The Way of Love– Rest
The Way of Love: Rest
A sermon by the Rev. H. Paul Canady III
Rector of Christ Church, New Bern, NC, on February 17, 2019
I think maybe my computer is listening to me. And not in an un-creepy way. Twice this week, I was listening to music from a streaming music service, two different ones, to be precise, and advertisements for sleep aids and mattresses kept popping up. It’s as if Spotify and Google Play heard my conversations about how the hotel was nice and all at Diocesan Convention last weekend, but I still didn’t sleep all that great. Or that someone else hanging out near my office happened to mention that they think they need a new mattress. So in the midst of streaming some “best of the 80s” on Spotify and Latin Jazz on Google Play come these ads… As if they know…
There is plenty of debate about whether or not our phones and tablets and computers are listening to us and targeting the advertising, but advertisers know that Americans are really bad at sleep. There was a big article about this in the Washington Post not too long ago. And we are really bad at sleep because we are bad at rest.
This is week six of our seven-week series on the Way of Love, practices for a Jesus Centered Life. We have talked about
Turning and choosing each day to follow Jesus
Learning by reflecting daily on Scripture
Praying and dwelling intentionally with God
Worshipping by gathering at least weekly with others who seek to follow Jesus
Last week, Lisa talked about “Go,” that a privilege and honor and responsibility of following Jesus is to carry his message of love into the world. Next Sunday, Lisa will focus on “Bless.” Today’s word is “Rest → Receiving the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.
Our culture thrives on being busy. It’s not something new to humanity or even to American culture, but the problem seems to be getting more pronounced. Ten or fifteen years ago, there were only a million or so things to capture our attention. Now it seems like there’s a billion things! There are far fewer places where you can go without some sort of information blaring in your face. I was really grateful recently when I went to have the some work done on my car and the dealership had on the National Geographic channel. Nerdy, yes. But there were no talking heads rambling on about sports, politics, or celebrity stuff. We live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle, with all the information we could ever want or not want right at our fingertips. And while knowledge is good, wisdom is better.
Our Gospel reading today is known as the Sermon on the Plain. It has much of he same elements of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, but Luke states pretty clearly that Jesus stood on a level place instead of going up a mountain. The wisdom Jesus offers, like much of what Jesus offers, is counter-cultural to his time and to ours. “Blessed are you who are poor.” Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are you who weep. Blessed are you who don’t fit the mold of what our culture says is successful and healthy and good. And woe to the rich. Woe to those who are full now. Who to those who laugh now. Woe to those who think they’ve got it good because news flash… You soon won’t.
The message of Jesus so often turns us on our heads, calls us to look at life from a different perspective. Our cultural message may be to stay busy, stay engaged, stay informed, keep doing all. The. things. But it is really hard to receive the gifts of God’s peace and restoration if we don’t take the time to rest and recharge.
One of my favorite quotes from any book comes from The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill. “Besides the innovation of speaking the unspoken moral law aloud,” Cahill writes, “one should note the lesser - but hardly unimportant - innovation of the weekend, which got its start in the Jewish Sabbath (or ‘Ceasing’). No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. The God who made the universe and rested bids us to do the same, calling us to a weekly restoration of prayer, study, and recreation (or re-creation” (144).
God’s commanded to take one day of the week and rest is important enough to God for God to explain it more than the others when giving the Law from Mt. Sinai. It is the second-longest of the Commandments, only about 3 words less than the one to not have any false idols. (How’s that for a message to a people who love being “busy”?) The command, too, that servants and beasts of burden be given rest is not only a reminder to the newly freed slaves from Egypt of their worth, but of the worth of all creation and the importance of taking a break.
Nearly all of humanity, especially in the Developed World, suffers from the plague of “busy.” It’s not a badge of honor or a father in our cap. Nor is it the result of one thing in our world. We cannot put the blame at the feet of youth sports or consumerism or Baby Boomers or the Millennial Generation. It is an illness seeking a remedy. And if we spend our time worrying about what caused it, we will be too distracted from finding that remedy.
And what exactly is the remedy to this culture of busy? This culture of always being plugged in, always “in the loop”? It can be as simple as a one-word sentence: No. Committing to not taking on another commitment unless you give something up or it has reached its end. It could be as introspective as taking time to be in deep prayer, both the talking kind and the listening kind about all the things in your life, your commitments, where you get your information, who you spend time with… I’m not worried about whether they bring you joy, but do they help you receive God’s gift of grace and peace and restoration? It could also be as bold as marking off one whole day or even a half a day or maybe you start with an hour and build from there, but commit to ceasing what you are doing and just BE in the presence of the Almighty.
It’s not easy, and I know first hand. As I prayed and pondered and even wrestled with God about preaching on the word “Rest,” I kept thinking and saying, “I am sooooo unqualified to preach on this.” And God reminded me of the Nadia Bolz-Weber quote that Lisa used last week: “Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best examples of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent the stumblers and the sinners.”
So, as one among the self-proclaimed worst at resting and being in God’s presence, I am standing before you to tell you that I am going to do better. As Master Yoda says in Empire Strikes Back, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Let’s all take a look at those things in our lives that distract us, that keep us unfocused, that draws us away from God and from the REST God calls us to take. This is our chance to carry on that counter-cultural message of Jesus, our chance to unplug, unwind, disengage from those things that take away our connection to the divine. Let’s ask God to help us let go of those things and to embrace a sense of be-ing instead of the sense of do-ing. And with God’s help, may we all find rest to receive the gift of God’s peace and restoration.