Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
(This is a story of my friend Gail’s dad, and I have permission to share it).
Gail’s dad moved to town not long ago to make life a little simpler. He’s a dyed in the wool farmer and would normally be on the farm – that is his place – but this year, he’s had some health problems, a few setbacks. He has cancer, and he has a hernia, and he broke his neck. So life got complicated, and it made sense to move to an apartment in town so he could easily get groceries and pick up the mail and make his way to the hospital for treatment. A couple weeks ago, it snowed. Jim is keeping the house on the farm warm because it’s winter, and if the pipes were to freeze, it would be a mess, so he ordered fuel to stay on top of things. Wouldn’t you know, the day before the fuel truck was scheduled for delivery, the driveway fills with snow, and it needs to be cleared.
Well, not a big deal, Jim thought. He’d just drive his pickup to the farm, walk up the lane and fire up the tractor that he always uses to blow snow. But after he trudges through the drifts of snow, with his hernia and his broken neck, and slightly weaker state from his cancer treatment, he discovers that the batteries are dead.
So he trudges back through the snow and drives his pickup back to town. He goes back to his apartment to consider his dilemma. The next day, he goes to the farm supply store and buys two batteries.
He drives to the farm, parks at the end of the driveway, and carries two fifty-pound batteries through the snow drifts with his hernia and his broken neck with a collar around it, and his slightly weakened state due to his cancer treatments. He finds the appropriate tools and installs the new batteries. Then he fires up the tractor and gets to work. The cold air feels good; it’s invigorating. The shift in his hand and the clutch under his foot move with precision at his guidance; he has maneuvered them a thousand times. As he clears the road and pushes the snow to the side, he feels the satisfaction of work done well.
There is something good about work. And in this world where we live, work comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it requires strength and coordination. Sometimes logical thinking or creative imagination. Sometimes patience or endurance. Often the ability to work with others.
Work is a gift that gives us meaning and purpose. But work is not all of life. People need rest and refreshment. One can’t keep giving when the well runs dry. But even more dangerous, perhaps, is that when we have no rest, we come to believe that we are indispensable.
God gave us the gift of Sabbath, of rest. To remember the Sabbath and keep it holy is actually a commandment – one of the Ten Best Ways to live. But most of us ignore it. We might think keeping the Sabbath is going to church on Sunday (or synagogue on Friday or Saturday), an activity that we do. But Sabbath is not another thing to do; it is, in fact, a lack of activity, centered in not doing anything. And it’s actually a gift of grace!
“Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy is the Third Commandment” (as Lutherans number them). The Commandments appear twice in the Bible. The first time it goes like this: Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. Do all of your work in six days, but on the seventh day rest. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything that’s in them, and on the seventh day God rested and called it holy. We are made in the image of God, and God says that rest is good. It refreshes you for your work.
The second goes like this: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Do all of your work in six days, but on the seventh day rest. Remember, you were once a slave in Egypt, but God brought you out of with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. You are not a slave to your work.
So what does it mean to do nothing? We live in a 24/7 world where we have constant access to work and connectivity and the news cycle. Wendell Berry is a poet and farmer who lives in Kentucky. He takes a solitary walk around his farm on Sundays. He walks through the woods and along the river. He goes by the places where he works, but he doesn’t stop and pick up a hoe to continue his work. He walks and listens and pays attention. Sometimes poetry flows out of it.
Barbara Brown Taylor says: “At least one day in every seven, (why not) pull off the road and park the car in the garage. Close the door to the toolshed and turn off the computer. Stay home not because you are sick but because you are well. Talk someone you love into being well with you. Take a nap, a walk, an hour for lunch. Test the premise that you are worth more than what you can produce….Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the commandment is to woo you (into believing it).” (An Altar in the World)
In our reading today from Luke, we find a collection of stories that have to do with Sabbath. The first two stories involve Pharisees. We might think of them as stringent, observing rules for the sake of the rules. But the Pharisees were in fact trying to be faithful. They were living under the rule of the Roman Empire and trying to be observe traditions that were faithful to the Covenant relationship with God. To practice Sabbath was to recognize that God was a God of freedom.
Jesus was honoring the Sabbath in another way. When he fed the hungry and healed the sick, he recognized that the Sabbath is for life. It made the Pharisees angry. But I wonder, did he make them angry because he ignored the rules, or because he was right? Jesus brought healing and wholeness to individuals, but he didn’t fix everything. His presence shone a light on the brokenness in which we live.
In the midst of Sabbath controversies that he stirs up, Jesus goes away to pray. He goes out to a mountain, and he spends the night in prayer.
And then he chooses the 12. It’s an odd assortment of apostles from among his larger group of followers. There’s Simon, the Zealot, on the one hand, and Matthew, a tax collector, the other. As a Zealot, Simon was part of a group that instigated armed rebellion against the occupying Roman military presence, and as a tax collector, Matthew worked for Rome, collecting taxes to pay for the military. There must have been some tense moments between those two. And then there was Judas Iscariot who would eventually betray Jesus, and Simon Peter who would deny him in his own way. James and John would argue over who was the greatest. Far from being a uniform or unified group, Jesus chose 12 disparate people to mentor and to equip. And then he sent them out with a message and a mission: To heal the sick.To release those who are captive to sin and fear and anxiety. To include those who are excluded.
We have a tendency to view people in camps of “us” and “them,” to take sides, but Jesus won’t have it. He jumps into the middle of our arguments about how to live as a person of faith and how to relate to secular authority, and he puts us together, and teaches us all at the same time. Like the original 12, we are flawed and imperfect.
I think it’s fair to say that there’s renewed energy in this country for people of faith to raise their voices in solidarity with those who are vulnerable, and that is necessary, important work. But the interesting thing is, there are so many perspectives, different reasons that people have come to their viewpoints. And we are not likely to change each other’s positions if we shout at each other. Can we learn to listen?
Jesus is embroiled in controversy, and one of the things that he models again and again is going apart to pray. Taking time to rest from work. Is that something we might benefit from, too, especially in these days of controversy and holy work? What might it mean for us to set aside time and space for Sabbath?
How might times of listening and prayer heal us and open us to new insights?
God invites us to practice Sabbath so we can step back into the fray of this messy, broken world that God is still repairing, and we can join in God’s work – the work of caring for the vulnerable and affirming life. It’s the work of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and including those who have been excluded
These are not just platitudes. It’s the work with which we’ve been entrusted.
Kris Capel, pastor of Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, put it this way:
“It is time for all of us to tap into our highest selves. Political activism is a good, democratic thing to do, but so is the spiritual discipline of pausing, praying, meditating and thoughtfully engaging our neighbors. Please remember that you will not change any hearts or minds by more loudly stating what everyone already knows to be your opinions and beliefs….Be creative. Tell stories. Write poems. Compose songs. Craft letters. (The kinds of things that grow out of taking a pause.) Make friends with someone who holds the opposite views. Stand up for what you believe to be true but be open to being wrong about some things….Don’t compromise your values but engage them on a deeper level….Be a bridge-builder.”
We have important work to do – whether isn’t doing things like clearing a driveway or other tasks of daily life, paid or volunteer work, or advocacy on behalf of others – it’s valuable work. In the midst of it, may we find the gift of Sabbath rest and discover a renewed sense of energy and resolve to be about God’s work, to join in God’s “salvation project” for the life of the world. Amen.