The Gift of the Sabbath

June 3, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert


In many families, we love to tell the stories of our past, of when and where we were born, of those who came before us, and as a faith community, we too share a desire to tell the story of our creation…of who we are and where we came from and what came before us that forms who we are today and who we are becoming.  These stories are so important and they include the joys and sorrows, the high and low points, the times of hopelessness and the times of triumph. We know that the stories of our past often help provide wisdom for the future.   In today’s scripture, we hear of the importance of taking time to enjoy the Sabbath, to rest, to slow down, to pray and yes, to sit with those we love and share our stories.  Let us pray…Of God of all creation, we give you thanks this day for the beauty of the earth, for the gift of our universe and our very lives.  Inspire us to take time off each day, to pause in our lives to rest and to truly appreciate the moments in our lives as they unfold. Amen.

I wonder if any of you were raised in homes where your family observed the Sabbath in the traditional ways we once understood to be common?  I do remember the family who lived across the street from us; he was the pastor at the Lutheran Church nearby, and they definitely tried to observe the Sabbath, but they were not strict about it.  I think they understood that life gets so busy that if we don’t make it a habit to slow down at least once a week, that we just never do it.  In our reading from Mark today, Jesus is criticized for healing on the Sabbath by the Pharisees who were waiting to trap him.  Jesus did not follow the letter of the law; instead, he lived in the spirit of it as we heard in the passage from the first chapter of Mark that I shared in the Children’s Time today.  Jesus did carve out times to get up long before dawn to go out and pray by himself.

There’s a wonderful weekly reflection by a retired minister, Rev. Terry Hershey called Sabbath Moments.  Maybe some of you subscribe to it?  He does a wonderful job of lifting up important thoughts and spiritual reflections from everyday life.  I love the idea of a Sabbath Moment, that in each day, we can carve out time to pause and breathe and ask God for wisdom, give thanks to God.

I came across a story recently that I wanted to share.  There was a girl named Jean who grew up in New York City back in the 1940’s.  When she was about 11, she was already 5 feet 11 inches tall and obviously much taller than any of her classmates.  She was running to school one day and she ran into an old man who was walking in Central Park.  She knocked him down accidentally and so as she helped him get up, he asked her name and where she was going.  When she said her name was Jean, he called her “Jeanne” as he had a lovely French accent.  A few days later, when was walking her dog, she saw this old man again and he asked if he could walk with her and he did.  They began to set up a schedule and she would meet him on Tuesdays and Thursdays and together they would walk her dog in Central Park.  They had a wonderful relationship and kept meeting to walk every week for about 3 years.  And when they were in the park, he would tell her things like, “Oh Jeanne, see that beautiful cloud, did you ever think of yourself as a cloud?”  And she would answer, “no, I never did.” And then he’d say, “well just think if you were a cloud how many different shapes you could have and all the different things you could see and so on.”  And she imagined that, thinking of herself as a cloud.  Another time, he got down on his knees and was looking in the grass at a caterpillar and he encouraged her to look at it too…”Jean, look at this beautiful animal and all these legs; it’s a beautiful thing.  Did you ever think of yourself as a caterpillar that would turn into a butterfly?” She said, “no, I never really did.”  But she started to pray this way, the way this old man did, discovering God in all of creation, in the beauty of her surroundings.

The old man had a very imaginative mind and he loved God so much and he often talked to her about God.  And when she was 14,  it was Maundy Thursday, and as they parted ways, he said to her, “Well, I’ll see you on Tuesday perhaps.”  She went home and celebrated Easter with her family, but when she returned the next week, he wasn’t there.  And she kept going back for months, but he never returned again.

As an adult, she was very interested in science and religion and she began to read things that had been written by an amazing scientist, a paleontologist who was also a priest, whose name was Teillard de Chardin.  He was a great genius of the early 20th century.  He had discovered the Peking Man, a great advancement in paleontology.  And she realized that he had been the man she had walked with and had learned so much from as a younger teen.  He had this beautiful spirituality as well as a great appreciation for science and caring for all of creation.  And, she learned after all those years that in fact he had died on Easter Sunday and that’s why she never walked with him again.  He left a strong impression on her, and she eventually became a psychologist and a popular religion writer.

One of the great things that this older man was able to teach young Jean was that God was present in all of creation and that our love for nature is an expression of our gratitude to God. He taught her to see the world with eyes full of wonder and appreciation.

In the final section of the first book of Genesis, we hear that God rested on the seventh day.  “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it, God rested from all the work he had done in creation.”  This too is such an essential part of this story, that the work of creation is important and vital, that we have been blessed to be stewards of these amazing gifts, but that ultimately, a time for rest is important for all of us.  That’s the model.  People used to really respect the Sabbath in earlier times, to truly rest from all the work of their days, to take a break, to give thanks to God for all the blessings.  This is a great reminder to all of us to embrace that idea once again, to take time for rest and to take time to really appreciate the beauty of all of creation.  We can really only do that if we stop doing whatever it is that keeps us so busy and reclaim the importance of a day for rest.

The astronaut Neil Armstrong once wrote, “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of our desire to understand.”  So long ago, the people of Israel came to understand the personal relationship their God desired to have with them in the midst of the wonder of all of creation.  It is this beautiful sense of wonder, wonder at the beauty of creation and our place within it that is the work of the Spirit in our own lives, calling us to care for one another and for all of God’s creation with the same tenderness that our God has cared for us.

I have colleagues in ministry who call their day off during the week, their day of Sabbath, a day of rest, and they really try, as best they can to carve out the time for reflection and prayer and to rest from the events of the week.  I don’t think it matters if we take Sabbath moments or a full day of time off from our routine, the important thing is to actually make time to do it and observe it and not let other things get scheduled in on that day.  Jesus himself was so busy that he awoke long before dawn to get up and be by himself.

Summer is the perfect season to spend time out of doors and enjoy the breezes, the flowers, the sand on the beach, paths through the woods….whatever it is for you, I encourage you to carve out that time, don’t give it away, and see how the wonders of creation may teach you something new about yourself, about nature, and about the Creator of all of this mystery right in our own backyards.  Take time to Sabbath…