A Sermon on Jesus, Napping and the Need for Sabbath

Scripture — Mark 4:35-41

Exhausted. That is how I imagine Jesus felt at the beginning of today’s Scripture. He had been on a boat for who knows how many hours, preaching and teaching, sharing stories about seeds and how they grow in unexpected ways.

As evening began to fall, I imagine that Jesus’ feet ached from standing all day, his mind pounded from thinking and teaching and his eyes drooped from weariness.

Jesus had finished teaching for the day but there were so many people who needed his help, so many things for him to do. Sure, he had helped this town but what about the next one and the next one. …

Yet Jesus was exhausted, barely keeping his eyes open.

Sometimes, it seems like tasks can add up quickly, one piled over another, piled over another.

Work,

Chores,

Errands,

Taking care of family members or pets.

The list adds up quickly …

And sometimes we have to leave things undone … because it is just not humanly possible to finish everything, and what a tremendous amount of guilt that bring. We feel the pressure to be good … good housekeepers, good workers, good Christians even …

There is so much pressure in today’s society to perform, to live up to certain standards,

That, when we don’t, it can make us restless.

That’s why I love today’s story. Jesus faced these demands as well … and so what did Jesus do? Did he stay up late worrying? Did he pull an all-nighter or try to scheme ways that he could multi-task to reach as many people as possible?

No, somehow in the midst of all this, Jesus feels a sense of peace. Jesus is able to carve out some space and take a nap

Before resting, Jesus gave the disciples a direction.

Jesus says let’s go on over to the other side,

Which is no small request.

The other side of the Sea of Galilee is Gentile territory, in other words, territory that is foreign and remote.

Jesus invites them to leave the familiar country side to go somewhere new.

And the disciples agree. They leave and Jesus is lulled to sleep in the stern of the boat.

Sometimes, we just need some rest.

This isn’t the first time that Jesus had some time to himself. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, we had read that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who was sick in bed with a fever.

He took her hand, lifted her up and the fever left her. In turn, she began to use her hands to serve those around her.

When people heard what had happened, they began to bring all sorts of people to him. The Scripture literally reads, “And the whole city was gathered at the door.”

Jesus healed many people and went to bed exhausted.

The next day, Jesus woke up early, while it was still dark, and went to a deserted place to pray.

His soul was weary, so he took some time apart.

When the disciples found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

Sure, Jesus had a lot of things to do, the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet he knew that in order to fulfill his responsibilities he need Sabbath. Sabbath is not just about taking a break, it’s about allowing God to heal you during that rest. It’s about allowing God to work through that which you have finished and that which you have left undone. It’s about being liberated from your to-do list and the distractions of everyday life. It’s about tasting and seeing that God is good, that creation is good.

Throughout Jesus’ entire ministry, we see Jesus taking time by himself in deserted places, wilderness, and even boats on the water, so that he might have time to rejuvenate.

In the beginning, God created oceans and land masses, birds and living creatures; and on the seventh day, God rested.

God rested. Jesus rested. We too are called to rest.

It is such a simple statement and yet we – as individuals and as a society – seem to fight it with every fiber of our being.

Just the other week, I read the story of one of my colleagues, who tells a story of trying to skip right over the task of resting, or stopping, or even sleep.

She is UCC clergywoman who had a busy weekend this March. She had agreed to help out at her conference’s biennial by leading two workshops and planning afternoon worship. It was also the weekend of her church’s annual Spaghetti Supper and they were welcoming new members that week at church. She knew it was going to be a hectic weekend, but she couldn’t help but say yes to everything. She truly felt God calling her to do all of these things and figured that she could fuel herself on coffee and adrenaline and find a way to fit everything in.

The week leading up to the weekend passed by in a blur.

This woman drove to the biennial, ran around all the day, loaded her car back up, drove straight to church and arrived late for the dinner. She stayed church late finishing her sermon, got very little sleep and was back at church early Sunday morning to set up for worship and the new member celebration.

By the end of worship, she could barely see straight, a migraine was setting in and she was starting to shake because she felt so sick. She left church before the coffee hour even started and was home sick for three days.

My colleague relayed learning that coffee and adrenaline is not enough to fuel us to do the work that God is calling us to do.

We need something more, something more substantial. We need Sabbath. Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in our Busy Lives, writes, “Sabbath is more than the absence of work; it is not just a day off when we catch up with television or errands. It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing or true.”

… It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing or true ….

I heard a story that brings us back to this point … a story about Raquel, one of South America’s finest concert performers. A native of Urugay, Raquel was brought to the United States to share her talent and expertise. As she got older, she gave up her concert work and became a master teacher. She developed her unique way of teaching her students. When she was coaxing one tenor, she said, “Technically, your singing is outstanding, even extraordinary. You are very gifted. But something, something is missing.” She stood up and walked slowly toward him, then placed her hand on his chest, “Let me help you discover your song, the song of your heart,” She said, “Hear it first. Then I’ll help you sing it. But until you hear your song, don’t sing.”

One day, a person of faith was talking to Rachel about his faith journey, church and his struggle to discern what God was calling him to do. She placed her hand on his chest. The man describes it as warm and steady and strangely powerful. “Discover you song,” she said, “Hear your song. Then sing it.”

In honoring the Sabbath, we take the time to hear our song. We hear the song that God names us as bright, brilliant, beloved children of God that are beautiful to behold. We start to hum the melody that tells us that it is by grace, and not any works on our own behalf, that God declares that we are good. We remember the powerful solo that tells us of God’s saving work in the world and celebrates that, in the end, love wins. We begin to tap the beat to familiar hymns that celebrate the beauty of the earth and the great faithfulness of our God. In honoring the Sabbath, we hear the Great Song that flows through our hearts and all of creation, the great song of liberation, redemption and reconciliation.

Hear it first, Raquel tells us, then sing it.

Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus sets aside time for Sabbath so that he might know this Great Song of mercy and grace and be able to sing it throughout the world.

In the face of all that tempted him to do otherwise, Jesus deliberately and intentional choses to put aside time for Sabbath, rather than running on adrenaline and empty fumes.

This prepares Jesus for the storm in the text today. As a storm comes by, the waves break over the boat until it is nearly swamped. Exhausted, Jesus sleeps through the gale force wind and rocking waves. The disciples – four of whom were professional fishermen – become afraid by the severity of the storm. They come to Jesus, anxiously shaking him awake, crying out, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Having taken a nap, Jesus is able to be a N.A.P, a non-anxious presence. Jesus clearly and calmly says to the winds – and to our very souls – “Peace, be still.”

Peace be still.”

And the storms are calmed.

Not only are the storms calmed but when Jesus reaches the other side with the disciples; he is met by a man with a legion of unclean spirits who torment him. Jesus is prepared for this encounter; Jesus is able to be a non-anxious and healing presence because he took time to rest and commune with God.

There is something about Sabbath that allows us to listen, discern and know in a way we don’t when we are in rapid action mode, when we become frantic like the disciples.

Jesus speaks into our hectic lives to us, saying, “Peace, be still.”

Jesus calls us to the other side but teaches us that, to get there, we too need rest and restoration. Jesus calls us to take a nap in whatever form it comes in. Whether through worship or an attentive walk, whether through prayer or a beautiful meal, whether through a literal rest or time that we set aside to take care of ourselves, Jesus calls us to Sabbath as individuals and as a community that together we might taste and see that God is good, that we might dim the distractions that block our hearing and cloud our sight, that we might gather to know who we are and what it is that is true and holy and good.

I would like to close with the words of Rachel Hackenberg, author of Sacred Pause.

In her book, Rachel invites us to pause and hear the words of the Holy One:

Listen. Sit. And breathe.

There is no rush. No need to hurry through this quiet moment. My work is always there to be done, your work is always there to be done, but for now all work must wait. Do not put words to prayer. Just ssshh. Breathe. Rest. You have been mine from the very first.

The world cannot take my love from you (though you may forget if you do not stop to remember). You have been consecrated, you have been blessed. Just look and see how far you’ve come. See how I’ve guarded you, see how I’ve taught you. Take a deep breath. Nestle into your prayers with me. No need to barter for blessings; you are abundantly blessed in this time and in this silence. This is a time for simply sitting with me. Sssshhh. I am crazy for you. I love you. That is enough.”

Peace, be still,” Jesus says to us in our weariness.

Peace, be still,” Jesus says to us, in this place of sanctuary, that we might healed and made whole as we journey forth.

Amen.

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