The book “Gathering Sparks” by Howard Schwartz begins:
“Once, when you were little,
your grandfather came to visit.
That night the moon was full and
the sky was filled with stars.
Your grandfather said,
‘The sky’s so clear tonight. Let’s go outside.’
So you went out into the yard, where fireflies
lit up the dark and crickets chirped with all
their might. You and your grandfather
peered up at the sky, crowded with stars.
For a long time no one spoke, and then you asked,
‘Where did all the star come from?’”1
And that’s when the grandfather begins to teach the little boy about faith and wonder and being a light in the world. That moment between grandfather and grandchild is only made possible, it’s only possible because the grandfather was willing to take a Sabbath moment; to forget about the dishes in the sink, to forget about what time was bedtime, to forget about the things that needed to be picked up, and instead to say, “The sky is so clear, let’s go out and look at the stars.” Wonder is only possible when we are willing to live by God’s rules and take Sabbath space in our lives.
Friends, as we prepare for the Word preached, would you join with me our hearts and minds in prayer:
O God, may the words of my mouth
and the meditations of each of our hearts
be found acceptable in Your sight
for You are our Rock and our Redeemer
A couple of years ago, my aunt decided to open up an account on farmersonly.com and guess what! When she said, “All I want, all I want is a guy with a truck and some horses,” she found it on farmersonly.com! I’m so happy for her! She’s one of those girls who loves horses.
Now, I contend that there are two kinds of girls in the world: there are girls who love love love love love love love horses; they are obsessed with them, they think that horses are the best thing in the whole world and, then, there’s the rest of us. Horses are really big, they have teeth, they have hooves. I’m a little afraid.
But… Oh, are you figuring out which kind of girl you are? Yes! If you want to know about horses, go talk to Lisa after church! Lisa loves loves loves loves loves horses!
They’ve grown on me. They’ve grown on me and this is why: Because when we drive down to Casey to see my aunt Joan, the horses are just in the yard. Like, the front pasture is their yard! The longhorn cattle are in the back pasture, but the horses, they’re right there. And, whenever you open up the gate and you drive in, the horses look up from the grass that they’re munching on, and they see you, and they’re kind of like really big, friendly dogs, and they just want to come see how you are! And so, we get out of the car, and the next thing we know, here come all of the horses, and they’re just gonna be over to see how we are! It’s a little scary, but mostly it’s wonderful! Because they’re gorgeous!
So, here’s the thing about horses: Have you ever noticed, like, whenever you go to see a parade, that horses have on blinders? Yes? When they get bridled and harnessed up to a cart, and they’re clip-clopping in the parade? They’ve got on these blinders so that they could only see what’s in front of them. When they go to work, they have on these blinders. Otherwise, they would get so distracted. Like I said, they’re just like really big, friendly dogs and they want to come over and see how you are!
Friends, we…we are so much like horses that have been bridled and harnessed and have on our blinders. All we see so often is what’s directly in front of us, and, so often, particularly for folks like us, what we see in front of us is what we feel like we have to accomplish, what we feel like we must do, the work that must be done. Because, somehow, in this American experience, in this American “experiment,” our worth has gotten attached to our work. And, so, we are constantly like work horses with blinders on: not able to see anything else. But, if we don’t take off those blinders; if we refuse to un-harness ourselves from the work… That’s always there! It’s always there. …then, we’ll never see this beautiful world around us.
Barbara Brown-Taylor in a Christian Century article from the last century, actually, from 1999, says that “Our willingness to constantly be working is a compulsion. It’s a compulsion. Compulsions are defined as: thoughts, urges, or behaviors that persist despite negatively affecting health, job, and relationships. And, she tells the story like this:
And, of course, she was a church pastor, but, you know, you could insert whatever it is that you do for work, whether that’s work that you’re paid or work that you do because you just do it. You can see yourself in this story.
She first begins by saying that “Sabbath was the day when Israel celebrated its freedom from compulsion, compulsion, and, on that day, every week, the people did not work. Still, they were fed. On that one day of the week, they remembered that their worth lay not in their own productivity, but in God’s primordial love for them. Sabbath offered them a foretaste of heaven when they would lie back in God’s arms and behold the glory of creation for all eternity.”2 She says, “I remembered all of this several Sundays ago when I left home late for church. With nine miles to go and 15 minutes to travel them, I hardly noticed the dew-soaked cobwebs in the tall grass by the side of the road which the morning sun had turned into pockets of light. I barely glanced at the herd of deer grazing in the meadow and had less than my usual appreciation for the red-tailed hawk that lifted off from a fence post as I ruined his morning watch.” She continues that, “for seven miles, I had the road all to myself, and, then, I roared up behind a red sports utility vehicle that was traveling significantly below the speed limit. The driver, who was all alone, was sipping a cup of something hot enough to steam in the cool morning air. As I rode his bumper, he admired the mountain view with one elbow propped up on his open window. All I could see,” she says, “was the solid yellow line that forbade me to pass him. He slowed down a little…” He slowed down! “When he saw the Holstein cows circling the old Indian mound. As he turned his face toward them, I could see him smiling in his rear-view mirror. Finally,” Ugh, finally! “He pulled over to read a historical marker that I had zoomed past wondering, who was doing a better job of observing the Sabbath?”
You can hear it in this story that she tells, can’t you? You can hear it. You can see it all unfold: this guy has taken off his blinders. He has un-harnessed himself from the compulsion to work; to be busy for the sake of being busy; to constantly have something to do on their agenda, calendar, to-do list. That’s what the guy in front of her has done: he’s unharnessed self from all of that, and she is so frustrated because he’s getting in her way. Meanwhile, with her blinders on, she’s zooming right past all of this wonderful creation.
It’s really hard to do this in the world in which we live. Where we can turn on the TV at any time of day and then be captivated by the news. It’s really hard to do this when we can open up a browser on our phone at any time of day and be captivated by someone’s problems or some crisis or the list of things we didn’t get done this week. It’s really hard to take off our blinders when we’re captives, but that’s the whole point of this Commandment. The Commandment to observe the Sabbath. It’s not a gentle suggestion. It’s not a “just in case you think about it.” No, this is a Commandment from God: once a week, free yourself from your compulsion to be captive to whatever has held you captive in this life and remember to rest. Remember that it’s not up to you to make the world run. Because, God says, “That’s my job, not yours.” Friends, we’re here at the beginning of summer, when every week, every week, there’s something new in bloom; every week there’s something new at the farmer’s market. In summer, creation is bursting all around us, and I would invite you, in this green season, to take off your blinders at least once a week, and, if not, for a whole day, then, at least, be able to find Sabbath moments throughout of your week, and, gosh, I actually hope that you do it that way, to release yourself from the compulsion to work; to remember it’s not up to you to run the world; to take off those blinders and simply be amazed by the wonder of it all. It’s only possible when we’re willing to Sabbath. It’s only possible… Let’s do that this summer, yes?
1“Gathering Sparks.” Gathering Sparks, by Howard Schwartz and Kristina Swarner, Roaring Brook Press, 2010, pp. 1–4.
2Brown Taylor, Barbara. “Letting God Run Things without My Help.” The Christian Century, 5 May 1999, www.christiancentury.org/article/2011-12/remember-sabbath.