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Practicing Sabbath

By Rev. Alice Hanson


Mark 2:23-3:6


What has brought us together, in this place today? Why have we come? Some of us reliably, consistently each week, some of us occasionally. All of us, graced with each other’s presence.


Invite responses.  


Hymn VU       “You know the reason why you came, yet no reason can explain”… yet, here, we are part of something much bigger than you or I, a mystery, that draws week after week.


In my retirement from both worship music leadership and then moving into ministry itself within the church, I found myself reflecting on why I go to church, when specific commitments were no longer relevant. Would I go consistently from Sunday to Sunday or would I let myself miss, knowing, sensing that God was present for me in my front flower bed as much as the back vegetable garden, or the Grey Canal trails Paul, I and our dog, Mya regularly walked?  As I made my decision from one Sunday to the next, I discovered the significance of a lifetime of church connections!  I was rooted deep in church; I rediscovered that church worship and participation was and is who I am; it is a part of my genetic makeup. I wonder if the pandemic experience woke us up to what we missed most in church worship time together.


Have some of us come in response to a deeper longing, an inner nudge of the holy, that calls us each Sunday to be together? A longing to immerse ourself in a new way of living? Some of us have come because we are and have been deeply committed to this faith community for years; our coming reflecting a faithful response!  Maybe, because we seek some answers to questions that run through our minds and hearts during the week. Remember Nicodemus visited Jesus long ago, one night, when maybe he wouldn’t be interrupted by crowds that always seemed to surround Jesus. He wanted to know more about this man, Jesus, to talk to Jesus. In the process of conversation he is invited to be ‘born again’, to start over with a whole new reality, a new way of being in the world.


Have we come, maybe, with our questions and wonderings too?  Have some of us come to ‘wake up to God’?  We know how easily we can miss the fullness of God as individuals and there is a wisdom in the gathered circle of the faithful, the encouragement in friendship, kindness and love shared. As Richard Rohr wrote, Jesus never said, “Worship me.”  He said: “Follow me” and we come together to seek a fuller meaning of this command follow me because this “following me” is not an easy practice in our lives!  Or as in Sarah Bessey’s book Field Notes for the Wilderness:  “quote page 136 bottom


Biblical scholar Renita Weems recalls the Sabbath of her childhood and expresses it as a time to tend the fire within.


Practicing Sabbath by Renita Weems


For Weems, Sabbath was a 24 hour celebration, time set aside in a specific place, with a specific community when we are awakened to divine presence.We know that loving God and following ‘Jesus’ is not by attending church services, and, yet it is. It is also about living out that love all week long, recognizing God in our lives throughout the week.


I remember the long-ago story of Jacob who awoke from his sleep and thought: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!”. Do we come to church, yes, encountering God here in this place, even though we know, as Jacob discovered, that people encounter God under a shady oak tree, on riverbanks and lake shores, on mountaintop trails, and in starry skies; yes, in burning bushes and, even, to our surprise, in perfect strangers. God shows up in our living! Here, in this place we are reminded, awakened to a deeper appreciation of the many ways God shows up in our lives, invited to see what we can too easily miss, to be reminded that sacred moments really are part of lives?



One more contemporary reading, this one by Ilia Delio, who invites us to find creative new ways to “go to church” and celebrate new life in the everyday.


Celebrating the Risen Christ  by Ilia Delio.   


I love her invitation to go to church as a walk out in the whole world, attentive and alive to divine presence. I come to ‘church’ to be awakened to the everyday divine presence, to let God’s love and the love we share with one another makes me whole again, for the rest of the week… so that when I take that walk out into the world again, I can respond more fully in love. And then I come to the next Sabbath to be reminded once more!


Whatever the reasons, the nudges, the spirit invitations that bring us together, we are reminded...that when we want to know more about God, Jesus tells them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, to women baking bread and workers lining up for their pay. We can set up a little altar, as Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, “in the world, or in my heart. I can stop what I am doing long enough to see where I am, who I am there with, and how awesome this place is…to really love the world as God does, even for a few minutes in our day”. She goes on to remind us that “human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish -separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from the world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”  We come to discover together those altars in the world.


HYMN Come and Seek the Ways of Wisdom  MV 10

Scripture Readings           Mark 2:23-3:6


We trace the origins of both sabbatical and Sabbath to the Greek word sabaton, which can be traced to the Hebrew word shabbath, meaning “rest”. The Hebrew scriptures traces the word all the way back to Genesis when God “rested”.


The early church referred to itself as ekklesia – ek meaning “out of” and klesis meaning “to call” – “the called-out ones”. The early church defined herself as a people called out, now gathered by the Spirit of Jesus and connected to the old, old story God began with Israel. We are the people of God gathered in community, reflecting God’s love not only here in this place but within this world God so loves.


We recall significant stories in Jesus’ life happen on the Sabbath and in the synagogue. Jesus, we know went to the synagogue, on the Sabbath as was his habit. He got into trouble when he was only 12 years old for disappearing and his parents had to go searching for him, and finally, after three days of frantic searching, found him in a deep theological discussion with the elders, the teachers in the temple (Luke 2) …


In Luke 4, Jesus’ inauguration message…. we find Jesus, standing up, doing the reading in the local synagogue the well-known passage;


“The Spirit of our God is upon me;

            because the Most High has anointed me

            to bring Good News to those who are poor.

            God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive,

            Recovery of sight to those who are blind,

            And release to those in prison -

           to proclaim the year of our God’s favour”…


Later in his ministry, we read the story of Jesus ‘cleansing the temple’. Jesus – the synagogue – his calling – his ministry – were closely woven together.


In today’s reading in Mark 2: 23 – 3:6 Not in the temple but out in the fields gathering grain on the Sabbath we find Jesus and some disciples in conflict with the rules and regulations of the Sabbath. How many stories we could tell of contemporary conflicts between the leaders today of a particular church about what happens within these walls! The immediate conflict varies from place to place, from time to time. Whether it’s picking grains of wheat as it was in Mark’s gospel, working on a Sunday… choosing a walk along a forest path vs attending a service… has been under discussion for centuries. (In my childhood, I remember rules around sewing on a Sunday, and certainly, no card playing). The church has always sought to regulate this day set aside for rest and worship. What or how we worship? With what sacraments and how frequent? What hymns? What prayers? What words we use?  


Rules, rules, rules… barriers/ divisions, walls we set up. Limitations, and yet, some are important!  To which Jesus’ wisdom is the sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath” (I’ve been known in my family to apply this bit of wisdom to the question of whether I come to a full stop at a four-corner stop when no one is around/ whether I use my turn signal when no one is around!).


And then, shortly after, in the synagogue once more, Jesus challenges his listeners with the words “Is it permitted to do a good deed on the preserve life or destroy it?”  Of note is the verse immediately after this challenge.

“Jesus looked around at them with anger, for he was deeply grieved that they had closed their hearts so.”


Jesus was deeply grieved …he was angry!  And we too, in, with and out of love, are called to grieve, to be anger at the short-sightedness that hurts another, at rules and regulations that box love in. We cannot confine love to our own limited social, or intellectual capacities.


This Sabbath story is the voice of dissent that calls every individual, every faith community, every institution, organization, every nation to self-critique, to examine our fixed regulations and to choose the better path of care and compassion. Jesus invites, no challenges us, to do the hard work of self-examination with the question what is the greater good here, folks?  We need to listen to the voice of dissent and what it may be teaching us, uncomfortable this work may be. Expand that voice of dissent out into the world and we must ask ourselves: What in the protest marches don’t we want to hear, don’t we want to change whether it is the voice of those who are hungry, those who have no home, those who live with violence and abuse, or the voice of earth itself calling us out to respect, to care, to be compassionate, to love. Jesus was always about love.


The gathered church, the faith community today through this reading is invited to grow into the wisdom of choosing the greater good, into a way of being in love with one another. We are invited to be a community of friends constituted by love, for love.  Love one another Jesus said. Go and do likewise! Pentecost is about learning to live this new life of love in community, with wisdom. We gather together from Sunday to Sunday to grow, live and learn in this way of love. The world’s needs today extend far beyond us as individuals and this calls us into action together, in community. Jesus, though deeply grieved at closed hearts, turned to the man with the withered hand and said, “Stretch out your hand” and the other did so and the hand was perfectly restored!” The pouring out of the spirit, the rebirth of this Spirit challenges all our prescribed rules and regulations that limit love’s reach. It is a love call for the earth, a love call for one another here in this place, and a love call out beyond our doors into the new week, and into a world so in need of love that we too may together, in so many places of need, may find restoration and healing.


The Spirit is upon us and we are sent out as Jesus was. The world awaits your love.

Go, define LOVE this week.

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