Keeping Sabbath: Sabbath as Peace
Rev Dr. Stephanie Allen, Pastor
December 11, 2022
This is our final sermon in this series on Sabbath. Next week we will celebrate in the service of Lessons and Carols. Christmas Eve we will worship together at 7 pm and then return to for Christmas Day for worship at 10 am.
Last week I left on a rather depressing sentiment of unending burden and constant work where regardless of our best efforts and all the outpouring to the world, there will still be brokenness until Jesus returns. Which leaves us in this place of wondering what’s the point of all of it? How do we continue all the work there is to be done and not get burned out when there is no resolution? Over the last few years, I have become slightly obsessed with the idea of burn out and not just in ministry. When you have been a minister for a moment, you see people cycle through the church in leadership and attendance because of it. A poll taken for Forbes in August said that 25% of the workforce in the United States identify as being burned out. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2022/08/20/some-say-the-american-workforce-is-overdiagnosing-itself-with-burnout/?sh=68b217d43e8d) A poll conducted in June of 2022 said that K-12 workers had the highest rate of burnout in the US at 44% (https://news.gallup.com/poll/393500/workers-highest-burnout-rate.aspx). Pastors have about a 42% rate of leaving pastorates post-pandemic according to a recent Barna poll (https://www.npr.org/2022/09/03/1120917859/facing-burnout-many-faith-leaders-are-leaving-their-ministries#:~:text=But%20after%20two%20years%20of,%2C%20and%2042%25%20said%20yes). By the way, all of those statistics are given citation on the notes page for the sermons. It may seem like a no brainer to then follow up those statistics with “of course they are burned out we just went through a pandemic”. Even if that is the cause – what do we do now? If 42% of pastors are burned out that is a bit of a gamechanger. Over the last six weeks, I have spent time talking to pastors whom I respect as to how they handle staving off burnout. I’m not done, but the general consensus has been to seek outside help such as a spiritual director, counseling, retreats, read books and join groups. Thus far, not one has said Sabbath is part of what they do. I even tried to bait one the other day with the phrase “how does your Sabbath aid in staving off burnout”? Crickets...nada. Which I find both fascinating and disturbing. When I have asked specifically about Sabbath the statement is usually along the lines of “we try not to do much around Sunday”.
None of that is to shame my friends, but it illustrates this wide disconnect between how we expect to live our lives as Christians and then the “how” as in “how do we actually do it”. I have watched way too many pastors die from burn out. My own father, worked himself until he was too physically compromised to continue and he “retired” only to die a short time later at the age of 73. I watched my uncle have a stroke on the pulpit of a large church in Kansas City and die a few days later. I watched as my mentor and friend, Martin worked up until the moment he knew he was dying rather than step away. I also have a younger, younger brother who stepped away from ministry altogether because of burnout. Again, not just ministry, though. My best friend Rachelle had a colleague from a former and incredibly taxing job die with his laptop in his hands attempting to work on his “day off”. It kind of begs the question “what is going on”? Is that just the name of the game or is something missing? I have prayed and sought answers to those questions from God for quite some time now because I have a vested interest in the answer.
We treat burn out as something that is either inevitable and no big deal or we act as if only the weak succumb to it. We don’t often talk about ways within a church or in our lives to avoid it nor do we heed warning signs when someone is careening towards it. But what if there was a way to live in this in between time of now and not yet and not feel overwhelmed? Not feel as if we can only breathe when all is well? What if burnout was not a foregone conclusion? Sounds like an informercial or a pyramid scheme. What we say in our world when we hear the aforementioned statistics are things like “we have to make peace with it” - whatever the “it” is that we have to make peace with. But what if we can’t make peace with it? Instead what if we have peace in it? Word salad? Peace is not the absence of strife. Peace is to have wholeness in the situation. Shalom as peace in Hebrew is a way of being and not a state of mind. In Ruth Haley Barton’s book on Sabbath asked the question for us to ask ourselves that has sat with me all week:
How can I be more present to myself, to my family, to God?
That question is answered in the Sabbath and is evident in the peace we have. What do I mean by that? Sabbath reminds us that God encourages us as a command to step out of the world as it is and be present in Sabbath once a week. Not present as in attendance, but in attention. God commands us to live knowing that there will always be work, there will always be pain and struggle until Christ returns. It is in the midst of that – not the absence – we are to step away. Again, not when everything is wrapped up and good, but in the midst of all things. Sabbath gives us a glimpse of what peace looks like in the middle. To be present in the world at all times, is to have the peace that only Christ can give us dwelling within us. It isn’t something we acquire, learn, develop, or rationalize. It is the presence of Christ. Again, peace doesn’t mean okay with or in agreement with, it means that the brain doesn’t always need to solve or rail against or hold off until we like how the world works.
Last and only question as we close out this sermon series:
How can Sabbath remind me of the source of peace in my life?
To flush that question out a bit, there is an Advent song that Matthew Dickerson gave me years ago – by Rain to Roots that asks:
Who's robbing you of peace
And who's the giver
I would change it to “what is robbing you of peace And who’s the giver”? How can you have peace in this now and not yet knowing Christ has been born? What is amazing in Jesus’ birth is that it didn’t change the world in that moment in obvious ways. Yes, it changed the whole world, but like the resurrection, it wouldn’t be obvious to the naked eye. The day Jesus was born and in the days after, people were born, people died, people had joy, people were in pain. There was great suffering and there was great hope.
Back to our passage with the verse we ended with last week – 18:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Mitch asked a great question last week after the sermon which was “can you just contribute the use of words only used once to the various authors”? Meaning, we have a few authors writing along with the Holy Spirit so maybe say Matthew just like the word thumoo for anger from last week and liked to use it, but just once and Luke may have like another word for anger. It was a great insight which made me think maybe I should explain. Citing when words are used and how is not a geeky language thing. It should point us to an aspect of God’s Word that can help us in understanding the text. The OT is by and large written in Hebrew (some parts of Aramaic) and NT is Greek with some Aramaic and Hebrew (very small parts). Essentially the same language in the first 39 OT and 27 in NT. For an author to be writing in Greek and to have a word used only once in 27 books of the NT should make us circle the word and say “why”? We go to God with the “why”. Now, maybe the “why” isn’t a big deal, but sometimes, like last week, the “why” points us to something we may overlook.
In this verse, the word that sticks out in translation is parakaleó. Here it is the form paraklēthēnai in refusing to be comforted and – you guessed it, only used one time in the NT to mean “refused to be comforted”. Any other time it is used as parakaleó it means to beg or implore or to comfort. So maybe one can argue that Matthew liked to use rare occurrences of Greek words, but I actually think it is bigger than that because of course the Holy Spirit is involved. Matthew's first language would have been Hebrew. He actually, like most authors in Hebrew loved the word “and” a vav in Hebrew. But writing in Greek to a mainly Jewish audience, and using words that would grab your attention means it is not business as usual. Matthew is saying in all he writes “hey dear Jewish brothers and sisters, we thought we understood and then God blew our minds”. This quote from the book of Jeremiah points to the fact that even though Jesus Christ has been born, babies still died. They died in the time of Jeremiah when forced into exile and there was still evil in the world. There were still tyrants and power-hungry leaders who would do anything to destroy their competition and that should never be rationalized. The Prince of Peace came to bring peace to a broken world not through the end of all pain, but in the midst of all pain. As the actual Incarnation of Shabbat in the midst of evil.
That word “refused to be comforted” paraklēthēnai points out an important aspect of this verse:
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
There was actually a reason they refused to be comforted. The Prince of Peace coming into the world should remind us that there are still things that will happen to us that will not be okay. Should not be rationalized or placated. If one of my children died, I would not be comforted. I would rail against anyone who tried to tie it up with a nice theological bow that talks about angels and God’s will. This isn’t a passage to point out that the children dying was prophetic. This is a passage to point back (remember prophecy doesn’t just tell what will be but explains what was). It draws up back to the other time when children were destroyed and to remind us that even in the midst of that evil, God is on the throne, He knows how humanity works which is precisely why we need Jesus. It is okay not be comforted. To have peace in a broken world, to show up for people and look their hurt in the eye and not have it eat your nicely defined theological beliefs alive, to wake up the next day and put one foot in front of the other means you know in your cells that it is okay not to be comforted AND Christ is still the Prince of Peace.
Go back to our one and only question How can Sabbath remind me of source of peace in my life? God giving us the gift of one day a week where we can choose to not have business as usual is a tremendous reminder that peace is possible in the midst of a hurried, broken world where babies still die. Sabbath reminds us that you don’t have to make peace with pain in order to have peace in it?
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
Phainó is a derivative of “appeared” as in “bring to light” from last week. God brought to light for Joseph that it was time to go back to business as usual because Herod had died. But how do you do that knowing that someone tried to kill your kid (albeit adopted)? How do you go back to the way the world seemed to work before you knew how ugly it could get? I’ve shared the story of my turning point with that question before. I was 34 and I watched a child Marin’s age who had a rare, unknown blood disorder render her brain dead. Marin had played with this little girl few weeks before the incident. Here I was pregnant with Cohen, walking into a hospital room where a child three weeks older than our daughter was brain dead wrapped in gauze stained completely red. And the cheerleading squad her mother coached painted her nails as her mother begged me to pray that God would save her. How do you go back to business as usual? I didn’t. You don’t. There is never this understanding that you can know the underbelly of life: the hard things and say “yeah, totally good with those things”. That isn’t peace. That is ignorance or complacency. Peace is understanding in your DNA that Christ is on the throne even when the world would say otherwise. Peace is knowing that even after that horrific scene in the hospital that night that it is okay to not be comforted. It is okay to be scared and confused and to feel peace in that.
That knowledge alone got me through losing a baby, watching someone else’ baby die, watching my friend Penny die of liver cancer with two young children when the only thing she wanted was to be a mother, holding my dad as he died and walking beside many of you as you lost loved ones. Eventually, you have to go back to “business as usual”. I had to go home after my dad died and take care of a whole bunch of little humans. The temptation then is to pretend pain is business as usual. Consider that question again How can Sabbath remind me of the source of peace in my life? How does the Sabbath allow us peace when we have to go back to business as usual only it isn’t usual? After loss, grief, a diagnosis, a relationship that fails, a job we loss, humanity disappointing us – in the “after” you eventually have to go back to the world where everyone else isn’t dealing with what you have dealt with and to be in peace in that moment means we understand the gift of Sabbath. Sabbath isn’t always a glorious, delightful day. Sometimes you use that time to let yourself feel. You stop long enough to not be distracted from pain in order to feel it. You let yourself step out of the world where people think you can’t be anything other than okay and you rest in God. There are so many reasons we don’t like to take Sabbath and one huge one is when you make room in your life to feel then you get all the feels.
When we don’t resist it then that space allows us to have a time to be reminded that God is in control and the world can and will change in ways we don’t want or like at any moment and we don’t have to pretend it is business as usual.
Last section; verse 21 – just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water.
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
I am intrigued by verse 22:
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.
That shouldn’t be shocking if you knew that Herod was a tyrant to assume his son would be a tyrant, but Archelaus was awful like really, really bad and shockingly his brother, Herod Antipas, was not. Herod Antipas wasn’t a saint, but he was more into debauchery than killing people. The people begged Rome take out Archelaus which is saying something when the guy before him was Herod and no asked him to leave. For Joseph to be fearful of Archelaus on the throne means to me that he was using his God-given instinct. You know that part of us when we walk with God for awhile that feels icky in some situations? Now, we don’t just roll with icky – we go to God which is why the continuation is:
Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
It was the difficulties and the hard asks where Joseph listened to God and trusted Him that led him to know to trust his God-given instincts. It was the hard stuff that helped develop him as a servant of God. I have a favorite quote by Maya Angelou – well, truthfully, I have a lot of favorite quotes by her, but fav of favs says:
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”
We like the end result especially when the end result is something beautiful, but we don’t really want to talk about the mistakes, the pain, the mess-ups, the crossroads or the stretching of life that made those changes. How can Sabbath remind me of the source of peace in my life? It is a space that takes us out of business as usual and gives us perspective to feel and see and know the ups and downs of lives. To have time in your life to stop the incesseant demands of the world and the need of others for us to wrap up every bad thing with a bow allows us to stretch and grow in God AND to be renewed.
This is it with the Sabbath. We will have our last rest groups this week. Please, don’t let this be the end in your life with wresting with the fourth commandment. As we go into our silence, go to God with the question:
How can Sabbath remind me of the source of peace in my life?