rest, violence, and citizens with the saints

Jeni Grangaard
July 22nd, 2012

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

In a recent article in the New York Times, Tim Kreider writes, “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.””

This busi-ness extends even to the younger generation, whose days and weeks are scheduled down to the half hour for classes and extra-curricular activities. They come home at the end of the day just as tired as their parents.

Just about the only thing people can muster at the end of their long days are a warmed up meal and a television or computer screen.

Blaise Pascal, 17th century French philosopher, says this: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

The average American spends 8.5 hours in front of a screen. The average of time that people spend on a website? 10 seconds. The average teenager sends and receives 75 text messages each day. Henry David Thoreau said, before the advent of screen based technology: We have more and more ways to communicate, but less and less to say.

A recent study by social scientists at UCLA found that American families are overwhelmed by clutter, too busy to go in their own backyards, rarely eat dinner together even though they claim family meals as a goal, and can’t park their cars in the garage because they’re crammed with non-vehicular stuff. We are busy people.

Marketers are finding that the next commodity they can sell is peace and quiet. And people are already buying. There are computer programs you can purchase to lock you out of the internet for 8 hours or at least lock you out from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. There are reservations at high end hotels that include rooms with no television. There is a camp in Singapore to break the addiction kids have to screens. People are seeking peace and quiet, but they find it hard to come by.

After all, at your finger tips you can catch the most breaking news, or see Cindy’s latest photos from vacation, you can like or comment on just about anything at just about anytime. Bullying takes on a much fiercer face as kids can never escape their peers online or via text message.

Do you know that we take in more information IN A DAY than Martin Luther would have in his entire life in the 1500s? We are on information overload.

Marshall McLuhan, that prophet of human science and marketing, once said, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.”

We are a people losing touch with ourselves. There is always more to see and more to do, and it is so, so hard to rest.

Yet this is what Jesus calls us to do.

You’ll remember that Jesus sent his disciples out to cast out demons and heal people. It turns out they were quite successful. They came back full of energy and joy, hoping to tell Jesus everything they had done and ready for more. There is always more to do, after all, even then.

But Jesus calls them to rest. Jesus shepherds them to a place that is set away and quiet. Jesus knows, of course, what they encountered and how they healed. He was with them just as he is with us. He wasn’t pushing them away, but drawing them nearer. You have done well, you have given of yourselves, now, come and receive, come and rest.

Thomas Merton, Catholic holy man and writer, once said, “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest.” We are made to rest.

The bible word we use to describe rest is sabbath. As in, “remember the sabbath day and keep it holy” as it was inscribed on Moses’ tablets as he came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. Thus presented, sabbath becomes law, a command, and starts to feel like a burden.

Rest becomes one more thing on our to do list and stands over us as a judge, as one more thing to feel guilty about.

When Jesus’s commands become one more thing we should do, they lose all of their grace, all of their power for us.

Is it possible we have the wrong interpretation of command in our imaginations? The command to rest, like the ten commandments are given as a gift.

You heard me. A gift. Something to help us in our lives. Something to aid us on our way. The call to rest and the Ten Commandments are not this burden that weighs down on us from above, they are given as a mirror to help us see ourselves more clearly.

Jesus calls us to rest, not pushing us away, but drawing us closer, nearer to his love.

Because Lord knows, we won’t be able to rest for long. He and the disciples couldn’t go two feet without people asking for more. There is always, always more to be done.

It was just supposed to be another Friday, the kickoff to a weekend. Hundreds flocked to the theater for the midnight release of the newest Batman movie. They were looking to escape, to lose themselves in a story. Their love for science fiction and fantasy suspended their disbelief willingly as a fully armed man entered the theater and began shooting. At least 70 were shot and 12 killed.

What do we do with this senseless violence? We are forced from our rest and called into action. For some of us, this action included hugging loved ones and having conversations about calamities. For others, this action is prayer and vigilance in news watching. We pray for the victims. We give thanks for the police and EMTs. We hope that this never happens again, but we grow fearful because there is a growing number of guns and an ongoing presence of mental dis-ease. Maybe it’s because we are so busy. Maybe it’s because we do not rest in that which is true and lasting. I don’t know why.

Mark tells us of Jesus’ compassion over those who needed healing. Compassion is of course a word that comes from the gut, out of fullness of feeling. At our women’s retreat on Thursday, we talked about God being the one to judge and about how we are called to show mercy. I taught the ladies that the word mercy, in Hebrew, refers to a womb. Wombs of course bear life. Ours and others. Mercy teaches us that we rely on one another, that our lives are bound up with the lives of others. And, that mercy comes with more than a little bit of discomfort.

We like to think of faith as comforting, and it is, but sometimes it calls us to uncomfortable things, things like heeding God’s call to turn weapons that cause death into tools that cultivate life. Things like forgiving our enemies. Denver Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who just gave an astounding message of grace and hope and truth at the National Youth Gathering, wrote on Facebook of her anguish over her community and her relief that no one from her flock was hurt. Yet, her community knew people in that theater. Pastor Nadia reminded us what we’d like to forget, that Jesus did not suggest that we forgive our enemies.

Again this command, like the command to rest is given to us as a gift. We wouldn’t rest if we could choose. We wouldn’t forgive our enemies if it were left to us. We recognize that grace is given to us so abundantly that it can’t help but overflow. What does the psalm say? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Holding onto hate, pointing fingers in blame, and letting anger control us cannot transform. Forgiveness, justice, peace, love, and God’s mercy overflowing through us can. About bullies, Bishop Hanson of the ELCA told the youth in New Orleans that enemies do not stay enemies if they become friends. We cannot do this on our own, we must return, week after week –no– day after day to this wellspring of life that leads us beyond our brokenness and into the future together.

The same is true for our busy-ness. Lord knows we live in distractions and busy-ness. Jesus doesn’t call us to forsake all that we encounter in this world. We are called into this world, sent by Jesus.  Yet Jesus calls us daily to rest in the midst of it, to find our identity in him, to realize that all we have has been given to us. Buying and doing more may bring us some temporary happiness, but it cannot bring us joy. Joy comes from the love of Christ. Just as we are Christ takes us. Just as we are Christ makes us citizens with the saints. Or, as Paul writes in our Ephesians lesson for today, which also happened to be the theme from the National Youth Gathering:

For Jesus is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. …16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.


I reference three recent articles in this sermon: 1) Tim Kreiger’s “The Busy Trap,” 2) Pico Iyer’s “The Joy of Quiet,” and, 3) Beth Teitell’s “Boxed In, Wanting Out.

To learn more about Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, visit her website, here. Or, watch her Gathering sermon/teaching here


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