Sabbath Rest, A Sermon by the Rev. Nancy Vogele

This sermon was preached by the Rev. Nancy A.G. Vogele on Sunday, July 9, 2017, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost.    The Gospel reading was Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Summer is the time for a little R&R – Rest and relaxation. Many of us will go on vacation, at least for a few days.  Lynn and I are planning a week’s vacation at the end of this month. And even when you don’t “get away”, there are special activities and events: 4th of July cookouts, maybe go fishing or to a Movie, or just take some time off.

Our vacations, hobbies, our free time activities refresh us to carry on our day-to-day lives. It’s important– crucial– for me and for you to find ways to rest and relax and feel refreshed, especially in our fast-paced society.

It seems that our lives have gotten so busy we have to schedule in precisely planned times for fun. We book a year or more in advance for our vacations. Life is such these days that most of us never find time to just hang out – or worse, feel ok about just hanging out, doing nothing.   I remember my first summer here.  I had just bought my house and I took a 2 week “stay vacation.”  I stripped wallpaper, painted, and other things to set up my home.

When the Diana Rehm show came on NHPR, I stopped whatever I was doing and just sat on the couch and listened.  I didn’t paint & listen or clean & listen.  I just sat and did nothing else but listen to the show.  It was pure heaven.

Nowadays, everything has to be organized and planned. Otherwise, well, otherwise, what?

Our lives have gotten so overbooked and out-of-control that we even treat the fundamental rest called sleep as a luxury. Research shows that adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. Oh sure, there’s that guy at the office who brags about only needing four hours of sleep. And that just makes us feel even worse. We wonder, “Why can’t I just need four hours sleep a night? What’s wrong with me?”

The fact is,
– 74% of Americans are getting less sleep than recommended.
– 75% of Americans reported sleeping problems at least a few nights a week.
– and over 40 million prescriptions for sleeping pills are filled annually.

What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is that we are a workaholic society. We over commit to things for ourselves and for our kids. It’s so much the norm that we feel bored or lazy or that something’s wrong with us if we’re not running around all the time.

What would happen if we just chose to hangout… to listen to the Diane reams show and do nothing else while we listened? What if we chose to actually get the rest we need by turning off the tv, shutting down the computer, and going to bed? The fact is we need more rest than we are getting and we need to get it not just once a year for one week but on a regular basis.

If we would just hit the “pause” button and listen, we would hear deep down or maybe screaming at the surface that Calgon commercial, “Calgon, take me away.” Save me from all this activity and stress and doing.

You see, if we were just to think, if we were to just listen to our bodies, we would know that this is crazy. But that would probably make us feel even worse because most of us don’t have a clue what the alternative to all this craziness would be or how on earth we could live it.

Just because we can’t imagine the possibility of an alternative doesn’t mean we need that alternative any less.

We are like Paul in his letter to the Romans this morning:  “I don’t do what I want to do and I do what I don’t want to do.”   Who can help me?

Our present culture sure can’t help us with this. It feeds us 24/7 news and entertainment. The Internet is always waiting for us whether it’s to do more work, check our email for the 20th time today, watch the umpteenth “hilarious” video on YouTube, or surf Amazon to buy more stuff. Our gadgets promise to help us be uber–organized so that we can pack even more in because that’s what life’s all about, right?  But what are we packing in?  And what good is it really doing us?

Relying on our vacations to give us the deep rest we need just sets us up for failure.  Vacations can be great, but they aren’t meant to give us that deeper rest. We need something much deeper and Jesus knows that.

Jesus said, “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.”

Let God in Christ help you; God who took a whole day off after creating the world. And guess what God did on that day off? God rested. And God gave us as a command to rest – to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

There is a story of a wagon train on its way from St. Louis to Oregon. Its members were devout Christians so the whole group observed the practice of stopping for the Sabbath Day. Winter was approaching quickly, however, and some among the group began to panic in fear that they wouldn’t reach their destination before the heavy snows. Consequently, several members proposed to the rest of the group that they should quit their practice of stopping for the Sabbath in continue driving onward seven days a week. This proposal triggered a lot of contention in the community, so finally it was suggested that the wagon train should split into two groups–those who wanted to observe the Sabbath and those who preferred to travel on that day.

The proposal was accepted and both groups set out and traveled together until the next Sabbath Day, when one group continued while the other remained to rest.

Guess which group got to Oregon first? The ones who kept the Sabbath reached their destination first.  Both the people and the horses were so rested by their Sabbath observance that they could travel much more vigorously and effectively the other six days of the week” (From Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, pp. 65 to 66).

A Sabbath is not just meant to help us be able to be more vigorous and effective in our lives. A Sabbath is meant to give us the rest and the time we need in order to gain new perspective and see if our lives, as they are presently ordered, are actually the lives we feel called to live.  To ponder what life is about, anyway. A Sabbath orientation enables us to listen, really listen to ourselves and to God about that. And as Christians to see how Jesus’s teachings and the example of his very life – How placing his yoke upon us – can help us be more whole.

The Sabbath is meant to be a day when people are liberated from the constrictions they are tied to the other six days a week. And God knows we need to be liberated from our over busyness. We need to be liberated from our cell phones and our “smart” phones. We need to be liberated from our email. We need to be liberated from our iPads. We need to be liberated from our flat screen HDTVs. We need a space and time we call “off.” Where gadgets are turned off and when we can say we are truly off – not working, not checking email, not thinking about what we need to do at the office tomorrow morning.

The Sabbath is a day where people are released to be themselves. And to then bring that true self into the other 6 days of the week.  To touch true rest and to know that you will touch it again on the next Sabbath – until that true rest starts coming with you every day of the week – even into tough and trying situations.

Taking a whole day of rest doesn’t seem possible? Where can you start?  A few hours?  Half a day?  A whole day once a month?  Wherever you start, just start.  Finding some real Sabbath time – however we work that out – will help us know what our lives are really to be about.

In Genesis 2:3, we read, “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work.”

God blessed only one day of creation and it wasn’t the day on which he made night and day or the beasts of the earth or the birds of the air or the fish of sea  or “every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” God didn’t even bless the day he made us “male and female.”

No, he blessed the day on which he did absolutely not.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for us. Amen.

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