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Posts Tagged ‘Sabbath’

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 3. The prayer of confession referred to in the sermon was from The Book of Uncommon Prayer by Steven L. Case. Its congregational response was “We’re on your schedule, not ours.” It was on page 10 of Responsive Prayers.

Scriptures: Genesis 1

What are the calendars that shape your life? For instance, when you say, “Today is August 4th, 2015”, you are using the Gregorian calendar to name the time that you are in. In the Gregorian calendar, the year begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st. It is the way most people in the Western world identify what day it is. It is also a fairly recent way of marking time. The Gregorian calendar is only about 400 years old.

If your family has young children in it, the Gregorian calendar does not really tell you very much about the way you live your life. The year doesn’t really begin on January 1st. It begins on the first Tuesday after Labour Day. “Time” is shaped by the school year and its related events and holidays. It winds up at the end of June. Then, there are two months of freedom, boredom, and family vacations.

Talk with people who work in financial services. They will tell you that the ‘end of the year’ does not happen in December. It happens in March or April or whenever a company’s financial year ends. Farmers live by time that is shaped by seed-time and harvest.

Although we don’t often think about it, the way we mark time matters. It structures our lives. It shapes what we celebrate. It shapes when we are busy and when we rest. It gives meaning to our lives.

The Church marks time by the events in Jesus’ life. The Church’s “New Year” begins in Advent and then moves through the events of Jesus’ life to Good Friday and Easter. Pentecost opens into the longest season: “Ordinary Time”. Year after year, the Church marks those events through which God has called us to be a community that lives in the world the way Jesus lived. Living out of that rhythm is not easy or natural. It takes practice and training for us to get the patterns of Jesus’ living deep into our bodies and minds and spirits.

In this morning’s Prayer of Confession we acknowledged that our culture shapes us into people who are often very busy and who often feel rushed. We live with a 24/7 calendar, always ‘on’, and yet, often feeling that there is not enough time to get everything done that needs to be done. “Time” is a scarce commodity. You have to cram as much into it as you possibly can. Being busy has become a status symbol for ‘successful’ people.

I heard many years ago the story of a man who was always busy, always rushing to appointments and meetings. Someone (his minister?) asked him, “Why are you always in a hurry? Whenever I see you, you are on the run. Where are you running to?” The man replied, “You have to hustle if you want to get somewhere in life. I am running towards the good life, towards success, towards a life that matters.” The minister asked, “What if those things are not up ahead of you? What if they are in the present, waiting for you to recognize them and receive them? What if all your hurrying is simply taking you further away from them?”

The Bible begins with a story of creation The first story in our sacred scriptures is a story about the creation of time. It talks about God creating the heavens and the earth, but mostly it is about God creating the gift of time. “There was evening; there was morning — the first day. There was evening; there was morning — the second day . . .” For six days, God creates in a steady rhythm. Time is not rushed. Hosting that story, we get pulled into a world that is shaped by an orderly pattern. Our life in this world is not just a series of random happenings Everything is connected together. It all holds together by the steady beat of God’s words:

“Let there be light and there is light and God says, ‘There is the good.’”

“Let there be sky and there is sky and God says, ‘There is the good.’”

The rhythm, the repetitive pattern draws us in and makes us participants in God’s creative work.

Every summer in a church that I served, the gymnasium in the church building was filled every morning with children who were participating in drama and dance programme. Over the summer, they would be learning dance routines and singing songs to go with those dances. By the end of the summer, they put on a show, sharing with their parents and friends and the public the routines that they had been practising for several weeks.

Some of the children and young people have been part of the programme for a number of years. They do not know the dances and songs that they will be learning but they know the basic moves and the patterns. There are some children, however, for whom this is all brand new. At this stage, you can tell who they are just by watching.

On Monday, some of the older teens are up on the stage, demonstrating the steps of one of the routines. They were showing the rest of the group what they should be doing with arms and legs and heads and the rest of their bodies. The rest of the children were lined up on the gymnasium floor, imitating them. At first, many of them were making only small steps — hesitant, tentative. As the days go by, you can watch them gradually gain confidence. They begin stepping more firmly. They move their arms with more confidence. Smiles begin to show on their faces. There is more freedom in their movements. The energy in the room picks up. You see them getting in on the dance, becoming part of something that is larger than any one of them could do individually. It will become something that is not only fun but also probably even spectacular by the end of the summer.

That is what is happening in Genesis 1. This is not a story that answers the question, “How did the universe begin? How did the world get started?” The Bible is really not very interested in those kinds of questions. The story is interested in inviting us to live in a time that is full of God’s creativity. It is trying to get us to join in the dance of creation that God is dancing now — in our time, in this place, in our lives. It is showing us the steps: God said . . . and there was. God saw . . . and it was good.  God named . . . God gave, God blessed.

We are like those new children at the drama and dance programme. Living into God’s rhythms can feel new and strange. We are not very sure of ourselves when we are just learning the steps that get us in on God’s creative work.

Being God’s people in this time is different in so many ways from what came before. Genesis 1 begins by saying that the earth was “formless and void” (KJV). It was a “soup of nothingness, bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness” (The Message).  Genesis 1 is a poem for people who live in a troubled times. It is a poem for when things are bad and getting worse. When terrorists blow up innocent people. When the economy hovers in uncertainty. When the environment is under extreme stress and fragile ecosystems are deeply at risk and, whatever we do, it does not seem to be enough. Whatever we try does not make any fundamental difference. It is difficult to discern any hope for the future. That is the “formless void”, the “soup of nothingness”, the “bottomless emptiness” over which the Spirit of God broods like a bird above a watery abyss.

In such a time, it would be easy to give in to the pervasive despair that permeates our culture and our churches. It would be easy to close ranks and just take care of ourselves and just hold on as we try to survive. We could just be part of the despair.

Genesis 1 offers an alternative. God’s Spirit is hovering over the chaos. God is speaking a Word that is bringing a new creation out of a damaged world in a damaged time. God’s people get to participate in that creative, live-giving work. We begin on the seventh day of creation. The seventh day is a day of stopping all our busyness, all our attempts to save the world. We stop and enter into worship which, at its best, is wonder and adoration and awe. We take the focus off ourselves and become aware again of God. We attend to what God is doing and saying. We learn again the steps of God’s surprising, unexpected future-making work.

It is not easy. Worship does not come naturally to us. It does not seem as if we are accomplishing much. These days, especially, we feel unsure of ourselves — inadequate — because God is working in new ways in the world and in the church. Worship, adoration, praise point us towards the future. Worship shows us where hope is found.

Genesis 1 is not an answer to our question, “How did the world begin?” Genesis 1 is God’s question to us: Will you join the dance? Will you be part of the new creation? Will you join in the new beginning, the resurrection, that is happening all around you?

“Let there be” . . . let there be beauty that witnesses to the creativity of our God in this place.

Let every child who enters this building experience their time here as a time when imagination is nurtured and creative potential encouraged and artistic gifts are celebrated. Let the walls of this building be filled with beautiful art; let the pages of Wheels (the newsletter) be filled with profound poetry and thought-provoking writing. Let this congregation be a place where there is music and where musicians of all sorts find their gifts celebrated and their souls nurtured and their spirits stretched toward new horizons.

Let this congregation be known as a place where new ideas are not only welcomed but also freely considered and discussed. Let us be a people who are convinced that God is doing a new thing in our time. Let this community be a place of life-giving possibilities, a witness to God’s amazing alternative to despair. Let our joy be filled to overflowing as we discern what that is and get in on it.

Let all that we do and all that we say and all that we encourage and hope for be a sign and a witness and a foretaste of the glory of God. May we be an invitation to all creation to rest in the the season of God’s grace and love.

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A sermon on Mark 1: 21-28, Epiphany 4B

Jesus, it seems, is always on the move. By the time Mark gets to the 21st verse of the first chapter of his gospel, Jesus has travelled from Nazareth in Galilee, south to the Jordan River to be baptized, out into the wilderness where he was tempted by Satan for forty days and forty night, and then back up to Galilee where he began calling his disciples.

When he called Peter and Andrew, James and John to join in his adventure, he did not ask them what they believed. He did not say, “Can you explain to me the doctrine of the Trinity?” He did not say, “Do you believe in the virgin birth?” He did not even ask them their position on important political issues: “Should health care be reformed? What is the best way to deal with criminals?” He just said, “The reign of God is at hand. God is up to something new. If you want to get in on it, follow me.” Then, off he went again, leaving the disciples to decide whether or not they would keep up.

Following Jesus, it seems is largely about being willing to be on the move with him. Are you willing to head off on a great adventure with him called ‘the reign of God’?

In today’s scripture, Jesus has already left Lake Galilee and has entered Capernaum. Mark says, “When the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue — the gathering of God’s people — and he taught.” It sound like a pretty ordinary thing to do. Jesus was a Jew and, on the Sabbath, the Jews gathered in the local synagogue. An adult from among them would read and teach from the Torah — the story of God’s actions among God’s people. So, when the Sabbath came, Jesus went to the synagogue. It sounds like an ordinary worship service on an ordinary holy day.

Except, that is not how the Greek actually reads. The Greek says, “When Jesus entered the synagogue, immediately the Sabbath came.” Jesus did not wake up on a Saturday morning and say, “It’s Saturday. I guess I’ll go to worship.” No. Jesus went to Capernaum, entered the synagogue and “immediately the Sabbath came.” Jesus is travelling on a great adventure and he brings the Sabbath with him.

The Sabbath is the seventh day of creation. For six days, says our story, God created the heavens and the earth. For six days, every time God speaks, new life springs forth. God speaks and something new happens. First, light separates from chaotic darkness. Then, dry land and the seas are put in their places. Trees, vegetation, animals, birds, sea creatures — all begin to join their voices to the song of creation. Then, God creates human beings, male and female in God’s image. Creation is a story of life, more life, life in profuse abundance. Part of being human is that we get to join the chorus of praise.

There are six days of prodigal creativity. Then, on the seventh day, there is a day of rest for all creation. Somebody has called the Sabbath “God’s greatest act of creation”. On the Sabbath, we get to stop working. We get to cease our striving for more and more. We get to rest from trying to put our world in order. Sabbath is a day of celebrating and enjoying God’s good creation.

Sabbath also became a day of anticipating that time when God will set everything right. One day, everything that has gone wrong with us will be put right: wounds will be healed; nations will live in peace; all the divisions among us — the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak the haves and the have-nots — will be done away with. All creation will be filled with rejoicing again.

When Jesus went to Capernaum, he entered the synagogue and “immediately the Sabbath came.”  It is an amazing claim. When Jesus shows up in our worship, he brings God’s life and joy and abundant creativity with him. Mark says that the people were amazed and astounded.

He had an authority about him that they had not experienced from their own religious leaders. He had energy that commanded their attention. This was not at all what they had come to expect in worship. Someone has said that, sometimes, our worship services are so dull and boring and banal, that people of the church merely endure them in order to get to the refreshments time afterwards. People come to encounter the living God. Too often they find that they have to settle for catching with with news about their friends’ latest cruise or golf game.

Jesus shows up, though, and worship becomes a place where something really significant happens, where life happens. It sounds like good news. Except, says Mark, immediately, a man who was deeply disturbed interrupts Jesus and yells out, “What business do you have with us Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You are the Holy One of God and you have come to destroy us.” (Mark 1: 23 -34, The Message)

In this place of God’s creativity and life-giving power, suddenly, there is great anxiety and fear. That is a pretty good description of what happens in us on a regular basis when we try to follow Jesus. Jesus invites us into the new creation God is making in our time and our place. He invites us into God’s transforming work in the world. At some point, we realize that God intends to transform the world by transforming us — by changing you and me. He intends to make a new creation by making you and me into a new creation in Christ.

That makes being a disciple of Jesus both very exciting and very frightening. Each of us has some areas of our lives that we hold onto tightly because they make us feel safe. They help us feel like we are in control. Maybe it is our possession, or our status at work or in the community. Maybe it is some pattern of behaviour that helps us cover over a deep wound in our souls. Maybe it is the lies we tell ourselves so we do not have to face a difficult truth. Whatever it is, it makes us feel safe and in control. Whatever it is, it also functions like a wall that keeps out new life and creativity and freedom. Inside, we are slowly dying.

Jesus shows up, brimming over with life and creativity, and we are afraid. We are afraid that, if we let go of the lies and the coping mechanisms, we shall be destroyed. We will be left with nothing. So, we resist. We push back against the newness that Jesus promises. The fears that we know seem safer than the new life Jesus brings.

Jesus commands our fears and anxieties, “Quiet! Get out of him! Get out of her!” Jesus speaks with authority. He speaks with the authority of someone who knows that nothing we fear in all creation can ever separate us from the powerful, death-defeating, life-giving love of God (Romans 8: 38 -39). That love has gone to hell and back for us. That love intends to lead us into joy and delight and great beauty. That love intends for us life, more life, life in all its fullness.

“Quiet!” he says to our fears and anxieties. “Get out of her. Get out of him.” It is a great gift to have someone with authority say to our fears, “Get out!” It is a great gift to tell them to quit possessing us, to stop holding us in their grip. This is good news because those words come from Jesus who brings God’s Sabbath with him: life, life and more life.

I invite you to take a few moments to become aware of your fears. Hear Jesus say to them, “Quiet! Get out!” Hand them over to God and let God carry them. Do it for a few moments here; then do it again and again throughout the week. Hand them over because that is the way you get to walk in the freedom and the joy of Christ’s great love for you. Thanks be to God.

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