The Sermon Video for September 4, 2022
It is great to be back here after having been away for the past four months. I thought about you and I prayed for you and I missed you. And I am eager to hear to hear how you have been – not everyone at once, but over the course of the next little bit I would love to connect. And I am excited to share with you what I did during my summer vacation. On Sunday the 18th, in a couple weeks, as part of the coffee hour, we can see some photos I took during my time away, and I hope you can join us.
I want to thank you for giving me this gift of time for this four-month sabbatical. Time is a gift. I guess I’ve never realized before how much of a gift time is. And it is interesting that one can give this gift of time – to say: here is this time. Take this time as a four-month sabbatical, or take this time as a two-week vacation, or take a few days off and feel better, or take just a moment and go in the back and close your eyes for 10 minutes and you will come back refreshed. Time does amazing things for us.
But it’s not always easy to see time as a gift. Because, in part, time is this invisible thing that’s just there and its running in the background of our lives like the hum of the fans or the sound of the traffic there out in the street – you don’t even realize that it’s going on.
But sometimes you have those moments where you’re living your life and doing all the things you do in a day and you look up and notice that the time has passed. And you say- where did the time go? For me it seems like it was just April, the last time I was here, and it was spring and the flowers were starting to bloom. And now suddenly it’s September and the leaves are starting to change and the nights are getting cold. Where did that time go? We don’t always appreciate time’s passing because we are so busy with our lives.
The other reason we don’t always see time as a gift is because we know that time is not always particularly kind to us. Time changes us. One of the things I got to do this summer, I was blessed to be able to drive across the country with my sons, which has been a dream of mine for years. And along the way, as we headed out west, we stopped in Michigan where I grew up, and saw some people I haven’t seen since High School, 37 years ago, which was great. And they were all doing well and it was fantastic to see them. But they’re all old. I don’t know how I managed to escape that. And in my mind I still see us as 18-year-olds, which we still are in some fashion.
So we don’t always feel like time is friendly to us and time can be this thing that escapes us before we realize it. And so today I want to reflect for a moment about the holiness and the gift of time, which is at the heart of the whole idea of a sabbatical.
The word sabbatical shares its meaning with the word Sabbath, which is the day of rest that God commands the people to take. God commands that the people to take sabbath. The commandment says remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
God commands a lot in the Bible and much of what God commands has to do with people. God says that we should honor them, not covet them, not murder them, or lie or steal from them. And much of what God commands has to do with God – that we keep God in the first place in our lives, that we not make idols, that we not misuse God’s name, that we not have other Gods.
And all of that is God saying to us – look at me, at my presence, and treat me holy. And look around you, look at all this, at these people and this creation. I want you to treat it holy.
But, it’s not just these things that are holy and it’s not just God that is holy, there is also a holiness of time. We’re used to thinking of the holiness of space, of these things in space, like our church, which is holy ground, or the host, the communion you receive, which is a holy thing. But, God says for the Sabbath, there is also this holiness in time.
There is a fantastic book on the Sabbath written by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, which I highly recommend to anyone who wants to know more about this concept of the holiness of time. And in the book Rabbi Heschel writes this- he says: “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude,” he says, it is not a pause, it is not a break in the action, but it is “the climax of living,” the pinnacle of life, is what he is saying.
The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays, he says. The Sabbath does not exist to make your Monday better. But your weekdays exist for the Sabbath.
It’s the heart of the Jewish concept of the sabbath, that this time is the pinnacle of your week, the thing for which you live the rest of the time. And I’m guessing that Rabbi Heschel would say that this is the opposite the way most of us understand our weekends – our Sabbath – and our time off.
I think most people, culturally, you hit Friday at 5 O’clock and the whistle blows and you’re off and you’re away from work. And whatever you do on your weekend – get together with friends, do some chores, go for a drive, watch football, just sleep, whatever you do on the weekend, that’s your down time. You withdraw from the world and the important things on the weekend so that on Monday you can go back to the important things again. That’s how the world sees this.
But what the sabbath teaches is that the important things happen when you have set aside your time to be with God. That this is the important part of life and the pinnacle of your week.
What we do Monday through Friday is important. Especially on a Labor Day weekend we recognize how essential is our work and our effort and the labor we put into our lives. But all of these things should serve to guide us toward those moments which are really what we are all about, those moments of connection with God, which is our life. Which is our real work as children of the Holy.
How would our lives look if everything we did during the week existed to prepare us and encourage us for moments when we are with God? Everything we do during the week is for the sake of God and Sabbath. What if we lived our lives Monday through Friday saying- I can’t wait for Sunday. I can’t wait for this time where I get to bask in the glory of God and be in God’s presence. Of course Sabbath doesn’t have to mean Sunday morning. A Sabbath, in practical terms, can happen any time.
In a sense this is similar to what Jesus is saying to his followers in the Gospel today. He stands before them and tells them that the disciples’ lives must be set aside for nothing but God, nothing but Jesus himself, and that everything else we hold here within us is just a distraction or an obstacle if it is in the way of God. Maybe the way he says it today is kind of strong. I think he wants to wake up the people a little by talking about hating their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and so on.
But the heart of Jesus’s message is the same as the idea of sabbath – that you need to make space and time. You need this clearing, this little landing pad within you where you and God can come together. In time. What is our life without that time? Without an emphasis on this? Without putting this holy time in an important place in our lives, our lives so easily become dedicated to working for that which fades, working for things which neither feed nor sustain us, working for the world’s powers and principalities.
But if we give God our best time, it will pay off. And I know from experience, it is hard to do. People, myself included, do not always want to give time to God. I can’t tell you how many times someone comes to church and talks with me because they want something like a baptism or a sweet 16 or they want to get married in the church. And I always try and tell them, that’s great, we don’t charge for these services but you do need to come to church and be part of the community, you need to give some of your time here to God. And often people ask me – can’t we just pay instead? It’s so hard to give time.
So I am grateful that right now I have this particularly clear understanding of sabbath and the role of taking time for God in my life, which I did not have four months ago. And I pray that I can share some of it with you. I pray that as things go on and when my Monday through Friday life gets busy again that I don’t necessarily try to get more done without also spending more time with God.
What kind of a husband would I be if I barely spent any time with my wife? I would be an ex-husband. And what kind of a spiritual person can we be if we barely spend time with God?
So our homework, this Labor Day weekend, is to think about how we pattern the labor of our days. How do we shape the labor of our days so that it is done for the sake of God and not just for that which perishes. How do we realize that our labor is not just meant for us, but that God also wants us to labor for others, for those in need, for the poor, the sick and those who have been cast out.
Perhaps we can take some of our precious time in the next few weeks to consider how we are spending this gift that God has given us, and to realize what a great gift our time is.