"Be set free"-Sermon for Proper 16, Luke 13:10-17
So, this week was my first full week back in the office following my families annual summer vacation. Those who have been around St. Julian’s for a while know that most summers my family packs up our camper trailer and heads to the mountains for about 3 weeks. Ashly and I have always loved to camp and are now pushing said love on our children with general success. Or, really, I should say glamp rather than camp…cause our trailer, that we affectionately call Trixie, Trixie the Trailer, though reasonably small as far as trailers go, is pretty darn comfortable. Trixie allows us to more or less plop down our own small efficiency apartment for a few days at a time on some of the most beautiful real-estate with the very best views in our country. We love to be outdoors and to hike. We have found about 4 to 7 miles is the sweet spot for distance, depending on elevation gain of course, for the family as a whole. I love to cook outside…campsite cooking that involves some sort of protein over an open flame is a true joy in my life. I even like the multi-day road trips required to get to the mountains. I love to drive on the open road. And, more so, the hours traveling allow Ashley and me to “read” together…meaning listening to books and discussing what we are hearing. Many a sermon shared from this pulpit have emerged from those books and the conversations Ashley and I had as we consumed them together.
I promise this is going somewhere, but as an aside, I would recommend both of the books we listen to on our trip this year. First: “Where the Dear and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American who Loves to Walk Outside” by Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation” fame. It is part theology, part philosophy, part comedy, part travel narrative…and all an extended discourse on how our relationship with the natural world essentially shapes who we are as humans. And, second: “Horse” a really fun and imaginative novel by Geraldine Brooks, which though, indeed, has a horse at its center, is really a historical and contemporary reflection on race in American.
But among all of the diversions that we deeply enjoy while visiting the mountains each summer, top of list for me is fishing. Ashley and I are avid fly fisher people and, though one can fly fish in more or less any body of water, salt or fresh, wading in a mountain river or creek, surrounded by fir trees or an aspen glen, with mountain peaks jutting out above and beyond them…with rod in hand…full focus on where the river is suggesting by its depth and eddies it might be holding fish…and not just any fish…but the colorfully speckled, lithe, and elegant species known as trout…well that, for me, my friends, is the kingdom of Heaven come near.
Now it is important to say that though just about everyone both deserves and needs a vacation at least once a year…not everyone is provided one or frankly can afford one…and I just want to acknowledge that…and express my profound gratitude for what a gift it is that the Diocese of Texas and St. Julian’s have always supported our clergy in making time off a priority. And, over the years, I have leaned into that gift of time away, meaning taking all of my vacation each year, taking sabbaticals when they come up, etc…really I am committed to that…for both of us. For, all work and no play makes Miles a dull and irritable boy…again…not good for me…and not good for you. Burnt to a crisp clergy are not good pastors, not good listeners, not affirming leaders, and not creative preachers and teachers. Some clergy, in such a disposition, can even become, to a greater of lesser degree, dangerous. And, of course, the same could be said for those in other care-giving or high intensity vocations, especially when having responsibilities for other people. Thus, the real reason I sort of regaled you of, at least, my romanticized version of Brandon family road trips…is that…like Jesus described in our Gospel reading this morning…the sabbath, for a vacation is, indeed, at its best, one sort of sabbath, isn’t just for rest and recreation…it is for healing…healing our often care worn, knotted up, sometimes even battered and bruised…selves, souls and bodies. I’ll even take it a step further to say sabbath is for freedom sake…for resurrection.
You see, turning to our gospel reading today, it would be easy to beat up on the religious leader who condemns Jesus for healing on the sabbath day. He is misguided…but, in general, I think rule following is good, especially when the rules flow from the God of love’s own lips. For, as you know sabbath keeping is one of the ten big ones…one of the Ten Commandments. So, perhaps we can give this person a nod at least for his, almost ruthless, commitment to honor God’s desire for how one comports his or her life. For the Ten Commandments, like all of the Law of Moses, are really a lasting gift of love given by God to God’s people as a means for ordering a life together in which all in the community can mutually flourish. Thus, in my estimation, the problem is not this religious leader’s dogged determination to follow God’s law, but, instead, his profound misunderstanding of the real purpose of sabbath keeping, which, as Jesus emphatically points out, is to heal…to set free…to even resurrect. Thus, both untying an animal from its yoke, which holds that animal in bondage to its work, and to lead it to water to be refreshed and for just a moment live the life that God created that animal to live…is a healing, a being set free, even a resurrection sort of moment for that animal. Thus, such an act is a rightful observance of the sabbath. And, likewise, the healing of a woman who has suffered in bondage to disease for 18 years is a rightful observance of the sabbath…for, simply said, she is healed, set free…she experiences an Easter like resurrection…her life is entirely restored. And, again, that is the purpose of sabbath…to heal…to set free…to be resurrected.
In “Leaving Church”, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Stop for one whole day every week, and you will remember what it means to be created in the image of God, who rested on the seventh day not from weariness but [for] complete freedom. The clear promise is that those who rest like God find themselves free like God, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing toward their graves.” And, what I think she is so helpfully and importantly pointing out is that sabbath is not about becoming more productive…becoming better workers. Indeed, a field left to lie fallow will have its nutrients restored and be more productive when next it is planted. And, an animal set free from its yoke and watered and rested will be able to then plow a field or move a cart with renewed vigor. And, a person healed of a debilitating disease will be able to perhaps take on new and more vigorous tasks that produce some sort of meaningful work…and that’s all to the good. But, it would be a mistake to understand sabbath as simply a means to the end of becoming more useful…of doing more things…of being more productive. Sabbath is not God’s secretive and subtle way of making us better doers.
Instead, sabbath is first and foremost about who we are, who we are becoming…it is about being…not doing. For when we are freed from that which often holds us in bondage…all the demands, even the good ones, on our time and attention…the demands of household and work and social obligations…when we cast off even for a moment the hold that the economy and our politics has over our lives…then we get to just be. We get to revel in the beauty of the world that surrounds us. We get to delight in the fact that the earth continues to turn and we are not solely responsible for it. We come to know that the God of love and not us is providential and wholly in charge of the universe. We get to experience the people around, not as a means to the end, but companions whose company simply brings us light and laughter. We get fresh perspectives on what we value most and make new commitments to those sorts of things, including, often, a renewed appreciation for the work we get to do. Sabbath sets us free to reorder our lives toward God and one another. Sabbath resurrects us into the healthy, joyful, authentic people God created us from the beginning of time to be.
So, as Wendell Berry writes:
“Go with your love to the fields. Lie down in the shade. Rest your head in her lap. Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts. As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.”
The late, great preaching professor Fred Craddock once wrote, and this is not an exact quote, but that there is always at least one person in church who needs to hear the sermon preached that day…and that person is the preacher. And so, I say to myself at least as much as I say to you that as we come to another school year…another program year in the life of the church…as we embark on the great and demanding work of building a new church literally from the ground up for St. Julian’s…as summer and the vacations it has afforded me and maybe some others among us are now past…it is so important that we intentionally determine what sabbath keeping will look like in our regular weeks…to find time to be free from the thousand compulsions that send us rushing toward our graves…to find some bit of time to go with our love into the fields…to experience a bit of healing along the way for our careworn selves, souls and bodies…to practice some resurrection beginning with ourselves. For our health, our joy and being our authentic selves are depending on it. For that is what you need from me as your priest and what I need from you as my co-ministers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, perhaps we can together commit to carving time out each day for quiet contemplation and saying our prayers…to being here together on Sunday mornings at church…for worship, spiritual growth and fellowship…to scheduling a weekend or two away this fall with those closest to us…to perhaps taking even just part of one day each week free from the news or school or work requirements to read something enjoyable…or cook for those we love…or have coffee with a friend…or choose your own sabbath adventure.
For our health and joy and being our authentic selves are depending on such moments of healing and freedom, on such sabbath moments of personal resurrection. For you need me healed, joyful and you need me to be before you my authentic self, and I need all of that from you as well. And for this God created sabbath…to heal…to be free…to be resurrected. Amen.