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Sermon for Village Day interfaith service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church

2008 June 8
Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gretchen L. Elmendorf, Associate Pastor

What is Sabbath

What is Sabbath? One way to understand Sabbath is by looking at what it is not.

Sabbath is not just a day off. I for one am careful to declare my one day off per week. This day off is when my husband and I let go of all things work related and tend to other aspects of our lives. But very often what you'll see at our household on this day of rest is me climbing up and down stairways with baskets of laundry to be cleaned or my husband flat on his back outside in the driveway, under the carriage of our car, changing the oil. Or one of us rushing to the dump before it closes with piles of leaf bags from hours worth of raking, or checkbooks being balanced, bills being paid, countertops being cleaned, library books returned, hours at the computer returning e-mails, then catching up on phone calls, often beginning the conversation with a bit of guilt and the preamble, "I'm sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you, it's just been so busy around here…." Does any of this sound familiar on your days of "rest?" Usually by the days' end, I'm frustrated that not even half of the "to do's on my list have been checked off. I've run out of time… And so it goes.

Sabbath is not just one's trip to church or even other houses of worship. Things get so busy in houses of worship, don't they? I'll never forget two Easters ago, the CE committee was gangbuster busy that morning before the 10 AM service. There was one poor parishioner in the narthex, blowing up balloons frantically with Alleluias logo on them, so they'd be ready when the children came, another running around the church looking for more ribbon to tie up the balloons. Still another stuffing Easter goodie bags with cookies another parishioner had just baked and brought in last minute. There were others who had stayed up late the night before stuffing Easter eggs, then youth and adults running around early outside hiding eggs, preparing for the pre-worship Easter egg hunt. People were scurrying about up and down the aisles of the church. One person on our committee went against the tide by just sitting in the pew, of all things, quietly, centering herself for worship. A month later she declared at our committee meeting, "Why is it on the holiest day of the year, people are exhausted before the service even starts with Back to top almost no energy left for resurrection?"

A poet from the Celtic Iona Community writes:

When the world tells us
We are what we do with
Our activity, our acumen, or achievement,
Let us learn
We are what we do with our silence.

Time is often such a vicious animal, we have aggressive ways of talking about it in our culture -- killing time, stealing time, carving out time? Sabbath is not killing time. It is holiness in time. It is God's time. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel even refers to Sabbath as a "palace in time." "To create the seventh day all over again, the majesty of holiness in time, a day of rest, a day of freedom…"

Sabbath is not busyness. Sabbath means rest. "Come to me," says Jesus, "and I will grant you rest." Sabbath isn't restricted to houses of worship; our Jewish brothers and sisters show us that Sabbath can begin in the home, the place where our faith is to be nurtured and celebrated publicly, not just privately. Sabbath begins in the Jewish tradition with a family meal on Friday and the lighting of a candle 15 minutes before sundown.

Sabbath is not unintentional.  Sabbath moments are best when anchored with prayer. A little seven year old girl in our church knows what this means. She pledged for Lent that she would Back to top turn off the TV during the week, and before turning it on again, remember to say a prayer.

Sabbath is about loving God. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your might." What if the mightiest way we can love God is offering to God what is so very precious in our lives. What if we offer more of our time to God by loving the creation God has draped around our lives, creation that flourishes in our midst like garden beds in June? Can we think of offering time to God by slowing down to love the people God has blessed us with in our homes, through our friendships and through our human ties -- with gratitude and lots of Amen's. What if the mightiest way we could love God is by taking time to discover that we love because God first loved us…?

Abide in God as God's love abides in us. This, my friends, takes time, this takes Sabbath - that palace of time, ready for each of us. I close with a poem by Edwina Gately, Let Your God Love You:

Be silent.
Be still.
[Alone.]
Empty
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Quiet.
Still.
Be.

 

Copyright © 2008 Gretchen L. Elmendorf.  Used by permission.

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