Exodus 20:18; Mark 6:30-32
The Rev. Tom Herbek
March 31, 2019
Oftentimes in the New Testament, Jesus knew he needed to restore his soul, knew he needed to pamper his soul for at least a few minutes. In the passage in Mark’s gospel, he recognizes this need in the lives of his disciples, as well, as they recount to him how busy they have been. And so, they head for a lonely place to rest for a while. Unfortunately, on this occasion the crowd discovers their destination and they don’t get the rest they need. Eventually they will get their rest, their respite from the tasks of their ministry. Jesus has heard their need, and he will have compassion for them, just as he did for the crowd on this occasion.
I did not really understand Sabbath when I was growing up in Virginia, with the “Blue Laws” that kept most stores and businesses closed on Sundays, or at least closed during the sacred hour (11AM on Sunday), the time when any real, self-respecting church had its worship service on Sunday morning. I’m sorry everyone, 10:30 is close, but would never have passed muster in 1950’s and 1960’s Virginia. Over time, Sabbath had become restrictive and morose in those days, a list of things you could not do in the 1950’s: no movies, no card-playing, no dancing, no alcohol, no wearing shorts, no shopping, no doing much of anything that could be considered fun or pleasurable.
Our Puritan forefathers and foremothers here in this church also created a system of rules about Sabbath do’s and don’ts. I have heard that the person who brought the architectural plans for this sanctuary from Albany left Albany on Saturday and traveled overnight to get to Canandaigua before Sunday worship. Unfortunately, that meant he rode his horse on Sunday, and when he handed the plans to the church leaders that morning, they thanked him, and then they censored him for riding on the Sabbath.
In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller calls us to move beyond such a point of view:
It is too easy to talk of prohibition, but the point is the space and time created to say yes to sacred spirituality, sensuality, prayer, rest, song, delight. It is not about legalism and legislation, but about joy and the things that grow only in time.
We need to remove the grimness from it. We need to begin the Sabbath simply by saying, “Today I am going to pamper my soul.”
We must recover our opportunities to pamper our souls– needed now more than ever. Muller goes on to say:
We have lost an essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something— anything— is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.
Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off, when we catch up on television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true. It is time consecrated with our attention, our mindfulness, honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.
It is only when we rest and pamper our souls that we are restored, renewed, refreshed. In the Ten Commandments, only one commandment begins with the words “Remember….” It calls on us to recognize something that, deep down, we already know but have forgotten.
We are asked to remember the Sabbath, the need to pamper our souls, to remember that it is not a sign of weakness, but the natural order of life, something that every human being needs. It is the time when we remember, when we are reminded that “The Kingdom of God is within you”, as Jesus so succinctly put it.
In our busyness, our striving, our constant action, we tend to forget. We equate progress and completed tasks, and busyness and meetings and always staying active with success. As a “do-er” myself, a person who spends most of every day wanting to get as much done as possible, I succumb to this all the time. I am most fearful of anyone thinking I am “lazy”. And I see whole families who live most of their lives completely scheduled, from young children to their parents to retirees. Yet, in order to be truly successful, actually fulfilled in our lives and in our hearts, we must all remember the Sabbath, setting aside some time each week to pamper our souls.
There is an old story- one that we have all heard a dozen times, but it is a good reminder- about people on a safari, having moved quickly and covered much ground for many days, when all of a sudden, their native guides refused to move. Nothing would get them to go on- no threats, no money, no arguments.
No one understood why the native guides were so lazy and uncooperative, until finally one of the native guides said, “Today we must stay here, for we must let our souls catch up with us.”
We need to let our souls catch up with us, as well. Sabbath time helps us to see our world and our place in it differently. The Chinese have a pictograph for the word “busy.” It is made up of two characters, the character for “heart,” and the character for “killing.” Busyness can kill our heart.
Today it is so easy to stay busy, but there is great danger in always staying busy. In 1997, technology guru Linda Stone came up with the term “continuous partial attention,” which describes much of our lives. We are all pretty aware of everything going on around us, but never completely aware of any one thing. Our busyness may keep us from being aware of what is most significant in our lives.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that “what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” God speaks to us within us. Our heart and soul are where God speaks to us. Most important revelations happen from the inside out, not from the outside in. I really like theologian Paul Tillich’s description of God: “We must abandon the external height images in which God has historically been perceived and replace them with internal depth images of a God who is not apart from us, but who is the very core and ground of all that is.”
It is in our heart and soul where we experience God, where we find meaning in life. It is also the place where the messiness of life is tolerated, where we can be replenished, and where we experience deep meaning.
Joan Chittister recalls that:
In the sixteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most prolific geniuses of all time, wrote: “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
Point: The grind is destructive of both the person and the work. Unless the soul can be refreshed enough to think, to create, to recoup both its energy and its interest in the work at hand, there is no hope for either recall or creativity.
She goes on to say:
Maybe what we all need most is time to process what we already know so that we can put it together differently, even more effectively than ever before. Maybe we need to think a bit, out on a porch in a summer breeze, down by the creek when the trout are running, back in the garden when it’s time to put the beets and beans in again.
Between the Dark and the Daylight
She also reminds us that growth is often a slow process, and may not become clear to us very quickly:
Well, it is true, I think, that every day we grow– but I am not so certain that every day is an awakening. Sometimes we grow in silent places that do not burst through to daylight and voice for years. Sometimes we wake up and reach back and know newly, finally, what we thought we knew or did not want to know years before. That’s the real awakening.
Sabbath may cause us to change our perspective, sometimes in small but radical ways. When we come together in a sacred time, we also realize that it is not all up to us, that we are not alone. But at the same time, we also are reminded that, as Gandhi once said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”
We find that, when our souls are refreshed- when we have experienced pampering of our souls- we are renewed enough to have more to give, more energy to invest, more generosity, more compassion, more kindness, more patience, more wholeness. When we pamper our souls, when we remember the Sabbath, we experience wellness.
So let us create times for Sabbath on a regular basis, in this sanctuary, a golf course, a ski slope, a dock on the lake, a good book, a coffee shop- in lots of places.
Sabbath is taking the time to allow ourselves to be refreshed, in whatever way works best for us. Let us treasure it, so that it doesn’t become number 299 on our list of 300 things to accomplish. Instead, it must become a natural and healthy opportunity that we take advantage of on a regular basis.
So let us remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, special, rejuvenating, and a key part of our journey of life. And let us do all we can in this church family so that all those who journey with us will be enabled to find refreshment, re-creation, and a church family that is committed to creating opportunities for the pampering of our souls.
Pampering our souls is a crucial part of the way that we can be made well. It is a key component of what faith is all about. It is what Jesus meant when he talked about what faith does within us.
I have always appreciated something that Kathleen Norris, said in her book, Amazing Grace: “I was glad to learn that the primary meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated salvation is nonreligious. When Jesus says to them that their faith has saved them, it is the Greek word for ‘made you well’ that is employed.”
And so, on this Sabbath day, in this place where we have gathered together, may we each be made well.
May each person here today find that our souls have had a chance to catch up with us, that our souls have been pampered, that we have been made well!