The sermon for week June 19, 2011
EVENING AND MORNING - THE FIRST DAY, Genesis 1:1-5, Mark 2:23-28
Wendell Barry, poet, essayist, lecturer and farmer, wrote a novel about a man named Jayber Crow, a barber in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. Jayber’s parents died when he was a child; he was raised in an orphanage, at one time thought he would be a minister, but instead became the barber to the small, dying town of Port William.
In the story, nothing much happens - babies are born, friendships develop over the years, a lot of time the barber sits outside his shop simply watching the rythems of life in the town, and in the end, when he is old, which is to say, about my age, he closes the shop and moves to an isolated area in the Kentucky hills. At the end of reading his story, however, rather than saying what happened, why did I use my time to read this book about nothing at all, you are instead left with a lump in your throat and a wistful longing that you could know life as precious and as beautiful and as grace filled as what Jayber Crow experienced in his life. Nothing happens in the book but your longing, at the end of it, is to know life as appreciatively as Jayber Crow.
Something there is in us that knows we are often not experiencing life as we should be experiencing it. We are in it but not of it, present but absent to its rhythms, beauty and sacredness. All the ingredients are before us but somehow they seem veiled, their meaning doesn’t penetrate our hearts. We know we have been mightily blessed, yet the sense of gratitude remains at bay. We suspect the world around us is infused with holiness, yet, day to day it is not in our vision. It is not how we see things.
We are distracted by our doing, and this doing breeds on itself, crating more and more distractions until the doing becomes all we have, an end in itself. We lose any sense of an interior life and with it there fades the sense of blessedness we know is ours but do not grasp. The more estranged we are from our true selves, the busier we become. We use doing as a prescription. We buy things to sooth the emptiness of our nakedness inside. Life becomes a flurry of activity. We make more, we buy more, we advance, our reputations increase, our social standing is elevated, but in the end we cannot say we are any better off than Jayber Crow, the barber. In fact, we envy him.
This morning, while grief still attends us, we are tempted toward this kind of doing. Out of our solemn loneliness, caused by the death of a pastor we loved and who loved us, we are tempted toward filling the void of his absence with activity. Instead, for a little while, I encourage you to pause, and find as Jayber Crow found, sitting outside his barber shop, a sacredness that attends us in our grief and gives to us an attendant awareness of God’s omniscience, a Divine Love, more comforting and assuring than our doing.
It begins in how we approach the day, a simple reordering of perception, first in where we find the day’s beginning and second in how we treat our Sundays, or what for us, as Christians, is our Sabbath. To begin, however, we start not by asking, “What do we do now?” It is too soon. The grief is too raw. Instead, we go where the Bible goes. We seek not an agenda or other things to fill the void, but we look, instead, for the spaces in-between, the places of our rest, the times out, the down times, the days unfilled with doing, the hours of the night, sleep.
In art it is as important to know what to leave out as what to put in. In music it is important to know when to put the pause or the rest note. In printing it is recognizing that the white space is as important as the printed word. In our lives it is important to know when to take a break, when our soul requires a pause, and to value for its own sake, the art of letting go, and trusting, the Lord knows before a word is spoken.
It begins with the beginning of our day and where we think that beginning begins. Here is how most of our days go. The alarm clock rings. Our day begins. For many of us, this beginning is at the crack of dawn. We get out of bed, we shower, we grab a bite to eat, then it is off to work or school. The ending of our day is back where we started. We do our homework or necessary chores around the house, watch a couple of hours of television, and then we switch off the lights and fall exhausted into bed where our day began many hours ago.
Let me now contrast this with the day found in the Hebrew Bible, or what is our Old Testament. We return to Genesis one and the story of creation. “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the Light Day and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”
Do your see the difference? In the Bible, the day began with night. “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” The day began with rest. The day began when work had ceased. The day began with sleep.
The psalmist sings, (63:5-7)
“My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
And my mouth praises you with joyful lips
When I think of you on my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night
For you have been my help,
And in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.”
You fell asleep knowing God was God. You rested under the shadow of God’s wing, and while you slept you waited upon God’s voice in your dreams, and when you awoke you knew the day had been prepared for you by God, because while your slept, God was working, for indeed it was out of the night God created Light.
Eugene Peterson writes, this sequence of night preceding day conditions us to “the rhythms of grace.” He writes, “We go to sleep, and God begins his work...We awake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action...We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn. Evening: God begins, without our help, his creative day. Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work God initiated.” This is how we precede, assured even while we grief, the Lord has not left us desolate, but while we grieve, the Lord is working.
The Christian day, contrary to the Hebrew day, begins with morning, because it was in the morning the disciples went to the empty tomb, but we must learn from our Hebrew roots. We must never lose the sense that while we sleep, God is working, and before any of the disciples go to the tomb, Christ was risen. God had already started the day.
At Chautauqua, where Sharon and I vacation every summer, the whole community gathers together in the ampitheater on Sunday evening, and before our week has started, while the sun is setting, we sing, “Now the Day is Over.” It is a way of committing the week to God, knowing that while we sleep, the Lord is working. So, this morning, while we remain seated, I am going to ask that we sing together, the first two verses of “Now the Day Is Over,” and I pray that this evening, while the sun sets, you will remember this hymn tune, and before falling asleep rest in the assurance, that though the grief is heavy and the future not yet known, the dream has not died, the love has not been lost, and while you sleep God is preparing the dawn.
HYMN - “Now The Day Is Over”
Yet we resist. We want to make things right. We want to take away the pain and sooth the loneliness, but still the Lord says wait, wait and see that I am God, and so God created the Sabbath, a day of rest. Everybody needs a day of rest. Everybody needs a Sabbath, and for Christians, the first day of the week, the day Christ was raised from the dead, Sunday, has become our Sabbath, our day of rest.
As the night is to the day, so Sunday is to our week. We begin the week in rest. We have a day off and that day is the most sacred day of the week. It is a day of worship. It is a day to spend time with family. It is a day to enjoy friendships. It is a day devoted to being rather than doing. It is a day to cherish your memories. It is a day to reflect on the love of a man who served you so faithfully through twenty five years as your pastor and to perhaps consider how your life is different than it might have been without having known him. And in all other ways to consider not what you have earned but with what you have been gifted.
To God, this day, this Sabbath day of rest, is the most honored and hallowed day of the week. It is the only day included in the ten commandments; imagine a commandment that says, take a day off. As with the israelites, it is a day to remind us that we are not slaves to our doing, work cannot enslave us, we are a free people, set free by Jesus Christ. And the way we honor it, the way we hallow it, is by keeping it sacred and making it not a day of errands or catch up but by living it is a day of rest, a day devoid of schedules and appointments.
Now, you can chose not to honor what I believe to be both a natural and Biblical rhythm of life, but to not honor our need for rest and a day off there is the chance of having it all but still feeling empty. You end up with no appreciation for what you have and exhausted or distracted in all your relationships. And what good is it to possess the world and lose your soul?
Rest is not valued in our culture so you have no support for developing such a life style from our modern world. But, you have all teh authority of heaven and God telling yo it is right. It is not just that you need it but it is part of the rhythm of grace, it is in the nature of who you are, it is how God has made us, and it restores our ontological awareness. In other words out of a restful life you recover the ability to see God in all of life.
When your spirit is rested your work becomes an offering. When your spirit is rested your service becomes an expression of thanksgiving. When it is rested it is less likely you will be judgmental and ore likely you will be forgiving, less likely you will be distracted and more likely you will notice the glimmer in your child’s eyes, the changing patterns of the sunlight as we move through the seasons and all the thousands of ways God is present to you every day. When you yield to the night and respect the Sabbath, and honor for awhile the silence of your grief, not pushing the future into being but pausing, the dawn will still come and with it a light upon the path to follow.
It begins now. You have a whole day ahead of you. You have people who love you. You have a world which waits your observing of it, your thanksgiving, sometimes even in the midst of grief, for it. I promise you if yield yourself to the stillness of the night and allow yourself a day of waiting, trusting, loving, listening, feeling, remembering, dreaming, God is not going to leave God’s throne. God can be left in charge.
We have such a tendency to try to carry the whole world on our shoulders. What we do on Sunday and what we do at night is we give it back to God. We say to God, “Here God you carry it for awhile. You take car of things. I yield to you.” We pray, “Now I lay me own to sleep I pray the Lord my sou to keep.” Oh, people, let Go be God. Learn to practice through Sabbath keeping and in the night, the rhythm of grace in your life. Listen to the refrain taught by Julia of Norwich, and whispered in the soul, as we begin this new journey as a church, “All will be well. All will be well.”
Let us sing the final verse of “Now the Day Is Over,” affirming our faith in the God who brought Light from the night and before we awoke raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Amen.