View suggested titles at http://www.oshkoshpresbyterians.org/happenings/sermons/2011-07-10-survey-results
Luke 10:38-42, Deuteronomy 5:1-5, 12-15
At the Credo conference I went to last month, the most memorable sermon was delivered by a Presbyterian lay woman from Alabama. Debbie is the administrator of a large Presbyterian church in Birmingham. She has a gift of organizing and coordinating. She is a true Steel Magonlia. She's tough, brassy, busy and very competent. Her sermon started the third day of the conference. It was based on the passage that Suzanne read this morning from Luke's gospel. A passage that busy people are convicted by. I think if I did a survey this morning in worship, most of us would say that we tend more to be Martha's-people are busy and distracted, than Mary's-people who can sit quietly at Jesus' feet. Most of us, I believe, are offended that Jesus says to Martha that her sister has chosen the "better part." Most of us might acknowledge that Mary by giving attention to the guest in her home was doing good-we also acknowledge that both Mary and Jesus could enjoy a meal because Martha is slaving away in the kitchen.
Every morning I write a "to do" list. I bring it with me to the office and I get satisfaction from crossing things off it, tasks completed. I get a sense of fulfillment crossing things off. Sometimes I write tasks I have already completed for the joy of crossing them off. I feel productive, valuable, important this way. And don't I love it when I've done every last task on my list and toss it into the recycling container! I am Little Jack Horner in that moment, exulting in saying "What a good boy am I!"
Debbie's sermon-and I need to point out that this was the first sermon Debbie had ever preached-to a congregation of nearly 40 mid career church professionals helped me see something new in this text. She used the word "adore" as in "Mary took time to adore Jesus." That one word, adore, made me see not just this text, but my vocation in a completely new way. One thing I never write on my to do list is "Sit at Jesus' feet in adoration." My list is things like,
Post sermon on website
Go to the hospital
Write newsletter article
But it would be just like me to add "adore Christ" to my list, as though it is something I can "do" and move on from.
Debbie's list included
Bills to pay
Payroll checks to write
Finance meetings to attend
The constant band aids that have to be put on a building that was built in 1878
Nursery workers to hire
Nursery workers to fire
Menus to plan
Presbyterian Women to appease
Presbyterian Women to appease
Presbyterian Women to appease
Head of staff to talk off the ledge after his third run in of the day with the organist
And that was just at work, never mind the things she had to do at home, running the household, feeding the dogs, spoiling the grandchildren.
People like Debbie, and me, and probably you, see Mary as sitting at Jesus' feet as one who has completed the journey, reached her destination, and now has the leisure to rest. Sure, sure, we say, I'll take some time off as soon as I complete my list.
And people like Debbie, and me, and probably you, are offended and scandalized that Mary has not earned her spot at Jesus' feet. That she's slacking off, forcing her sister to do all the work, because she's irresponsible and unproductive.
Last week the most frequent answer I got when I asked, "How are you?" was "Busy." And with than answer were two implications: my friends were not simply busy, they were too busy. And their busy-ness is a sign that they are important. In complaining about our harried lives we're also parading our virtue-we're busy, hard-working, productive.
God knows we're busy. And because God knows we're busy God commands us to Sabbath. "Sabbath" means "stop it."
God knows we're busy. But God also knows that we are fearful and human and fallible. God knows that if left alone we would work ourselves to death. So God did something that we would be wise to notice. If you look at the Old Testament lesson, you'll notice something pretty subtle, I think, or rather, because it's subtle, let me point this out. The commandment reads, "For six days you shall labor and do all your work." Grammatically, that's a description, not a command.
We could read it more along the lines of, "You already work six days a week..." the command is not to work-we're already doing that. God commands us to stop working.
A few years ago a number of books and articles came out calling for Christians to reclaim Sabbath observance. Some of them pointed out that truly keeping the rhythm of six days on and one day off would make us more productive. Sabbath observance was "sold" to busy people as a way for us to produce more of whatever it is we are producing. Maybe that's true, but that's not what God says. God says, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it." [Exodus 20:11, NRSV]
So keeping the Sabbath is following God's example. God isn't too busy to stop, to rest, to appreciate, to adore, neither should we be.
But wait! Maybe you noticed that that's not what Suzanne read. I just gave you the justification for Sabbath observance from Exodus. In Deuteronomy there's an entirely different reason for observing the Sabbath. "Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day." God is saying that God acted to set the people free from slavery. So they are to take a day to celebrate that they're not slaves anymore. We know that the Egyptians can't enslave us anymore-but we can certainly be enslaved by work, by our need to be productive and virtuous and to show everyone, especially ourselves that we're busy, important and important. This is a hard concept for Martha's like us to accept. Sabbath rest feels like idleness, laziness, waste. And to people governed by our to do lists-no, I'm thinking as people addicted to our to do lists, being idle feels like sin. I sit at my computer Friday morning, my alleged day off writing these words, convicting myself as your pastor, the one called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to you. I confess, this is really, really hard for me. And furthermore, no one ever said, "You know why we love Pastor Tom? He keeps the Sabbath! He takes his day off, and follows the rhythm that God established at Creation-work six days and rest on the seventh." I know, as a preacher I get more praise by disobeying this commandment.
The Creator, the maker of heaven earth, is also the one who liberated us from slavery and wants us to continue to be free. God is not a workaholic. God is not praised or honored by our hard-earned, virtuous lives of busy-ness. God has no need to be more secure, more sufficient, more in control. Isn't that why we work so much-to provide for our families and ourselves? What would happen if we took a day to stop it and to trust that God could provide for us? What would happen if we said, and lived as though, six days' work is enough for us to take care of everything we need? What would it feel like if we could break off from the frantic frenzy we chain ourselves to and sit at Jesus' feet? Not because we've put "adore Christ" on our to do list, but because we trust God enough to accept the liberation God offers us in this day?
I'll close with two rather lengthy quotes that shocked and offended me, because they spoke so clearly about how disordered my life is, and how hard keeping this particular commandment is to the Martha in me.
The Sabbath does not mean a mere not working, nor empty idleness. It connotes something positive. It has guided the soul unto its mystery, so that it is not a day that just interrupts, but a day that renews, speaks through it, of something eternal. It is the expression of a direction for life and not just an instituted day of rest. If it were only that, or if it became that, its essence would be taken from it. It would be only a hollow shell. Leo Baeck
I view the Sabbath...as a ‘useless' day. We must once again understand that doing nothing, being silent and open to the world, letting things happen inside, can be as important as, and sometimes more important than, what we commonly call the useful. Let there be some special time during the week when we do for the sake of doing; when we love the trivial and, in fact, simply love; when we do for others rather than ourselves and thus provide a counterbalance for the weight of endless competition that burdens our every day. In A Shabbat Manual, from The Torah: A Modern Commentary
Now, to the experiment-take a minute to write a title for this sermon and place it in the plate when the ushers take the morning offering.