Lev 25:1-12; 18-21; Psalm 19:7-14; 2 Cor 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
The Third Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God's word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.
So, have you been feeling a little swamped lately? Like you’re in a boat just trying to get across the water to the other side, but the waves keep splashing over the side of the boat, and with each wave you’re getting wetter and the water in the bottom of the boat is getting deeper, and it just seems like there’s no end in sight, and you’re never going to reach the other side and instead the water’s just going to keep coming and coming until you sink to the bottom in the boat with the water closing in over your head?
Sorry. Do I sound a little overwhelmed?
It’s been a tough year, actually, with unexpected demands. Not at home, thankfully. Things at home are surprisingly undemanding, touch wood. But here at Advent there have been unexpected demands that have touched all of us: the retirement of Terrie, and then Carol, and now Rachel, in addition to others who have had to step back from volunteering in certain positions, or at least severely cut back on their commitments. We, like many other groups, Christian and otherwise, are feeling the strain of trying to more with less. So that’s tough, and asks a lot of us.
And then of course there’s the demands of the world right now, particularly around issues of injustice and poverty and oppression. It is impossible to watch the news right now without feeling swamped. A tweet from Tim Grierson sums up this past year the best: “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry feels morally irresponsible.” As Christians, we feel Christ pulling and calling us to do something and every time we see a new injustice, it’s like one more wave swamping the boat. It’s overwhelming.
And our reading from 2 Corinthians today doesn’t seem to help. We read Paul, and we think, well if he could do it, so can we. He faced imprisonment and torture and the threat of death, and that didn’t stop him, he still proclaimed the Gospel, so what are we complaining about? Who needs rest? We gotta keep going!
Except that deep down, we’re exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally, we’re exhausted from trying to do all the things we know we’re supposed to do, in our lives, in the world, and in the church. We’re exhausted, and when we push ourselves too far, we burn out. And you know, burn-out looks different for different people. For some people, burn out is as simple as just giving up. Just quitting everything and retreating, and of course feeling guilty about it. But for others, burn out looks like anger, at ourselves for not doing enough, or at others, for not pulling their weight. If you feel constantly angry or annoyed with those around you, I encourage you to just check in with yourself and see if maybe you’re actually burn out and overwhelmed. I mean, this is what we see the disciples doing, after all. They’re in the boat, feeling overwhelmed, and they get angry at Jesus. “Don’t you care??” they say. “Don’t you care that we’re overwhelmed?” There he is, their leader, and he is literally napping on the job, doing nothing, and they’re annoyed. They’re exhausted from struggling with the storm, burnt out from trying unsuccessfully to row against the waves, and they’re mad because Jesus is taking a break.
Jesus is taking a break. Huh. In the midst of all the demands on him, in the midst of all the needs that only he can fulfill, Jesus is having a nap.
It seems ridiculous. Having a nap in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean. Taking a break, some me-time, when there is so much need. It’s just as ridiculous as letting all the agricultural land in Israel go fallow every seven years, as our reading from Leviticus says. In Leviticus, God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel that every seven years, they are to have a sabbath for the land, where they are not to plant anything, or do anything that will encourage a second crop, for that whole year. And keep in the mind, this isn’t a rotating thing - it’s not about letting some land lie fallow while the others are planted, in a rotating seven-year cycle. It’s the entire country. It’s as if all of Canada decided that every seven years, the entire country would take a break. Can you imagine? And, as if that wasn’t ridiculous enough, every 49 years, the land would be in a sabbath for two years in a row. What would we do if all the farmers and orchard-people in Canada did nothing for two years in a row? Literally nothing? It’s ridiculous.
And yet, napping in the boat, taking a sabbath rest, “Remembering the sabbath day and keeping it holy” are things that God is calling us to do. Jesus in the boat implies that not napping is a sign of no faith. Leviticus says that resting the land in the fiftieth year, in the jubilee year, is holy. That to do that is to be faithful. And Luther’s explanation of the Third Commandment, which in his Large Catechism reads, “You are to make holy the day of rest,” tells us that stepping back from the demands of our lives and from the needs of the world is how we “fear and love God.” In other words, taking time to rest and recharge is holy. For individuals, for communities, and dare I say, even for congregations as a whole, taking time to rest and recharge is holy. And commanded by God.
About a year ago, I got an iPad. And what’s really new for me about the iPad is the way I’m supposed to charge it. I’m used to those old Ni-Cad batteries, where you’re supposed to let them run down almost completely before you charge them up. But these new-fangled smartphones and iPads have lithium-ion batteries, which, it turns out, are very different. You’re very definitely not supposed to let them run all the way down regularly. You’re supposed to plug them in every night, and keep them topped up. Letting them run down all the way too often wrecks the battery, and then you have to get new one, which generally means getting a new iPad. Letting them burn out is a very bad thing and so is overcharging them. You have to use the right charger, which delivers the right amount of current, and then shuts off when the battery is full, or, again, you’ll wreck the battery. These lithium-ion batteries are actually quite particular - if you want the batteries to keep working for a long time, they need regular recharging, with the right charger. You can’t let them drain and you can’t let them overcharge.
You can guess where I’m going with this. We are lithium-ion batteries, and I read something online about this that made me laugh, “Lithium-ion batteries become unstable when they are too empty or overcharged.” Just like us. And this is what the Third Commandment, and Luther’s explanation to it, is about. The Commandment to “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy,” and Luther’s explanation that “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it,” is God telling us to recharge ourselves properly.
First, God tells us that we need recharging. As individuals and as congregations, we need recharging. We cannot keep serving God without rest. We will, and we do, burn out. And when we are burnt out, we are useless. We can’t help, we can’t serve, we can’t participate in the work God is calling us to do. And so God commands us to rest regularly. To nap. To constantly top up our batteries.
But, like lithium-ion batteries, we need to use the right charger. And this is what we often overlook, and where we aren’t always effective in our efforts to rest. Sometimes, we use the wrong charger. Sometimes, we try to recharge in ways that don’t work. Right now, self-care is a big thing we’re all supposed to do, right? And we often interpret self-care to mean self-indulgence, but that’s not actually what it means. Sitting at home and eating chocolate all day while binging on Netflix is, sadly, not self-care. It’s self-indulgence. Self-care is getting to bed on time, eating a healthy diet, making those doctors and dentist appointments we’ve been putting off. It’s taking care of ourselves, which is sometimes not very fun.
It’s the same with sabbath rest, and recharging our batteries. Recharging our batteries by sitting at home all day is not going to work. It’s the wrong kind of charge. What Luther tells us is that the right charge, the proper way to rest, comes from hearing and learning the word of God. Now this does not necessarily mean coming to church every Sunday morning, although I sure would like to tell you it does. Rather, it means immersing one’s self in the presence of God, however you feel that presence, on a regular basis. Whether that’s coming to church, or praying, or going on a hike in God’s Creation, or serving God’s people by handing out water at a marathon, or spending time with family, or sleeping, or whatever it is that helps you to encounter God’s Word of love and healing, that’s what you should be doing regularly as your way of recharging.
Because the Word of God, however it comes to you, tells you that you are enough, no matter how much you do or don’t get done. The Word of God is the word of grace, telling you that you are loved simply because you are, simply because Christ has given everything for you. The Word of God tells you that you are righteous, not because you do righteous things, but because you have been made righteous through the Holy Spirit. The Word of God tells you that in your very existence you are God’s blessing to the world, and that it is okay to rest.
In the church, we often get overwhelmed by the call to serve. We want to create a culture of service that can make the world a better place, and this is our Christian calling: to holy service. At the same time, God also calls us to create a culture of sabbath. Where we remember that we can only serve when God recharges us for that service, and when we encourage and support one another in that recharging. This is also our Christian calling: to holy rest. God does not call you to burn-out, to suffer with being overwhelmed. Rather, God, who loves you and cares for you, and wants you to rejoice in your living, calls you not to be afraid that you aren’t doing enough, but to nap, like Jesus in the boat. To engage in the blessed work of holy rest, which is our Third Commandment, “To remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.” Thanks be to God. Amen.