Our first Sunday sermon!
Welcome, welcome, welcome. Welcome to everyone in this room because we are all first-timers this morning. We are all here to explore what it looks like to gather weekly together--to get to know one another, to get to know God, and to be shaped in community.
And I want to say a few words about the community that already exists and got us here this morning. There are people among us this morning who met every week last spring and early summer to talk about what church is. What community is. People who met every week to pray and get to know one another and get to know what God is up to in SE Atlanta. There are people among us this morning who sat together for months before that to discern my own call to this neighborhood. There are people among us who have painted, weeded, mowed, planted, prayed for, and cleaned this space countless times as we’ve etched out a space to gather. There are people among us who have braved the basement and hard conversations, have shown up to things that made them uncomfortable, and have sandwiched into my house with grace and patience.
God has shifted and stirred in our conversations, our reading, our gathering, and we want more of that--in fact--we want it weekly. So we are here.
And we are here to open up an exploration of a very living and active God. A God who is among us in our neighborhoods and communities, who is already and always pushing light into dark places, love into violence, and care into criticism. And we really hope this time on Sundays reminds us of that.
But being here, showing up to one more thing, is, for some of us (for many of us I’m guessing) yet another activity on an already very busy calendar. Another thing on our list of “shoulds.”
We live in a culture of busyness--and it is exhausting. If we were making a list of modern day US mantras then “I am busy” or “we are busy” would be in the top 5. I’m in the business of asking people how they are, it’s part of my job description basically, and “Busy!” is by far the number one response people give. And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I say it a lot myself.
There are a lot of layers of what being busy means.
“I’m busy” could be code for simply “I have offspring” or “I have a family.” I have many people who need me and who I need.
“I’m busy” could mean that times are tough--bills are coming in--the dollar doesn’t go so far so time becomes the new currency.
I recently read an article that talks about busy as the new status symbol--not money. Not your house or your car. But how busy you are. “I’m busy” means I am important. People need me. I have skills and talents and personality that is in demand.
Or maybe “I’m busy” is code for “I’ve got things I’m avoiding.” Being busy can mean we have no time to stop and hear the voices that we’re silencing through all of these activities.
I’m busy could be code for “there are so many things I want to do with my time! I want to read that latest article. I want to be in shape and feel good in my body. I want to be inspired by new people and ideas. I want to change the world for the better. We are busy because we are connected to every broadening circles with modern technology and transportation. We’re busy! It’s exciting!
When I say “I’m busy” I feel like it is possible there is a little bit of each of these things planted deep inside that mantra.
I think most of all when I say “I’m busy” I’m saying I’m trying to be more than I am. I’m trying to be superhuman. I’m expecting more out of myself than Jenelle can really maintain.
Thomas Merton, the 20th century mystic, theologian, and poet calls this busyness a form of violence. He says this about the violence of being busy: “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”
There are many good and worthy things in the world, but if we try to do all of them, it is a violent thing. Being too divided, too committed, too connected, too spread out can do damage to us, to our souls, our relationships, our bodies.
The Chinese pictograph for “busy” is literally composed of two characters: the symbol of heart and the symbol for killing. Being busy is heart killing.
And the more I think about it, the more I believe it. I have seen busyness kill many things. I have seen it kill marriages. I have seen it kill relationships between parents and kids. I have seen it kill creativity and kindness. I have seen it kill credit scores. I have seen it kill mental health. I have seen it kill people’s awareness of the future.
We’ve been so busy.
And I hesitated. I feared. I wrestled with the idea of starting to gather on Sunday mornings because I feared that this time, this coming together, would be added to a list of “shoulds” that is already too long for most of us.
But the Spirit kept pushing--mostly through the voices of people on the leadership team--that we need this time and this space every week.
So what does it look like to start a new thing here in this space and on this day in the midst of our busyness? Let’s listen again to what Katherine read us this morning:
And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested (God stopped, God “sabbathed”) on the seventh day from all the work that had been done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)
From the very beginning--for God, people, and the earth, rest is a holy thing. The word rest in this passage is actually the word “stop” which is the Hebrew word for Sabbath. God rested. God stopped. God Sabbathed. To stop is a holy, even divine as much as it is human, thing. So holy and important that God blessed it. And, in case you missed it, Sabbath is the only thing God blessed in the creation story. God stopped.
It’s easy for me and maybe for you to think of rest, of taking a break, of slowing down or stopping all the things we’re doing with our lives as a concession or a necessity because of our weakness. Maybe we feel a little twinge of guilt that we need rest or need a break. Maybe we see rest as the thing we do because we’re frail little humans--if we could only do more and be more.
But in Genesis we see that even God stops and rests. God doesn’t stop as a concession or a weakness but because rest is a good thing--just as good and necessary as the act of creating. Psychotherapist and minister Wayne Muller in his book “Sabbath” talks about how the “ancient rabbis teach that on the seventh day, God created menuha--tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose--REST, in the deepest possible sense of fertile, healing stillness. Until the Sabbath, until this menuha, creation was unfinished.”
So as we start meeting weekly, as we put worship and spiritual community on our “busy” calendars, I truly want this place and this space to be a place where you and I can REST, can take a deep breath. Where we can stop earning, producing, creating, hustling, and just be. I want us to start our life together by stopping, just like God stopped.
Maybe, even, our times together can start to mitigate and heal the violence done by our busyness? Maybe it will make us better followers of Jesus? Muller says that, “Once people feel nourished and refreshed, they cannot help but be kind; just so, the world aches for the generosity of a well-rested people.” And lord knows we could use some kindness right now.
What this looks like on the ground is that we will spend the entire month of October exploring the idea of rest and Sabbath and what it means to stop. We will start building our worshipping DNA saturated with God’s call to rest from our busyness and turn to holy stillness, holy rest.
We’ll look at the benefits of rest next week--there are so many, there are even some that could save our lives. God knew what God was doing. The following week we’ll look at how rest is a community thing. Sabbath is communal. In the New Testament and in modern Jewish practices we see the day of Sabbath as time for learning in community and a time to share meals together. It is even the day to make love! The fourth week of October we’ll be exploring some creative and fun ideas and practices that will help us know how we can stop--how we can rest. What does that look like in our actual lives? Is it a whole day? Is it a short practices I do once a day? Is it an attitude with which I do all things? We’ll finish up our month by looking at how rest and Sabbath are acts of resistance and social justice. When Sabbath is talked about in the 10 commandments it is clear that all people--not just the “observant religious folks” are to rest--servants, animals, land. How is rest an act of social justice--an act of liberation?
It’s going to be a good month.
But for today, just know that God writes all of us a permission slip to stop, to rest. Not when our lists are finished (they never are). Not when we deserve it, or think we deserve it. Not because we are weak, but because that is how God created us--and it’s a good thing. It is a holy and blessed thing. You don’t want to miss out on that blessing.
I’d love for this blessing to spread beyond just this morning. For today and this month, we made these little slips of paper that have a list of possible practices that might help you put a little rest into your lives--practices like giving yourself permission to say “no” to things. Going for a walk.
Debra and Bev actually made us sleeping bags for our phones! This is amazing--put your phone in a sleeping bag for an hour or maybe even an afternoon. Set it aside and rest from it.
Or maybe the practice you need is to “take a nap.”
Go around pronouncing blessings on things! One of my favorite Sabbath blessings is--May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering. May you be happy. May you be wise. May you feel great love. Go around the park and secretly bless people! (Blessing found in Muller’s book)
The last practice we have listed is called “make a Sabbath box.” Find a box (decorate it if you’re crafty) and put the things you need a break from actually IN THE BOX for a day or afternoon. Maybe it’s your laptop or your phone. Maybe it’s a picture or a video game. A Sabbath box--a box of rest.
We actually have a group that meets Tuesday mornings for 30 minutes of silent meditation if you want to stop by for that.
At the bottom of the slip there is also room for you to write in any restful activities that you already love or want to try.
I encourage you to try one practice this week--maybe it’s somet
hing little that you do every day or maybe you choose one whole day to rest and relax and enjoy God’s blessings.
But rest. Dear people of God, rest. Take back a little of that holy time this week.
All of the quotations from my sermon are from Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives. Definitely worth the read. https://www.amazon.com/Sabbath-Finding-Renewal-Delight-Lives/dp/0553380117