19 May—Easter 5
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
The thing about having a lectionary—a set of assigned readings for each Sunday of the year— is sometimes it’s almost impossible to find anything that resonates with what’s going on in the life of a community…for instance: on my very first Sunday, in my very first parish, it was early July and the Gospel reading was the beheading of John the Baptist…”bring me his head on a plate…and welcome to parish ministry!”
At other times it feels like I hardly need to say anything because the reading is so on the nose…”Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; [but], ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.'”
It’s true. I am with you only a little longer…and where I am going…you cannot come…but I will be back, in September.
Today you will send me off on sabbatical, and in just a little bit, I will pass the mantle to Amy, and you will be in very good hands.
As most of you know, sabbatical is derived from sabbath and the practice of sabbath. Plenty of our Jewish neighbors practice keeping the Sabbath, but regular sabbath keeping seems to be hard for a lot of Christians. We like to be busy, and active, and our entire economy seems to be built on keeping us busy, and active and engaged (or simply enraged) 24/7. Scholar Walter Brueggemann in his book Sabbath as Resistance says, “we are a society of 24/7 multitasking in order to achieve, accomplish, perform, and possess…[and] the system […demands] that we want more, have more, own more, use more, eat and drink more.” [Sabbath as Resistance. p. xii]. This insatiable hunger—this more, more, more, is what Thomas Merton, a half a century ago, described as a “pervasive form of violence.” [Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander]. We live in a violent world that urges us to perpetuate violence towards others and ourselves through endless cycle of production and consumption. The practice of keeping Sabbath can be an antidote to that…a way of resisting it…and our ancestors in the faith knew that.
Having an intentional…dedicated…period—not simply of rest, but of time apart—is absolutely vital to physical and spiritual health and growth. There is a reason it is one of the ten commandments. God worked six days and rested on the seventh, and we should too. Most scholars argue that creation is not actually completed until the Sabbath…Sabbath rest is the final, crowning act of creation.
Most of you know, Fridays are my Sabbath. I encourage all of the staff here, to set aside one 24 hour period each week solely for personal use. I encourage you to do the same. I can’t always manage it every single week…but most weeks I do…and I certainly can’t enforce it on others, but it’s a really important practice…that I strongly recommend. Be intentional about taking time to stop doing and allow yourself to be.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel, in his wonderful work on Sabbath, says, “Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon…to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation;” He says the Sabbath is a cathedral in time. [The Sabbath Its Meaning For Modern Man, Heschel].
This cathedral of sabbatical time that we are entering together…is an extension of this weekly practice…an intentional period of rest and reflection…a time to turn away from producing…to set aside results and metrics, and goals and checklists…and to step into the mystery of creation…to put down the demands of production…and instead to open up to simply receiving the gifts of creation.
I know we all can’t have an extended sabbatical period, and I am incredibly grateful for this gift you have given me…but we can all strive to practice a regular weekly sabbath…and build from there. We can all commit to setting apart some time in the coming days and weeks and months…time for being rather than doing. It is crucial that we do. And here’s why…
Jesus says today, “I give you a new commandment.” We’ve all heard what Jesus says are the two great commandments…Love God, love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-39). And what we heard today sounds an awful lot like those…but Jesus says this is new. What’s new?
The two great commandments say, love God and love your neighbor…as yourself. Turns out, we’re not very good at this. Either we love ourselves more than we love our neighbor, or we don’t love ourselves and consequently don’t love our neighbor either… So Jesus reframes it for us…not love your neighbor as yourself, but love one another as I have loved you. Can you hear the difference? Which begs the question: how does Jesus love us? Or more precisely, how does Jesus love you? How have you experienced Jesus’ love for you? Have you ever taken time out to simply allow yourself to be loved by God? And if you can’t answer that question…(don’t worry, you’re not alone)…but, if you’ve never had that experience…if you’ve never just been in God’s presence and felt loved by God…how do you know how to love others in that way?
Sabbath isn’t “doing nothing,” sabbath is a time for practicing being…for returning to that cathedral in time where you can simply be in God’s presence…and remember what being loved by God is like…where you can begin to remember how to receive the gift that all of creation is…where you can set aside all of the demands and expectations and striving and learn to simply trust God again…that is much of what I will be doing on my sabbatical…and I admit that it’s not easy…it’s not easy for me…because even though I do set aside time daily and weekly, etc. to be with God, to read scripture, and pray, and all that…when I’m living those other six days, I’m just as likely as anyone else to be like: “nope, this is NOT going the way I want it to … step aside God, I’m in charge now.”
A regular sabbath practice helps with that. Another Christian student of Sabbath, says: When we don’t practice Sabbath…when we can’t remember how Jesus loves us… it affects everything we do…he says, “it colors the way we build and sustain community, it dictates the way we respond to suffering, and it shapes the way we seek peace and healing in the world.” [Sabbath, Wayne Muller]. If we are “loving others as ourselves,” but our selves are constricted, and stingy, and fearful, and untrusting, and unloving…then that’s what we will take into the world.
We need the experience—the regular experience—of being loved and accepted for who we are…of being open and grounded and secure yet pliable so that we can take that out into the world…so that we can love one another as Jesus loves us.
I invite you to explore this sabbatical cathedral that we’re about to enter…the vestry, and the living stones listening group, and others, are planning walks, dinners, and other times when you can simply be with one another…share stories…share meals…I invite you to take some of that time. Make time to be with your friends and families, take some naps…get outside…spend some time remembering who you really are…and allow yourself to simply be loved by the God who created you…who cares for you, and who is always with you.
You will be in my prayers, as I know I will be in yours, and may we all find a renewed closeness to God.