Sermon from 5/29: On the 7th Day, God Rested

This sermon was preached at Hamline Church, using the text Genesis 2:1-3 (the 7th Day):

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

In the mid-1960s, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow developed something revolutionary: a human hierarchy of needs—not something to be used to diagnose mentally ill people, but rather an exploration of what humans need to be fully alive, healthy and thriving.

The hierarchy is a pyramid, its foundation composed of basic physiological needs: food, shelter, water—and most interestingly, sleep.

When you think of the basic human needs, does sleep come to mind? Or are you like me, barely thinking about it until suddenly you haven’t had enough of it?

Well, it turns out that Maslow was painfully right—that sleep is so essential to our human needs that not getting it could literally kill us.

Sleep research shows us that within the brain, there are large quantities of genes that are only turned on while we sleep. I don’t think you need me to tell you how hard it is to think clear thoughts when you’ve had several nights of poor sleep. Anyone who has ever had an infant knows how that works.

If we don’t sleep, our immune system weakens and begins to fail.

Researchers at Washington University in Saint Louis have also begun to link a lack of sleep in life to the development of alzheimers disease later in life.

Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist at Oxford University, has a theory that sleep is a time when our brains process and consolidate memory. He says:

“our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep. In fact, it’s been estimated to give us a threefold advantage. Sleeping at night enhances our creativity.”

In case you’re curious, these little anecdotes come from NPR: Russel Foster has a great TED talk for the scientific lay person on this topic. It was on the TED radio hour a few weeks back.

Humans need sleep: we need sleep to be fully human, fully alive, fully whole, not only mentally but biologically.

Yet, we devalue it—we forget it as a basic human need, and relegate it to a secondary thing—something we’ll do after all the work is done.

So, you may be asking yourself—why is this preacher talking to me about sleep, at 10 am on the Sunday morning of a long weekend?

Why have I chosen not to sleep in, dragged my children out of bed, and come here—just to hear a sermon on the adoration of sleep? Is she doing this to tease me? Perhaps living into some kind of holy irony? Or is she just totally and completely clueless?

Well, for the irony of it, I am sorry—and I give you complete and total permission to yawn during this sermon. Or, to take a nap in the balcony. But, if you stick with me—you might see where I’m going with this.

I think you know the beginning of the story just read for us.

God creates the heavens and the earth–the earth is formless and void, and then God brings forth the waters, and the land, and the plants and crops, the swarming fish, the birds of the air—all those quadrapeds–and then us.

“In the image of God, he created them. And then there was morning, and then there was evening—the sixth day.”

This is the foundational story of who we are in faith. It is the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of our story with God.

And yet, when we think about that beginning, maybe we gloss over the seventh day. Maybe we get too caught up in the science and religion battles over what really happened, or maybe this part gets lost as we read on into the next verses—the story of Adam and Eve.

Just like we might be tempted to de-value sleep in our lives, we also might be tempted to de-value these three verses in the grand scheme of creation.

Because what is truly happening here is quite profound.

Here the story tells us that it wasn’t enough to create the heavens, the earth, the birds, the fish, the waters, the dome of the sky–it wasn’t enough to create the humans in God’s image. There was one final thing to do, and it was rest: to institute peace, joy–blessing.

We like to think that WE are the highlight of this story–because as usual we humans like to put ourselves at the center of all stories. But the seventh day is more important.

The seventh day is the pinnacle of the story: the creation of rest and blessing. On the seventh day, God created a holy way of being with this new creation:

Enjoying it. Blessing it. Honoring it. Relaxing in it.

After creating this great and magnificent world, God needed a way to be in relationship to it. Our ancestors used this day of rest to frame the entire history of their existence on earth, the entire narrative of who they are and why they are.

Created in the image of God, rest is as essential to us now as it was in the beginning. The seventh day calls us to live into a principal of sabbath in our own lives, to rest, to bless, and to hallow the work we have done.

 

Tomorrow is Memorial Day—a national holiday, when we pause as a nation to remember those who have died in service to our country. Many of us pause on Memorial Day to remember fallen friends and family.

This day was originally a day of spiritual and social healing, instituted after the civil war, when the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers could be decorated and honored across the reunited, yet still scarred, nation.

This day of national rest developed out of mourning, but for the goal of healing: so that in rest we could remember our common connection to one another as one country.

On this day, our rest has a restorative purpose, a purpose to heal our hearts and help us to remember the consequences of war. Yet, culturally, this day has also developed into the opening weekend of summer: the official time when we can all kick back and barbeque every weekend up at the lake. This too can be restorative for us, a process of healing and holy rest after a long winter of hard work.

So tomorrow, on Memorial Day, when many of us have time to stop working and just be, let us embrace the principal of Sabbath in our lives.

As people of God, together and individually, we have done incredible work.

In your own life, perhaps you have struggled through sadness, through death, through sixty-hour work weeks, through just the average every day of raising wonderful children. Perhaps you’ve built something great on the job, something you can’t wait to share with others. Perhaps you’ve done the quiet and yet fulfilling work of being there for a friend, your grandchildren, your aging parents.

Many of you have been instrumental on bringing ministries of hospitality to fruition here:

  • Our bread oven has truly grown into a community gathering space.
  • On Wednesday, we welcomed a refugee family of seven to their new life in America.
  • Our Confirmands did amazing work, our kids made movies—and I can’t even count or tally how many people we have fed here: at the Dining Hall, at soup suppers, at local shelters.
  • And on top of all that, we’ve been doing hard internal work as a community, trying to re-imagine our role here in the Midway Neighborhood of Saint Paul.

We’ve done a lot, Church.

And though our work is never truly finished, this part of it has come to a close.

The seventh day honors the work God did in creation, but it was not the end of God’s work. The next step in this story, I’m sure you also know: Adam and Eve are in the garden.

Now God must begin a new kind of work, relationship to these intriguing creatures made in the image. Since the whole Bible is a story of that long and winding road, I’m sure you know that God’s work is far from over.

But, framing all of that work is the seventh day, the Sabbath, calling us to a holy rest as a foundation for all that we are.

And like sleep, Sabbath is a fundamental need for us: our souls cannot survive without it. Holy rest is necessary for us, to piece our lives together, to remember the sacrifices made, to honor those who came before, and to be ready for the next stage of the work.

So let us take a seventh day moment: let us rest. Let us bless and hallow this day, and the next, so that we may go out fully whole as people created in the image of God.

Amen.

 

Embrace the Awkward this Palm Sunday–our faith needs it.

This Sunday in Minnesota, Christians are going to congregate around their churches, maybe in the street–maybe in a public park across the street–with palm fronds. They’re going to start singing some weird, old school hymn, waving those palm fronds around (or maybe just holding them anxiously, since they’re Minnesotans) and walking around–processing. The priests and pastors will be in their regalia, white robes and strange colored scarves, and the acolytes, the choirs–wearing church clothes outside the church, singing church songs from a thousand years ago, re-enacting (badly, probably) an event that happened two thousand years ago in the Middle East.

With palms. In Minnesota.

Back up and think for a second, church people: it is going to be one bizarre sight to our Muslim neighbors–confusing to Buddhists and Hindus, perhaps threatening to our Jewish neighbors, and maybe just dumb for the atheists and agnostics peering outside.

Palm Sunday is awkward. It’s ridiculous. The whole world is watching, and it’s just weird.

Palm Sunday is the first service in the most important week of our year. And, it’s an emotional whirlwind, a bait-and-switch Sunday. We as the congregation play the role of the masses of Jerusalem, the people hungry for salvation, and the people hungry for blood.

In the span of an hour, we glorify our savior, begging him to lift us up from the powerlessness of our lives–and then when it becomes clear what this means, we turn on him, and we demand that he be killed.

Tradition requires that we meet outside for this Sunday. Not in the safety of the church, but exposed, for all the world to see, on this remembrance of one of the most deplorable moments in our story.

Palm Sunday doesn’t feel good, to stand outside your building, looking around to see who in your neighborhood is watching you. It doesn’t feel right, to do ‘churchy’ things in a public place–where the ancient rituals we take for granted are visible for anyone to judge.

We’re forced outside of our safe walls, and its not for a picnic or a blessing: it’s the  part of our story where we praised a man as our king, and then killed him a week later.*

On this Sunday, we’re terribly exposed, and not in a way that makes us look like the heroes.

Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

Well, I think you have only to look around at our current political climate to know why we should be warned about the fickleness of a crowd of downtrodden people. We don’t have to look far to see the way that a few fears can turn a crowd into a murderous bunch–and how it can happen to any of us.

We live out this story, we play these characters, so that we can remember how strong and how dangerous our power as a people can be.

We do it so that we can never be truly complacent about who we are as people of faith: to remember that we must always remember how vicious blind following can be.

And we do it on the steps of the church, in the yard, maybe in a city park, so that we can be exposed to all the prying eyes of the rest of the world. It’s incredibly awkward, stupid, and frightening, to Do Church this way. But we have to.

We have to do it, because this exposure holds us to account: our traditions demand that we do this so everyone can see, to remind us that the seeds of such destruction reside in all of us.

It is important for religions of power to remember how destructive they can become if they do not remember to diligently seek the truth. If we listen rightly, Palm Sunday is a very hard Sunday for those of us who walk in power and privilege.

None of us are too good for this part of our story.

We need Palm Sunday to keep us accountable, now more than ever, to the parts of us that succumb to fear, to the parts of us that say “Messiah!” only when it is convenient for us. We need Palm Sunday to make us look awkward to others, to keep us from thinking that what we do is ‘normal’, that being a Christian is ‘easy’ or ‘comfortable’, to remind us of how quickly we, too, might turn to destruction.

So, this Sunday, dear Christians, I hope you stand outside–where it is awkward, anxious-making and uncomfortable.

I hope together you shout “Hosanna!” and together you shout “Crucify!” and together you remember the power of a people whipped up into a frenzy.

I hope you remember collectively as a people how quickly we can be turned against others, how quickly we can sow destruction when we cried “Hosanna” a moment before. I hope you remember in pain how this story has been transformed into a way to hurt Jewish people.

I hope you embrace this opportunity for public remembrance that the Christian faith is far from innocent.

For all of us who might be willing to listen, in that garden of Gethsemane, Jesus yanks on our sleeping ears and says, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

Palm Sunday is here to remind us that the time of trial is now. Go outside of your church and do something ridiculous, remind yourself that this is a weird, strange faith, that shows us the viciousness of power, and calls us to account. Feel awkward, outside the safe confines of your beautiful, quiet buildings.

Remember that we all have a vigil to keep against the viciousness of the mob–and that we are all only one step away from it. It is in all of us.

And keep awake. Pray that we all might be strong in the time of trial.

 

*I am very adamant that this is a part of the Christian story, that this is a WE moment. There is rhetoric out there that says that “The Jews” did this, but we should never forget, and never stop reminding ourselves, that this is a part of our CHRISTIAN story, and never an us vs. them tool. I also believe that churches have a duty to remind their people of this–to put their congregations in the role of the crowd. It was never ‘the Jews’ that cried “crucify!” It was us–the idiot masses–that turned on a man whose message threatened them. Or, ironically, the idiot masses who did whatever the man with most recent power grab told them to do. We as leaders have a duty to make our congregations remember.

This post is a continuation of an idea from three years ago, posted here.

Marker Art #73: Queen

queen w1000

This one is called Queen. It’s obviously taken a while to get it all together. It’s a big one, and I’d say the details are worth a second click. 🙂 I promised myself that I’d complete an image in Lent. Been drawing a little bit more than usual, so I’m hoping to have more to share soon.

My Episcopal Identity

The Episcopal Café asked folks recently to answer the question—how do Episcopalians understand their Identity as Episcopalians?

So here’s my response: #MyEpiscopalIdentity

First and foremost, to be an Episcopalian is to be a Christian, and so my Episcopal Identity is about believing in Jesus the Christ:

that God decided to become human to live through the struggle and mess of this life, and ultimately redeem it. I believe that God loved us so much, with such a ridiculous and catastrophic love, that God actually became one of us in order to live, die, and then conquer death itself–just to love us better. I believe that God chooses to take what’s dead and make it new again, and that we have the beautiful opportunity to work alongside God in this.

My faith as an Episcopalian is how I choose to respond to that love. Why have I chosen to live out this belief in this way, rather than any other church?

Well… Continue reading My Episcopal Identity

The Transfiguration is about Peter–and imperfection.

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, based on Luke’s Account, found here.

“It is good for us to be here! Let us build three dwellings! One for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah…

 He babbled, dumbstruck. His eyes were heavy, his body heavier—he was tired, our Peter—and he was blinded. Here stood his teacher, dazzling white in this inexplicable light, white like lightning, speaking with the two most important men in the history of Israel. He saw them turn, and perhaps Moses lifted a hand to Jesus, reached to touch him in with some sort of comforting hold—and Peter knew that they were turning to leave. He blurted it out, leaning forward, nearing peeling after them:

“Let us build three dwellings!” Continue reading The Transfiguration is about Peter–and imperfection.

The American Samaritan

A thought–a devotion–a plea–a confession–based on Luke 10:25-36.

Just then a theologian stood up to test the teacher. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked the teacher, “And who is my neighbor?” the teacher replied: Continue reading The American Samaritan

Marker Artist, Youth Director, and general Smarty Pants