The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
First Sunday in Advent, Year B December 3, 2017 First Sunday of Advent, Year B Mark 13:24-37
Christ the King, Year A November 26, 2017 Christ the King Year A Matthew 25:31-46
Thanksgiving, Year A November 22, 2017 Thanksgiving, Year A Psalm 65
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A November 19, 2017 Proper 24, Year A Matthew 25:36-37
Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A November 12, 2017 Proper 27, Year A Matthew 25:1-13
All Saints, Year A November 5, 2017 All Saints’ Day, Year A Matthew 5:1-12
Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year A October 29, 2017 Proper 25, Year A Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Matthew 22:34-46
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A October 22, 2017 Proper 24, Year A Isaiah 45:1-7, Psalm 96, I Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A October 15, 2017 Proper 23, Year A Isaiah 25:1-9, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A October 8, 2017 Proper 22, Year A Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46
The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A October 1, 2017 The Season of Creation, Week 5, Year A Matthew 6:25-33
The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A September 24, 2017 The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A Leviticus 25:1-7, Hebrews 4:1-11, John 6:1-15
The Season of Creation, Week 3, Year A September 17, 2017 The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 3 Deuteronomy 28:1-14, Psalm 65, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Matthew 6:19-24
The Season of Creation, Week 2, Year A September 10, 2017 The Season of Creation, Year A, Week 2 Job 38:1-18, Psalm 139, Romans 1:18-25, Matthew 5:13-16
The Season of Creation, Week 1, Year A September 3, 2017 Season of Creation 1, Year A Job 37:14-24,Psalm 130,Revelation 4,Matthew 8:23-27

 

The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A

Sermon Date:September 24, 2017

Scripture: Leviticus 25:1-7, Hebrews 4:1-11, John 6:1-15

Liturgy Calendar: The Season of Creation, Week 4, Year A


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The act of sleeping is such a mystery!

Allan Pack, the director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania,  says that sleep is basic.  Recent research on jellyfish, who have no brains, show that even they sleep. 

“So sleeping is a behavior that arose relatively early in life’s history and has persisted for hundreds of millions of years,” says Packer, quoted by Sarah Kaplan in a Washington Post article in last Friday’s edition.

The article ends with this comment and question.

“I think it’s one of the major biological questions of our time,”  Pack says.  “We spend a third of life sleeping.  Why are we doing it?  What’s the point?”

This scientist is asking an ultimately theological question. 

And the answer to the question appears over and over in scripture, beginning in the very first chapter of Genesis.  

The act of resting is an essential part of the deep and wise working of creation itself. 

On the seventh day of creation, after God had spent six days being supremely creative, God rested and enjoyed all that God had created. 

Out of all the days of creating and saying, “It is good,” God blessed only one of those days.  And that day was the seventh day. 

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation.”

So the act of resting is a holy act.  Even God, the Creator, rests. 

God rested, and God built into the very DNA of all of creation the act of resting. 

According to God, the earth itself must rest. 

During creation, God enters into a partnership with the earth, giving the earth its own creative powers. 

Remember how God says on the third day,  “Let the earth grow plant life:  plants yielding seeds and fruit trees bearing fruit with seeds inside it, each according to its kind throughout the earth.” 

And then on the sixth day, God enters into an even deeper partnership with the earth.  God says, “Let the earth produce every kind of living thing:  livestock, crawling things, and wildlife.”

And by the end of the day, God has created not only every kind of creature on the earth, but in addition, God creates human beings, formed by God out of the dust of the earth itself. 

The earth and God are intimately related.  The earth is in a creative and loving relationship with God. 

The term Mother Earth sums up this partnership, because in God’s scheme of creation, the earth both brings forth and sustains life. 

God and the earth are in a holy partnership, and both God and the earth, constantly creative and creating, must also rest. 

So in order for the earth to do her work richly and fully, God gave the earth blessed times of rest, the earth’s own sabbaths, that are part of the great creative cycle of life. 

Just think about day and night. There’s beautiful prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book called Night Prayer that begins with these lines, written by The Rev. John Williamson.  http://liturgy.co.nz/lord-it-is-night 

“Lord,
it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.”

Day and night.  At night, the earth becomes still and at rest. 

And God imprints this same rest pattern in our own bodies.   

All of us have a circadian rhythm that runs in the background of our brains as a 24-hour internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.  This is our sleep/wake cycle. 

Our circadian rhythms, which by the way, plants, animals, fungi, and even bacteria also have, tend to mesh with the big cycle of day and night.  (https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/circadian_rhythm.htm

When the day ends and darkness settles in, “our eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus in our brains that it’s time to feel tired.  And then our brain sends a signal to our bodies to release melatonin, which makes our bodies tired.” 

Our circadian rhythms work best when we have regular sleep habits. When we disrupt our circadian rhythms with things that keep us up late, then we find ourselves out of sorts, and having trouble paying attention.   https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm

Day and night, then, which God created right after light, are part of the eternal rhythm of work and rest that God ordained for all of creation. 

God also gave the earth the rhythm of creativity and rest in the cycle of seasons.

Autumn has arrived.    The earth has spent the spring and summer being creative.  Now the farmers are harvesting crops, and small towns all over America are having harvest festivals.  We even have a national holiday, Thanksgiving, to celebrate the blessings that God has given to us through this creative partnership with the earth itself.  And then, during the winter, the days grow short, and the nights long, and the earth will rest.

God has built this pattern of rest into Mother Earth itself and also into us.

So why do we have such trouble with rest, especially in this nation?  A quick internet search reveals headlines such as “Americans work more than anyone,” “Americans overworked, stressed,” “The US is the most overworked nation in the world.”  You get the idea.   

Actually, throughout time, human beings have had trouble making space for rest-which is why rest is a central theme throughout scripture. 

Because at its heart, rest is about trust.  Trust that I can let go and the world will go on, trust that I can let go and still have all that I need provided, trust that I can let go, and as they say in AA meetings, let God take care of me and everything that I usually take care of while I rest.   

Resting is a holy activity.  God rested, God built rest into the DNA of creation, and God wants us to rest. 

In Old Testament times, the weekly and yearly, and seven-yearly and the forty-nineth yearly cycles of rest described in Leviticus, and in other places in scripture as well, serve two functions,  according to the theologians writing for the Theology of Work project.

The first reason for these cycles of rest is to give the people and the earth a physical rest from the hardship and frustration of work.

The second reason for “these rhythmic rests” is to invite people into the creative space of Sabbath rest in their lives so that they can rest in God in worship,

because in addition to physical rest, we people need spiritual rest.

We need spiritual rest from things like anxiety and insecurity, and worry.  In the big plan of creation, God sets aside times for us to rest and to worship, to remember that God loves us, that God is in a covenant relationship with us, and that God is full of mercy and compassion for each one of us. 

In Chapter 4 of Hebrews, the writer encourages the listeners to rest, not just adequate physical rest, but to rest in God.    

“Look, Hebrews, while the promise of entering into God’s rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” 

Jesus himself specifically invites us into God’s rest with these words in the eleventh chapter of the gospel according to Matthew.

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28, CEB)

We human beings put a lot of effort into being self-sufficient without God’s help.   That need to work ourselves to death out of a need to be self-sufficient leaves us exhausted and empty. 

So Jesus reminds us that trusting in him is the way to go.  Trusting in Jesus and spending time with Jesus, and resting in Jesus, and letting Jesus refresh us makes every day, not just Sunday, an ongoing time of sabbath in our lives. 

In today’s gospel, a huge crowd has followed Jesus to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, because they have seen for themselves how Jesus, with mercy and compassion, healed the sick.  They wanted some of this healing for themselves.

You would think that maybe Jesus would have healed those who had followed him all this way. 

But instead, Jesus looks at these people, and decides that they need something besides physical healings.  They need rest.    Matthew’s version of this miracle points out that the crowds who had gathered were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

So Jesus has the people sit down on the earth itself, and in this place there was a great deal of grass. 

So now, the people are resting, nestled against Mother Earth, cradled by the grass brought forth by Mother Earth.  They don’t know it, but even that act of letting the grassy earth hold and support them is already healing them. 

In this green and grassy place, Jesus takes the five barley loaves and two fish that a boy has given him.  Jesus simply gives thanks for the food and then starts distributing the food, not just a bite, but as much as people wanted. 

And when everybody is full, and satisfied, and is resting, Jesus has the disciples gather up what is left over, so that nothing will be lost—an act of holy saving and recycling!

Every Sabbath day, Jesus invites us, the harassed and helpless, to come sit down at the table and to rest.  All we need to bring is our open and outstretched hands—nothing else.      

Jesus invites us to rest, and Jesus comes into our midst and we give thanks, and Jesus feeds us, just as he fed the thousands so long ago.  Through the bread and wine, Jesus feeds us, and hopefully, we find that we feel rested and satisfied when we leave this place.

But don’t wait until next Sunday to experience Sabbath rest.  Sabbath rest is available to us constantly through creation itself. 

Because of God’s partnership with the earth from the beginning of creation, and because God welcomes us into that partnership, we can also find rest when we rest in creation.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “I worship God by going for a walk in the woods, or by being on a golf course, or by playing in the ocean surf.”  Whether they know it or not, these people are tapping into the deep, wise healing work of God through creation itself. 

As Jesus invited the disciples in the gospel according to Mark to come away to a wilderness place, and rest awhile, so Jesus invites us to do that as well.   

So rest this week in the deep wisdom of God’s partner, the earth-and give thanks.  Let God take care of what you feel you need to be busy about and take a rest instead. 

Rest in the grass, or under a tree, or take a walk through the nature preserve, or rest by the river, or enjoy a picnic in a park, or lie on a blanket some dark night and look up at the stars.  Or if you can’t do any of that right away, start simply by honoring your circadian rhythms and go to bed on time for a change.    

As the writer of Hebrews says, “So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did on the seventh day.    Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest.”

Amen. 

Resources: 

http://liturgy.co.nz/lord-it-is-night 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/circadian_rhythm.htm

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/what-circadian-rhythm

https://www.theologyofwork.org/

Kaplan, Sarah.  “Scientists:  A brainless creature can sleep, after all.”  The Washington Post, Friday, September 22, 2017, A3. 

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