People with my temperament love this passage from James, “Be doers of the word.” I’m a doer. I love to make lists, complete tasks, and schedule my calendar full of meetings and appointments. I take pride in taking care of things, keeping busy and meeting expectations. Heck, I prefer to exceed expectations!
This can make me judgmental and lacking in understanding of those who lead a more contemplative life, who pay attention to their own limits and work within them, who know that there will never be an end to doing and that a major part of the spiritual life is learning how to “be.”
Thankfully, a good and caring God knows about my type (the Enneagram 3 for those who are familiar with that temperament tool). God knew about my tendencies and weaknesses from the very beginning of time as we know it. God ordained a day of rest for all people, the gift of a day called the Sabbath, 24 hours in which we are to stop our labors, get off the treadmill, unplug, renew, refresh and step back from the idolatry that makes our efforts more important than the ongoing work of God. It’s a day that God reminds us, “Chill. I’ve got this.”
Most weeks I flunk the Sabbath. Bryon and I take ours on Fridays since there is no way that a Sunday will be a day of rest for a two clergy household and Saturday is a nightmare, particularly when we’re both preaching the next day. Often I wake up on Friday and start making those proverbial lists. With only one day off, I cram in all my household tasks and non-work appointments. This week I even scheduled dinner for the Bishop’s Committee at our home and I did all the cooking and cleaning while Bryon went to church to work. Some Sabbath! (Of course I loved doing it and we have an absolutely delightful Bishop’s Committee who has been meeting remotely for 18 months. It was a joy to be with them.)
Because I have failed to keep Sabbath faithfully, the bishop requires all clergy to take a 3 month sabbatical every five years. I’ve had good reason to put it off, not just once but twice. There’s always a reason why it’s not a good time to be away. COVID – duh! But also leaving Mother Hillary to hold down the fort, who is half-time and has another very challenging job as a hospital chaplain. If I had gone on sabbatical in the fall of 2020, she would barely have had a chance to get oriented. And then there’s the deadline for decisions regarding our property development plans. I can’t possibly be away for those milestones!
But now the time is here, whether or not I or anyone else is ready. A family with 4 kids is moving into our home on September 1. Reservations have been made. This is my final sermon until December. This is a good thing.
There are times when our doing can lead to the opposite of God’s intent for us. When we get over weary, we lose patience with the very ones we are called to love and care for. We fail to bridle our tongues and instead lash out at others out of exhaustion, stress and our own inability to fix or solve things. I know it’s time for me to take a break when I start blaming others around me for not carrying their weight, when I fail to see the loving, sacrificial acts of those who are also carrying burdens.
I often relate to the story of Moses leading the people in the wilderness. Everyone brings every single problem to him. He spends all day from sun up to sun down dealing with people’s issues. He gets fed up. He can’t handle it anymore. He wants to quit. Some of you may relate to this. Some of you may have thrown in the towel in certain circumstances. In this case, Moses turns to God and complains bitterly over what God has laid upon him. It’s too much. God agrees. God reminds Moses that we were never meant to bear our burdens alone and that there is a whole crew of qualified people who can share the load. God appoints 70 others to work alongside Moses in caring for the people. Often we can’t see the solution because we’re too overwhelmed, too tired or too angry. By turning to God, the way becomes clear and the burden is lifted.
There is another reason why God gives us the gift of Sabbath. Sabbath connects us to our birth and the ways we were cared for and carried before we could walk, talk or take care of ourselves, let alone anyone else. Sabbath prepares us for old age and our death when our faculties will diminish, we will be able to do less and become more dependent upon others. Sabbath is a reminder in the midst of American individualism and independence that we can never make it on our own. We are fundamentally dependent. Upon God. Upon others. We really do need each other.
In today’s reading from Deuteronomy, Moses is now at the end of his life. The people of God have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Many of them have died. Some have dispersed into other lands and been absorbed into other groups of people. They face a perilous and uncertain future.
They find themselves camped at Baal-peor next to the river Jordan. On the other side is the Land of Promise, a land filled with milk and honey. It’s also filled with people who already live there and claim it for their own! The crossing is dangerous. The encounter with other tribes who will certainly not be welcoming is dangerous. The transition from being a wilderness people, nomads in a desert land to settlers who have an entirely new set of responsibilities and ways of doing things will be difficult. This will require a whole new set of skills and leaders who can adapt to new circumstances.
But Moses won’t be going with them. He has reached the end of his road. God has let him know that he won’t cross over Jordan. He will die within sight of the Promised Land and be buried there but he won’t ever dwell in it. So, of course, like most great leaders in books, movies and Scripture, he has a farewell address to give. He has an opportunity to impart instruction, to remind them of their history and to share his hopes for them.
In his speech he calls them to be true to God. He reminds them of all the times they have called upon God and been answered. He may even have in mind that time he called upon God when he was overwhelmed and tired and exhausted and God answered him.
Martin Luther King had Moses in mind when he preached his final sermon on April 3, 1968. Like Moses he reminds the people that God has brought them this far by faith and that they have a mission to continue and a vision to pursue. He may even have had an inkling that he would not be going with them much longer. He said:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
Now, I’m planning on coming back in three months. I’m not offering a “farewell address,” just a “good-bye for now” message. Nothing grand or inspired but just something from my heart to a congregation and community that I love and care for.
First, Be faithful in worship. I know it’s hard. It may not be safe to gather in person and you’re probably tired of virtual church, but we really do need to be in community with other Christians to catch that larger glimpse of God’s vision for our world. Community is suffering in our polarized, isolated, divided society and there are very few opportunities to join others for the sake of the good news of God’s love, grace and mercy.
Second, Take part in the ministry as part of the Body of Christ. Every one of you has gifts for the building up of the community. The burden is lighter when it is shared. Mother Hillary will not be able to do all that I have been doing. We are a stronger church when we lift up and welcome everyone’s contribution. And when Mother Hillary and the Stewardship team offer you an opportunity to contribute financially to keep this ministry going, please consider a regular, generous pledge. This habit of generosity will change your whole approach to money and your spiritual life.
Third, Don’t forget the poor. The homeless crisis has created compassion fatigue. We experience moral injury when we encounter such open suffering and feel there is nothing we can do about it. But we can continue to love and care for our neighbors. There are so many ways to support the ministry of Edible Hope and our staff Sara and Emilie who are shouldering a huge part of the load; you can volunteer, donate, help with the fall fundraiser, greet a person who is struggling and hear their story. The surprise is always the blessing you receive in giving.
Finally, pray for one another. Pray for me. I will be praying for you. Prayer connects us to a broader world and increases our compassion and awareness. Prayer is even better than Facebook in building friendship and concern for those who are not like us, for those we don’t like, and for those who are strangers. Pray with our wonderful ministers who compose the beautiful, heartbreaking Prayers of the People every Sunday. Pray with the prayer group who gathers every Tuesday and lifts up the needs of others. Pray on Sunday for those who celebrate birthdays or anniversaries or who have emerging requests.
There is so much more I could say, but I’ll save it for my return. We’ll have lots to share at that point. Bryon and I will have finished our tour of historical Civil Rights sites in the East and Southeast and will have met with current leaders in the efforts for racial justice and equity. Mother Hillary will have had solo clergy responsibility for a congregation for the first time. You will have continued the mission of worship and service in this place and God will have provided beyond what we can ask and admire.
I will miss you. I love you. There’s never a good time to go, but this is God’s time. Amen.