I was invited to preach this sermon to the good people of American Lutheran Church in Woodland, CA. They have entered a sermon series called "Come to the Table—Embracing your need for rest, worship, and community" and have set a goal of "embracing sabbath" in their next five years together. The scripture chosen for the day was Acts 6:42-27, Matthew 4:4-11, and John 6:22-40.
Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.
What a tremendous blessing to be with you this morning! In case you missed my introduction earlier, I’m Pastor Casey Dunsworth, the Lutheran half of the Lutheran-Episcopal ministry at the Belfry.
For decades, you’ve known us as ministering to the UC Davis campus community; for several years now, we have also run the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network, LEVN, which is a year-long, faith-based service corps made of college graduates from around the country. These young adults live together in intentional Christian community, and serve 40 hours/week in non-profit and social service organizations around Sacramento.
With me this morning is one such LEVN volunteer, Olivia, as well as Leigh, a UC Davis sophomore. They both hang out with me and our Episcopal priest, Jocelynn Hughes.
Visiting congregations around our synod and Episcopal diocese to share the good news and talk about our ministry is a very serious perk of my life as a campus pastor and LEVN program director. Congregations like you support the ministry of the Belfry in many ways. Whether that’s through financial support, with your prayers, or by welcoming young adults into your communities once they leave ministries like ours and emerge into their adult lives. We are church together, and it is up to each component of the wider Lutheran community to meet the needs of those in its midst. Thank you for helping us to do our part, and for doing yours.
I love that your community here is embracing sabbath in your life together! Sabbath is wildly underrated. In the United States of America in this the year of our Lord two thousand and eighteen, we do not know how to truly rest.
How many times has someone asked, “how are you?” and you have replied “so busy”? The list of optional responses to that question has not always been “good/fine/okay/busy.” But our current cultural moment is so, so busy. Busy with work, busy at home, busy with family, busy with whatever season of “busy” you’re in right now.
We feel obligated to fill our every waking hour—and some of the hours we should be spending asleep—with work, work, work, work, work. We work at our jobs, or we work at trying to find a job. We work on our schoolwork, if we’re in school. If we have children, we help our children with their schoolwork, before we shuttle them to their extra-curricular activities. Even children are busy. And we have convinced ourselves that this is how it has to be. If we aren’t busy, we are lazy. Those are the only two options we give ourselves.
There was a whole slough of articles written about this phenomenon in the last few years, most famously a New York Times pieces called The Busy Trap. “Busyness,” it claimed, “serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”  Right? It’s a trap, dear ones.
We know, deep down, that this is not the way God meant for us to live. We know this, because all the way back in the very very very beginning, at the creation of the world, God did not design it this way.
First, God created the light, and the dark, calling them “day” and “night.”
On the second day, God created the skies.
On the third day, God created the seas and lands, and all the plants that cover the surface of the earth.
On the fourth day, God created the sun, the moon, and the stars.
On the fifth day, God created the animals of the sea and the sky.
On the sixth day, God created the animals of the land, including humans.
And after all of that good work, on the seventh day, God rested.
God set aside an intentional time to not work, to not busy Godself with one more thing, but to look out onto all that had been, and reflect on its goodness. God blessed the sabbath day, and called it sacred.
This is how we, too, should be. Yes, there are obligations we have to fulfill in the world in which we live. But at our breakneck speed, are we, day by day, spending much time together in the church, breaking bread together in our homes, and eating our food with glad and generous hearts, praising God? (Acts 2:46-47, ish). These are the examples of good and holy living that we have from our scripture. God has given us the sabbath day to rest from our work.
The labor movement in this country, whose hard work at the turn of the 20th century granted us the 8-hour workday, the 40-hour workweek, and the weekend, sets us this example, too. “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will,” they said.
Granted, we do not all work 40-hour workweeks or eight-hour days—there are many formats to the occupations that make up our communities and society. However, most of us, if we’re counting, work more hours than we’re supposed to. Or, our wages for our 40-hour workweek are not enough to support our families, and so we have to supplement that work with more work, during the hours that are supposed to be for rest and for freedom.
How is an overworked and underpaid child of God expected to find time for sabbath?
This is a great challenge of our time. It does not serve us to just add “sabbath” to the to-do list, like it’s a task or a project we need to cross off in order to feel accomplished for the week. It is also not something we need to feel guilty about not having, as though God is displeased with us because we are overworked and underpaid.
We have to get creative. If you’re here on a Sunday morning, hearing the word, receiving a blessing, eating this bread and drinking this wine, praying together for your needs and for the needs of the world, I sure hope you feel like this is sabbath. I hope that you come to these pews and to this table for solace, for strength, for pardon, and for renewal.
In my work with UC Davis students, I find them incredibly busy. They have classes to attend, homework to do, jobs to work, plans to make for their futures, families to keep in touch with, friends to make, and endless opportunities for learning and growth and fun happening all over campus and throughout our community. Some of them find time, in all of that, to stop by our little yellow house. Because they are run ragged by all of their other responsibilities, we do our best to provide them sabbath.
We eat, we pray, we sing, we play games, we watch movies, we talk, we laugh, and then we probably eat some more. It is our responsibility as their spiritual community to welcome them inside for rest. They relax on our comfy green couches, grab a snack, and talk about what’s going on in their world. Sometimes, meeting their needs can be that simple.
It can be the same for you in your relationship with God. What is it that you need? How is it that you survive? How is it that you thrive?
This season of Lent into which we have entered is the time to be reflecting on these things. As we consider Jesus’ temptation and time in the wilderness, are we, too in the wilderness? Are we feeling challenged and emptied by all that the world falsely offers us? What is it that you need? How is it that you survive? How is it that you thrive?
In the Gospel According to Matthew this morning we heard that we cannot live on bread alone, but must also consume and be consumed by the good news of Jesus the Christ. We cannot live on the knowledge and love of God alone—we need water, and calories, and shelter. Our work as Christians is to discern how much of which. How fully are we relying on God? How fully are we relying on things that are not God? How fully are we relying on gods we have made?
And in this morning’s story from the Gospel According to John, Jesus gives us an answer to all of these questions. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “No one who comes to me will ever be hungry; no one who believes in me will ever be thirsty.” Certainly we know that, once again, he cannot mean this literally, but that he is speaking about those intangible needs that we have—to be fed spiritually, to be satisfied in our souls.
How? Perhaps it begins at the very beginning: rest. Like God our creator before us, we must take time to rest and reflect on our work. Like the earliest church communities in the book of Acts, we, too, can eat our fill of the bread of life by spending much time together in the church, breaking bread together in our homes, and eating our food with glad and generous hearts, praising God. Our life together as a community can be rest for our weary souls.
Thanks be to God.