Opening Words: Warriors of the Heart, Danaan Perry
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along, or for a few moments in my life I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.
Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life. I know most of the right questions and even some of the right answers. But once in a while, as I’m merrily (or not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging towards me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this “new trapeze bar” has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart-of-hearts I know that for me to grow, I must release my grip on the present, well-known bar to move to the next one.
I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “nothing”, a no-place between places. Sure, the old trapeze-bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real too. But the void between? That’s just a scary, confusing, disorienting “nowhere” that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible. What a waste! I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing, and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void, where the real change, the real growth occurs for us.
Sermon: Summer – the Sabbath Season
Father’s day was first proposed exactly 100 years ago: in 1909 a Mrs. John B. Dodd wanted to honor her father, a civil war veteran whose wife died in childbirth with the sixth child and he raised his sons and daughters…
The next year, June 19, 1910 Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane, Washington.
But it wasn’t until 1966 that it became official when LBJ signed a Father’s Day proclamation.
Of course one could say that the first Father’s Day was observed 5769 years ago.
According to Jewish/Christian/Muslim teaching that’s the year the world was created by God the Father. On the seventh day he rested. There’s evidence that he had a cookout with Adam and Eve – remnants of the charcoal grill have been found in the Garden of Eden, which is now located in modern day Iraq.
…which leads us to the sermon topic, Summer –Sabbath Season, as we transition from spring to summer today, and summer is our ‘Sabbath season.’ What’s your understanding of and experience of the Sabbath?
Helen Keller said, “I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”
I want to tell you my understanding of the Sabbath – not as a designated day in the week on the calendar, only, but as a way of naming a particular kind of experience – a Sabbath moment, if you will. It’s an important concept – it has to do with keeping life in balance, of reminding ourselves that we’re human beings, not just human do-ers.
The Biblical story of creation, borrowed from the Babylonians, says that God spent six days creating the universe and all the furnishings, and on the seventh day he rested from his labor.
Every culture has a creation myth, or several to choose from, to explain different aspects of Creation.
The Creation story in Genesis is followed by the story of the first freedom march — Exodus, a sort of eighth day, when God went back to work to fix things up – things that didn’t work out the way he planned, or hoped.
This time he called for help, choosing Moses as his general, to free His chosen people from bondage in Egypt. After they crossed the Red Sea, free from the Pharaoh’s grip, God could see that they were in a different kind of bondage – they lacked a sense of purpose, or direction.
So God carved His ten commandments onto stone tablets, commandments meant to provide a program for a new kind of freedom – both an inner freedom, to find peace of mind, and a structure for people to live together: without order there is no freedom, but it also works the other way – too much order takes away individual freedom – the freedom to be yourself.
One of the commandments carved in stone was the commandment to ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.”
What is the spirit behind this ancient rule?
The well-known Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, wrote a book to explain his understanding of and his personal experience with the Sabbath.
He kept the Sabbath to the letter of the law, but I find his explanation of the Sabbath to be poetic – the same way I take the stories in Genesis and Exodus, and the Bible in general: as poetry it touches something deep in me, but only as poetry, as metaphor, not as some kind of literal truth…but as a deeper spiritual truth.
Heschel points out that the term “Sabbath” derives from the Hebrew shabbat ‘to cease.’
Even for the orthodox observer, there are some allowances for breaking the Sabbath – health emergencies, for example.
The letter of the law, however, is quite clear – do no work on the Sabbath, from Friday at sundown, to Saturday at sundown. (In the Jewish calendar, the day begins at sundown.)
Heschel asserts that when understood properly, the Sabbath is a gift of freedom, which is consistent with the book of Exodus, the freedom march.
To illustrate the strict rule against work on the Sabbath he offers a story about a man who took a stroll on his property on the Sabbath and while sauntering about he saw that a section of his pasture fence needed repair, and he made a mental note to fix it, later, after the Sabbath, of course. The next day he realized that the mental note he had taken on the Sabbath violated the law of the Sabbath, not only to avoid working on the Sabbath but to even think about work was a violation. So he resolved never to fix that break in the fence.
“Don’t even think about it!”
To give a taste of Heschel’s comments on Sabbath here are his opening lines:
“He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life. He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul…Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.”
Later he waxes poetic, saying, “The seventh day is like a place in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere.”
“The Sabbath preceded creation and the Sabbath completed creation; it is all of the spirit that the world can bear.”
“The seventh day sings.”
“The Sabbath is a bride, and its celebration is like a wedding.”
“Sabbath is ‘the bride that enters the huppah.’”
“The Sabbath is a touch of eternity.”
The Sabbath is a metaphor – pure poetry, pointing to those precious moments when we feel most at home in the world, in ourselves; when we sense our connection to Nature, another name for God. Sabbath moments arrive unexpectedly, but it helps to carve out some space to welcome those moments, those connections, those insights that can be liberating.
For the past 25 years my Sabbath day is Wednesday; I chose Wednesday as my ‘day off’ because it allows me to go into the City to see a matinee on Broadway
I understand the idea that thinking about work is itself an engagement with work, I do it all the time. That’s why we invented the summer Sabbath break – which for me means a month of Sabbath time and a month of ‘on call’ time – when we’re on call it’s allowable to think about fixing that broken fence. We must all be menders of the broken fence!.
Mending broken fences is an essential part of ministry – yours, as members of this congregation, as well as mine as minister.
Thoreau understood the spirit of the Sabbath, though he did not observe it in the traditional ways. On March 15, 1852 (age 36) he wrote in his journal:
“My life partakes of infinity…I go forth to make new demands on life. I wish to begin this summer well; to do something in it worthy of it and of me; to transcend my daily routine and that of my townsmen; to have my immortality now, that it be in the quality of my daily life; to pay the greatest price, the greatest tax, of any man in Concord, and enjoy the most!! I will give all I am for my nobility. I will pay all my days for my success. I pray that the life of this spring and summer may lie fair in my memory. May I dare as I have never done! May I persevere as I have never done! May I purify myself anew as with fire and water, soul and body!
“May my melody not be wanting to the season! May I gird myself to be a hunter of the beautiful, that naught escape me! May I attain to a youth never attained! I am eager to report the glory of the universe; may I be worthy to do it; to have got through with regarding human values, so as not to be distracted from regarding divine values. It is reasonable that a man should be something worthier at the end of the year than he was at the beginning.”
Today is the first day of summer; may we begin it well. May we dare as we have never dared, hope as we have never hoped, persevere as we have never done!
May we understand the connection between summer and Sabbath—it’s an understanding that bringeth peace.
Mary Oliver captures the essence of the Sabbath in her wonderful little poem, Praying:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Closing Words: The Lake Isle of Innisfree – William Butler Yeats
I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.