Welcome to online worship with FCC of Valparaiso, IN. I hope you will find blessing and peace in this next hour as we worship God together in this unconventional way. First I’ll mention a couple of things happening this week in the life of our church family. Saturday, July 25 we are hosting an outdoor memorial service for long-time member Ron Gill. This will be held in our outdoor worship area at 10:00. If you plan to attend, you are reminded to wear a face mask and observe social distancing. Also at the church on Saturday the 25th, Boy Scout Troop 907 is hosting their annual fundraiser Pork Chop dinner. Due to pandemic precautions there will be no indoor dining this year. Tickets for $10 can be purchased in advance from scouts or leaders or tickets can be purchased at the door. Meals will be packaged for takeout only. Scouts and leaders preparing and packaging the food will be wearing masks and gloves. The dinner is from 4-8 p.m. Saturday July 25th.
Call to Worship
Leader: Come, you who are weary and heavy laden, come and rest.
UNISON (singing): Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord.
Leader: Come, worship the One True God, the God whose nature has been best revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.
UNISON: Abide in Him always, and feed on His word.
Leader: Come to find both the will and the power to serve as Jesus served and love as Jesus loved.
Unison: Make friends of God’s children; help those who are weak.
Leader: May our gratitude be genuine, and may our efforts to live as Christ’s disciples be blessed.
Unison: Forgetting in nothing, God’s blessing to seek.
God, Our Father, we come to you with praise and thanksgiving for the abundant blessings you shower on us with each new day. We thank you for guiding us on this earthly journey. We thank you for all the faithful people you have placed in our lives to bring us closer to You and show us how to grow closer to each other as children of God in troubling times.
Open our eyes and hearts so we may embrace the opportunities in each new day to share the Good News and blessings to those around us. Let each of us be able to bring Your Light and Your Love to those around us who are in need. So many people hunger for Your love and reassurance. So many people have basic needs yet to be met. Lord so many people are in need of a peaceful place to call home, Lord surround them with your peace. So many people looking for the opportunity to grow in a society that has not given them a fair chance, let us speak up for them as Jesus did when he walked among us.
Lord guide us in serving and loving each other so through us some may come to know you better. Keep us focused on serving you through our service to others.
May Jesus be our guide and inspiration to serve others as He taught us through so many stories and Lessons. Let us always keep you in our focus in all we do.
Let us join our voices as one with the prayer Jesus taught us by saying….Our Father…..
It occurred to me last week: this pandemic is like a harsh winter. My “Inner Whiner” is frustrated because there’s no way to convince myself a virulent (VIR-uh-lent) virus (much like freezing weather) is picking on ONLY me. Everybody’s in the same boat; so I can’t really whine, just have to make the best of it.
That’s one reason I spent part of last week planning a virtual camp on Zoom. For more than 30 years, I’ve directed a one-week Music, Arts and Drama church camp that I really love. But camp is about studying and talking in small groups, intimate worship, improvisational drama, singing songs at the top of our lungs, 25 people in the same crowded cabin, 50 people in the same crowded dining hall, and every camp ends with a lot of hugs. In other words, the whole thing is basically Dr. Fauci’s worst nightmare. So, this year, camp can’t be what it has always been.
In my heart and mind I know that’s the right decision. The kids’ safety (and the safety of older adults they love and contact) has to come first. I get it. But as my counselors and I were working on our Zoom version of “Camp Quarantine,” my “Inner Whiner” wondered why this weird Sabbath – that I did NOT ask for – is getting in the way of all my precious plans.
And even as I thought it, those two words, “Weird Sabbath,” just kind of hung in the air. I began to wonder if they aren’t a good description of one way God wants us to use this strange, stressful time: this pandemic season that has ground economies to a halt and damaged the health of millions. God didn’t cause it, but God does want us to use it for good. There’s Biblical precedent for that: in Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers try to kill him but settle for selling him into slavery. Thirteen chapters later, God uses that horrible event to save Israel from starvation. Even more famously, all the evils in the world did everything they could to kill Jesus, and God turned their efforts into the salvation of humankind.
So, we should not be surprised if God uses this pandemic to do something amazing. There have already been some well-known examples. Yes, we’ve seen hardship and sadness that must not be minimized, but we have also seen a surprising amount of attention given to human connection and to creative ways of loving our neighbor.
Anyone who’s paying attention to the science God has given us knows that masks and social distance are one way to do that, but there are others. By now, most of us have seen videos from Italy of socially-distanced people standing on their balconies, singing together and creating music with whatever instruments they have on hand.
We’ve seen drive-by birthday parties and touching-through-the-window nursing home visits. My own family gets a kick out of playing Jack Box Games and talking once a week on Zoom.
Local restaurants and coffee shops have gotten creative with take out, and independent bookstores are offering doorstep deliveries.
In the midst of a pandemic social crisis, people are doing incredibly creative things to minimize the impact, to remain as connected as possible, and to keep life as normal as possible.
Good for them!
But I’d like to offer that maybe God wants us to use this as an opportunity to let go of some things that are “normal” – things that have taken us where God never wanted us to go. “Normal” has given us an environmental disaster; racism, sexism, homophobia; and an epidemic of obesity. “Normal” has caused our society to often turn our backs on the very people Jesus told us to care about the most about. What if we could use this season – strange and uncomfortable as it is – as an opportunity to let go of such “normal?” What if this season could BE a “weird Sabbath?”
We should start by asking, what IS “Sabbath”? A common definition is that it’s a day of the week set aside for rest. “Sabbath” is also the root of the word “Sabbatical” which might be defined as an extended period of rest from work – usually a few months or even a year.
Both those definitions emphasize “rest,” which is surely part of what we’re talking about. Rest is hard to come by in our society, we almost treat it like a waste of time. Americans love people who work hard and play hard. If we’re not on the job, then we’re doing projects at home, or traveling, or pursuing hobbies. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so we virtuously keep our hands busy, busy, busy.
Sure, the consequences can be high blood pressure, heart attacks, sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, and broken relationships (‘cause who has time to talk?). We know that. But the typical American response is to pencil a tiny rest break into our calendars; then stress-out when it isn’t restful. …Sadly, church isn’t much help. How can we rest? God wants us doing the Lord’s work after all!
But…, time out.
God rested. God who never sleeps, who is all powerful and ever-present, set a pattern for we-who-are-made-in-God’s-image by taking a break. And what did God do with the day off? Bake cookies? A little gardening? We don’t know, but God rested. The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew verb for “he rested.” And in the 4th of the 10 commandments, God instructs us to follow suit: we can labor for six days, but the 7th is to be a day of rest dedicated to God.
So far, so good. It’s very Biblical, even if vaguely not-quite-American, to take one day out of seven for rest and to work on our relationship with God. Especially for us church folk, it’s not controversial; we give it our best shot. But…, in calling this a “Weird Sabbath,” I want to point out two things. One is obvious: most of us (not all) have had to slow down which is kind of restful, but – boy! – it’s for a lot longer than a day!
Second, though, is that this is a perfect time to try some of the contemplative practices many prominent religious leaders (including our own Kathy Light) have recommended for years.
I’m thinking of practices like Welcoming Prayer where we intentionally strive to welcome God’s presence and action in the way we go about our daily lives. The pandemic has made us all realize we’re not in control. What a great time to accept that, and to trust God to take over.
Examen is a daily prayer recommended by St. Ignatius Loyola that invites us to ask for insight into the movement of God in all people and events.
We might practice lectio divina by listening to Scripture and the silence between the words – opening ourselves to what God may be saying to us here and now.
We cannot deny the very real struggles of the sick and dying, the economic impact on our neighbors and communities, the exhaustion of medical care providers and those still working to keep us safe, or the potential long-term effects for us all. But we can exercise the muscles of delight and thanksgiving, now more than ever.
That’s why I chose this picture as a visual theme for today. It reminds you and me that this is a great time to give thanks for small delights even if we ARE stuck at home with stir-crazy children, spouses, or furry friends. The summer trip to Disney may be out, but what a great time to walk down the road and kick rocks, marvel at the persistence of an ant, or enjoy the sound of a bird. It’s easy to appreciate creation in a national park, but in this Weird Sabbath, maybe we can appreciate the more subtle wonder that’s all around us.
Perhaps, too, we can use this time to be more mindful of isolation’s impact and find ways to reach out to our elderly, our sick, and our imprisoned in ways that we have not done so well with up till now. Isolation was some people’s normal long before the pandemic. Suddenly, we’re better able to sympathize and maybe even do something about it. There are safe ways to touch base with the isolated. As just one example, I’m really proud of our church elders who have made a commitment, under the leadership of Leslie Maxwell, to make bi-weekly phone calls to everyone in the congregation.
The point is: instead of vainly trying to rebuild normal schedules, normal practices, normal lives…, why not embrace the weirdness and dedicate it, Sabbath-style, to God? This may be the slowing down we’ve known we needed and forgotten we asked for (albeit in a form we didn’t want or expect).
One of the most radical things Jesus ever said was, “The Sabbath was made for human beings. Human beings were not made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). That got him in all kinds of trouble because he was saying Sabbaths, whatever form they take (just like ALL of God’s commandments), are a gift for the sake of humanity’s flourishing rather than a burden for the sake of entertaining God’s capricious fancy.
Sadly, sometimes Christian operate as though Jesus never said any such thing. If we measure our spiritual credibility by how tough we talk about sin, we are invested in making morality a burden. It’s like saying, “Sin would be a lot of fun, but we reject sin (and joy) because we’re Christian!!!”
That’s crazy! If you or someone who know has ever really given in to the dark side, you know sin’s “fun” does not last. The addict, the self-centered, the always hateful: in very little time they become the most joyless people we know.
But getting back to Sabbath, if your take-away from this sermon is to feel guilty about not “doing Sabbath right,” I’ve really messed up. Remember: Sabbath was made for YOU, not vice versa. Jesus never chastised people for doing Sabbath wrong.
The Pharisees on the other hand – whoa! – they gave him all kinds of grief for working, healing, even just picking something to eat on the Sabbath. “It’s supposed to be a day of REST!!” …And they did have a point: it’s one thing to work on the Sabbath in an emergency, like if your ox falls in a ditch, or you’re the first responder to an accident victim. But I hadn’t realized until doing research for today that none of the people Jesus healed on a Sabbath had emergency, life-threatening illnesses. Every one of them had a long-term, chronic health condition that could have waited till the next day. For example, in Luke 13 he heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath. But he could have “uncrippled” her just as easily on the six days work was allowed.
By doing what He did, Jesus was not simply stepping on the Pharisees’ toes; He was detracting from the honor that the Sabbath restrictions showed to God.
You and I might say, “He’s the Lord, and that includes Lord of the Sabbath,” but still, …why? Well, here’s one possibility: what I see Jesus doing is showing solidarity with people whom society viewed as less than human (often because of something they were born with). Maybe he felt a perfect way to honor God (the main point of Sabbath) is by doing something loving for God’s children. Just as the ancient Israelite prophets before Him, Jesus repudiates the tendency of religious authorities to pit love of God against love of neighbor.
That said, I’m positive Jesus valued the Sabbath. He saw taking time to be with God, pray to God, worship God, as a gift, a source of strength. He did it at his weakest and neediest moment in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like Isaiah in our first reading, he was grief-stricken, weak, probably afraid, but he came away with his strength renewed and rose as on the wings of an eagle ready to face even the cross.
He also valued Sabbath rest when things were going well. In our second reading, he heals a man suffering from leprosy, the scariest disease of that day. It surely was a heady moment. Luke says his fame spread near and far. Jesus could have basked in adulation. Instead, do you remember? He went away to a lonely place, where he prayed. (Luke 5:16)
May we do the same. Amen.
Hymn Well, with that as prelude, it’s time to prepare for communion by singing together, “On Eagle’s Wings.”
Lord Jesus, we come to Your table in different spaces, in different times and with different conditions of heart and mind. Communion calls us to come together in unity with You, Lord. May each of us be humble enough to set aside our differences at Your table of grace. In this we are one…we are one body in You, Lord. Bless this bit to eat that we may find our spiritual hunger relieved in knowing Your earthly body was broken for each of us. Bless this sip to drink that we may find our spiritual thirst is relieved in knowing Your earthly blood was shed for each of us. Forgive us when we forget your unifying act of sacrifice and shut you out, adding to Your betrayal. We come together every week to share Your meal of blessing because we need to be reminded frequently of Your faithfulness. Thank You for loving us so much, Lord. Amen.
Benediction: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May your Sabbath time bring you rest, joy and peace. Amen.