Sermon | There are six days on which work ought to be done
Well Christ Lutheran Church, somehow suddenly it is the start of another school year and frankly I have not a clue where the summer went. I've heard a few people describe it as time travel, it feels like we time traveled from the end of last semester to the start of this new one, it genuinely felt like yesterday that I was sitting on the couch feeling like "wow, we did it" a few days after graduation, and suddenly I find myself sitting on the couch thinking "wow, time to do it again, I guess (!!)".
I'm excited for this new semester and still I feel myself bracing for impact, just a little bit. I've been connecting with campus ministry colleagues to compare notes on our goals and our projects for the semester, I'm been fighting for my life on Canva designing graphics and banners and zines, I've sent what feels like hundreds of emails to finally lets have that get together, and I'm starting to do that thing again where I'm piecing together my weekly calendars like it is a game of tetris, turning meetings on their side to see if I can fit just one more in edgewise.
I wonder if part of the reason why I'm feeling like the summer went by like that *snaps fingers* is because I just didn't really do all that much. During the semester I can count on my fingers and toes, well I met with 14 faculty and we have 28 weekly student gatherings and I spent a cumulative $1200 at Primavera and we gave away popsicles every Monday afternoon for six weeks and and and and. During the summer, I lose the ability to think of my time in the same way-- I did stuff,, but I don't know how to account for any of it. I went away to chaplain summer camp for three weeks and made a bunch of friends,,, I went for walks and hikes but I don't know how many and took care of plants and a lot of them died but some didn't,, and I don't know how many times I sat on the back patio of Agora. I read and I wrote and we cracked a bunch of jokes in the bible study group chat and got together a few times just to hang out. I don't really know how to account for my summer but I know I enjoyed it.
There is such a sharp contrast between the pace of life in the summer and the pace of life during the year and I wonder if you feel it too. It poses a theological problem for us as the Christians. It's right there in the Ten Commandments as commandment number four--we are instructed to observe the Sabbath. It doesn't say,,, take three months that are kinda chill and then sprint for nine months. It doesn't say,,, play tetris with your schedule and if you have to fit something in on your day off, then do it anyways, it's okay,,, it doesn't say, five days for work work, one day for house work and chore work, and one day prepping for the week ahead.
The fourth commandment says "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God" Exodus 20, where the ten commandments are found, says "On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns." It says that in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day God rested and that on the day that God rested, we rest, and additionally we are not to make work for anybody else either.
This poses a theological problem for us because for one, we don't live this way. Our society is not set up this way, we are not a Sabbath-taking people. It feels like we have just simply decided to find meaning in the blitz instead.
In our Gospel reading this morning we find Jesus teaching in the temple on the Sabbath and a woman who is ailed by a spirit that has kept her bent over and crippled for eighteen years. Jesus heals her and he sets off the temper of the synagogue leader who chastises him for breaking the Sabbath. "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day," he says. "And ought not this woman,,, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" Jesus replies. Ought not this woman be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?
I'm tempted to enter this argument right next to Jesus, saying, Hey, yeah, break the sabbath rules, heal the woman!! But a little voice in the back of my head says, Ethan, remember, in order to break the sabbath, you first have to be observing it! I know that I'm not so good at observing it, and I wonder if you maybe feel not so good at observing it either. And I wonder what the responsibility is of the Church, of this church, of our ministries, and even for me with our college students and young adults, to assist our people in keeping the sabbath.
So often, the way that we frame up church these days is that church is the place you go on the seventh day of the week, church is our sabbath-day and so often you come into church, not just this church, but any church really, and you've gotta get the kids in clothes that have buttons, and you've gotta be buttoned up for 55 minutes, and we're gonna tell you about the programs we've got going on this fall, and how you can serve, and what you oughta sign up for, and you leave here and you're trying to beat the lunch rush at Applebee's and then you're throwing elbows at Wegman's to get your groceries for the week and I wonder what it would be like if we decided that it didn't have to be that way.
I wonder what it would be like if we as individuals and we a church and we as a society prioritized sabbath-keeping. I wonder what would have to shift in our lives for one day a week to feel spacious and gentle and slow, and for church to feel like a place to do that. I wonder what things we would have to say No to in order to say yes to having a break. I wonder what it would be like to be mindful of the ways that we as the church, and as Christians, measure our success and our ministries in the language of productivity.
As the church, we stewards of something very special -- people's time. And I wonder if it would or could feel like time well spent, for our work to be simply getting people together, making spaces for people to rest, asking you to set down your work, set down your phone, put away your calendar, and knowing that we are not going to hand you a project in its place. I wonder if it would feel like enough, if that was the work of the church.
The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel says that the sabbath is foretaste of the heavenly banquet,,, that our satisfaction in heaven won't come from crossing off the to-do list, or climbing the career ladder, presenting to St Peter your perfectly crafted college application. And he wonders if all our meaning in this life comes from busyness, will we recognize the satisfaction of the eternal life when we get there? It is crucial that we practice it now.
I don't want to sound like a Mary out here while Martha is in the kitchen, although it is helpful for my point that Jesus takes Mary's side on this one. I know that it takes effort for our getting together -- even this morning there is an altar to be set, a sermon to be written, music to be practiced, snacks to be prepared and set out. We can't not grocery shop, we can't not do the dishes. But where the bible uplifts six days of work, our culture overshoots and cajoles us into a kind of perpetual busyness, that at its most gentle looks like you or I believing that it is possible to "waste" "time" and at its most insidious, looks like some people having to work two or three jobs, seven days a week in order to make ends meet. There is a time for work, but there is also a time for rest. And for God, it's not negotiable.
In this Gospel reading Jesus says "Ought not this woman be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" He says to her, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." I wonder what it would feel like, Christ Lutheran Church, to think that chronic busyness is our ailment and the sabbath is our cure. Jesus has always said that he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, and I think his challenging of the authority of the synagogue leader is his recognition that liberation from bondage is a sabbath activity. And if the external pressure and the internal felt-guilt to always be productive, to be always be working, to always be going-going-going is what binds us, then are we not meant to be set free from it. I wonder what it would take to think that Doing Nothing Together, was a worthwhile enough goal for the Church, even if it was our only goal?
I wonder what it would be like to stop,,, just stop,, and be, if for no other reason than because God told you to. Amen.