We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
We are the clay jars — mortal vessels from the hands of God filled with earthly gifts, relying on eternal promises. We are clay, and God is God. Our gospel is after the same idea today: telling us once again how an extraordinary power is hidden away in all our days and belongs to God and does not come from us. Nor ever will. Sabbath is how we remember God is God and God is good.
Sabbath is a vanishing practice, the idea that one day a week you need to give everything you’re about, everything you’re up to, a rest. Not only your body need to rest, but your opinions, your worst and your best, need a rest. Sabbath is a Hebrew word that literally means rest. It also means stop. As in, you can’t rest unless you stop what you’re doing. A sabbath day is a day of coming full stop to rest from all your efforts, a day God commands you to keep holy, one day out of seven set aside as God’s day. And on that day, you’re not to feel the force of your own power. You’re called instead to behold the power of God.
The Pharisees in our gospel today may not look all that busy. They may look like they’re honoring the Sabbath by policing it. But if you look deeper, under the surface of this story, you’ll notice they’re working the world around them to their own ends. You’ll also notice how the disciples are hungry when they pluck the grain. And you’ll come to see that the man with the withered hand is in pain.
It’s difficult to rest when you’re hungry. And impossible when you’re in pain.
What Jesus is after in our gospel today is making sure that the hungry and the hurting might also know the joys of keeping the Sabbath, not just the restful gift of Sabbath, but the pleasure that comes with rest. And while Jesus may look a whole lot busier than Pharisees, the miracle he performs is practically effortless. He simply tells a man to stretch out his hand, and the man does.
Sabbath rest stretches out your withered soul, and restores you to the abiding grace of God. According to Jesus, the Sabbath is made for you, not the other way round. Scholar Amy Jill Levine says “the celebration of Shabbat should be one of joy, not of constraint.” It’s about stretching out and relaxing in the life of God.
So when Jesus defends the disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath, and when Jesus heals a wounded man on the Sabbath, he is still keeping the Sabbath. He’s not suggesting it’s okay to work like madmen on the Sabbath. Instead, he’s telling you what the Sabbath is for: it is meant to heal you, to give you room enough to stretch out your withered life and rest in the work of God. And you need that healing one day in seven.
Eugene Peterson has this to say about it, “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing.”
I love the thought of Jesus going through the grainfields with his disciples as they pluck the heads of grain. Just think: they are surrounded by evidence of what God is doing. Think of the lovely growth that happens in a grainfield. Somehow the Pharisees miss that beauty. They’re so busy looking to blame somebody or control somebody or correct somebody, they miss the bountiful provision of God right before them.
Sabbath is so you see what God is doing. And let’s admit that’s not easy for anyone. I came to church this morning to find the grounds made wild by the wind and the rain and the hail. I failed to value the wildness of God’s creation. All I saw was work to be done.
The other night I dreamed I was still in school – enrolled in college and seminary at the same time. It was the first day of the semester, and I was wandering around through a darkened hall on my way to class with other students only I was wearing a chasuble, like the one I have on now. In the dream, I was scheduled to lead a service of evening prayer just after the class only I didn’t know where the service was supposed to take place. So I kept asking people if they knew where the service schedule was posted, or whether they had a schedule to share with me.
No one did. I grew anxious in the hallway not wanting to enter the class until I knew where to go next, but the bell rang for class to start. As I took a seat near the door, I felt like shouting, Doesn’t anybody have a service schedule? But then a voice in my head said, It’s a dream, Lauren. A bad dream. Get out of it now!
And then I woke up. Not like waking up to go to work. No this waking up was like waking up to rest, set free from whatever chronic worry seized me in the dream. You know that dream, too, don’t you? The one that finds you unprepared for work or school or retirement, scrambling to catch up or get in line or just hold on to what you have. You know the dream, the one you can’t wait to stop dreaming so that you can wake up to rest. To sabbath.
Psychologists call those dreams Performance Anxiety Dreams. They riddle your nights with worry about your performance or your children’s performance or your partner’s performance or your co-worker’s performance.
We are the Pharisees, you see, so busy being in charge we cannot see the beauty of the Lord, the peace of Christ, the grace of God.
Anxiety wants you to think you’re the alpha and omega at work and at home, wants you to work the world relentlessly to your own end. Meanwhile the fields are growing their lovely grain, and a man dares to open his withered life to God.
Sabbath is necessary: one full day in seven created for us so that we can see what God is doing.
A former priest of our diocese recently moved to Denver: the Rev. Sierra Wilkinson Reyes. Many of you are blessed to know her. Recently, she updated her whereabouts on social media: Eleven months ago, she wrote, our family moved to a new state with a dream and not a lot of concrete plans. Today, [my husband] Rudy completed his first year of study in his PhD program. Tomorrow, I facilitate my first vestry retreat as their rector. And [our daughter] Julia Mae is growing molars. Look at God!
Those are Sabbath words. They ask you to remember how in the midst of all your work and plans, somewhere a child is growing molars. And a field is growing grain.
Oh my goodness, would you look at God.