“Rest Stop” by Mark W. Harris
First Parish of Watertown – February 26, 2017
Opening Words – “Another Way” by Jan Richardson
You have looked
at so many doors
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.
choose the door
to the inside.
Travel the most ancient way of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.
but the one
you make yourself.
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim’s way.
Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how
your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.
Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
as doors deeper in.
Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.
for the gifts that come
let them go.
Do not expect
by the same road.
Home is always
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light
that waits for you
but by the star
that blazes inside you
where you are
and you are welcome
Reading – On Generosity
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Last week Jolie suggested that we all take a breath. I agree. In these trying times all of us need to stop, take a breath, and find sources of nourishment and replenishment, so that we might be re-energized to protest, resist or just try to make some sense of nonsensical policies or rhetoric. Today I am going to take that a step further, and suggest that we all take several breaths, and in fact that we take an extended rest from our labors, even go to sleep. Yes, take a nap. I know that’s hard to do during one of my scintillating sermons, but I believe you can do it. Do you remember Washington Irving’s story “Rip van Winkle?” Maybe we can fantasize what it would be like to sleep through the current administration. They say that Rip slept for more than twenty years, and we only need four; don’t even think about eight.
After he sleeps Van Winkle awakens to a world transformed. He doesn’t know anyone in his village, his son has grown up, and his wife has died. From a Puritan work ethic perspective, many of us would probably condemn him for being lazy and worthless. He enjoys hanging out by himself in the woods or carousing with his friends at the inn. Kids love him because he gives them lots of time and tells them stories or repairs their toys. And guess what? He avoids hard work. His laziness, and his loafing mean this laggard upsets his wife, and she begins to nag him. But can you blame her? Their home and farm have fallen into disarray. Nevertheless, he tries to avoid the nagging, wanders off, and we all know what happens next. He drinks some Dutch gin with some guys who are playing nine-pins. Pretty soon he ended up with twenty years of snoring. But this is not some morality tale. After he wakes up, he doesn’t regret what has happened. His grown daughter takes him in, and he continues to be lazy. Maybe he is just a good reminder that we need to rest from our labors.
My name is Mark and I am a workaholic. My wife called me that last week, and she is right. I complain that I am always at work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am addicted to being productive. Ministers may have a public reputation for not doing real work, that is they sit around and read books all day. But in fact it is a profession that lends itself to working all the time because we are available, and on call 24/7, and even if we are reading books all day that is usually in the service of the next project, sermon, or paper we are going to present. I sometimes joke with Andrea about my Kindle Fire, calling it the best Christmas present ever. Unfortunately, it is the best Christmas present ever because it has email and the internet on it, and I can therefore work anywhere and anytime. My family members might be having a conversation, but I can just as easily be found with my nose in the kindle. And I am not reading some mystery novel for pure pleasure.
Instead I am reading your email, some social action update, or Googling the minutiae of Congregational polity. Here I am contemplating retirement, and I can’t even rest for five minutes. Andrea says she will be fine at our cottage, but what about me? This is the guy who has to go to town every day. And what about you? Can you put down the phone? Can you resist being connected? In a recent book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, Alex Pang writes, “rest is not something that the world gives us. It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”
This topic made me think of places in our lives where there are designated rest stops. The people who designed our roads first began to notice the need for rest stops on highways in the late 1920’s. A county engineer in Michigan saw a family one day pulled over to the side of the road trying to eat a picnic on an old tree stump. He wondered what if the road had periodic stopping places that were park like, beautiful or scenic places, where travelers could refresh themselves? After World War II rest areas proliferated in every state, especially as the interstate highway system developed. Who among us does not have some wretched but enduring memory of crawling into a rest area for an emergency bathroom stop, a collection of brochures about all the wondrous sites in the panhandle of North Texas, or the sumptuous cuisine under the golden arches of McDonalds or Popeye’s crispy chicken.
Now that your mouths are watering, come along with me and pull over on mile 25 of the Maine turnpike in Kennbunk, or older folks may picture Howard Johnson’s orange roof, featuring 28 flavors of ice cream inside, or if you are headed cross country in the 1970’s a Stuckey’s suddenly appeared every few miles marked by a teal blue roof and the delicious Pecan logs for sale inside. While the food was disgusting and the kitsch junky, who can forget the physical and mental need for a rest after you have driven nearly 500 miles from Kansas City to Colorado Springs or past 300 miles of cornfields in Iowa so you have been hypnotized by endless green stalks? Rest your eyes. Rest your legs. You can stop singing now to keep yourself awake. Have a muddy cup of coffee and an Almond Joy, and stretch. Today I need a rest before I even start a trip, and after fifty miles the legs stiffen. All the more reason to reflect on the need for rest.
Rest and the need for it, is the culmination of the Biblical creation story from Genesis. God works hard for six days, and the seventh day, God rests. The story reminds us why Saturday became the Sabbath. God did not need to finish up on the seventh day. You can say God was efficient, and it is harder for us to get our work done. All the more reason to carve out a time for rest. Taking time for a Sabbath is the fourth commandment, the transition precept from those that are about God, and those that are about human relationships, perhaps indicating that what sustains us, and our relationship with the holy is how well we remember to observe Sabbath in our lives.
That Commandment says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath.” Why have a day when we don’t work? For one it reminds us to feel a sense of reverence for the creation, that life is holy, and thus we put ourselves in right relationship with life. Jewish tradition would teach us that it is a reminder that God exists. Second, it reminds us of times when we have, like Moses and his people, been freed from slavery and endless trials and trauma, and we must therefore promote and preserve the well-being of our bodies. Take care of yourself, or you will end up tired and worn out. Why do we fail to take of our bodies? Why do we refuse to free ourselves from the slavery of being productive? At night I fall asleep in front of the television because I can’t convince myself to go to bed when I am tired, but only when it is the right time, and thus the clock is my master.
The idea for this sermon came to me when I heard my colleague John Gibbons in Bedford preach at a UU Minister’s meeting. John spoke in the wake of the Presidential election about a book by Biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann called Sabbath as Resistance. In that book, the author writes, “The way of mammon (capital, wealth) is the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness without any Sabbath. Jesus taught his disciples that they could not have it both ways.” You may recall the story from Matthew where Jesus says you cannot have both God and mammon, meaning wealth or material goods.
In John’s sermon the idea of Sabbath as resistance was clearly a response to the election of Donald Trump. Celebrating Sabbath in this sanctuary means that this is a time and place where the tyrant has no authority or power. So by coming to church we are resisting the values and beliefs that govern a world that is defined by production and consumption of commodities. You are removing yourself from the rat race of anxiety that tells you to always get ahead or always be buying the next thing. Celebrating Sabbath with each other is a different way of living and being in the world.
We are saying to each other, and proclaiming as a community that we will not allow our lives to be defined in the way that the predominant culture defines them. This Sabbath as resistance reminds us of the Black Church and its role in the civil rights movement. The black church was one place where African Americans had power and control. As a community they were able to define the parameters of life and relationships. There was no tyrant. There was no system of Jim Crow. They were not second class citizens. With authority they turned the world upside down, at least within their own world. This gave them power to build upon strength and thus resist the world that oppressed them.
They needed a place where there was no tyrant, and church was that place. This was part of an argument I made to members of the Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast Committee after thy decided not to have a religious invocation this year. Where do you think Dr. King derived his inspiration? When you remove the invocation from the breakfast, you delete the source of power behind this movement to change America, and you homogenize it. The holy spirit gave that movement power not the generic idea of being nice to each other. Sabbath is resistance.
Resistance as an understanding of Sabbath is clear to most of us. We create our own powerful vision for how the world should be right here. On the one hand we resist the tyrant and unjust proclamations about undocumented immigrants or denying choices in bathroom use for Transgender individuals. We create a welcoming place for all people, exactly what a church can be. We can also understand Sabbath as alternative. Alternative asks us to create an idea of economy that stands in opposition to the one that already consumes some degree of time that could be devoted to Sabbath.
Reflecting upon an alternative culture and economy means how much we allow ourselves to be subject to advertising and the consumption of life depriving goods when we could devote more time and energy to life enhancing relationships, and find rest and renewal in being together as a community, and as a family that nurtures the spirit of reverence and awe in the creation. Those who are my age or older remember a time when Blue Laws made it so no stores were open on Sundays. After church when I was growing up, we would drive to the next town to the one store that was open and buy the Sunday paper, and if I was lucky, perhaps a pack of baseball cards for me. Sunday was a time for leisure, for a nice dinner with the family, games, a walk, a drive around the countryside.
No amount of wailing is going to bring back Sunday as a place that is not dominated by economy. The stores are open, and shopping dominates our leisure activities. And if not shopping then Patriots in pads become our religion – and so we wear funny, colorful costumes, cheer loudly, and demand the opponents blood. Many might say, I like football. I like shopping. But are you getting any rest? Are you reflecting on deeper things of the spirit? Do you have an alternative to work? Once we thought that work allowed us time to rest, and it was rest that gave us meaning. Now, where is the balance? How do we save ourselves from communications overload? When are we going to put down the phone?
The ostensible purpose of today’s service was to introduce the annual pledge drive to support the budget of the church. One can see in Jesus’ proclamation why church’s have traditionally feared talking about money. Making money often hurts others and destroys lives, and yet we all need it to survive, including the church. We are conflicted. We protest the fossil fuel economy. We weep for the water protectors in North Dakota, and yet we drive and fly everywhere. But too much of an obsession with money and the purchase of commodities means the life of the deeper spirit dries up and dies. Church remains one place in our lives where Sabbath is still held up for the holy influence it could still have upon us.
Church reminds us to resist the tyrant. Church reminds us to create an alternative economic altar where our relationship with our neighbors is more important than being better than him or her. I suspect most of you are here because you want to nurture those values of respect and understanding, rest and care and renewal, and you reject the values from ancient times that made slaves in Egypt because of constant toil where people existed to be used. There was no rest and no renewal. We only flogged ourselves each day to work harder and do more. Sabbath means that life needs a rest stop. We have driven ourselves far enough. Today I invite you to make a new map of your life that includes some rest stops.
We have a human need for Sabbath, because while work gives us the means to live, it is rest that gives meaning to life. On Friday my polity class at Harvard was considering whether UUs have sacraments or not; special rituals where the holy enters our days. One part of worship they believed revealed this was child dedication services where the community celebrates the wonder of life and its development in one person. They said that in this act we affirm the inherent grace of every person. Grace means that there is nothing you have to do be worthy – not work, or grades, or appearance, or purchasing power. You are already blessed, and always will be. I realized why tears come to my eyes when I dedicate a child. It is verification by the community of the beauty and value of each person without having to prove that to anybody. Without Sabbath, weekly moments of rest, we forget the beauty and reverence we are given by life. With Sabbath, we affirm it.
Today I ask you to support your church this year because it is one place in your life that says, think about taking care of yourself, of taking care of each other. Think about being generous with what money you have. This is a culture as our reading proclaimed that makes us fear that we are going to run out of money, or run out of things, but celebrating the Sabbath teaches us that we have what we need. It is a culture of gratitude for what we have. It is a culture of plenty where we know we have enough, and want to live in deeper relationship to others and to a vision that enhances life.
Finally, it is a culture that acknowledges that what we have grows deeper and more powerful when we share it with each other. Supporting this community means you recognize the abundance you have, and the blessings you have, and when you share those with this community it teaches you and your family to resist tyranny, resist injustice, and to envision an alternative order of society where you are not buying all the time or worshipping false gods. It teaches you how much you need a place of sanctuary from the world’s fear and anxiety, a place of sanctuary where you can rest and reflect and not work all the time. Support the place of sanctuary in your life, this place of welcome and safety, where you and your children can feel the power of the spirit, and the power of freedom to be you. Here we are accepted as we are even as we’re challenged toward whom we can become. Walter Brueggemann writes in “On the Sabbath” :
You do not have to do more.
You do not have to sell more.
You do not have to control more.
You do not have to know more.
You do not have to have your kids in ballet or soccer.
You do not have to be younger or more beautiful.
You do not have to score more.
Sabbath is rest, and it is a way of spiritual formation against acquisitiveness and competition and for compassion, justice and solidarity.
Closing Words – from Mark Harris
Charmian Proskauer suggested a theme for this year’s pledge drive “A Place for All of Us”
And I wrote this in response:
May this be a welcoming place – where people from many backgrounds and beliefs feel respected and affirmed.
May this be a learning place – where children and adults can grow their souls with open minds and hearts.
May this be an empowering place – where all members and friends learn and act in a world where we speak out when human rights are denied.
May this be a loving place – where everyone feels supported and cared for in a friendly and nurturing religious home.
This place for all of us grows stronger and more vital when you pledge your support of time, money and service