Sabbath Time

resting

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2017.  The lectionary readings are Zechariah 9:9-12Psalm 145:8-15Romans 7:15-25a, and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Not long ago I stopped by a hospital on a Saturday to see a parishioner.  Like most people, I had a list of things I wanted to get done that day—some important, some not so much, but at the top of it was checking on this parishioner.  And so, I got the hospital, found out she was on the 6th floor, and “wa-lah!”, the elevator opened.

I pressed 6, but the elevator stopped on the 2nd floor. The doors opened and no one got on.  Then the elevator stopped at the second floor and the same thing happened.  I smiled as I realized that it’s Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and I had gotten on the special Shabbat Elevator.  The Sabbath Elevator stops automatically at each floor, thus allowing an observant Orthodox Jew to avoid pressing the buttons, violating a Sabbath law restricting operating electrical switches.

Years ago, when I first encountered a Sabbath Elevator, I had a different reaction.  I found it annoying and I remember being judgmental about why someone would possibly bother keeping such minute laws and regulations concerning religious life.

But I’ve changed my attitude about such things. I was glad for the “local” elevator—it allowed me to slow, catch my breath, say a prayer before I carried all my energy into a hospital room, and be present with God.

In today’s Gospel we have some famous words, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus offers us rest. But do we really want it? Most of us work hard at what we do. We have been raised to work hard. Our culture enshrines this busyness and activity. Multi-tasking is thought to be a virtue. The more one does, the more one is.

For some time a few years ago I kept a fairly busy schedule or working two jobs, going to school, volunteering—you know—the kind of lifestyle that many of us live. When people would realize all I was doing, the common reaction was one of praise—wow, we just don’t know how you do it all. It was only rarely, and then usually by a person of deep Christian faith—that someone would look at me dead in the eye, and say, is this good for you? Is this good for your soul? Are you sleeping? Are you eating properly? Are you making and sustaining relationships? Are you keeping Sabbath? Are you praying? Are you resting?

Jesus offers rest, but I don’t think it’s simply the kind “plopping in a sofa” rest at the end of  a long day. Instead, I think he’s talking about the kind of rest that comes at the end of a struggle. It’s a kind of rest that happens when we realize that the world does not really depend upon me after all. It’s the kind of rest that comes by putting our trust, our faith, our hope, our decision, our joys our pains, our very life, in the hands of Jesus.

Though we don’t use it that often any more in the Christian tradition, we, too, are called to take Sabbath. For us, this is the word for this resting-in-Christ. Sabbath. Sabbath is time out, time put aside, down-time, quiet-time, whatever you might want to call it. Sabbath time is hallowed time, time made holy, and it doesn’t matter much how we spend it, as long as there is some bit of time where we stop striving to be perfect, when we stop caring whether we pray correctly or not, when we try less to please God than simply to get to know him.

Jesus offers us rest. He offers us rest in prayer and meditation. Eastern religious traditions have often been better at teaching meditation, and many a Christian has found Sabbath in yoga, in meditation, in simply sitting. If you meet the risen Christ coming down the road, receive his rest.

Jesus offers us rest through our worship. In worship we rest in the prayers of those who have gone before us. They have battled over which words to use, which images to explore, which days to hallow, and so we can rest in some of their decisions and simply let the tradition wash over us. Not every word will speak to me. Some will offend. Some will startle. Some will soothe. But taken together, worship is a time when we don’t have to work so hard, but can be at rest with God.

Finally, but perhaps even more frequently, Jesus offers us rest in one another. This involves allowing others close. It involves allowing others to be a part of our lives. It might mean asking others to pray for us, asking other to run an errand, allowing others to help us in some way. In this parish, sometimes it means telling the rector, vestry or parish office what’s going on in your life, and understanding that few of us are very good at reading minds. The rest of Christ sometimes comes to us in the form of resting in the arms of another person or community.

Teresa of Avila, was a 16th century Spanish saint and mystic who was a very busy lady. What I most like about Teresa is her common sense. She struggled with the force of her own personality, her own abilities and talents, the voices of the world that tried to tell her what to do. And yet she put absolute faith in Jesus and followed him. It was this faith that empowered her to found or reform 17 convents all over Spain. She traveled in a donkey-pulled wagon with a dislocated shoulder, with arthritis, with all kinds of physical maladies, and yet she did what she perceived to be God’s will.

At one point, Teresa reflected on “obedience.” She says that obedience is like when there’s some difficult matter to be sorted out. The two sides cannot agree on a solution, and so they take their problem to a trusted third party, to have it resolved. Teresa says that in obedience, we take to God the things within ourselves that are at war with each other. We lift them up to God as though these things are our sacrifice upon the altar, and we trust God to decide for us. This is obedience. This is surrender. This is joyful rest. Teresa wrote,

Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing scare you,
All is fleeting,
God alone is unchanging,
Patience
Everything obtains.
The one who possesses
God lacks nothing at all.
God alone suffices.

Our Prayer Book also captures this Rest of Christ in the collect for confidence, when it leads us to pray,

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit, lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p. 832)

This holiday week is almost gone, but in what remains, and throughout the summer, I pray that we might come to know the rest that Christ offers us—rest in the one who calls us to put all our faith, all our life in him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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