Monday, October 29, 2012
Sabbath for the 21st Century - Sermon
Sabbath for the 21st Century
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Gen2: 2-3) We hear in the book of Genesis.
Today we are talking about Sabbath. We know it often as the name of a day of the week, as a part of the Jewish and Christian tradition. But it’s much broader than that. Most spiritual traditions celebrate some form of Sabbath. Before Hebrews, the Babylonians celebrated a lunar Sabbath, also a day of rest. Buddhists use a lunar Sabbath on the new, full, and quarter moons as a day for monks and lay people to feast and reflect.
Sabbath is deeply rooted in the spiritual traditions that we draw from. But as you know, we should never feel limited by those traditions. They inform our faith; they do not dictate it. What I want to talk about to day is a Sabbath for the twenty-first century. How can you and I take time out of our busy lives to reorient ourselves, to touch the ground and reach for the sky, time to remember what it means to be human.
Sabbath for the twenty first century isn’t an ancient prohibition of work on a particular day of the week. It’s also not a day off of work to run all the errands that you weren’t able to do the rest of the week. The point after all, is to take time to refresh and renew. While it may feel good to scratch those errands off your to-do list, that’s not the sort of renewal I am speaking of. In fact it is the opposite of errands.
Sabbath is the opposite, and perhaps the antidote to busyness. Our culture is steeped in, what seems to be, a new obsession with activity. We are obsessed with busyness. Perhaps it is the protestant work ethic on steroids. You know what I am talking about, the incessant need to be meeting, building, driving or going somewhere.
Before many of our meetings here at the Fellowship we begin with a check in, it’s a time to share how your week has been and how you are feeling at the moment. All too often, and I should say ministers do the exact same thing when they gather, all to often, we greet one another with a list of our overscheduled activities. We list them as a way of describing our life, as if over scheduling our lives, living on fumes, living on the surface, is a badge of honor. Rather than honestly saying that we feel run down, exhausted, longing for support and in need of rest, we rattle off a list of activities.
This busyness is endemic. Some parents at least, are beginning to see that it takes a toll on their children. Participating in multiple sports leagues, arts programs and high-gear academics all at the same time burns our kids out. Some parents are beginning to see that. We have yet to see that their busyness is an outgrowth of our own.
Sabbath is an antidote to busyness. It is an intentional carving out of time to focus on renewal. It’s not just time without work, it’s time with an intention to tap into deeper sources of meaning. Every Sunday morning during the call to worship, I say “This hour is sacred because we make it so.” It is our intention and our effort that makes a moment sacred, not the time that it takes in the calendar or the physical building. On Sunday’s this hour is sacred because we who gather here make it so. But, in the rest of your life, what time do you make sacred by recognizing it as such? It doesn’t have to be more than a few minutes now and then.
Sabbath doesn’t require any special equipment or skill. It can happen at any time of day, any day of the week. You don’t have to go anywhere. The key is taking time, and consciously understanding that time as different, as a time for renewal, a sacred time. The only thing Sabbath really requires is for you to make it so.
But why? Why is he lecturing us about busyness, and giving us one more thing to squeeze into our schedule? Why take a Sabbath?
Quite simply, because we have to. We are finite beings, with pretty fragile bodies, minds, and spirits. Like everything else in our world, rest is a necessary part of the rhythm of our lives. All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep. There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of Fall and winter. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat; the lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale.
Remembering the Sabbath is simply remembering that we are a part of a rhythm of life. Notice, I say remembering the Sabbath. That is the language that is used in the Bible where it is mentioned as a commandment. It doesn’t say obey the Sabbath, it doesn’t say participate in the Sabbath, it says remember the Sabbath. It’s a recognition that the time for rest is a built in, necessary piece of life. We are just called to remember it.
When we take time to reorient ourselves to what is good and true, the rest of live comes in more vividly. Taking that time makes the rest of life better, and it makes us better at living the rest of our lives. If you want it from a scientific perspective, Sabbath provides a different mode for your brain and your emotions to function in. And changing the modality of your brain is a critical piece of expanding your mind, and keeping your intelligence flowing. We get stuck in ruts in our lives. I don’t just mean eating the same thing of reading the same type of book. We get stuck in the rut of thinking about the same things and thinking in the same ways. The synapses in our brain, get fired over and over in the same direction. As those neural pathways get more and more traveled, it becomes harder and harder for us to think and to feel the full variety we are capable of.
Sometimes we just need to use a different part of the brain to solve a problem, no matter how big or small. If any of you are writers of crossword puzzlers you may know this phenomenon. Sitting and staring at a computer screen or problem isn’t always what you need to solve it. You need to get up and move around. My best sermon material typically comes to me when I am running, not when I am buried in books or meditating.
So Sabbath isn’t a huge commitment, it’s necessary, and it makes us perform better in the rest of our lives. That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. So why not, why aren’t we all on board with this practice?
Because when we really pause, when we really take a moment out, the silence and stillness is scary. We fear that when we let our identity go beyond the busyness, there may be nothing left. It can be scary. When we turn off the din of constant noise and visual stimulation, we come to a void, a dark and quiet void.
That was one of the things that returned Peace Corps volunteers share. Being in the Peace Corps is wonderful, but it’s also a very isolating experience. When you are the only American in a village, you spend a significant amount of time alone. In that quiet you get to know yourself very well, which can be a good thing, or a very unsettling thing.
Silence is uncomfortable. Not just because we socially don’t know what to do with it. It is uncomfortable because it brings us face to face with a void. Spirituality is not for the faint of heart. Facing the quiet, the void can be scary business, but that’s why we come here, to face that quiet together.
And when we do face the quiet together, we are reminded of the person under the busyness. We remember that every soul is sacred. We remember that there is an interdependent web of life that supports us and all that we love. In the quiet we find a new foundation, and perhaps most importantly, we find peace.
I want to spend the rest of our time talking about the what practicing a Sabbath for the 21st Century might look like. We can start with the spiritual practice that we all share in common, coming to church. Carving out this time to come to worship is a huge piece of remembering the Sabbath.
Just coming to church doesn’t necessarily make it a Sabbath. Last week we celebrated our shared ministry and the tremendous volunteer contributions that many of our members make. I want to challenge those same people to be sure that they are actually making their time at the Fellowship a time for renewal, not a time for more busyness. Peter Walzer didn’t attend worship for about two years. Yes, he was here, but he was attending to the needs of our sound system, so he was always on duty. And because of their family demands, this was the only time they could spend at the Fellowship. It was not a good idea. Peter can tell you that.
So we fixed it. Many of you have noticed that we have broadened our volunteer pool to help run the sound and video on Sunday mornings. Everyone should get to come to church some days and not work. Everyone should have the opportunity to remember the Sabbath here at UUFLB.
But as I said earlier, Sabbath isn’t just about a particular time or a particular day of the week. You can hold sacred time any day of any week. It is sacred because you make it so. There are a thousand and one ways of doing that.
Find a candle that holds meaning for you. It may be a chalice or not. When you have set aside some tie – before a meal, meditation, or simply quiet reading – set the candle in front of you, say a simple blessing for yourself or someone you love, and light the candle. Take a few breaths. For just this moment, let the hurry of the world fall away.
Or prepare a Sabbath meal. Shop for the ingredients that bring you the most pleasure. This food is not so much for survival as for sheer, savory delight. Take as much time as you like to feel, tastes, smell each ingredient, every spice, bread, and vegetable. Decorate the table with flowers, linens, and candles. Say a prayer or give thanks. Give thanks for the earth and enjoy.
Your very own body has all the tools you need for a moment of Sabbath, anywhere, anytime. One beautiful form of meditation is to simply follow your breath. Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Let yourself become aware of the physical sensation of each breath, feeling the shape, texture, and duration. Don’t change you breathing, don’t strain or push. Feel the rhythm. When your mind wanders, as it will, don’t worry. Simply return your awareness to the breath. Do it for a few minutes at first. And if you feel like taking a longer Sabbath, then lengthen the time.
Of course many of us find refuge and Sabbath in nature. As I said earlier, rest is a part of nature and creation, Sabbath time beats in synchronicity with the rhythms of nature. Set aside a period of time and walk, bike, sail, nap – anything that allows your body to be soothed by the nourishment of the earth.
Whether you do it alone or with other people, in silence, in nature, reading a book, cooking a meal, or just in a brief moment of lighting a candle, know that you are worth the time. You are worth taking the time to touch the earth and reach for the sky and remember what it means to be human, to be connected.
Make your time sacred, and remember the Sabbath.