A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church on June 28, 2014
(This was at our Saturday Evening Sabbath Service. We’ll be doing this, instead of Sunday worship, the last week of each month.)
Thank you for being here tonight.
I truly am grateful for your willingness to try something very different.
But I would not have asked the Worship committee and the session to lead us on this experiment if I didn’t think it were important and worth doing.
So thank you for trying something new.
As I’ve mentioned before, I think we, as a congregation, are great at DOING things. When asked who we are, the answers given tell what we do.
We give lots of hugs and welcome people.
We have the best potlucks because we make great casseroles and desserts.
We work for justice and inclusion.
We are a lot of verbs.
We could make a similar point about ourselves, using what we do to inform who we are:
We are hospitable and welcoming.
We value fellowship and justice.
We care about this place and our call to be disciples, and so that plays out in our work and worship.
We define ourselves by doing.
When the doing gets us tired, however, we burn out. I have heard, more times than you’d believe, this comment:
“I need to take a break from church. It’s nothing personal. But I’m tired from doing-(fill in the blank) and need a break.”
I totally get it.
Looking around at the culture at large, we should not be surprised when we see it in church too.
We applaud people for being workaholics—we call them dedicated employees.
Until they have heart attacks.
I was looking for articles about burnout online and saw this headline:
How to be a workaholic and not get burned out.
I’d like to suggest that’s not the point.
A more helpful article might be
“Don’t be a workaholic. You aren’t that important.”
Because to be frank, we wrap our value, our identity, in our work.
I was thinking it was an American problem. And I’m sure we take it to new heights because. Well. America. Hello.
Reading the passage from Exodus, however, I notice that Moses is as susceptible to it as I am.
His Father in law sees him at work, a one man show of self importance, and asks him, “what on earth is going on here? Why are you the only one working while people have to stand around all day and wait on you?”
Moses replies, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.’
Bless his heart.
We’re like that too.
Ministers can be especially susceptible to burnout because there is always more ministry to do. And when you’re working for God, who has time to take vacation? If you believe you’re the only person who can mediate God to your congregation, how could you ever stop?
I hear it all the time—people who don’t take their vacation. Ever. Who work long hours. Who sacrifice time with their family to work.
And so we’re thankful for Moses Father in law, showing up, seeing this path to burn out and saying, “what in the world are you doing?”
That’s a part of what Sabbath is for me—the reminder that the salvation of the world, the success of the church–none of it is dependent on me.
I can stop working and the world will go on.
It is both humbling and liberating.
When I take my day off each week, when I step out of the rhythm of church work and routine, something re-sets itself for me, erases whatever had started to go off kilter, and gives me a fresh start for the new week.
That’s what I hope this service will be each month for all of us—both individually and as a congregation.
In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes:
“All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep. There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm in the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat. The lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale.
We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something—anything—is better than doing nothing.”
When I read that, it immediately rang true. But I realized how big of a struggle it is to fight against that cultural imperative to do something.
What do we need to get permission to just stop? To rest? To pray? To enjoy? To be present?
As we go out into the evening tonight, I hope you will be intentional about setting tomorrow apart, as a day of rest and enjoyment.
Anna Quindlen, in a graduation speech, told the graduates this:
“So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower?
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.”
A gift of Sabbath, I think, is that it gives us the frame of mind to notice life with that kind of beauty and detail.
And I want to close with one final quote from the Sabbath book.
“Sabbath time assumes that if we step back and rest, we will see the wholeness in it all. We will naturally apprehend the good in how things are, taste the underlying strength, beauty, and wisdom that lives even in the difficult days, take delight in the gift and blessing of being alive.” (p. 42)
May that be our Sabbath blessing. Amen