June 17, 2012
the Rev. Kate Ekrem
So, it works really well when you are working on a sermon on Sabbath time to go on retreat, which is what I did this week. I gathered with some old friends, we each shared what was going on in our lives, our challenges and joys and frustrations, trying to get some perspective on it all, and then we went for a hike. We climbed Mount Kearsarge in southern NH, and when we finally got out on top, with a view stretching from Maine to Vermont, looking down at buildings that looked like little dots, and someone said, well, there’s some perspective for you. It almost goes without sayingthat all of our concerns and worries seemed very small, nothing God couldn’t handle.
Sabbath is time given over to God, time to do nothing, time out of time, and especially time not working. And you know what, not working is sort of hard work. Not doing is something you have to deliberately do. In our Protestant tradition, there is an emphasis on God’s grace, freely given. There is nothing, nothing you need to do to earn God’s love. But what we sometimes forget in this emphasis on God’s action is that while there is nothing we need to do to earn our salvation, there are things we need to do to live as if that were true, to live a resurrected life. Christianity is a way, a way of life. And so it includes practices, things we do, like prayer, stewardship, hospitality, serving those in need, even coming to church on Sunday morning. And one of the most important of these practices is Sabbath.
On Friday I brought communion to a group of elders in our congregation who get together to get their hair done each week. People who were probably your Sunday school teacher if you grew up here at Redeemer. I asked them about Sabbath back in the day, and they reminded me that stores used to be closed on Sunday, not just liquor stores but all stores, and there was basically nothing to do but go to church, eat a meal with your family, talk with friends, and go for a Sunday drive to nowhere in particular. That’s not a world we’re going to go back to in our multi-faith context, but it’s worth remembering that the idea of checking your email every day of the week is pretty new, not how our parents grew up.
It’s worth noticing that things are faster now than they used to be, worth wondering how that affects us. For example, I remember when Dave and I were first married, we lived next door to one of the executive editors where I worked. The company sent a car and driver for her every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan and if we happened to be headed to the subway at just the right time, she’d give us a ride. Once, we were in the back seat with her and her husband, and they both had their Daytimers on their knees. Remember Daytimers? Anyway, they went through whole week – you pick kids up, I have meeting, I’ll pick kids up, you have appointment, kids have appt. Dave and I looked at each other: we’ll never be like that. Because we knew, that is life with no margin. Actually, we do do that, but with Google calendar on our phones. But we try to plan for sabbath, too.
We don’t have Sabbath built into our lives anymore, we have to make it for ourselves. Have you heard of the idea of margin? Margin is not doing everything that you are capable of doing.
Having some margin means we need to say no and not feel guilty about it. Because it gives us the ability to say yes. And it’s not just about time.
We can have margin financially, by not spending everything we earn, right? I know this is a whole lot easier said than done, but if we can, when we encounter someone in need, we can give them something. Living beneath our means helps us be generous in a fun way that’s not stressful
We also need emotional margin, to take time for ourselves, to get that 30-40 mins a day to ourselves that every human being needs as a minimum of down time, then we’re able to be present to friend who needs listening ear. We’re not feeling compassion fatigue, tuning out someone who needs support.
And of course we need a margin of time. Not doing all we could do with our time, gives us ability to respond to an emergency, of ourselves or someone else, and to give our time in service to others.
So what would it be like to allow for some margin, not just in your own life but the lives of others. Give them space, maybe even lower your expectations. What if we lower our expectations of our kids, are they involved in too many things. What about our spouses and partners, if we give them some room for themselves. What about our our co-workers, or our employees, are we honoring the rest and Sabbath of those who work for us?
Sabbath is not working, but observing Sabbath time is a way of honoring our work. Of standing back from it and seeing what we’ve accomplished. Sabbath time gives our work a margin, like the frame of an artwork, or the matting of a fine print. Look what I did, and it is good. Just like God said after God made creation, and the rested.
Look around at creation. You don’t have to stand on top of a mountain to see that God is working in the world, even when we’re not. Go for a walk. On the bike path or around our labyrinth. Let this world around you put your own life in perspective. Notice that God makes all these beautiful things grow. How much more is God looking out for you. I think Jesus might have said something about that.
Jesus also said, in our Gospel reading today, "The kingdom of God is as if someone who scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would grow, and he does not know how. The earth produces of itself." We may plant, we need to plant, but we have to stop fussing with things and let the seed grow. God gives it the growth, we know not how. Trust God to do that. Let nature be your sanctuary, a reminder of the work God does while we are sleeping and resting.
And because to me Sabbath is somehow linked with poetry, I want to leave you with this Sabbath poem by Wendell Berry.
I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
Around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places where I left them asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
And lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in my leaves me,
And the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
Mute in my consternations,
I hear my son at last,
And I sing it…