Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Commandment We All Break

Since I have just come back from a week of Annual Conference followed by 10 days of vacation and now foot surgery, it seemed a good day to contemplate, sabbath rest.
Sometimes the rest is forced rest.

The forced rest of Healing: bone healing, ligaments, the physical body takes time to heal and must be rested (& foot elevated) in order to limit further pain and complications.

(The Rest of Conferences: For our Annual Conference, It is A break from routine and yet involves such long days that we often feel more exhausted than when we left.)

The Rest of Vacation: which can be restful or extra busy. (Ever felt you needed a vacation after your vacation?)

Land Between the Lakes, KY

The truth is, We have trouble doing nothing - Even when we desperately need rest. As usual with biblical commands, God knows what we need more than we do. Is rest the real purpose of the Sabbath command? Let’s hear it again:
    “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." CEB

Sabbath command has the intent of honoring God and of resting. It is an extensive command that covers everyone and every animal in the household.  We think of sabbath-keeping as one of 10 commandments when there are actually 613 individual commandments each equally important.

In order to eliminate mis-understandings, the people of Israel developed interpretations based on the law of Moses, or Torah. These interpretations made it easier to obey the Sabbath command and all the commandments. One didn’t have to decide before each action, what was allowed or not-allowed. 
    For instance, there were 39 specifically forbidden acts that included:
Sowing 2. Plowing, 3. Reaping, 4. Binding sheaves, 5. Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving - those are just the first 17...

Actually, not ALL work is prohibited on sabbath, just the work that requires exercising dominion over one’s environment. Confused yet? Prohibited work is similar to the kind of work that God performed creating the universe. So, today, while one might be allowed to turn on a light that takes no effort, one couldn’t pick up a briefcase and break out ‘work’ from the office.

You may remember the NT reference to a Sabbath Day’s Journey. This was the distance one was allowed to walk on the sabbath w/o breaking the law. It was 2,000 cubits, or less than half-a-mile. Interpretations often resulted in a focus on a legal interpretation rather than on the intent of the Law. This was Jesus’ criticism. Our focus today is on What God intended for God’s people when the command to ‘keep the Sabbath holy’ was given.

Christian interpretation and non-observance.
I had a OT professor say no Christians observed the sabbath. Sabbath is a day of REMEMBERING (creation and exodus, if you read the Deut version of the command) AND OBSERVE, the day as a gift of time from God.
    We have substituted attending Sunday worship for sabbath observance which is not the same thing, he said. (Think about his comment the next time you hear a commentator or pundit proclaim that we should follow all the commandments strictly. I wonder if they are thinking of all 613 commandments AND especially of observing the sabbath day, the 7th day of rest. . .)

Even when we skip the argument that began in the middle ages about Saturday or Sunday observance, we have to admit that we have a problem keeping sabbath. In fact, I doubt that we really know how to ‘remember and observe’ it.

Yet it seems that there is something about the importance of Sabbath that we dare not ignore.
It is appropriate that I am sitting today as I talk to you, because I admit I need to hear this sermon, as much or more than any of you. I hear each author that I’ve read this week and each comment as if it is directed to me.

David Lose, a scholar and professor I greatly admire said, “if I have an opening of time, my first thought isn’t to rest and to give thanks for the opportunity to rest. Heck, not only is that not my first thought, it’s pretty much my last thought. Instead, the first (second, third, and fourth as well) thing that occurs to me is, “What can I get done?”1
I am right there with him.

Whenever I have to call or email some of you about a cancelled meeting I hear rejoicing!... But I wonder if you take the gift of time to rest or you merely take up what is next on your ‘to do’ list and try to ‘get something done.’
 Prof Lose and others point out Jesus’ leadership of his disciples in Mark 6. When they returned from the mission trip on which he sent them, he didn’t take time to listen and teach, to offer praise and affirmation, he said, “Come away to rest.”
FIRST THING, FOB (Flat On Back) Time! Even with the pressure he felt because he always had the end in sight, he commanded REST first, affirmation and teaching later.

Lose says, “our senses have been dulled by a culture that confuses frenetic activity with meaningful action.”     “That’s the beauty of Sabbath, (he says), It’s an invitation to stop, to desist, to unplug (literally), to come away, to find some quiet, to rest.     This is also the importance of devotions, it is a chance to be quiet, to let the email simmer a while and the phone rest mute for a time in order to spend a few moments with our Lord and receive, in return, rest for the body, renewal for the spirit, and bread for the journey.”2

Take a minute to let that sink in. Close your eyes if you wish and hear this command again,
STOP. . . . Desist. . . . Unplug. . . . Can you hear Jesus saying, “Come away. . . To a place of quiet. . . . So you can rest."

Rest. A break from all the bustle and activity.
Rest. A chance to renew, to stop, to slow.
Rest. An end of work, if only for a little while.
Rest. An opportunity to stop doing that you may simply be. Rest.

What a beautiful word!3
 You can open your eyes if you want, or keep them closed if you need the rest. You have my permission..

It feels good, doesn’t it?

Our world is a busy one. “Busy” is now the typical answer to the greeting, “How are you?”
When UCLA studied 32 middle class adults, they found ‘disheartening’ results. The families were “So consumed with working, collecting, amassing, and generally "getting ahead," they actually spent very little time together enjoying what they were working for.”4

Like the Hebrew slaves, who first heard this command from G-d, we too are enslaved to notions of success and the ‘busy’ behavior that society rewards. So we put few if any limits on work.5

I’m old enough to remember “Blue Laws” and I don’t advocate legislating morality either in regard to sabbath keeping or any of the other 613 commandments.
I do call us to notice, as did another author, Dorothy Bass, that we often stand and whine about all the work we still need to do today, or any other Sunday.        While we don’t usually stand around and tell each other about the adultery, stealing, or coveting we plan this afternoon.
We, including ME, have let the sabbath commandment slip into a casual status that is not part of our weekly life. It certainly does not fit the context of a commandment from God.
    “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy.  Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a - Sabbath - to - the - LORD your God. Do not do any work on it...”

Recognizing how far we have fallen, is the first step to recovery. We can stop bragging about how we are 'importantly' busy. We can stop telling everyone all the ways we plan to break God’s commandment this afternoon. We can realize that we are NOT masters of time, God is.
Our worth is not proven by how busy we are.
And our ultimate safety is not secured by our own efforts.6

    If a typical Sunday includes: "watching Meet the Press," attending morning worship, buying takeout on the way to a sporting event, shopping for groceries, checking office email, and paying bills?”7 --- How can we return to a place that is OPEN, to the GIFT of sabbath that God so wants for us?

This is where we move from the 1st step of admitting our guilt to trying to repair the damage and change our ways.

Let’s recall the feeling we had a moment ago when you closed your eyes and heard the word, STOP. You felt the peaceful feeling of being called away to rest. FOB time. We CAN cultivate a desire for the rest that God calls us to, true sabbath where we enter God’s Holy Time.

    Take the 3x5 card you were given when you entered, or get one from an usher. Write on the card ONE, just ONE thing you will NOT do today. Or if you prefer, one day this week that you identify as sabbath time, so you can REST.
    (I know this is hard, I’m with you. Will I not answer the phone, or even harder, not check email? Or do you need to take a break from the news? It may be different for each of us.) Write it down so you don’t forget.

    Then write on the other side, one thing you WILL do, one ‘practice’ that will move you closer to sabbath rest.    Maybe it’s read A book for fun, set aside a time for silent prayer, or play a game with a child, take a walk outside, or on a single night promise yourself that you will sit still and watch the sunset while doing NOTHING ELSE.

    These will be our first steps toward sabbath keeping. I will do them too. I will take a night away from email and spend time that nourishes instead of increases demand.

We will turn to each other for support with whatever we have decided NOT to do and for companionship in the sabbath we have promised to ENJOY. (In fact, if you are comfortable doing so when church is over, tell your neighbor in the pew what you will and won’t do and get help keeping each other accountable.)

These first steps will help us admit we are human, that we aren’t meant to do everything, but we are meant to live life abundantly. - receptive to each other and open to God.

This is the way we will receive God’s greatest gift, the gift of time as we ‘remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”
Ed Payne's photography

Friday, July 6, 2012

Define "Frumpy"

Is frumpy dressing, comfortable clothes? Is it 'I don't care' clothes? Is it dressing to hide one's body?
I'm at a gathering of ministers, in an extremely hot city. Some of these outfits would fall into my old friend, Doc. Conner's definition of "frumpy".

I'm not sure he ever applied it to men. Hmmmmm Discuss please, I'm interested.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hospitality - in deed.

This sermon begins at its end; a summary of the scripture we’ve heard in three different translations.

This is what I hear:
Serving -      - (and that) Serving with our gifts honors God.

We know about hospitality, don’t we?
    ancient tradition held that hospitality-opening our home to the traveling stranger, was mandatory. It is different than how we react and it is a different world perhaps, but still we know about hospitality,
    it usually involves a table with food and beverage. Often it includes accessibility and some supplies for the road ahead.

Here on the chancel, we have a table where each place setting represents someone who needs the hospitality of God’s people. The people you will hear about are all welcome at God’s table, but at human homes and institutions, - not so much. They need a welcome, they are prisoners - of something or someone- and need to be set free.
    Freedom, rescue, nourishment, all these things are needed around the world. When we offer our help and our gifts, it says, “You are welcome at God’s table. Come sit here.”

Let us hear some of their stories;
    1- Seventeen-year-old Essiya* (eh-see-ya) is a single mother with a three year old son who has special needs. The challenges of being a single mother are compounded for Essiya because of her young age and her son Elisha’s* needs. It was the Rosa Valdez Early Childhood Learning Center in West Tampa, Fla., a National METHODIST Mission Institution that provided Elisha with the tender care that he needed.
    Essiya (eh-see-ya) didn’t know what was wrong with her little Elisha. The Rosa staff greeted him warmly, but he just grunted and thrashed his arms and ran around the room, throwing everything he could find.
    Miss Jodie, the behavioral therapist, identified early that Elisha was autistic, and for the first time someone entered his world and reached out to him in ways that he could understand. Miss Jodie worked with Elisha and his teachers at Rosa to help him ask for what he needed without getting angry and frustrated, to play without hurting others and to say a few words clearly.
Within three months he was an entirely different child, happy and secure in this new place called Rosa.
Certainly there is a place at the table for Elisha and his mom, (eh-see-ya). (from United Methodist Women Pledge Service

- from David Radcliff’s NCP website - When he was four years old, Iqbal (ih k - b ah l) Masih was sold by his parents as a bonded servant to a carpet maker in Pakistan for $12 - (the parents needed money for their elder daughter’s wedding.)
    Iqbal ih k - b ah l  was held captive to work 12-14 hour days, and chained to the carpet loom at night to prevent his escape.
    Finally he was freed by a human rights worker at the age of 10. He went on to become a young advocate for the other 12 million children in Pakistan held in human bondage, eventually winning the Reebok human rights award. His campaign came to an abrupt end on Easter Sunday 1995 when the 12 year old boy was shot and killed while riding his bicycle following church services.

3. - And then there is a story By Ron Synovitz at Radio Free Europe site about Maria, who is a 30-year-old mother from Ukraine who left behind her husband and two young children to take what she was told would be a job in Italy as a cleaner.

The recruiters who originally promised her a high-paying salary were men who posed as representatives of a legitimate employment agency. Maria says they gained her trust because they looked professional and persuasive.
    "The process I went through to get there was normal. Everything looked fine. There were two other girls with me. They were from the same region, but I didn't know them. I was going [to Italy] to work as a housekeeper. In Ukraine, they told me already that I would work either as a housekeeper or work in a bar washing dishes," Maria said.

Maria says her nightmare began after she and the other women arrived in Italy and were met by several suspicious men. They were human traffickers in the illegal global sex industry.

"We went there and arrived in one city. They took us to a building on the outskirts of the city and they told us to clean off, to relax from the travel. Later, they confronted us with the fact that we would be providing sex services. It is a shock for a human being. Escape from there was impossible. The windows were barred and there was the constant presence of a guard," Maria said.

For the next nine months, Maria was forced against her will to work as a prostitute. It was only when the brothel was raided by Italian police that Maria was freed from captivity. Authorities in Italy charged her with prostitution and deported her back to Ukraine.

The U.S. State Department estimates that 800,000 people are trafficked against their will across international borders every year and that millions more are trafficked within their countries.

Maria is assured of a seat at God’s table and she will represent many more women, young girls and boys, like Iqbal,  who are also enslaved.

These are sad stories of people who are welcome at God’s table but who have struggled to find a welcome among other humans. Instead they have experienced the worst of humanity.

Yet there are other stories in which the sadness is mixed with grace. Here’s one I heard from Anna Hooker, a long-time member of the Nokesville CoB. I’m sure she would like us to hear it.
Anna was directed to visit the homes of clients for work. One day after heavy rains, she followed directions down what she thought was a familiar road. She traveled further back into the woods on this road than she had ever gone before and soon found a small dirt, now a mud track - off the narrow road. She realized with the very muddy conditions, that she couldn’t drive her car down the muddy track so she left her car and began to walk back to find this home.
Her shoes sunk deep into the mud and soon she was a mess, including her dress shoes.
She finally arrived at the home, a very minimal place, some would call a shack. She was invited in and the woman of the house took one look at Anna and said, sit down and let me help you get cleaned up. Anna sat, and the woman brought a white towel and kneeled at her feet. She removed Anna’s shoes and wiped the mud off her feet and shoes with the towel.  Then she got a jug of water and began to wash Anna’s feet.
About that time, Anna realized the home didn’t have running water and that jug of precious water, had been carried in by hand. Anna has been to many a Love Feast in her years as a brethren, but she said she had never had her feet washed like that.
In spite of the woman’s poverty and lack of something we take for granted - running water, she offered Anna the hospitality of Christ.

As we think about our stories, let’s put a place at the table for the woman who washed Anna’s feet as acted as Christ to her.  transition
This scripture in the letter attributed to Peter has been our congregational focus scripture this year. We chose in January in a day of discernment at our retreat and it has guided our commissions in their planning and priorities.
Now it’s your turn to tell stories. Where have you seen US, the ACoB, offer love and hospitality?
 “What have we done?”