Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on June 2, 2024

Posted by on Sun, Jun 2, 2024 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 2, 2024

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”

This might be one of the hardest commandments for us to keep, frankly. Our very way of life and all the cycles of our culture make it difficult, and all the more so if you didn’t grow up with it. Even if you did, there is much to conspire against it—how much did it take just to get here today? To choose worshipping God over all those other tempting opportunities? 

Given my dad was a priest and my mother a life long Episcopalian, the Sabbath was hard to miss in our home. This meant all four of us children donned dresses (clean), dress shoes (polished) and a pair of white gloves (matching) —though I rarely remember finding them. The whole day felt sacred. My dad would be doing what priests did on Sundays, (was that was ‘working’ on the Sabbath?). I recall moving my lips silently praying the priest’s words, memorized long before I could remember not knowing them. Afterwards we’d head home for lunch, my dad would head upstairs for a nap, and my mother would take us all to the museum and share her love of another beauty. Those Sunday trips made it another sacred space to me and I love it still. It was also one of the few (free) ways to keep four children occupied long enough for a tired priest to take a nap. Many days I couldn’t have told you which experience was more holy. The whole of it formed us and created a Sabbath shape within the week. As children is wasn’t so much a day of rest as it was simply a day of simply being. Sundays more more space somehow. 

Later I learned what a special blessing that was, and also how very difficult it is to pull it off as an adult. Parents juggle children’s sports events and homework, there’s groceries to order, weekly food prep, pre work emails to get a jump on, and more. Even as a member of this faith community you might be ‘on’ for Coffee Hour, Altar Guild, Choir, Greeter, Worship Leader, Vestry Person or Godly Play, Live-stream Host, or preaching. Those too are a sanctification of time to God. You help create this rhythm we need so desperately. Even God rested on the seventh day anyway! We all have exceptions and necessary challenges to this, as in the reading today. Nevertheless we need such a day, and we need it wholly. And Holy.

This was so for Jesus and those around him, including some of those challenges to it or that handful of Pharisees wouldn’t have watched the disciples so closely. Jesus’ response is to engage them in Sabbath’s meaning and purpose, offering back this teaching; The Sabbath was made for people, and not people for the Sabbath. To clarify this teaching Jesus questions their definition of Sabbath in light of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. Their silence is answer enough. Jesus “looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart ” This is now a human cost, not merely a handful of wheat kernels, and they make no allowance for mercy. Jesus shows it further by denying them the sight of his performing the healing, and saving the one healed from their accusations too—when the man stretches out his hand it is already restored. Mark says this is when they conspired against him. The Sabbath is part of what shaped Jesus and he lives it with mercy—that is part of his identity. People looking for something to hold against him used strict adherence as a test of his Jewish faithfulness. 

People were given this day of rest by God, a day to dwell in God’s peace within ourselves and towards the world around us. It should be a day of rest as Genesis (2:2) says God ordained; “So God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” Some translations say ‘made it holy.’ The Hebrew word is קָדַשׁ qadosh, meaning set apart, consecrated, sanctified. This is the first time the word is used in all of scripture, elevated even by it’s rarity, it is the only time the word appears in all of Genesis. Notice that the first holy thing in all creation isn’t the earth or the light, not humankind, Eden, or even the Temple, it is the Sabbath.

When they walked through a wheat field and plucked a few kernels of wheat were they really working, of was it enjoying a gift from God? When Jesus healed the man’s withered hand did any of them tell him to wait a few more hours until the sun went down? Jesus challenged them to understand Sabbath beyond their stringency; “The Sabbath is not an interlude, but rather the climax of living: the last day in God’s creation; the first day in God’s intention.” If it was merely for the purpose of resting up for more work, then what would sabbath mean for those who are retired? For children? For people whose ‘work’ is taking care of people in their own home? I think it gets harder to observe in these circumstances, and maybe that makes it all the more essential.

Every week I see you living this practice, living as if this mattered, as both a joy and a mutual inspiration. When else in our week do we take a a couple of hours free from work calls, chores, and emails, from the Puritanical guilt over not being endlessly ‘productive’? Is ‘doing nothing’ along those lines a waste of time? It’s easy to think one need justify a Sabbath in that way, or claim its purpose is to enhance the efficiency of our work. One philosopher said even Aristotle thought rest or relaxation was for the sake of returning to work. As if fortifying us to jump into Monday’s work refreshed to do it all over again. According to scripture that isn’t Sabbath. Living into God’s Sabbath, that holy rest itself, is the purpose. 

Think back to a moment of freedom to rest or a sense of re-creation in your life. Imagine drawing that experience or feeling into your present life in some way. It is not only about stopping, keeping the Sabbath is making holy. Br. Curtis of SSJE writes, “Claiming and revering space for rest and re-creation is absolutely essential for you to be whole and holy. Truth be told, I have to work to keep the Sabbath. Living in a monastery has not spared me of this struggle…” he writes. “We practice a Sabbath rest to be fully alive. You need it.  God knows, you need it.  And you’re worth it.”

In Mary Oliver’s first volume of poetry is The Summer Day. The last two lines are quite famous now, but what comes before helps us illustrate the gift of Sabbath (which, as an Episcopalian, she observed with gusto). As part of your Sabbath today, close your eyes and listen to this excerpt.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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