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Living the Sabbath Blessing
Rev. John Leedy, Rev. Krystal Leedy, Rev. Kathy Escandell, Dr. Bruce Lancaster
August 14, 2016
A Sermon in Four Voices
The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain.
As we arrive at the conclusion of our summer sermon series on the Sabbath, we ask ourselves the question, “now what?” What does this practice of Sabbath-keeping mean as we approach Rally Sunday and the start of a new school year? What does it mean to remember and observe the Lord’s Day in the midst of work and family life? What difference does this hallowed day mean in the context of our life together as the people of University Presbyterian Church?
In this season of transition, in this time of looking to the past and dreaming about the future, we as the people of God at 22nd and San Antonio are in the midst of recreating this place, building stone by stone a new thing, a new creation, a great house of faith in which the presence of God can be found. That place for the people of Israel was Zion, the city of God, Jerusalem – the place where the living presence of God was so near, so palpable, so energizing, that it served as a spiritual magnet for people, for the faithful throughout the ages.
But God is not calling us to recreate the city of Jerusalem here at UPC. God is not calling us to a cookie cutter existence as a church. God is not calling us into something that has been. God is calling us into what will be.
In the writings of Kabbalah, the city of Zion is the spiritual point from which reality emerges. In this bright city, this new Jerusalem, this Zion, is what we are working to recreate through the practice of Sabbath-keeping. Think of the new reality that would emerge in our lives if we fully embraced God’s gift of the Sabbath. Think of the refreshment, the commitment, the generosity, the passion we would be able to pour into this church and our community. Through the practice of Sabbath keeping, we are recreating a place where a new reality emerges. A reality in which the poor are fed, our children play in safety,
the weary find rest, and the Lord of Hosts is praised in song and prayer.
And God is desperate to meet us in that place we are recreating. God is jealous, burning with passion to greet us at the gates of Zion, and join us in our Sabbath song. And God is working within us, here and now, building a Sabbath keeping Zion, not stone by stone, but heart by heart.
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.
It’s really a nice idea, isn’t it? People sitting in a beautiful city and children playing. It’s almost like a big family reunion except Aunt and Grandma aren’t fighting and no one is making terrible choices with their life that a cousin disapproves of and there aren’t kids throwing their food at each other.
It’s a nice idea to see the elderly out and about, sitting, chatting in the street of all places. No hustle and bustle. No cars and bicycles trying to get through. And the children, all of the children would just be playing a game of tag where no one gets pushed over and no one comes into the house with a skinned knee. A place where people can grow old because they have a place to settle, and a place still very much full of life because of the energy and vitality that children bring to a room. The generations working together, no in fact, the generations playing together. Yes, it’s a nice idea, isn’t it?
And it’s in the midst of a world that is not like this that some of these prophecies sound like the stuff of children, as if the prophet is woefully out of touch with our current world. As if the prophet has no idea about the stress of transition, the stress that our family causes, whether it is a family bound together by blood or by baptismal water. And here we are reading a Dr. Seuss book written by Zechariah in the midst of difficult circumstances. “Old men, new men sit in the street, Women with staffs tapping their feet. Boys and girls play with their toys. Oh how happy. Oh what joy!”
I have a difficult time reading those rhyme time books when life is chaotic. I want someone to stand in the midst of this mess, to stand in the chaos, and I want that person to tell me what is next. I want prophets to be future-tellers. I want their words to be clear-cut blueprints. But, I’ve got the dreams of Zechariah instead. He’s not being practical and he doesn’t seem to have a plan. All he has is hope.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s a trickle of water in the rubble, maybe it’s the color green on a gray background, maybe it’s a candle in the blackout. Maybe it’s a child playing in a dirty street in need of repair. Because out of chaos, we faithful people know, creative things grow as God speaks them into existence. It is a hope given to Zechariah by God. A hope that one day, things will look different than they do today, a hope that sustains us, a hope that we will not be in the chaos forever; a hope that we will rise with Christ once again; a hope that gives us eyes to see the tiny as potential for a beauty that is full. And God put that hope there in the first place. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall sit again in the courtyard, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And that tiny courtyard, in the midst of high rise student housing, shall be full of boys and girls playing courtyard games. And there will be music and there will be singing. And no one gets left out. Everyone has a place. And the welcome wagon is teeming with visitors and students are laughing with young families. And there is life and there are cookies and there are brownies. And we are God’s people and God is our God.
Zechariah 8: 6
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts?
And then we come to church and read Zechariah, who reminds us that, as the people of God, we are not called to subside into resigned acceptance of impossibility. No matter how tough the situation, how limited the options may appear to our human comprehension, Zechariah’s message is that we are never to forget that we are in the presence and the care of the LORD of hosts, for whom and in whom all things are possible.
Zechariah spoke to a people returning from exile to a ruined city. They faced daunting challenges: the Temple needed to be rebuilt; the Israelites needed to remember how to live as God’s people in Zion; they needed to reclaim the power and the promise of their heritage, and carry that promise and power into a future of hope and fulfillment.
I imagine some of us can relate to Zechariah’s listeners who deemed his vision for the future “impossible”. We face challenges here at UPC: how to continue and strengthen our ministries; how to responsibly steward our resources; how to nurture and support one another in times of change and uncertainty.
It’s oh-so-tempting to declare a difficult or uncomfortable situation “impossible” and retire from the field. But challenges are always and everywhere a part of life, in the church as much as anywhere else. And we, like the people of Zechariah’s day, are in the presence and the care of the LORD of hosts, for whom and in whom all things are possible.
The Jesuit theologian David Lonsdale writes: God is endlessly imaginative, and the function of discernment is to enter creatively into God’s vision for the world and to collaborate with the Spirit in making that vision a reality.
Confident in the power and the promise of our heritage, strong and hopeful in our identity as heirs of the covenant, let us strive to discern where God is calling us, so that we, God’s people in this place, might dwell within God’s vision for us and collaborate with the Spirit to bring that vision to life in service to God’s world.
For we worship and serve the LORD of hosts, for whom and in whom all things are possible.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and righteousness.”
Yes, these words of the prophet Zechariah are filled with hope. There’s a hopefulness in this announcement of a new covenant brimming with God’s goodness and generosity. But the problem comes when we realize that we can’t be singing ‘summertime and the living’s easy’ as we move into this idea of living in Zion with God, of moving into the restored neighborhoods of Jerusalem without understanding what it means to be named and claimed by God: Who are the people of God and do I belong to that people?
In our culture that exalts individualism, self-affirmation, and assertiveness, most of us struggle with the idea of obedience and repentance, of fellowship and forgiveness. Whether it shows or not, many of us carry a tattoo of our society’s trinity: Me, Myself, and I!
Now maybe some of you have tattoos, I’m not going to ask you to show them, but it wasn’t too long ago that tattoos were not popular, and rather held in low esteem. But not so much today…
So what if God could tattoo our lives so that we know that we are loved unconditionally by God, that we could love God and others in return as God loves us. Named and claimed and marked as such.
For example, to have this spiritual tattoo that affirms and announces God is at work in this world, all around us, all the time, in every nook and cranny of life, in every Jerusalem neighborhood in which each one of us lives.
And you and me, to live God’s blessing because God loves us and pursues us with a passion, and invites us, gives us the opportunity, to share in God’s presence.
Maybe Sabbath. Yes, Sabbath is that divine tattoo in time that knows us and claims us as God’s people and reminds us of God’s promise to be with us in faithfulness and righteousness.
Look at it this way, to go back to our first text on Sabbath on Sabbath in Genesis. God ‘ hallowed’ the Sabbath because ‘on it God rested from all the work done in creation’.
Jürgen Moltmann, the great theologian, says “To hallow or sanctify means, roughly speaking, choosing or electing, separating off for oneself, declaring something to be one’s own property that cannot be violated.” And then he notes, “…the word is not applied either to a creature or to a space in creation; it is kept for a time, the seventh day…sanctification of the Sabbath,” he says, “benefits all created things on the seventh day; that is to say, it is universal.”
From the beginning of time, this day is God’s blessing given to God’s people to live God’s blessing:
As Alden Solovy describes it in his poem:
(Sabbath) settles on Jerusalem
Like a dove,
Gliding on silent wings.
(Sabbath) settles in my heart,
A lover with open arms,
Embracing my soul with song,
Wrapping me in quiet breathing.
And I send blessings into the world.
Prayers of Peace.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY.