Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – Year B 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Perhaps because this is July, the month of vacations, this scripture pulls at my heart. Finding time for rest and refreshment is important. Just the thought of getting away brings a smile to our faces. Some of us have thought about taking a cruise. Some of us are looking forward to a European vacation. A few of us want to return to the place of our birth and reconnect our family and friends.
One summer my family traveled from Wisconsin to Canada, and down the Saint Lawrence Seaway, spending time in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D. C. and Virginia. The funny thing about traveling is that no matter where we go we cannot escape ourselves. My family had traveled together for over a week and the car seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. When we finally got to Washington, D. C. it was already dark. The map told us that the hotel was close, but we couldn’t figure out how to get there. Every time we tried to turn towards the hotel we were stopped by railroad tracks. This happened about four or five times. Then in desperation my dad told us to brace ourselves as he drove onto the tracks until he found a road to the hotel. My mom was mad, but, to be honest, we were all glad to get to the hotel. We all needed to rest.
Finding enough time for rest and renewal is important both physically and spiritually. Our Jewish brothers and sisters still observe the Sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. They greet one another saying ‘Shabbat Shalom’ which means ‘Sabbath Peace’. In a sense they are wishing each other rest, wholeness, and peace. The Sabbath helps us sanctify time through sanctioned forms of rest and inaction. Writer Michael Fishbane writes about the benefits of observing the Sabbath:
One enters the sphere of inaction through divestment, and this release affects all the elements of the workaday sphere. Business activity and exchange of money are forbidden, and one is urged not just to desist from commerce but to develop more interior spheres of settling the mind from this type of agitation…. Slowly under these multiple conditions, a sense of inaction takes over, and the day does not merely mark the stoppage of work or celebrate the completion of creation, but enforces the value that the earth is a gift of divine creativity, given to humankind in sacred trust.
Most Christians pay little attention to the Sabbath. Early Christians originally observed the Jewish Sabbath; we have evolved over time to recognize Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. The Sunday Sabbath has been observed through the centuries but has fallen out of favor today. Puritan settlers brought their understanding of Sabbath observance to the American Colonies. A description of their practice and its significance can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 (Chapter 21, Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath Day, sections 7-8).
They believed that the Commandment to observe the Sabbath applied to Christians. One day in seven was appointed to be kept holy until the end of the world. On this day people of faith observed a holy rest from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations. They also set aside time for public and private worship and works of mercy.
In the southern states there were Blue Laws that restricted the sale of alcohol and certain activities on Sundays. When I was growing up we worked hard to spend time together as a family on Sunday. The Sunday afternoon meal was a time for conversation, laughter, and storytelling. I am not necessarily trying to bring back a strict Sabbath observance. I do want to point that we have lost something when we rush from soccer practice to secular activities and neglect that which is most important.
Jesus asked his disciples to come away and rest a while. In the midst of their busy lives and ministry the disciples had little time for rest, let alone time to eat and sleep. In order to find time to rest, to pray, to go to church, to volunteer for one of our outreach opportunities or even to spend time together as a family, we need to schedule it. Our lives need balance. To the degree possible we must try to bring the qualities of inaction and rest into our hearts and minds.
Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is the source of inner peace. He is the cornerstone of a stable and balanced life. If you are listening you may hear him calling you: 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. (Matthew 11:28-29) Amen.