Celebration Preparation

Sunday, August 8, 2021
“Living 24/6” Sermon Series
Scripture: Isaiah 58:13-14 & Luke 5:17-26
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon

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  Time is a funny thing. If I’m sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s, the seconds tick by at a sloth’s pace. If I’m caught up in a compelling movie, two hours can pass in what seems like minutes. When I became a parent people told me that time is strange. “The days are long, and the years are short,” they said. As we get ready to send one to college, I can readily admit that they were right about the relativity of time. Now that I’m in my 40s, in some ways I feel like I’m just getting started, but in other ways it’s easy to feel like it won’t be too long before I’m no longer trying to figure out what I want to do with my life so that I can figure out what it will mean for me to be retired.  Time is also different than all other resources because it is equally distributed. Every one of us gets twenty-four hours in our day. Unlike money or land or patience, time is the great leveler. We all get time dosed out to us in equal amounts, one second at a time. It doesn’t matter where you are from, what part of the world you grow up in, how rich or poor you are, we all get twenty-four hours each day. God created us to take the creation and make things with it. Over time, we have done some truly remarkable things with the basic materials and space of life. How amazing is it that we get into an airplane and can reach Florida in just a couple of hours? Think about the encyclopedia of information we carry on the phones in our pockets. Think about the medicines and vaccines we have developed to make our lives longer and societies healthier. We are adept at taking the material of this life and bending it to our will. We’ve learned how to own it. Humanity has learned how to control and sometimes dominate space, but time is another matter entirely. No matter what we invent – online calendars with reminders, watches that tell us more than the time, Zoom calls that save us the time of commuting – we will never be able to fully tame time, and quite often, time has its way with us.  I say all of this because Sabbath is about time. It is about making sacred time in our lives. It’s not too hard for us to make sacred space. We have it in the sanctuary. We have it in a favorite spot in the woods, but sacred time is something else entirely. The Bible tells us that the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. That is, God created holy time and desires that we find a connection to the Divine by setting aside time as well. Yet our common condition is that our busyness and schedules wedge out space of the sacred, leaving us impoverished and empty.  I am a person who is good at focusing on what is right in front of my face. I’m great at tackling the tasks of the day and terrible at thinking through what life looks like months or years down the line. I think all of us are challenged to consider about what eternity is actually like. One of my friends in high school once described eternity in this way. Imagine a bird that swoops in to peck away at a boulder once every 1000 years. By the time the bird has pecked the boulder into nothingness, eternity is just beginning. That’s a daunting thought, isn’t it? Eternity is forever.  You’ve had long enough now to watch the entirety of the NBC sitcom The Good Place, so this shouldn’t have to be a spoiler alert for you. (Nevertheless, you’ve been warned.) The show was a funny but deep dive into eternal life. Who gets into the good place (that is, heaven)? Who gets sent to the bad place (that is, hell)? What does it take to go the right direction? I have to say that I found the ending quite sad. After all the characters learn about ethics, morality, and philosophy, it turns out that the culmination of eternal life is being content to choose not to exist any longer. In essence, people get bored of eternal life – everything is too perfect and perfection becomes dull – that the best thing for them is to choose nothingness in the end. I can’t speak for you, but I find that so dissatisfying. As a Christian, I also find it the opposite of what is biblical.  So, let me explain the connection I’m making between time and eternity as we make our way towards our texts for today. Time may feel relative. Time may be an equally distributed resource. But when we carve out time for Sabbath, we make space for glimpsing eternity in the present. Sabbath is preparation for eternity. Unlike the images of eternity we get from shows like The Good Place, eternity is not something we’ll grow tired of. We will have all the time to be who God wants us to be. We’ll have all the time to do what we can do. Sabbath is practicing eternity in this time between birth and death. Practicing Sabbath is a way of acknowledging that we cannot do it all and that it’s OK to take time to let the world keep on spinning without our input. It is also a chance for us to lean into one of the most amazing aspects of eternity – celebration. Yes, Sabbath is a call for us to lean into and celebrate that God called us into existence and calls us toward an amazing future.  We catch glimpses of this eternal kind of living in the stories of Jesus. I’ve always loved the story we read from the gospels. There is brokenness in the world. We all know this to be true. In this story, there is a paralyzed man. We don’t how he became paralyzed, but we do know that he has people who care about him enough to carry him to Jesus. They find that the crowd is too dense to carry him in. So, enterprising folk that they are, they dig through the roof and lower the man in before Jesus. (I do wonder what the homeowner thought of this; I would hope that he was just thrilled to see wholeness brought to this man, but still he must have been thinking, “Couldn’t you have gotten him in without digging through my roof?”) Jesus begins by healing the man spiritually. “Friend, your sins are forgiven,” he says, which causes all sorts of trouble because only God is capable of forgiving sins. Anyone can say those sorts of things, but you can’t prove that someone’s sins are forgiven. There’s no visible change in the person. Yet, we believe that Jesus is God come to earth, and he puts this on display by healing the paralyzed man physically.  His life has intersected with the reign of God breaking in through the ministry of Jesus. Like Sabbath, this is a glimpse of eternity right in the midst of this life. What does this man do? He celebrates. He’s whole inside and outside, who wouldn’t want to dance a little in that moment? Those who witnessed this healing and his celebration are awestruck. They join the celebration, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” That seems like a bit of an understatement, to me, but when eternity invades normal life, it is a bit strange.  The short text we heard from Isaiah 58 was intended for a people who lost their way and were trying to find it again. God had told them what would lead them to full life, but as is so common with us humans, they went in a different direction. Following a couple of generations away from home, they were moving back. They had bottomed out, admitted their failures, and found a better way. Think of it this way: If a person has a drug problem, recovery begins when that person admits they have problem. They seek help in getting back to health, and once they are ready to resume life, they live in a way that keeps them healthy and away from the drugs that brought them down. I think that’s an analogy for spiritual health too. The people stopped living in God’s way. They hit rock bottom, losing their homes and lands to the Babylonians. They realized their failure, and in restoration, they committed to live in God’s way that leads to abundant life.  This included Sabbath-keeping. The Lord speaks these words through the prophet Isaiah:  13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,     from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight     and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways,     serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;[a] 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,     and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth. Keeping the Sabbath is about trusting that God wants what’s best for us. Isaiah says it will lead us to delight in the Lord. With even more flourish, Isaiah says “God will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.” How much fun does that sound?  Keeping Sabbath is a foretaste of heaven. It’s a weekly opportunity for us to prepare for eternity. Yes, life can be sweet the other six days, but it is sweetest on that seventh when we slow down, delight, and even practice celebrating. It’s a way of glimpsing God’s eternal goodness to us even in the dailyness of our lives.  Thinking about eternity makes me think about the promises Christians claim especially when someone we love dies. If you’ve been to funerals I’ve led, there’s a chance you’ve heard some of Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes,” but I never read the whole thing at the service. I want to share the whole poem with you this morning because her words convey a sense of living life to the fullest, which I think is the best preparation we have for eternity. Here is her poem. 

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

  Setting aside time for Sabbath is a key for us to live fully. If we don’t want to end up simply having visited this world, then drinking in the fullness of life through God’s good intent for us is essential to living. That is found in Sabbath, which is not a time for nothingness or drudgery. It’s a time for celebration. It’s preparation for eternity. Making time to do less will lead to a fuller life. Will we trust that what God wants for us is actually good for us?