end up resenting the sickness for taking us away from our lives.
“One morning, a few years ago, Harvard President Neil Rudenstine overslept. For this perfectionist in the midst of a major fund-raising campaign, it was cause for alarm. After years of non-stop toil in an atmosphere that rewarded frantic overwork, Rudenstine collapsed. “My sense was that I was exhausted,” he told reporters. His doctor agreed. Only after a three-month sabbatical…was Rudenstine able to return to his post. That week his picture was on the cover of Newsweek magazine beside the banner headline “Exhausted!” http://www.waynemuller.com/cool_stuff/wednesdays/whatever_happened_to_sunday
Muller says that because we do not rest, we lose our way. I think he is right. As a congregation, we are constantly responding to the needs in our community and in our world. I am not suggesting for a minute that we do anything less than that, but I am suggesting that we build in space for rest, renewal, and deeper prayer in the midst of all that we do.
We often act like the work we are doing in our meetings is the most important thing we can do. It isn’t. Listen to Jesus’ call to come, rest, and share the yoke. We need to steep ourselves in God in everything we do. To do good work, to be in ministry with others, we must be in good shape ourselves.
“Roger is a gifted, thoughtful physician. Physicians are trained to work when they’re exhausted, required to perform when they are sleep-deprived, hurried, and overloaded. “I discovered in medical school that the more exhausted I was, the more tests I would order. I was too tired to see precisely what was going on with my patients. I could recognize their symptoms and formulate possible diagnoses, but I couldn’t hear precisely how it fit together. So I would order tests to give me what I was missing. But when I was rested—if I had an opportunity to get some sleep, or meditate, or go for a quiet walk—I could rely on my intuition and experience to tell me what was needed. If there was any uncertainty, I would order a specific test to confirm my diagnosis. But when I was rested and could listen and be present, I was almost always right.” http://www.waynemuller.com/cool_stuff/wednesdays/whatever_happened_to_sunday
We have a man staying with us because of a broken immigration system. General Synod passed legislation to become an Immigrant Welcoming Church. We must do everything we can to create a system that is just and merciful to all God’s people. AND we must rest along the way to do this work well.
The work of peace and justice is hard work. It is exhausting. We cannot give up and we must stay in relationship with the one who call us to rest. The words “come to me” are an invitation to relationship with Jesus who meets us in our weariness. Jesus gave and gave of himself and then he would retreat and rest so that he could return and minister with his whole self. We must do the same.
I have so much to tell you about General Synod. The call to justice was present from beginning to end. We have adopted a new vision statement for the United Church of Christ – a just world for all. Over the next few years we are focusing on the three great loves – love of neighbor, children, and creation. We have so much work to do and we must give it all we have. But remember that Jesus calls us to share a yoke that is called easy and light. That doesn’t mean that the work we do is easy, but it means that we are seeking justice and peace alongside Jesus. We are doing God’s work in the world and that work will ask that we give our all. Jesus will meet us when we are most weary and carry the load with us.
My friend Wayne Muller says that we can “change society by beginning a quiet revolution of change in ourselves and our families. Let us take a collective breath, rest, pray, meditate, walk, sing, eat, and take time to share the unhurried company of those we love. Let us for just one day, cease our desperate striving for more, and instead taste the blessings we have already been given, and give thanks. Religious traditions agree on this: God does not want us to be exhausted; God wants us to be happy.” http://www.waynemuller.com/cool_stuff/wednesdays/whatever_happened_to_sunday
From the beginning of creation, rest and renewal have been included into the fabric of humanity. Rest is called good. It seems that God knew we would struggle with this one and so it was included in the ten commandments alongside the words “do not kill.” The words are “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” It is a matter of life or death. Choosing to rest is choosing life. We are called to give our lives for God’s work in the world – that means holy time outs too. Do this and you will find rest for your souls.