Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

Sunday Worship:
8:30am & 10:00am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

G2A #1: "God Wants Us To Take Naps" – Genesis 1-3

For all the options I had to preach on such a rich, dynamic and integral Biblical story as the Biblical creation accounts, and for all the time I had to prepare, I left for summer camp last Sunday with no clear understanding of which direction I would take – no clear understanding of what I would proclaim to you today. All I knew was that I would be spending just about every waking minute during the week “out there” in God’s creation, which I assumed would yield some inspiration.

The last thing I grabbed before we took off for camp was one of the books I planned to read – Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. This was a book Pastor Mark encouraged me to read before he left for his sabbatical. He thought it was such an important book that he purchased a dozen copies for the church for you to read. Three pages into this book and I knew that of all the different ways to preach the first two chapters of Genesis, God was calling me to proclaim a message to you about God’s activity on day 7 and how God has entrusted us with the responsibility of carving out time in our lives dedicated to the task of finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives.

The call to observe a Sabbath is imbedded in the very act of creation.

“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…”
— Genesis 2:2

Contrary to our assumptions, the act of creation was not completed on day 6; rather, as the text says, “God finished the work” on day 7. Stepping back and observing time for rest, renewal, and delight is not a task reserved for such a time as when we have completed all our work (is there ever such a time as that?). Rather, stepping back and observing time for rest, renewal, and delight is an integral component of the task of creation.

Wayne Muller, in his book titled Sabbath writes the following:

The ancient rabbis teach that on the seventh day, God created menuha–tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose–rest, in the deepest possible sense of fertile, healing stillness. Until the Sabbath, creation was unfinished. Only after the birth of menuha, only with tranquility and rest, was the circle of creation made full and complete.
— Sabbath, p.37

Finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives is not a luxury reserved for those who work hardest, accomplish the most, achieve the best, push themselves to the point of exhaustion, or sacrifice everything in the pursuit of success. In fact, the Chinese pictograph for “busy” is composed of two characters: "heart" and "killing."

Our busy lives are killing our hearts as well as our relationships, dreams, and ability to be at peace.

Finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives is a Biblical mandate – a truth imbedded in the very order of creation. Like so many other Biblical mandates, it is not meant to be an oppressive limitation, but rather a safeguard to ensure we are protected from the forces that try to tear us apart from God.

One of our reasons for filling our lives with over-work and maxed-out schedules is that we have forgotten the inherent goodness of God’s creation. We think that we can create our own happiness in spite of the happiness and contentment that God has hard-wired into the order of creation. He writes:

Sabbath time assumes that if we step back and rest, we will see the wholeness in it all We will naturally apprehend the good in how things are, taste the underlying strength, beauty, and wisdom that lives even in the difficult days, take delight in the gift and blessing of being alive.

If we believe our soul is naturally luminous and that we are filled with innate, natural perfection, if we are the light of the world, then when we sink into quiet we return to peace. Conversely, if we believe creation is badly flawed, then we must avoid intimate contact with it. We greet silence with fear, afraid it will show us the broken center at the core of the world and of ourselves. Afraid of what we will find there, we avoid the stillness at all costs, keeping ourselves busy not so much to accomplish but to avoid the terrors and dangers of emptiness.
— Sabbath, p.42

There was something perfect about writing a message about Sabbath while spending the week with youth, counselors, and other pastors at a Lutheran church camp. What better place to dwell in God’s word concerning creation than to spend a week surrounded by woods, lakes, blue skies, rain drops, singing birds, startled deer, and, of course, hormonal kids (God created them too!).

Allow me to relay one of my unexpected experiences of Sabbath from this past week:

I’m sitting on a wooden porch swing. A gentle rain falls around me, echoing off the metal roof on the cabin behind me. The rain is light enough that I could walk and only have drops hit my head every three steps or so. But I’m not walking; I’m gently gliding back and forth on the wooden porch swing. The only other sound cutting through the faint pings of the rain drops are the varied bird calls from the woods to my right. Their calls betray no anxiety about the rain falling on them, nor of the fierce storm that had rolled through an hour before. In front of me a lake unfolds its mirrored face. Close to the banks are images of the majestic pines, oaks, and maples; the lake’s center reflects the silvery-sky. The air is humid but cool and refreshing. My feet are bare, gently rocking, heel-to-toe, each repetition causing a tiny pool of rain water under my left foot to ripple. The beauty of scene fills me with strength. I feel grateful for the opportunity not just to be here, but to be here in such a way and to have so little to do at that moment that I am free to recognize and appreciate the beauty. As if it couldn’t get any better, I have just awoke from an afternoon nap. I am slowly waking back up to the world around me, slightly disoriented, but fully present. I am surrounded by creation. And it is good.

I struggled with whether or not to include this in my message today. I feared that you might not appreciate being told of the virtues of taking it easy because you were here and working very hard. I really wasn’t sure if I should have admitted to taking a nap. Most of you probably didn’t have a chance to take a nap this week. I thought perhaps you might start to think of me as lazy.  

But I realized these are struggles we all have. I realized that Pastor Mark left this book for me and you to read because he knew it would speak to something we all need to hear – it is ok to take time away to find rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives. It is ok to take a nap. It is ok to find yourself surrounded by the beauty of creation. Actually, it’s more than “ok,” it’s what God desires for us.

To conclude I would like to read a brief story included in the book, Sabbath.

At one retreat there was a woman, a potter. She had been having difficulty with her pots. She would center her clay, and then kept bringing it out, out, to its edge, and then, pushed to its limit, it would collapse. Over and over she would center it again, raise it, bring it out to its farthest edge, and it would collapse. Eventually she would tire of this challenge, of pushing the clay to its edge, and reluctantly surrender to the fact that she needed to keep the clay closer to the center.

As she spoke of it, in this quiet room filled with Sabbath pilgrims, she recognized something she had missed. She realized that she was not the potter; she was the clay. She had been brought again and again to her edge, only to collapse.

The invitation was clear, to live her life close to her center. Properly centered, the clay would hold
— Sabbath, p.212-213

My prayer for you is that you intentionally set aside time to appreciate the glory and goodness of God’s creation and that you would create a place set apart for appreciation, rest, acceptance, equality, enjoyment, conservation, friendship, peace, fulfillment, curiosity, laughter, silliness, games, and growth. My prayer for you is that you would be centered.

Amen.

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