Sermon preached by The Rev. Deacon Ellen L. Ekstrom, from the pulpit of Good Shepherd Berkeley on July 19, 2015:
I’d like to preface my thoughts today with a confession – this is my pot-calling-the-kettle-black sermon. This is my cautionary tale.
After reading the lessons over several times, including the tempting, tantalizing, words of the prophet Jeremiah jumping out at me with it’s woe and finger-pointed at leaders behaving badly, one point really grabbed me and illustrated life as we know it today. My life especially. Probably your lives.
I’d like to offer these words about weariness.
For a while there’s been fear not only of Obama invading Texas but of a “Zombie Apocolypse.” Well, my friends, it’s happened and it’s here and now. I see them on Market Street and Montgomery Street – people plugged in, distracted, working on the run, working non-stop, maybe getting in a five-minute breather for something to eat. They pound away on laptop keyboards or tap iPads and Android tablets at the four Starbucks’ in my area downtown. I’ve heard in elevators and on crowded trains what I think are astonishing comments akin to bragging about this work ethic on steroids. I hurt for them and understand all too well, because a lot of this ethic comes from the top. These kinds of supervisors and managers are the bad shepherds Jeremiah speaks of. Rather than look after their corporate flocks, they seek the bottom line in black, a pie chart showing profit, a new book of clients. Happiness for the sheep in the cubicles? What’s that? They should be glad they have jobs. And don’t we know it. It is expected of too many workers now to stay plugged in and be available. Computers, which were supposed to ease our labors, have made it easier to assign more tasks in less time. Workers are expected to churn out the paper in record time and they do and move on to the next project.
Some people may enjoy this fast paced environment. I don’t. I am part of the problem, though. Thank God for Jesus finally opening my eyes and my mind and telling me to slow down.
When I recognized this behavior in myself and others, I thought, “Even Jesus took a break,” and I went back to whatever I was doing with someone usually asking if I wanted anything as they placed the order for take-away.
God rested on the seventh day. Once in a while Jesus went up the mountain or a quiet, deserted place to get away from it all and in this morning’s scripture from the gospel of Mark, he urges the apostles to do the same.
We are told that they gathered around Jesus and told him all that they were doing and all that they were teaching, and, apparently, they were very busy. They were so busy, we are told, that they didn’t even have time to eat. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
How astonishing this must have sounded to them. Here they were bringing more and more people to Jesus, building the community and he asks them to take a break. He didn’t ask for spreadsheets tracking their work or timesheets with the week’s target of billable hours met. New branding proposals and marketing tactics weren’t brainstormed. No networking.
He told them to take a break and to rest.
Don’t we all long to hear these words spoken to us?
Jesus is speaking to us. This is an invitation to take time, not find time, to spend time with God and him, for it is as necessary as food and drink and sleep.
Our faith requires us to undertake the work God calls us to, and to believe in Christ and follow his teaching and example. But some of us take it to the extreme. We work ourselves to exhaustion: this and our never-ending to-do lists and desire to prove to ourselves and our neighbors that our value comes from how much we accomplish, and the expectation of divine favor, of God-Points, of a seat at the table.
How good is that work if we are so busy that we lose sight of why we do it? How fruitful is our labor if it wears us out to the point of ‘I don’t want to do this anymore?’
I was, and still am to a point, the pot calling the kettle black. It took me a while to understand that in order to use those gifts given to me by God I have to know why I have them and how to use them and I can only do that by stopping and being with God. It was a difficult transition borne of years of conditioning by society and by what I thought was required of me as a Christian, by being told that was what I needed to do if I wanted to get to Heaven.
We are valued and loved in the sight of God. Christ loves us because we do as we are called, because we see him in our neighbors and strangers and loved ones. They both know what we need even when we do not, or we think we know. Jesus looks past all our perceptions of what it means to be successful and to bear the fruit of work and he doesn’t even mention them, because if he did, he would have to remind us that all that we are and all that we do are gifts from God in the first place. Rather, he looks into our hearts and sees what we truly desire, what we truly need. He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside the still waters and restores our souls. And he says to us, “Come away to a place all by yourselves and rest a little while with me.”
I intend and will strive to do just that: to go to a place all alone and rest. I will make the time every day. But I won’t be alone. Jesus will be with me. And I will be with you as you go to your deserted place.