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Sunday, June 20, 2021
“Living 24/6” Sermon Series
Scripture: Psalm 37:1-11 & Mark 2:23-28
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
Do you know what year it is? I realize this has been a trying time, but I’m serious. Do you really know what year it is? According to our timekeeping, this is the year 2021, but that’s just according to our calendar. Did you know that there are upwards of forty different calendars in use around the world today? We follow the Gregorian Calendar, which Pope Gregory XIII instituted in place of the Julian Calendar in October 1582. Why? Because the Julian Calendar, tracked the earth’s orbit around the sun to 365.25 days (something I thought was a fact) but apparently, that measurement is .0075 days too long, which means that the Julian Calendar gets off by one whole day every 100 years or so. I wonder if anyone who has lived for 100 or more years noticed the extra day they gained during that century of life.
As I said, there are around forty calendars still in use today. We may say it’s 2021, but according to the Assyrian Calendar it’s 6771, to the Hebrew Calendar it’s 5781, to the Chinese Calendar it’s 4719, and apparently there’s a French Revolutionary Calendar that has this as only year 229, so there’s that.
All of this going on about the wild variety of calendars brings me to the point that how we describe time is relative. Over millennia we generally have accepted a seven-day week and a 365-day year (with a bonus day every four years). Matthew Sleeth, author of Living 24/6, agrees. “The way we measure time is in many ways artificial and subjective. A calendar from the dentist in Afghanistan begins in March, not January. 200 years ago, every city established its own time by measuring the height of the sun at noon. Then, in the 1880s, trains forced vast regions of the United States into single time zones.
“The Roman calendar of the year 46 BC contained 445 days. Our current year has 365.25 days. The Jewish year, because it follows lunar cycles, contains around 360 days. This necessitated adding four to six days from time to time. The good news is that the days the rabbis added weren’t Mondays, but Sabbaths. To the Jews, the key principle at work is not a Sabbath day marching back in time till creation, but having no more than six days of work in a row. Misplacing a few days just happens over the course of 1000 years. Who knows how many days are missing?”
Time may be subjective and just a decent attempt for us to bring order to our world, but time is hugely influential. We work and play according to a rhythm and a schedule. Many of us used to use a small pocket calendar to record special events or appointments. Perhaps this is still your practice. Those small squares only had enough room for a couple of events per day. Now, many of us use online calendars that sync to our computers and phones. Instead of having room for an event or two per day, now we can put an infinite number of events, appointments, and meetings into our schedule. Many of our online calendars are chock full of all the things of life, permitting us just enough time to scramble from one thing to the next and leaving us breathless at the end of another long day. Rarely do those days have absolutely nothing on them, and when they do, like a vacuum, those blank spaces quickly absorb new commitments.
Why is this? I think one reason is that we have great anxiety over missing out or not doing enough to maximize our time. We deal with this anxiety by subjecting ourselves to our schedules. In doing this, we get things backwards. Our schedules were made for us, not us for our schedules, we could say.
We are prone to get things backwards, I think. Our text in Mark 2 is reflective of this tendency. It’s one of the many Sabbath controversies recorded in the gospels. Isn’t it interesting that there is so much on this topic in the gospels and yet we still haven’t figured out that God is serious about rest? In this story, Jesus and his followers are making their way through a field of grain. It is the Sabbath. As they pass by the ripe grain, the disciples begin to pluck the heads of grain and snack on them. According to the practice of the law, this is work and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath. The Pharisees point out this error, but Jesus counters with an example from Scripture and this saying, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, you’ve got it backwards. Just as our schedules were made for humans, not humans for our schedules, so too, the Sabbath was made for us, not the other way around.
You see, the Sabbath is less about obedience and more about abundance. If we desired to be rule-keepers, then we would take our pocket calendars or our online calendars and simply x-off one day a week. Honestly, that would probably be healthy for us, but I suspect that we’d end up living with the twin anxieties of getting it all done and pleasing God. That crossed-off day would constantly run into good things that everyone else freely schedules, and we’d be missing out. We’d eventually start letting good, normal things creep into our schedules onto that blocked off time, but then the anxiety may kick in, “How can I please God when I can’t even control my calendar one day a week?” We fear missing out. We fear that doing less means having a lesser life. We are anxious that restraint leads to losing.
Yet, when we read the story of creation, we see that God created rest to be part of the very fabric of creation. “Rest shows us who God is. He has restraint. Restraint is refraining from doing everything that one has the power to do. We must never mistake God’s restraint for weakness. The opposite is true. God shows restraint; therefore, restraint is holy.” We fear restraint. We want action. We want boldness. We want to do things and do them now. Yet, God’s very character bears restraint and patience.
The psalm we heard today reflects that interplay between God’s restraint and our posture towards it. Think about it. David is in enough trouble that he takes the time to write poetry about it. Have you ever tried to write poetry? It’s hard. Every word counts. The rhythm matters. Even the best poets labor over every syllable. But, David thought that this topic was worthy of a poem, and now it shows up as one of the 150 psalms. It begins, “Do not fret because of the wicked….for they will soon fade like the grass.” Perhaps it would be helpful replace the word “wicked” with anything that causes us anxiety. What are those words for you? Status? Grades? Income? Do not fret because of your status, for it will soon fade like the grass. Or what about failure? Do not fret because of your failure, for it will soon fade like the grass.
The psalm turns from those things that cause anxiety towards trust and delight. These postures reorder our anxieties and come with promises. Trust in the Lord. Why? So you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord. Why? The Lord wants to give you the desires of your heart. When we don’t trust in God, we grab security from God’s sure hands and use all of our might trying to secure things ourselves. When we don’t delight in God, we are prone to think that God doesn’t really want what’s best for us. What’s best for us? Among many things, restraint. When we live unrestrained lives, where every second is scheduled and where every moment has a purpose, it reflects our own anxiety and worry that power or prestige or success or growth will slip away from us if we don’t do something. It’s a lie we tell ourselves, and it’s an easy one to believe.
The Sabbath is made for us, not vice versa. Those are words from Jesus’ very lips. Why do we struggle so mightily to live its truth? Heschel tells us that “the Sabbath is a day of harmony and peace, peace between man and man, peace within man, and peace with all things…. The Sabbath is more than an armistice, more than an interlude; it is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above.” It is in this harmony that we can experience delight.
In Jewish practice, the Sabbath begins with a meal that has been thoughtfully prepared in advance of the Sabbath beginning. There is mindfulness connected to the practice because everything is supposed to be ready in time for the Sabbath to begin. It is an intentional way of feasting on the delight that comes from trusting God that restraint leads to a full life.
We need to learn how to feast on the delight that is God’s rest, and one way we can do this is to slow down and enjoy what we already have. Have you ever tried eating as a spiritual practice? If you’re anything like me, most meals are eaten pretty quickly. I may enjoy them, but I rarely savor them. Perhaps this week you might slow down over a meal and savor it. Before you begin eating, take a few deep breaths, then bless what you’re about to eat. Before taking any bites, engage with the colors and textures of the food on your plate. Choose your first bite, lift it to your nose and inhale its aroma. Put the bite in your mouth and actually taste it. Receive it as a gift. Chew it for far longer than you normally would. Swallow the bite and feel it go from your mouth, down your esophagus, and into your stomach. Take your time and delight in the feast.
To be fully human, we need to trust that imitating God’s restraint leads to abundance. That trust must turn into change. When we slow down, the world will open to us in new ways. Wayne Muller encourages us in this. “The Sabbath prohibitions restrict those things that would impede our sensuality. Walk leisurely, don’t drive; walk in the garden, don’t answer the phone, turn off the television and the radio, forget the CD and the computer. Quiet the insidious technology, and remember that we live in bodies that, through a feast of the senses, appreciate the beauty of the world. Walk under the stars and moon. Knock on the door, don’t ring. Sing at the table. Eat, drink, touch, smell, and remember who you are.”
The Sabbath is about delight. It is about trust. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to find restraint, and in finding it, we will find abundant life.