Well, if you were with us last Sunday, you know that I mentioned that this past week, I was so honored and proud to serve as a delegate at the UCC National Synod. The National Synod is a biennial gathering of all the 5,000 UCC churches in the United States. This year, it was held virtually, but it was still so meaningful. And at this past week's Synod, we as a denomination passed several very important resolutions. In the coming weeks, I am looking forward to sharing those resolutions with you. But one of the resolutions that we passed this week was that we as a denomination, commit ourselves to becoming a “Church of Contemplatives in Action.”
And those of you who know me, you know how much that speaks to my heart. You may remember that I led a group from Douglas UCC to New Mexico a few years ago. Twenty of us went there, and we met with Father Richard Rohr at the center he founded there, which is called the Center for Action and Contemplation. Father Rohr reminded us on that trip, “We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action.”
Now, we in the United Church of Christ, we have a long, rich history of action, which we're really proud of. We marched for civil rights and women's rights and gay rights. We're really good at action in the United Church of Christ. But with this new Synod Resolution, we're also going to be putting our focus on contemplation and meditation in our churches.
Because you see, Jesus was a man of both action and contemplation. Yes, as we just heard, we see him out and about. He is teaching and preaching and healing and working miracles. But throughout the Gospels, we also see him going off by himself, out into the wilderness, out into the desert, up to a mountaintop, so that he could connect with God.
In today's Gospel reading, you see that he invites the apostles after their work to come away to a deserted place, all by themselves, to rest for a while. Because you see, that's what contemplation is.
Contemplation means resting in God.
And you want to know something? That's actually one of the 10 commandments. A lot of people don't know that. But the commandment is to Honor the Sabbath.
If you went out and asked a lot of Christians today, what does the commandment “Honor the Sabbath” mean? They'll say, oh, that means you go to church on Sunday.
Well that's not what Honor the Sabbath means. It has nothing to do with Sunday. And it has nothing to do with going to church. The word Sabbath means ‘a period of rest.’
All of you last year gave me the gift of going on sabbatical. That word sabbatical has the same root word as the word Sabbath. It's a period of rest and renewal. And the commandments say you must honor a time of rest in your life. Honor it, obey it. So how do you obey that commandment?
Well go lie in a hammock this afternoon.
Go curl up on the couch with a cup of tea.
Hold hands with your loved one as you watch the sunset.
When you do these things, you are obeying the commandment. You are honoring the Sabbath. You know our Jewish friends greet one another with “Shabbat Shalom.” Shabbat is the Hebrew word for Sabbath. And shalom is the word for peace. When you say Shabbat Shalom, you are wishing someone that peace that comes from the time of rest, that peace that surpasses all understanding.
I loved our words of integration and guidance this morning that Julie read for us. The writer Wayne Mueller called it a time of joyful uselessness. I love that we were talking about joy last Sunday, but that's what it is. You don't have to accomplish anything. You are just resting. You may remember our church member Mark Zancanero -- his mother, Pauline. You may know she would come and worship with us when she was visiting from Chicago. She passed away last year at the age of 101. And I asked Mrs. Zancanaro once, what is the secret to a long life? She gave me an Italian term, the term is nulla. Meaning, intentional nothingness. It's being intentional about doing nothing.
Being intentional about doing nothing. It is so important.
It is such an important commandment. But we're not really good at it. Because most of us grew up with this American, this Puritan work ethic. We always have to be doing something. We always have to be plugged in. We always have to be productive. And if we're not, we feel really guilty about it.
But I've told you before, we are not human doings, we are human beings. And we need to practice being be-ings still.
We don't just do it for one hour on Sunday morning. That is not what Honoring the Sabbath means. I mean, think about it. Do you obey the other commandments just for one hour on Sunday morning? I mean, do you not kill, or steal, or commit adultery just on Sunday mornings? No! All the Commandments are supposed to be practiced all the time.
Our Muslim friends, they pause, not once a day, not twice a day, but five times a day. They stop whatever they're doing. They put a sacred mat on the floor, and they rest in God.
That's what we're supposed to be doing. Being mindful of our connection with God. I came across a group online as I was researching for today's homily. It's not connected with any particular faith tradition, but they call themselves “The Sabbath Manifesto.” You can go to their website, Sabbath manifesto.org. It's a group of people who are trying to get us to really honor the Sabbath, to be still, to unplug. They actually sell on their website, a little slip case for your cell phone with a drawstring so that you're not distracted by your phone during the Sabbath. And they came up with the 10 core principles of the Sabbath Manifesto, and I want to read them for you. I thought they were so great.
That's how we honor the Sabbath. I'd like to read to you what some other spiritual teachers over the years have said about this time of rest…
Charles Fillmore, who was the founder of the Unity school for practical Christianity said, “The Sabbath is kept any time we enter into spiritual consciousness and rest from thoughts of temporal things. We let go of the external observance of days, because every day is a Sabbath in which we retire in spirit.”
And Sir John Lubbock said, “Rest is not idleness. To lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching clouds float across the sky is by no means a waste of time.”
And Henry David Thoreau said “He enjoys true leisure, who has time to improve his soul’s estate.”
And Logan Pearsall Smith said “If you are losing your leisure, look out, you may be losing your soul.”
Leisure, my friends. Rest, my friends. It's necessary for our souls and our spirits. It's vital. And you know, scientific research is actually showing that a four-day workweek is actually the most beneficial for our health and our well being. Now, you know, if you've been coming to our church, that the motto for our denomination, the United Church of Christ, is “God is still speaking,” and that is the truth. God is still speaking. But God speaks in the silence.
The Sufi poet Rumi said, “There is a voice that doesn't use words, listen to it.”
We listen when we get still. That's what scripture means, “Be still and know that I am God”.
And so my friends, I really want to encourage you this week, to find time each and every day to honor the Sabbath, to be still, to relax, to rest. Know that peace, which surpasses all understanding. And may we, the people of Douglas UCC, moving forward, recommit ourselves to being a church of Contemplatives in Action.
So Shabbat Shalom and Namaste.
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Wayne Muller
The Sabbath is a time of rest. In our society, we tend to think of rest as useless. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember; No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms. Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center. The Sabbath has a joyful uselessness to it. We are not supposed to accomplish anything of any significance so that we can stop looking for what’s not there and have the time to drink from what’s already here. When we’re on the wheel of constant work, our eye is on the next thing that has to be done, what hasn’t been accomplished yet. Sabbath is a time to eat what you’ve cooked, to harvest what you’ve planted, and to give thanks for what you’ve been given. It’s a time to bless our loved ones and to eat, drink, and make love. The sensual delight associated with Sabbath reminds us that one of the fruits of spiritual practice is useless happiness.
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