Sunday, June 4, 2023
TAKING SABBATH TIME
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Last week I said that Pentecost is all about connection between God and us. The Trinity and Trinity Sunday is all about connection within the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We read of this flow of connection and love in John’s gospel and in particular in the final discourse where Jesus is talking about his being in the father and the father in him in John’s distinct circular way of prose. Most of our attempts to describe the Trinity, which is a mystery, in terms of metaphor or anything else is usually futile. It cannot be explained it can only be experienced.
Br, David Vreyhauf of SJE wrote about the Trinity as follows:
“The God whose very Being is Love, whose Trinity of Persons flow together in mutual self-giving and love, invites us to participate in this Divine Love, to become one in the reciprocal self-giving, love and joy of God’s Triune Self. What a beautiful invitation it is!” However the theme of communication and connection is still important. We do see a moment of ultimate connection in our Genesis story.
I found myself drawn this week to the Genesis story for several reasons. This is the intimate story of God’s creation of the world out of darkness and chaos by speaking and it was so. The wind passes over the waters bringing to mind the prologue to John. In the beginning was the Word etc. In this Genesis story God speaks and the breath creates all that is. And most importantly declares that all that he has created is good, very good. Please remember that there are two totally different creation stories in Genesis. The older one is found in Genesis 2 while what we have today is the more recent.
Now while I was working on this sermon I was also making preparations to be gone for an eight day silent retreat in mid-July at the Jesuit Center in Grand Couteau Louisiana. What does that have to do with the creation story? The Genesis passages ends with the creation of Sabbath. “2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation.”
When God was done creating the world the last thing he created was the Sabbath and he hallowed it. Sabbath, a time of rest, is also one of the commandments. My eight day retreat every year is in fact an extended period of Sabbath time. Why is Sabbath so important that it appears in the first creation story and in both versions of the 10 commandments?
First of all you must realize that there are two creations stories in Genesis. If you did not know that, go back to your Bible and read Genesis 1 to about 4. This first Genesis creation story was written down during the Babylonian Captivity. Up until that time the story we have beginning in Genesis 2 was the accepted creation story of the Jews. This story was reworked in part to establish the concept of the Sabbath as ordained by God not just in the 10 commandments, but in the very beginning. Why was Sabbath so important to the Jews?
The Jews were captive in Babylon. The reason that the Babylonians would take the leadership of a conquered nation back to their home city was to make them into Babylonians and force them to loose their identity. They were assimilated like the Borg collective would do in the old Star Trek television series. The priests realized how important it was to keep their culture and their way of being separate. Declaring a day of Sabbath when nobody else did, was a very visible and tangible sign that even though they lived in Babylon they were still Jews. It was very counter-cultural because nobody else in Babylon had a sabbath. There was no such thing as a weekend.
Sabbath is something that we have lost in today’s culture. As a nation we take fewer days of vacation and rest than any other country in the world. While we are more connected electronically most of us are less connected personally and definitely less connected spiritually. In part this is because we do not take Sabbath time in any form let alone set aside time for conversation with God. When was the last time you went an entire day without checking your email, instant messages and your phone? One study found that Americans do not take all the vacation days they are entitled to because many fear that if they take vacation the boss will figure out that they are not needed or that someone else can do their job more effectively. I certainly saw this while living on Cape Cod where one of the busiest places in town was the copy center at Staples because businessmen and women could come in there and send and receive faxes from their office all while being “on vacation.” The next busiest place were several coffee shops where everyone was using the WIFI. This was before WIFI was everywhere.
What is Sabbath? It is about intentionally taking time to rest and to disconnect from a demanding world that will suck us dry. Sabbath is about being rather than doing. It is about being mindful and observant. This diocese is very concerned with clergy taking our sabbath day each week, which for me is Friday. I often get an email response on Mondays from some of the diocesan staff that says, I am out of the office for Monday, my sabbath. I will return your email on Tuesday. I also appreciate how many of you respect my sabbath day. Of course, I respond to an emergency but most things can wait a day.
One of the interesting things about a silent retreat is to take the time to eat a meal and actually taste the food. Focus on just that experience, being mindful about whatever you are doing.
While on a retreat at the rural retreat center for the Society of St. John the Evangelist I had a brother say, “Mark you are in such a hurry. You are on retreat. I’m going to watch from the window and I want to see how long it can take you to walk from the house where we meet for spiritual direction back to your hermitage.” Walking slowly free from distraction which means no ear buds, taking time to notice is a way of being mindful and it usually takes me a day or two on the retreat to slow down.
It is about taking time to let God speak to you in whatever way God feels is necessary. Remember that last week I talked about the two versions of the giving of the Spirit, one in John which was a quiet breath and the Acts version which was like a violent wind and flame. Sometimes it is in that mindful eating or walking that God can call your attention to something that maybe you had not noticed. That’s how Sabbath works. For me it is critical to get out into nature for that is where God most often speaks to me.
A very wise person told me at a CREDO retreat a couple years ago to think of this analogy. “I have a 25 gallon gas tank in my car. If I fill up when I am down just a half tank or so, it doesn’t take very long. If I wait until my tank is empty is takes much longer.” How many of you are running on fumes right now? How many of you need to take some Sabbath time whether it is to connect with God or just connect with yourself, your spouse, nature whatever.
I often talk with caregivers who are burned out about Sabbath. I will ask them how do they care for themselves? The usual answer is a blank stare or the statement “I don’t have time.” I ask them to make a list of 10 things that they like to do. Take a moment and think about 10 things that you like to do. How many of you are having trouble even thinking of 5? Then think about the last time you did any of them. Do you see why you are stressed and tired? Or if you are one of the rare people who can look at their list I say, yes I am feeling energized and alive. I am taking care of myself. Well congratulations.
So I am taking some Sabbath time in July after all it is one of the 10 commandments. As we move into the summer months, I hope my example will prompt some of you to examine the concept of Sabbath as well.