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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Entering the Life: A Sermon

Here is Sunday's sermon:

“Entering the Life”
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, TN

Second Sunday of Lent
March 8th, 2009

On Friday a number of us including our confirmation class and several adults attended the Shabbat service at B’nai Sholom Congregation in Blountville. They were gracious hosts providing a question and answer period before the service. Then we were invited to participate in the service itself.

Student Rabbi Howie Stein led the prayers and preached a sermon on Shabbat. Shabbat or Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and concludes at sundown on Saturday. The day begins in the evening. This is based on the refrain in the first chapter of Genesis, “There was evening and there was morning, the first day,” and so on through the sixth day.

The creation account concludes:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 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, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
Rabbi Stein then asked what does it mean to say “God rested?” It means that God stopped creating. For six days God creates and makes the world. On the seventh day, God no longer creates but lets it be. The rabbi said that humanity, created in God’s image, also creates and makes the world. We continue that work of creating. Creativity is one of the meanings of being created in God’s image.

For six days we work hard. We do our business. We make our living. We create, we dream, we fashion a world in which there is justice and balance. We work to make life and our lives better and the lives for others better. It is our life’s work to create a future for our descendants as well as ourselves. This work is important right now. As we are in the midst of huge changes, our creativity is being summoned for the great work ahead.

But all work and no rest makes for injustice and imbalance among other things. We need to rest from creating. What did God do on the seventh day? This is the image I appreciated from the Rabbi’s sermon. God drew back. God drew back from creation and let creation be.

That is the meaning of Shabbat. On the seventh day, we let the universe be. We draw back from our business, from our creating, from our good work, and simply be. We draw ourselves back from the world we create and let creation have its say.

I really appreciated the rabbi’s sermon. As I reflected upon it, I thought that our varied spiritual traditions have parallels for this. Muslims praying five times a day is the ritual of drawing back. Bill [Kirkwood who leads meditation at our church] encourages us to meditate at the same time every day. The traditions, the holy days, the daily office of prayer, the Sunday morning church service, all exist to help us draw back from life so that we can enter life.

When Jesus said that if we save our life we will lose it and if we lose it we will save it, he was perhaps saying a similar thing in a creative way.

We need to be reminded on a regular basis to get out of the way and to let the Universe be, to stop creating and become aware of creation.

Regardless of how we feel or what we think or what remains to be done, regular intervals of rest draw us back so we don’t fill every second with our own egos.

This does not mean our egos are bad or that creating and working is bad. Not at all. It is good. God does it for six days, but God remembers to rest on the seventh and let the universe have its day as it is. We, created in God’s image, are to do the same.

I will avoid offering suggestions on how to do this. You do it already or will find your path in your own time. I found it interesting how the Jewish observation of Shabbat has its parallels and speaks of this truth of rest that is common to all.

The poem by Robinson Jeffers that I found in one of Joanna Macy’s books is a rest poem.
I entered the life of the brown forest
And the great life of the ancient peaks, the patience of stone,
I felt the changes in the veins
In the throat of the mountain, a grain in many centuries, we have
our own time, not yours;
I need that reminder as I create my world so that my world doesn’t end up on my shoulders. It is a reminder that others are creating worlds as well as me. Others have created worlds long before me. Long before humans the universe or God if you wish, was creating as well. I need to hear and see those worlds as well as my own.

The symbolism of Lent is designed to help us draw back so we can enter life as it is. We see this in the Gospel reading where Jesus invites those who would be his followers to deny themselves pick up their cross and follow. That is a stark image. What does that mean?

I don’t think it means a glorification of suffering or that there is virtue in adding layers of suffering. I think it has to do with being aware of suffering and pain in our own lives and of others and in the life of creation itself. We acknowledge it. It, too, is a part of life.

In Joanna Macy’s book, “Coming Back to Life” she includes a poem given to her at a conference. It is anonymous but from the Sufi tradition:
Overcome any bitterness that may have come
because you were not up to the magnitude of pain
that was entrusted to you.
Like the Mother of the world,
who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
each one of us is part of her heart,
and therefore endowed
with a certain measure of cosmic pain.
You are sharing in the totality of that pain.
You are called upon to meet it in joy
instead of self-pity.
--anon.
I think that is the sense of picking up the cross and following, of entering in the wilderness, of drawing back to be aware of life as it is. We will create and we will work to make life better, but we also need a Shabbat, a drawing back.

We carry some of the cosmic pain of creation.


We also carry its goodness and beauty.

There is a time to draw back and honor both.


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