I’m so grateful for willing volunteers. Thank you to all of you who, when you could have been doing something else, willingly volunteer because without you, ministry simply can’t happen. (Another plug for volunteers to help with the parking lot fund raiser for our youth ministry this coming weekend!)
Because I and the rest of our staff know that your time is precious, when we ask for volunteers, we want to be clear about what exactly we need help with so you know what to expect and we try to ask way in advance so you can plan your calendars accordingly.
At the last church I served I did just that for an upcoming youth retreat for our senior high students. At the time we were between youth pastors, so as the Associate Pastor for Family Ministries, I by default became the interim youth director. It was therefore up to me to plan for this retreat. I had recruited parents and other adults to come to this weekend-long youth retreat months in advance. I of course was planning on going too, but then I came down with one of the nastiest colds I had ever had in my life. I could hardly get out of bed. And this happened on the Friday we were supposed to leave.
This meant I needed to find another adult volunteer at literally the last minute. I scanned my volunteer list and started calling people. I was not surprised that as I went down the list I kept getting “no” answers. When I spoke with a parent who was one of those volunteers who always jumped in to help and her answer was “no,” I couldn’t tell if my fever was getting worse because of my cold or because of the stress of trying to find a volunteer.
That’s when one of the parents suggested I call Sarah Carson, whose daughter was attending the retreat. Sarah wasn’t on my volunteer list because she had a high-powered job in Chicago and worked a lot of hours. She and her family were still faithful in attending church, but I just thought if I were her I would say no to going on this retreat because surely she would need the weekend to recuperate from her demanding job.
But I was running out of options, so I called her. I started out with: “I know it’s last minute,” and “this probably doesn’t work for you” etc., but when I told her I desperately needed another adult to go on this retreat she said “yes.” And she sounded happy about it. She shared she was in a place of trying to find a place to serve in the church and maybe this was a sign to volunteer in youth ministry.
She ended up having a great time on the retreat and she had great rapport with the kids. She even went as a volunteer the following year for the senior high retreat and also started teaching confirmation.
I am always amazed by people like Sarah Carson, who because of her demanding job still commits to ministry and service when she instead could be having a day of rest. In other words when she could be having a sabbath. But the funny thing was that when Sarah got back from the retreat she was energized, surprisingly well rested, and her own faith was revitalized.
During this sermon series on “Living 24/6” we have talked about how prayer, being in nature, being with friends and last week practicing hospitality are ways we can bring ourselves into a place of being more aware of God’s presence. That is the goal of any Sabbath practice. Depending on what we need, however, our Sabbath practices will look different. The Sabbath always requires some sort of action that gets us into a place where we are drawn closer to God. That action may be the act of serving or helping others.
The Pharisees did not see it that way. They tried to accuse Jesus of disobeying the Sabbath by choosing to heal someone. They ask: “Is it lawful what you are doing?” “Are you going against the law that God gave us to follow?”
It is safe to say that Jesus did not have a great relationship with the Pharisees or the majority of people who had a lot of power. This is because Jesus was starting to have a huge following and his teachings challenged practices that ensured that those in power would stay in power. In this passage the Pharisees are using the Sabbath to present Jesus as an unfaithful Israelite who did not honor the Sabbath. They wanted to squash the influence he had among the masses to ensure their power would stay intact. In response, Jesus asks them to reflect upon the true meaning of the Sabbath and for whom did God create the Sabbath? It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is – if any of God’s children are hurting, God wants their hurting to stop. He also wants to use us to do just that. By enforcing the Sabbath the Pharisees have lost sight of what the Sabbath is about.
I noticed something in Jesus’ response that I had never noticed before. Before essentially saying: “We must always help people in need even if this happens on the Sabbath,” Jesus first describes a hypothetical situation where someone has only one sheep, but it falls into a pit. In that situation one would of course get their sheep out of the pit even on the Sabbath, because that sheep is a person’s livelihood and without that sheep a person, and potentially their family, could starve. This shows that God cares about our livelihood and would understand the need for us to do what is necessary to make sure we have food on the table, even if that occurs on what is supposed to be a day of rest. Our physical and mental health are also important to God, as those things are also intertwined with our spiritual health. After all, it’s hard to concentrate on the presence of Jesus Christ when we are worried about feeding ourselves and families.
Jesus then says how much more valuable humans are than sheep. If on the Sabbath we have an opportunity to help someone instead of engaging in the usual practices of Sabbath rest, Jesus gives us permission to do so as “it is always lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Now I should also say that this passage is not to be understood as justification to overwork ourselves or to constantly put the needs of others ahead of your own to the point of exhaustion and neglect of your own well-being. But what this passage is saying is that God may be asking us to do good on our sabbath days of rest by helping others and by allowing ourselves to be instruments of God’s healing. As Jesus said: “It is always lawful to do good on the sabbath.”
The quote on the bulletin this morning is: “The Sabbath balances the active parts of life with the holy parts. Jesus needed both to be fully human and so do we.” Sometimes the “holy” and the “active” parts of life overlap. There are times when God wants to use us even on the day of Sabbath rest, as instruments of his healing love for the sake of others.
The other day I was driving home and decided to drive by the lake. I was going down Franklin when I saw a group of people rush across the street toward another small crowd that had formed on the sidewalk. As I drove by, I saw the crowd gathered around a woman who had taken a bad fall off her bike. Someone was holding a cloth to her head, and I could see the blood. There was a lot of it.
So, I pulled over knowing I probably couldn’t do much to help. When I got to the crowd those who lived or were staying in the homes from across the street brought over cloths and even diapers to help stop the bleeding. Someone else was on their cell phone calling for help. I asked a woman standing by if there was anything else I could do even though I knew the answer was “no.” I could tell she was there standing by to help as well, and we both were glad to see that the woman who was hurt was alert and responsive. Seeing so many strangers who had already rushed to the scene and every person passing by on foot, on their bike or in their car also stopping to see if they could help warmed my heart.
Out loud I said to the woman with whom I had struck up a conversation: “I really love this community” to which she replied: “So do I.”
My guess is that each of us would be willing to have our usual Sabbath practice of enjoying nature, praying, or showing hospitality be interrupted to bring healing to someone in need. Such willingness shows we are aware of Christ’s presence and therefore aware of what God is calling us to do in that moment. Even though it is not one of the obvious Sabbath practices, the act of helping someone still accomplishes the point of the Sabbath, bringing us into a deeper awareness of the presence of Christ in our lives. Part of knowing God’s presence is being open to what God might be calling us to do.
Most likely what God calls us to do will catch us by surprise. You might not think of yourself as an instrument of God’s healing, but God thinks that way of you. God can and does use anyone and that includes you.
For your next Sabbath practice, I encourage you to be open to being an instrument of God’s healing: Call someone who needs a bit of encouragement or write them a note. Pay them a visit, bring them coffee, or ask to meet them for lunch. Don’t forget we have a list of suggested Sabbath practices and for this week there are more suggestions of how we can set aside space in our lives to bring God’s healing to someone else. For again, this action accomplishes the goal of bringing us into a place of being more aware of God’s presence. At the same time, you will be surprised by how God wants and can use you.