Genesis Chapter 2 verse 2 On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing, and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy. The Bible in the creation story talks about balance and boundaries and the rhythm of time. There is contrast of creating light amidst the prevailing darkness, there are the boundaries of water and the land, there is the planting of seeds that bring forth fruit, There were creatures of the sea and the sky and land. And of course the creation of humans both male and female.
And the world that we experience is not much different from that creation story. Our world is full of balance that works in rhythms and boundaries. We have seasons of the year, The tides roll in and out, there is a time for planting and a time for harvesting. And there is a time to work, and then there is at time for Sabbath.
It is interesting to think about, The Bible speaks of the world being created in seven days. Now of course I am not interested that it is not a literal 7 days but billions of years, What I find interesting is that the Hebrews story of creation included a day of rest. Creation cannot be complete without a day of rest. Think about that. Also think about the specificity of the wording, it says that God finished the work that God had done. That leaves open ended the need that there is more work to be done. In this message is the message that creation is still ongoing, and that creation requires a need to find balance in our lives and in the world, and the need to take time to think about and appreciate creation. And that is the purpose of Sabbath. To be intentional about taking time to appreciate the world and our lives.
Taking time. Americans in particular seem to struggle with this. Amazingly, a significant % of workers in our country do not even take the full amount of vacation they have earned. Why is this? Is there a fear of losing one’s job? Living in fear is not a healthy way to live. People wonder why I drive a beat up car, that is twelve years old with 180,000 miles on it. Or why I lived in a home that was smaller than I could afford. I did that because I always wanted to be able to speak my thoughts freely to my employers. (Respectfully but freely). I never wanted to be silenced out of fear of losing my things. I have actually seen employers encourage their employees to get expensive houses and cars, with the thought that would be incentive for employees to work harder.
But the truth is studies have shown that when people work less hours their productivity increases and because they have more time, their families and their communities are healthier because they have more time to spend on both. I chose a different path. This was the choice I made and the choices people have to make every day. And the funny thing is, being open, and fearless actually led me to having more success and achieving my dreams. And although I didn’t get invited to join any country dinner clubs, I had more money to spend on experiences with my family, and was able to give more to my Congregation both in time and money. These are the conscious choices we make.
Who do we spend time with, what do we spend our time and money doing. Sabbath time, our time here asks us to think about these questions. Now I am certainly an achiever. For myself and for others. I wanted to give my children opportunities I had and didn’t have. I wanted to reach my full potential in whatever I was doing. I still want to reach my full potential. But often we are unaware of our potential, or uncertain of how to live out our values in a world that often seems in contradiction with our values.
Often this contradiction between and values and our actions leads to a feeling of emptiness and often people try to compensate, or to justify, or to reward themselves by getting things. We conjecture at least I get something for all this hard work. Is it wrong to desire and achieve things? Buddhism traces the source of suffering to our desires or longings. (Certainly I desired to be a minister) I don’t think it is desire itself that is problem. It is our attachment to outcomes over which we have no control that leads to mental suffering. Will I find the right partner, will I get healthy, will I get the promotion, for me, will people come to services on Sunday morning? Will my message have meaning for anyone? Answers to these questions include our involvement, we must believe that what we do matters, and has an impact, but ultimately we alone have no control over the outcome. Only together in relationship with others can we find wholeness. Things cannot make us whole, only relationships can.
I remember reading a story in the book “The last Lecture” by Prof Randy Paush that really drove this message home. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon who found out that he had 3-6 months to live and gave a lecture entitled “The last lecture achieving your childhood dreams”. You can watch the lecture on Youtube. I encourage you to watch it, It is really remarkable and inspirational In the book, he tells the story of when he picked up his niece and nephew who were seven and nine years old in his brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. His sister instructed the children, “Be careful in your Uncle Randy’s new car,” “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t get it dirty.” He goes on to write “I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That’s just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they’d eventually get my car dirty. Kids can’t help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.” And relationships unlike things take time to develop.
Abraham Heschel in his book Sabbath states “It is only within time that there is fellowship and togetherness of all beings. Every one of us occupies a portion of space. One takes it up exclusively. The portion of space which the body occupies is taken up by oneself in exclusion of anyone else. Yet no one possesses time. There is no moment which I possess exclusively. This very moment belongs to all living people as it belongs to me. We share time , we own space. We can only solve the problem of time through sanctification of time.“
Those who are older tend to become more aware of time. The older we get the more we realize that the number of days/minutes we have left are less than what we have lived. We have experienced the death of loved ones. We realize that we will not always be here for those who depend on us. We come to realize that time is what is important, time, this moment, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but in each moment is an eternity. Each moment becomes precious. And if each moment is precious how do we want to spend it. Sabbath brings us back to the sanctity of time over things, to the sanctity of relationships over things.
But it is not only for the older, it can be for anyone, anywhere when they become aware of this. My mother, may she rest in peace, exemplified this. She lost her father in a car accident when she was 12 years old. This of course affected her and subsequently my entire life as well. She knew time was precious. She learned early on that life could end at a moments notice and thus was determined to live every moment fully. My parents retired young sold everything they had, bought an RV and travelled the country. I truly respected that about them. It was the happiest I remember them ever being. After five years of doing this, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Had they not retired young, had they not gotten off the treadmill, they might never had experienced that joy. So try to be joyful in all that you do. All the things in the world cant take the place of time together.
Sabbath time brings us back to that idea of togetherness. Humans as a species are by our nature, communal beings. Sabbath brings us back to that notion, a reminder of what is important to us, a reminder of whom is important to us, it brings us back to remember the importance of creation itself. And a reminder that we are a part of creation, we are one with creation. Being one with creation indicates to me a connection with others and creation. You cannot be unified with creation by being alone. I am not saying there is not a time and a purpose for being alone, however I think Sabbath calls us to something more than that. Sabbath is not a about having a day off just to relax. Sabbath calls us to an intentional taking of time to remind us that time is important, and how we spend it is important. We live in both time and space. We spend much of our time focused on space. We share that space with many other people. Because we as a religion have a pluralistic theology, because we are accepting of diversity, I think Unitarian Universalism could be a leader in making connections and building relationships with and between other religions. It is why I am so proud of the work that our Congregation is doing with Quad Cities Interfaith as we work to be leaders in the interfaith movement in this community, a movement that I believe can lead to wholeness for our whole community.
Just Friday Night Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, was the Ware Lecturer at Unitarian Universalist General Assembly. I encourage you to listen to his speech at UUA.org. In the speech he said “An important task of an interfaith leader, is to help build relationships between people with profoundly different views on fundamental theological and political matters. Because the heart of interfaith work is dealing with people you have deep disagreements with, even those who would insult what is fundamental to you, and building relationships with them anyway. Interfaith work is not just civic, it is also sacred. Nurturing positive relations between people with deep disagreements is holy.”
I want to give you a specific example of how this worked and why it is important. When I first arrived in town two years ago, I with some others in the community met with a leader of the NAACP to discuss their state leader’s negative public comments about Gays and Lesbians. It was a difficult conversation. It spoke to me of the need to be in relationship and the need to work towards eliminating competing oppressions. And we maintained a dialogue over the past two years and two years later now, the National NAACP voted to support marriage equality, and that state leader has resigned. I am not saying we had anything to do with that, but by remaining in relationship, we have listened to each other, we have shared some life stories, and we have built our relationship and built trust with each other. And just last week, our group MIRED (which stands for Mass incarceration racial equity and drugs), (I love acronyms) that has been studying the issue of how the War on Drugs has impacted poor people of color, had over twenty people from multiple congregations coming together to see how we can learn from each other and how we can work together to work on this issue which affects our entire community. Let us do this holy work of building relationships, this work of sabbath, Let us not forget to do it with ourselves in our community as well in addition as with the larger community.
As I am finishing my second year serving this Congregation, I have taken some time to reflect, and actually a number of people have asked me how I have adjusted to living in the Quad Cities compared to the larger cities I have lived in previously. For those who don’t know, I grew up in New York City a city of about 8 million, and then I lived for 18 years in Orlando, FL with a Metro area of over two million people. So one difference I have noticed, is that when I go into stores like the dry cleaner, people sometimes recognize me, saying they saw me on television or at some public event, some of them even thanking me for speaking publicly on certain issues. I have to admit the first couple of times that happened it kind of freaked me out a little bit. I was used to being more anonymous. But what those experiences made me think about much more deeply, was that what we do here as a Congregation makes a difference in the larger community. The values we promote, particularly the values of acceptance and love are well received in the religious community and much needed throughout the Quad Cities. We as a Congregation have an impact on the life of the Quad Cities, This Congregation is a part of the ongoing creation of the Quad Cities. So I encourage each and every one of you, no matter how young or old, I encourage you to live fearlessly, live every moment as if it is sacred and precious and to be an active part of creation. May it be so.