Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Worship notes: sabbath as resistance because life is too precious to waste...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, August 10, 2014. They are part five of a worship series grounded in Walter Brueggemann's book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of NOW.

I am a very slow learner, perhaps you are, too – especially when it comes to
the ways of the Lord.  Like the people of Israel in the Old Testament, or the first disciples of Jesus in the New Testament, I seem to listen to the words of God but fail to embed them in my ordinary actions.  The authors of a book I am reading entitled, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, put it like this: The history of the church is marked by many of the same characteristics as the history of Israel: lots of human rebellion, scattered pockets of human faithfulness and all the while God’s deep and unwavering patience.

In my head I know that the steadfast love of the Lord offers me a better way than many of my old habits – and I believe in my heart that the unforced rhythms of grace are superior to the frantic restlessness of our culture – and yet it takes me a long, long time to put God’s wisdom into practice. Back when my daughters were considerably younger – in their early teens – I remember one Sunday after church when three things were supposed to happen in our lives all at about the same time: one girl had to get to a music rehearsal, the other had to be taken to her dance lesson and I had to make an appearance at some public event because I was the Vice President of the Cleveland Board of Education and I was up for re-election.

+  I knew we were going to be tight for time, but if we all hustled – and ate lunch in the car – I thought we could make it all happen.  So, right after worship, without pausing for coffee hour, we jumped in the mini-van and raced off to our respective post-Sabbath commitments.  I made a bee line for the drive-through window of Taco Bell, ordered three 7 layer burritos and some diet cokes – and we were off.

+  Now back in those days, especially for campaign appearances, I dressed in sharp double-breasted suits with heavily starched white shirts and exotic Jerry Garcia ties. The girls were now in the backseats discretely changing from their Sunday dresses into jeans and sweatshirts as I drove through downtown Cleveland searching for the first drop off – all the while trying to eat my 7 layer burrito.

Have you ever eaten a 7 layer burrito? They are tricky – and messy – even without driving through downtown traffic – even without feeling the pressure of being a political candidate in a racially polarized city – even without two teen-age daughters needing to get to events on opposite sides of town.

+  Remember this is back in the days before GPS. So in addition to everything else, I’ve got three crumbled sheets of paper more or less in my hand with addresses written on them and I’m driving, eating and asking the girls to double-check things in the road atlas.

+ And they are doing a remarkable job of keeping it all together… when out of nowhere some knuckle-head decides to hot foot it through a yellow light and pulls out dangerously close to my mini-van.  See where this is going?

+ Immediately, I slammed on the brakes, toss the addresses in the air, grip the steering wheel tightly with one hand, automatically thrust my other hand out in a protective parental gesture for my daughter sitting in the front seat – and squeeze my 7 layer burrito with a frenzied terror.

 It all happened in the blink of an eye, but now there’s sour cream all over the dashboard and some kind of slimy faux guacamole all over the front of my heavily starched white shirt. I was NOT a happy daddy at that moment: so after pulling over to the side of the street and making sure everyone was ok – and trying to clean the green slime mess off my shirt – we headed back out and eventually got the girls to their respective appointments.

Suffice it to say that I missed my campaign appearance that day, but began to learn an important lesson about the Lord’s Sabbath:  namely that we have been given the Sabbath to help us practice slowing down, paying attention to what really matters and caring for those around us with the patient grace that the Lord cares for us.

+  You see, the Sabbath is not just about our rest: it is also a living prayer intended to help us live more attentive, compassionate lives. It is a spiritual discipline designed to help us become more Christ-like, more patient, more loving during the other six days of the week. And if that isn’t happening, then we are not practicing Sabbath as the Lord intended.

+ So what I want to do this morning is:  a) summarize what we’ve considered so far about the meaning of Sabbath-keeping; and then b) listen to what Israel’s prophets have to teach us about honoring the Lord’s Sabbath, ok?

So let me ask you to pray with me so that our hearts and minds might be centered on God’s wisdom:  Lord, please guide the words of my mouth now so that our thoughts are grounded in your grace; for we pray through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

To start off, let’s talk about what we’ve considered from both scripture and the insights of Walter Brueggemann in his book: Sabbath as Resistance – saying NO to the culture of NOW. So far we’ve explored three broad themes about the Sabbath:

     First there is the understanding from the book of Exodus that keeping the Sabbath helps us become like God – patient, loving and well-rested – because after all of creation was brought into being from out of the chaos, what did the Lord do?  God rested.  Exodus 20 tells us: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. According to the Exodus tradition, rest and abundance is built into the very fabric of creation. So not only is ours a God who rests, but ours is a God who offers a clear alternative to the restlessness of serving other gods.

     Second is the awareness taken from Deuteronomy that offers us a deeper and ethical interpretation of the Exodus tradition:  we are to keep Sabbath because the Lord liberated our ancestors from slavery – set them free – so that they might rest in freedom. Deuteronomy 5 is clear:  Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.3For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with 
     a  mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Do you hear that distinction?  We honor the Sabbath as the Lord commanded because ours is the God who sets people free.  Here Sabbath keeping is about social justice and compassion.

·   And third is the prophetic reinterpretation of covenant offered by the prophet Isaiah:  600 years before Jesus, when Israel was set free from 70 years of bondage in Babylon, the people who returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem were told that God’s Sabbath embrace must now include ALL the people. Isaiah 56 says:  Blessed are those who keep the Sabbath – who welcome the foreigners as kin and the physically broken and deformed as family – because now they are all my people. The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord and to be his servants, who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it and hold fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar so that my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers in the outcasts of Israel: I will gather others to them besides those already among you. That’s the shift we talked about last week – and it is fascinating – because now keeping covenant with the Lord is about sharing the rest of social justice with all types of people – not just those we know and are like us – but all types of people.

That’s the summary thus far:  any thoughts or questions you want to lift up before I move into the next insight? Anyone been thinking about all of this and want to share your reflection or what you have been doing to explore Sabbath rest?

Today’s texts ask us to continue to go deeper into Sabbath-keeping by now paying attention to what Israel’s prophets learned from the Holy Spirit about Sabbath. You see, the prophets were people God raised up to help correct the sins and mistakes Israel made over time as they lost focus – or fervor – or perspective. Like me – or you – or the church throughout the ages, there were times when Israel got it right and times when they blew it. Like I said earlier: The history of God’s people is surprisingly similar whether it is Israel or the Church: lots of human rebellion, scattered pockets of human faithfulness and all the while God’s deep and unwavering patience.

And it seems that over and over Israel would play games with the Sabbath: they forgot that the Sabbath was about freedom and social justice, they mixed up their observance of the Sabbath with the way other religions celebrated God, they lost track of the fact that Sabbath refreshment was intended to change our ethics during the other six days of the week, and they sometimes turned their Sabbath into a show of pomp and conspicuous consumption. Walter Brueggemann says that during the reign of King Solomon this became increasingly the norm. He writes that “Solomon’s grandiose temple was a commodity enterprise, marked by endless amounts of gold, all designed to impress.” Here is how I Kings in the Old Testament describes the Temple in Jerusalem under Solomon’s leadership:

The interior of the inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid the altar with cedar. Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, then he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. Next he overlaid the whole house with gold, in order that the whole house might be perfect; even the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold… So Solomon made all the vessels that were in the house of the Lord: the golden altar, the golden table for the bread of the Presence, the lamp stands of pure gold, five on the south side and five on the north, in front of the inner sanctuary; the flowers, the lamps, and the tongs, of gold; the cups, snuffers, basins, dishes for incense, and fire pans, of pure gold; the sockets for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the most holy place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple, of gold. (I Kings 6: 20-21/7: 48-50)

And just to make certain we don’t miss the point, Brueggemann reminds us
that in addition to the conspicuous consumption embedded in Solomon’s temple, the good king of Israel was also known to accumulate women like trinkets or exotic possessions: “…his wives and concubines had become commodities for the king as either trophy mates or instruments of foreign policy.” (p. 60)

+  Now let’s be clear about the symbolism of the king: the chief of state is an icon of a nation’s deepest values and commitments.  This is true in poetic and psychological archetypes as well as mythology and human history. The king or queen represents the values and health of a society.

+  And what the prophets of Israel tell us is that Solomon’s values no longer looked like God’s Sabbath of freedom, rest and social equality. The prophet Isaiah tells us in the very first chapter that Israel’s practice of Sabbath keeping had become an abomination to the Lord.

Your new moon and Sabbath keeping, your calling of convocation—I cannot endure these solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals and Sabbaths my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. So when you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean…Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow. 

Are you with me?  The prophet is saying: quit PLAYING at Sabbath and make it happen in your ordinary lives so that the freedom I once gave to you, YOU also give to others! Live like Exodus people - freedom people - God's special people who have experienced love. Otherwise, the Lord our God will hate our Sabbaths and feasts. And the prophet Amos pushes God’s hatred of phony and vulgar Sabbath-keeping even further.  Amos said that all too often there were too many people going to Sabbath worship who were only thinking about what they were going to do when it got over.  And what really broke the Lord’s heart and made God furious is that all too many attending the pomp and circumstance of the Sabbath were just thinking about what they would buy and sell when worship was over:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale? I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins and baldness on every head… (What’s more) The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; but not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.

Professor Brueggemann suggests that there are two take-a-ways from this
insight from the prophets about Sabbath-keeping.

     + One is a warning about multi-tasking: it never produces anything good. What’s more, we really can’t do two or three things at once and give our full attention to those we love, right? In an already too busy age, the time has come to put our smart phones away sometimes, quit trying to squeeze meals into the car on the way to someplace else, turn off the electronic devices from time to time and unplug.  That’s the easy one.
     +  The second challenge cuts to the core of the way we live: it asks us to promise the Lord our God that we will get enough rest and true worship so that WE can share compassion and justice with others during the remaining six days of the week.  You’ll note that in the gospel for today, after hearing the heart breaking news that his mentor and cousin, John the Baptist, had been executed by King Herod, Jesus withdrew from his ministry for a time and went to a deserted place to be by himself. He went to rest. He went to pray. He went to grieve and think and take time away from the busyness so that he might return with love and patience and compassion.

Without deep rest, we can’t live the Jesus life – Jesus couldn’t and neither can we. In many ways our obsession with multi-tasking keeps us distracted from what we really need. In all too many ways, our bottom-line commitments turn our lives into a scramble to buy more things, own more things and do more things so that “we become commodities to one another.”

+ Life is too short, beloved, too short and too precious. Just this week my dear friend from Canada buried his youngest daughter who was only 30+ years old.  The same day one of Dianne’s colleagues at Jo Ann’s Fabrics learned that her son had been killed in that motorcycle accident in Hinsdale. He was only 24.

+ Life is too short and too precious and too fragile for us to waste and fritter away on things that don’t matter.

“The Sabbath command is an urgent summons to break the pattern of a divided hear… before it is too late.” Please, please let's not take too long to learn this lesson.  May your ears be opened to hear the world of the Lord.
3) Moses by Rae Chiclinsky @ http://www.artpal.com/raechichi

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