Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘sabbath’

Lighten Up!

Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

Can you sense when you are in a heavy environment?
Do you recognize when the environment is light?
How do you know?

In our Gospel story today, Jesus of Nazareth is getting impatient.

He seems to compare the behavior of the people around him to children bickering back and forth. Na, na, na, na, na, na na! Imagine your most annoying playground back-and-forth argument between two kids and you’re there.

Sticking out tongueBut maybe that interpretation doesn’t work as well. It seems to me that the children aren’t the annoying ones. They are just responding to the frustrating apathy of those around them. They played the flute and tried to get a joyful reaction out of people, and…nothing. So then they went for crying, funeral-type thing, and that didn’t work either.

That of course is a reference to John the Baptizer, the guy who shouted at the people, calling them to change their ways; it didn’t work. They said he was crazy and demon-filled.

Then Jesus, who was different than John—perhaps a “softer” message of love; it didn’t work either. They called him a glutton and a sinner.

So yeah.

The kids are right. How frustrating. Try to motivate people with joy or with sorrow and neither attempt works. People were lifeless but they sure knew how to criticize.

Not much has changed, really. In the current religious landscape of the world, there are very, very loud and annoying people who call people names and criticize people who try to do something different, or lighter, or freer….

They call them sinners, for sure.

They call them pagans or unchurched or unbelievers.
Sometimes they call them derogatory names because of their sexual orientation.
They even say that some are going to hell…just because they interpret the Bible differently.

This is what happened then and it happens now.

People drag other people through the mud and call them names simply because of fear and ignorance. If it were just a few people doing it and no one paid attention, I wouldn’t care. But many of the mud-slingers are in positions of authority or have media influence and are seen on many screens and heard on many stations.

So they drag people with them into their heavy hate rhetoric.

And religions start sinking in the mud because of this. All of them.

Religious people stop loving and helping those around them; they stop looking for justice; they stop praying and meditating; they stop living mercy and compassion.

And this is my [and many people’s] complaint about religion in general.

We argue back and forth about who is right or more holy; we assert our positions on scripture and draw lines in the sand to separate people; we shout so many words at people in order to criticize them and then we do it on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform we can find. This is religion at its worst—just empty, hateful, and ignorant words.

Pure heaviness that no one would ever want to be part of.

And then, some good news that we’re supposed to focus on instead:
Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.
It’s really simple.

Wisdom, in the 1st and 2nd century, was understood as a presence equal to that of the Creator. Wisdom was part of the creation of whole universe. Wisdom was not a person or a thing or even a god, but wisdom was constant, and unbiased, and wonderful.

In the Jewish tradition of Proverbs 8, it says:

Wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Wisdom was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
Wisdom was there when the Creator set the heavens in place, marked out the horizon on the face of the deep. Wisdom was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in the Creator’s presence, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind.

And then, this advice from Wisdom Herself:
Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways.
Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.
For those who find me find life.

Wisdom shattered the empty, hateful words of the religious.
Wisdom drowns out the prejudice, mean religious people of today.

Why?

Because wisdom is evident not in words, but in deeds.

Anyone can make arguments and yell back and forth and point fingers.
But how many of those who shout actually do anything good?

A true prophet is known because he or she lives what he/she says.

And so in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find Sabbath rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Easy?
Light?
Since when did religion [much less Western Christianity] become easy and light?
Since when did being a person of faith include rest, learning, and release to freedom?

Since then. Since now.

But we’ve walked away from this path—many of us.

We love the heavy “yokes” of doctrine and dogma so very much because it gives us black-and-white answers and gives us the excuse to judge and be prejudice against certain kinds of people. Often, religious people prefer that type of heaviness to the lightness, because having a lot of freedom in religious practice and thought means that there are no definitive answers and that no one gets it exactly right. Your god or your savior isn’t the best or the truest. That scares some people. And yes, it scares a lot of so-called “Jesus followers” who want nothing at all to do with a light burden and too much freedom. They view Jesus as a god who started the best and truest religion on earth.

But Jesus founded no religion.

We did.

Instead, Jesus offered Sabbath rest—the kind of holistic rest from all the rules, and restrictions, and heaviness.
Sabbath rest can even be translated as recovery and restoration.

So we’re all kind of religious addicts in recovery, on a road to get rid of our heaviness, our baggage; we’re on a road to be restored and to be light—to be free.

The Jesus yoke is not easy, actually.
The word means goodness, pleasant, worthy, loving, kind.
So if we carry such a yoke, we leave heaviness behind.

We walk light on our feet and we walk in light.

We stop shouting and pointing fingers.
We start treating all people with a light yoke of love, mercy, and freedom to be themselves.
We accept the Sabbath rest of recovery and refreshment for ourselves so that we offer it to others. And we learn to laugh a lot more, and to be lighter…and this is freeing.

 

Law Bends to Love

Luke 13:10-17 

Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Clip to Watch…

Les Miserables, the 10th Anniversary performance of the musical adapted from the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean, a person from a poor family who gets arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. He spends the next 19 years in prison doing hard labor and becoming a bitter and hardened man. Finally, he is given parole, but is reminded by his arch nemesis [and representation of the law] Inspector Javert, that he will never be free. Valjean will always be a convict, and never free.

So Valjean wanders the country of France with no family or friends. He stumbles across a rectory where the Bishop Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel lives. In the book, this bishop is referred to as Bishop Myriel or Monseigneur Bienvenu. Bishop Myriel offers Valjean a bed and a hearty meal. For the first time in 19 years, Valjean falls asleep content. But in the middle of the night, Valjean’s horrific past takes hold of him. He gets up from his bed and steals the good silver plates from the bishop’s cabinet. He runs.

The next morning, the French authorities find Valjean and bring him back to bishop Myriel’s house. They are prepared to arrest Valjean for stealing. But when they ask the bishop what they should do with Valjean, something strange happens. Bishop Myriel says to Valjean, “Ah, there you are! I am glad to see you. But I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest. Why did you not take them along with your plates?” Valjean, befuddled and frozen, takes the plates from the bishop. Then, as the authorities release their grip of Valjean’s arms, the bishop says one last thing:

Forget not; never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man…. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God![1]

Valjean’s life changes radically after the bishop shows him this mercy. Valjean becomes mayor of a city in France. He is a well-respected individual in the community. He runs a factory that provides jobs for poor women. He raises a girl, Cosette, to adulthood, one who has lost her mother Fantine to disease. It seems that Valjean is indeed free of this spirit of perdition [punishment]. And yet, even after the passing of so many years, Valjean’s arch nemesis, Inspector Javert, still hunts him all over France. Javert is convinced that Valjean did not deserve to be mayor or to even live as a free man. The law was everything and the law said that Valjean must be punished for violating his parole. All the greater good that Valjean was bringing about with his new life and all the people he was blessing—this did not matter to Javert.

Law over mercy.  

It is a great story, Les Miserables. Timeless. Why? Because even though we like to identify with such heroic characters like Jean Valjean—even though we like to think that mercy will triumph over judgment and law—often it does not. And even you and I struggle with showing mercy to certain people. We can act like Javert.

We can be Javert.

We are capable of holding on to law and forgetting mercy.

And that is just what this Luke Gospel story is all about:
Law vs. mercy; judgment vs. love.

It was a Sabbath day—Saturday as we know it.

A woman appears “with a spirit” that “bent her over” for 18 years.

What did she have? Perhaps some kind of spinal disorder? The story does not tell us specifically, but that isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that on the Sabbath day, there are certain procedures to follow, traditions and rules to observe, and so this woman entering the synagogue all “bent over” doesn’t fit into the way things have always been.

The woman doesn’t cause trouble or even ask for help. After 18 years it seems that she has accepted that this is going to be her life. But Jesus sees her. And he calls her over.

You are set free.

He touches her with his own hands. She stands straight up and begins thanking God.

Of course, this kind of incident cannot go unnoticed. It is the Sabbath, remember.

So a leader of the synagogue is ticked off, says Luke’s author. Jesus [or anyone else, for that matter] was not supposed to touch an unclean person and heal on the Sabbath. Six days are reserved for work. Why couldn’t this woman wait one more day and then come to the temple to be cured? Seemingly not a bad question, if we are just thinking about the letter of the law. After 18 years, what difference would one more day make?

Couldn’t she be straightened out tomorrow?

No, says Jesus. You Hypocrites is how he refers to the religious elites of the temple. And then he uses simple examples to remind everyone that try as they might, everybody still does some kind of work on the Sabbath. It is unavoidable. No Sabbath can be completely work-free. So why in the world would they not choose to heal this woman who happened to wander into the temple on the Sabbath?

Now before we criticize the leaders in the temple just as we would criticize Javere from Les Miserables, we must remember to put ourselves in their shoes. The concept of Sabbath was not at all a bad thing. In fact, Sabbath was a time of renewal. Sabbath was a peaceful rest from the grind of life. My colleague who is an Orthodox Jew observes her Sabbath faithfully each week. She will not answer her phone; she will not do any type of work, use the computer, watch television, etc. But Sabbath is not a restriction for her. It is FREEDOM. For the ancient Israelites, they were moving from a time of being slaves in Egypt. They were forced to work constantly; no time off. This idea of Sabbath was a blessing. And for those who still practice Sabbath [Jews, Christians, Muslims—anyone], this day of rest is refreshing and wonderful.

Maybe that’s what we need to keep in mind about the leaders of the temple. They were protecting Sabbath because of its great worth. I honestly think, though, that like any religious tradition, law or practice—something really wonderful and refreshing can become awfully rigid and harmful. Why? Because we can become obsessed with the “rule” of the law and forget about the “spirit” of the law.

This word spirit appears in this story. The bent-over woman had a spirit in her that was causing this ailment. I think we all can have this type of “spirit” when we obsess over rules and forget mercy. We can all become bent over, limited, trapped, and judgmental. It is indeed a sickness.

But the woman was freed of this spirit of ailment when Jesus chose to “break” Sabbath rules and touch her with his own two hands.

So can we be freed of our obsession over laws and rules.

We can all be freed if we remember and live by the mercy rule.

You see, I would argue that the spirit of the law of Sabbath is indeed rest, but rest for everyone.

So if someone cannot rest because she is bent over, ignored, forgotten, shunned, untouchable—then you and I have a responsibility to pay attention, recognize his/her humanity, and to reach out with our own two hands–to heal. The spirit of the law is based on God’s love and mercy.

The moment any of our religious practice becomes more rule and less love, we have lost our entire purpose for being.

Friends, in all religious traditions, we find wonderful and refreshing ways of living that can benefit our body, mind, and soul. But like with any religious tradition, we must be very careful so as to not forget the spirit of these traditions. Any time our religious practices are more about rules and law and less about mercy and love, we have completely lost our way. For the way of Jesus is this:

Law always bends to love.

The spirit of the law is always more important than the ritual.

Mercy sets ALL people free!

In your own spiritual practice, keep this in mind always. Don’t be obsessed with law. Instead, let love bend the rules. Focus on the spirit of your religious practice more than the rituals themselves. And in your interactions with other people, no matter which day it is or who they are, be merciful.

This will set you and all who you touch…free.

Amen.


[1] Les Misérables, Victor Hugo, 1862.1992 Modern Library Edition copyright Random House Inc.

Get Your Sabbath On

Genesis 1:26-2:4:  Down-to-Earth Resting

 Unplug the television
And make way for an old vision
Which will now be a new vision
Yes Headliner, lay the foundation
Dig your hands in the dirt
That’s right
Children play with earth

Gain knowledge of the big
But small earth around you
Dig your hands into the dirt
The dirt that made you
Get acquainted with the earth
The earth that eventually will take you
And the world that hopefully
Will appear to wake you

Children, play in the fields
Play in the grass, climb Mr. tree
Get to know each branch
Give it a name
For the branches resemble the many decisions
You will have to make in life

Eat of the earth children,grow an apple tree
Taste the apple, communicate
Watch and listen to the neglected mother of all
Short, tall children play with earth
Eat rhubarb wet from the rain
Beautiful fruits all the same
Pears, oranges and grapes from the vine
Children it is the earth’s time

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – CHILDREN PLAY WITH EARTH

One of my favorite hip hop groups of all time, Arrested Development.

The song, Children Play with Earth, is lyrically wonderful even as it is challenging. The earth is big and small; and it made us. The earth will eventually take us. It will also wake us. We should play in the fields, grass, and trees and give the branches names. We should plant in the earth so as to have food to eat of the earth. We are to watch and listen to the neglected mother of all—the earth.

We are in our third week of exploring the first creation story in Genesis. Today we read its conclusion: day 6 includes the creation of humankind, male and female, in the Creator’s image, blessed and given great responsibility to care for the earth, waters, animals, and all living things. Day 7 marks the moment when the Creator views all of creation and is pleased. Time for rest.

The last two days [or ages] of this creation story contain two very important words that we will unpack: adam and Sabbath. Now of course, in our English translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, we see the word humankind for adam, and the word rest for Sabbath. Let’s start with this word adam, a word shared by Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahai’s in the creation stories. In the Hebrew language, there are root words that consonants and vowels get added to in order to form variations of the root. ADM is the root word and is masculine. Words in Hebrew are like words in Spanish. They have masculine or feminine forms, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are male and female. Is a chair female? No really. So ADM is a masculine root, but our word here in Genesis 1 is also used with adamah, the feminine derivation, which means earth.[1] So we get, in a nutshell, Hebrew wordplay which leads us to adam meaning humankind from the earth.

And with that, I’m reminded of a childhood memory. I was eight years old, I think. I received my first Bible; I still have it. In that Bible, there were pictures from time to time, along with the words. I particularly remember Genesis. Right away, the word adam is important, because as I learned about this story, I saw a picture of a man. His name was Adam. I assumed [as did the people who drew these pictures and strategically placed them there] that the creation of humankind was really the creation of this man named Adam. Capital A. So as an eight-year-old, I imagined this dude appearing out of nowhere. And he already had a first name, just no last name. Just call me…Adam, he would say.

Look! I’m hanging out with my monkey-friend, bananas! Capital b.

But that’s not really true, is it? Genesis1 doesn’t give us this detail. Instead, we get a generic word that means humankind from the earth. At this point, you may be thinking, Wait, I seem to remember that God formed Adam [capital A] out of the ground, and then this lady Eve out of his rib]. Tsk, tsk. You’re skipping ahead! We’re still in Genesis 1, remember? Adam as a proper name is not in this story. Human life [both male and female], is created by Elohim [God], in Elohim’s image, and that means male and female. And they don’t have names, these humans. They are told to have kids and grow their population. So these are the first humans [plural] and there are lots more of them, eventually. And this is before we get to the proper names—before some dude named Adam and some lady named Eve. My Bible was wrong, or at least it assumed too much.

Why the specifics of this? Well, the Semitic people [a general term to describe the ancients of the Middle East] were used to playing with the earth, digging their hands in the dirt. They were people of nature—in tune with it and certainly respectful of it. Their worldview was akin to the ancients of the Americas, who also honored the natural world and believed that they were created from it and would eventually return to it. The Mayans, for example, in their creation story the Popul Vuh, specifically state that the humans were created from the mixture of corn and water, called atole. Corn of the earth + water from the sky = human beings.[2]

La Creacion, Diego Rivera, 1931

So the story establishes for us that not only are the birds, fish, animals, trees, waters, skies, and land good—not only are human beings good—but the relationship between them all is good. I’ve heard a lot in my lifetime about this concept of having dominion over the whole earth—that somehow as human beings we are given free reign to do whatever we want to the natural order. After all, aren’t we meant to rule over it? Many take this to mean that animals come last. The environment is not our problem. The oceans are for our use anyway, so we can throw our trash in them without feeling guilty. This of course is the problem when we read the Bible like a bumper sticker. The entire rest of the creation stories [and the Bible itself, for that matter] make it clear that dominion over the earth and its creatures means great responsibility on the part of human beings to care for creation so that all living things can fulfill their Creator-given purpose. Having dominion means caring for, allowing the natural order to thrive, to see creation as good, just like God did.

So why do we avoid this challenge? Why do we so often abuse the creation so graciously shared with us? I say it’s because we forget about adam with a lowercase a, we forget where we come from and where we will all eventually go. We neglect the earth, sky, and waters and all the good creations within them, because we only think about ourselves. We forget who we are. In fact, it’s almost like after the 6th day, after humans are made, we end the creation story. Done. Time to move on. I have things to do, places to go, money to make, stress, a full calendar, and no time for creation caring. And then we’re disconnected from it all. We’re not connected to where we come from. We don’t dig our hands in the dirt; we don’t play with the good earth. We’re too overscheduled and busy to care.

But there is another day in the Genesis 1 story, a seventh. The Creator looks over all that has been made and is pretty pleased with it. It’s all good. And it’s time to rest. So we’re to our second word in Hebrew, Shabbat/shavat. In English, we translate this as Sabbath. Here in Genesis 1, it is very loosely translated as rest. I say loosely, because Shabbat, in the Genesis 1 context, is probably better translated as cease or end. The Creator, Elohim, ceases to create, at least for the moment. It all looks good from the Creator’s viewpoint. It’s not like the Creator was tired or fed up with making things. It was time to end. One cycle, one age, was completed. A new one begins.

Of course, Sabbath for many Christians is a laughable subject, really. Take me, for example. Is Sunday supposedly my Sabbath? Since I can remember, Sundays have always been full, full days of classes, worship services, practices, meetings and events. Rest? Ending? Closure? HA! Not a chance! Of course, I’m no martyr here. There are many [besides ministers] who work a lot on Sundays. Or Saturdays. You see, we’ve lost the concept of Sabbath. It’s not a day to sit in a pew or fulfill some religious obligation. It’s not a time to schedule things. Sabbath is unplugging, gaining new perspective, closing and opening; Sabbath is set apart as sacred. Sabbath is a moment to hit the reset button so we remember who we are: all of us people of the earth, created in God’s image, good and blessed, connected to each other, meant to care for the earth, its creatures—meant to care for each other. Sabbath is a time for reawakening.

I believe in Sabbath. I know that when I’m done with my Sunday responsibilities, when the door closes behind me in my house, when the phones are not answered, and I have Monday in front of me—Sabbath begins. As Hebrews 4:10 states, I enter God’s rest. Sabbath is communion with our Creator, a reminder about the image we are made in. And my Sabbath connects me, not just to the earth, waters, and animals—but to my brothers and sisters around the world. My Muslim brother prays in his car five times a day when we works in the city and finds wholeness and peace; my Jewish colleague makes amazing food to share with others and lingers a long, long time at the table counting his blessings; my atheist friend hikes a trail and smiles at the beauty of trees around her. Our Sabbath connects us. We don’t need to run to sanctuaries, meetings, and events. They are not Sabbath. Instead, we feel the rhythm of life around us and in us—all created good by our Creator.

And we realize together that everyone—EVERYONE—is a good creation, deserving of food, of water, of land, and of Sabbath. And we claim the responsibility to care for the creation and to care for the people of the world. We don’t do it because we want to get something out of it; we don’t do it because we feel power; we care because we come from the earth—all of us. And we all our God-images—all of us. And we all deserve Sabbath—all of us.

And so I challenge you and myself to dig our hands in the dirt. I challenge you to recognize where you come from. I challenge you to stand up for others who are denied their good humanity and to help those who are denied their right to Sabbath in their lives. But in order to be who you were made to be, you are going to have to experience Sabbath in your own lives. Living Sabbath, being human, is about joy and thankfulness. It’s about relationship with the merciful, loving Creator. It’s about forgiving and being forgiven; it’s about justice that costs us something; it’s about love without strings; it’s about recognizing that everyone’s full humanity includes God’s creative work.

Get acquainted with the earth–

the earth that eventually will take you

and the world that hopefully will appear

to wake you.

Amen.


[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia.

[2] Popul Vuh.

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