Rest In God

Matthew 11:28-30

I was listening to the radio this week to, you know, one of those “new age” very relaxing kind of stations. Spa I think it was called. Anyway, in between all the beautiful, calming music came the soothing voice of a woman, who said, “find your inner stillness.” Well, I thought about that for a while and decided it was a good idea. So, when I found myself with an extra hour one afternoon, I gave it a shot. I took my shoes off, climbed into my hammock, and began looking for my inner stillness. And it was a perfect setting. I was in the shade with a cool breeze blowing, the flies and mosquitos must have taken the afternoon off to search for their inner stillness too, because I didn’t get bit once. It was perfect. It turns out, however, that one’s inner stillness is more evasive than one might imagine. Maybe I didn’t give it long enough, but I found it hard to turn the world off. You know what I mean. I closed my eyes and attempted to clear my mind but all I could think about was the next appointment, the next sermon to write, what was troubling my kids, which animal needed attention, what task could I be doing instead of laying here in a hammock? Searching for one’s inner stillness isn’t as easy as it sounds. I think it’s far more complicated than simply relaxing.

And this is where we meet Jesus today. In Matthew’s account, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” I want to suggest today, that there are at least four gifts wrapped in Jesus’ invitation and promise. Gifts that find their way into our being in those moments of stillness.1

The first gift
The first gift is that of Sabbath time. This is a great place to start because Sabbath provides the room, the space, the context for Jesus’ invitation. Sabbath begins with climbing into the hammock, but it’s more than just a time of rest; it’s rejuvenation, restoration, re-connection to the Divine. And, biblically speaking, we initially encounter the concept of Sabbath in the first creation story of Genesis. God worked six days, and then rested on the seventh day, right? The author of this narrative is seeking to give us an example; a pattern after which we can order our lives. Rest, reflection, and reconnection are the hallmarks of Sabbath.

Now, in Judaism there’s an understanding of Sabbath as “sanctuary in time,” a term coined by Rabbi Abraham Herschel. It’s a day of delight, a day to savor the world. It’s Being rather than doing. Sabbath rest, if we practice it, infuses us with attention to the present moment. Sabbath challenges us to attend to; to the present in moment because so often that’s where God shows up. So, in his invitation, the Rabbi Jesus is first offering us Sabbath rest.

The second gift
Which leads us to the second gift: The second gift Jesus offers is release.
Release is the opportunity to let go of stress and the pressure of everyday life; to release the inner obstacles that block us.

Recently I was in a meeting, it was a time of silent prayer, so it was very quiet in the room. Now it happened that the windows were open and children were playing outside. And I could hear a child in the distance, chanting, over and over, “Let it go, let it go.” I wondered if the children were tugging on a rope or fighting over a ball or a toy “Let it go, let it go!” But then it dawned on me that the child was singing the chorus from the Disney movie “Frozen.” “Let it go, let it go.”

And this incident got me to thinking, whatever dilemma, whatever problem or anxiety is clogging our insides, maybe we should consider the words of this song: “let it go.” Maybe this way of thinking, this second gift, would have been helpful out in my hammock. When I was attempting to be in a Sabbath mode, maybe letting some of my ‘stuff’ go would have lead me to the third gift.

The third gift
The third gift in Jesus’ invitation is the gift of Living Water. And this is a more theological concept than the others. When we move into that Sabbath mode, and find the space and context to let go of some of the things that worry us, what we’re doing is removing the debris from our wellspring of Living Water. God desires for each of us to be immersed in these Living Waters so that we may have life and have it abundantly.

However, we sometimes shy away from this concept. You know, here’s an old fable about some folks who long ago discovered a well that they felt healed them of their aliments; they believed they were made whole by the water. So, year after year, they came to the well to drink this restorative water. But then someone said, “Let’s build a building over the well.” So, they built a building. Years passed, and others said, “Let’s build a cathedral here.” So, they built it. But as the years passed, the cathedral became the most important thing, and the people forgot about the healing and restorative waters underneath. 2

I wonder if the business of life, the drive to get and consume more and more stuff, the busyness of trying to keep up with the rat race, can become like that cathedral; a huge stone structure that obscures the wellspring of Living Waters leading to our inability to find our inner stillness? I wonder?

The fourth gift
But when we do go there. When we intentionally take the time to practice Sabbath rest, release all of the worries and stuff, and find our way to that inner wellspring of Living Water, and take it in, we will receive a fourth gift — the gift of energy for our work in the world. The final aspect is to be reenergized for the mission and ministry of the church. We are charged to rest, reflect, and reconnect with God so we can have the energy to continue to serve God out in the world.

And Jesus is the perfect role model here. He was both a mystic and a social reformer; he was a contemplative and an activist. He was often going off by himself to pray, to re-connect with God. Then he would head back to his ministry of compassion and justice, of equality and nonviolence.

So, when I finished writing this message, I decided to try again. I decided to practice what I preach as it were. And I’m happy to report that it did go a little better this time. Using the four gifts as kind of a mental guide, I was able to reenergize myself to a degree. It’s something I need to continue to practice because, as with all spiritual disciplines, the more and more we practice them the easier and more ingrained they become. Whether it’s prayer, or journaling, or devotional reading, or fasting, or walking a labyrinth, or whatever… spiritual practices become a part of us, a part of our very being, our soul, if we are consistent and make them a part of our everyday routine.

And that’s my charge to each of you as you leave this service today. Find a quiet hammock, or chair, and accept Christ’s invitation to indwell these four gifts. Allow Sabbath to provide the space for release, release to lead you to clear away that which keeps you from splashing around in the Living Waters. And finally, as the Spirit washes over you, may you be reenergized for the compassionate, ministry of loving God and neighbor that lies ahead of you.

May it be so for you and for me.

Amen.

[1] Rev. Mel Williams.  Let It Go and Rest.  (www.faithandleadership.com) 2014.    Mel Williams provided the framework and the concept of the ‘four gifts’ that I used in this sermon.  Williams says, “Jesus gives a clear invitation and a promise: “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is still teaching us this wisdom, handing us four gifts — Sabbath, release, wellspring and energy for mission.”

[2] Ira Progoff. The Well and the Cathedral: An Entrance Meditation (Dialogue House Library) 1983

 

 

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