Sabbatical Sunday

Old Testament - Psalm 46:1-11




INTRODUCTION: On July 4th in 1845, Henry David Thoreau took up residence in a small cabin he built for himself near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. 


And for the next two years, two months, and two days, Thoreau lived a quiet and rustic life reading, writing, and observing nature. Or as Thoreau would write at one point about his stay at Walden Pond, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”


For Thoreau, his stay in that cabin was a time for extended reflection and contemplation. Leery and suspicious of societal norms, Thoreau, I think it could be said, wanted to explore what it meant, at least for him, to live an authentic life.     


Years later, of course, Thoreau would collate his experiences and reflections while living in that cabin into a famous book called Walden, or Life in the Woods. A kind of spiritual memoir, Thoreau touches on various topics ranging from the importance of self-reliance, to patience, to living simply, along with providing lengthy descriptions of nature. No wonder even now the book is a favorite of naturalists and other introspective, countercultural souls, who, like Thoreau, can be suspicious of what passes for “normal” in the world.           


But as many people who have ever tried to read Walden can tell you, it is not an easy text to process - at least it isn't for me! I will admit I have made a few efforts over the years to read Walden only to finally give up. After all, as far as I am concerned, there is only so much one can say about planting and growing beans in their garden!    


ONE: And yet, while not an exciting read for me, I still appreciate and value Thoreau’s book. 


For it reminds all of us, I think, that periods of contemplation and reflection really are important. Whether they be protracted periods (say for three months!), or shorter moments that can come upon us unexpectedly, it never hurts to pause, to step out of our normal routine and habits, in order to think about life. For daily living, well, it can be so all consuming it can be easy to forget there is more to life than just the next paycheck, the next promotion, or that shiny new car, or other glimmering toy.  


Yep, as far as I am concerned, much of what collectively plagues us humans these days can be traced, finally, back to the infrequency with which we collectively think about our lives. We seem to currently lack the ability (or is it desire?), to pause, to take a break, from our rushed and hurried lives in order to ponder and wonder about their meanings. 


Instead, we just move from one moment to the next. But the moments are never connected together in any meaningful way. There is just the immediate experience we happen to be having, and as soon as it is over we move on to the next one. Seldom, if at all, do we seem to stop in order to ponder and reflect upon the actual experiences we’re having and what they mean.


Not too long ago the RAND Corporation released some surprising results from a study on leisure time for Americans and exercise. Turns out, the problem isn’t that we Americans simply can’t find the time to exercise anymore, as is often assumed. Apparently, we actually have quite a bit of free time to exercise. We just choose not to. 


Instead, as the study revealed, we prefer to spend the vast amount of our free time looking at blinking, flashing screens - whether it be our phones, computers, or the TV. And allow me to confess, I am often guilty of such behavior myself. I can be looking at my phone thinking just a few minutes have passed by, only to suddenly realize it’s been a whole hour.  


And so I wonder…I wonder if the same thing could be said when it comes to thinking about and contemplating our lives. We’ve got the time to do it, we just get lured away from doing so because there are too many flashing screens to entice our wandering minds.  


TWO: And so perhaps that helps explain why I kept coming back to Psalm 46 when thinking about the sermon for today. 


With its focus on God’s sovereignty, the Psalm has been a favorite for untold generations of people offering consolation and hope when life seems to be falling apart, as it does for all of us at times. “God is our refuge and strength,” begins the Psalm, “an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” 


But because the Psalm stresses the sovereignty of God, it also offers an invitation. Since God is finally in charge, declares the Psalm, since it is finally God’s world and we’re just guests in it, we are invited to also….well, pause in order to take a break from our frantic and hurried lives. Since we’re not really in charge (despite thinking we often are), we are free to stop trying to be in charge.  “Be still, declares God, “and know that I am God.”                  


“Psalm 46,” says one person, “calls people to a decision (vv. 8, 10); that is, it invites its hearers to enter the reign of God, to live in dependence on God, to find ultimate security in God rather than in self or in any human systems or possessions.”  It invites people, in other words, to stop, to jump off the treadmill of life, in order to just be still.      


There is a wonderful story about a highly successful businessman who was horrified to see a fisherman one day lazily sprawled out in his boat smoking a pipe.

“Why aren’t you fishing?” asked the businessman.   

 “Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” replied the fisherman.

“Well, why don’t you catch some more?”

 “What would I do with more fish?”

“You could earn money,” said the businessman. “And with that you could have a motor attached to your boat and go into even deeper waters and catch even more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets, which would bring you more fish and money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats…maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me.”

“And what would I do then?”

“Then you could really enjoy life,” declares the businessman.

“And what,” asked the fisherman, “do you think I am doing right now?”


THREE: So needless to say, I am grateful for a chance to pause, to take a break, to be still, in order to spend time just thinking…thinking about life.


More specifically, I am grateful to have the chance to ponder all that has transpired in my life ever since I was baptized by the congregation of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Knoxville. For baptism is never just a past-tense event. It’s never simply something that happened in the past. It is, rather, always on-going and transpiring.


For ever since any of us were baptized, we were set-off on a lifelong journey of growth and change and renewal, right? Like at a track meet for the beginning of each race, a starting gun was fired when we were baptized and a race was begun that continues even now. In fact, the race doesn’t come to an end for any of us until we finally shuffle off this mortal coil for good.   


And like any trek, the baptismal journeys for each of us have been filled with highs and lows, joys and sorrow, as well as bravery and timidity. And so it’s good to stop, it’s good to come to rest, in order to ponder all that has occurred in our baptismal journeys, as well as what might be next.


And while you all don’t get to take a three month sabbatical like I do, there will be plenty of chances for you while I am gone to also reflect on your baptismal journeys. Along with a congregational luncheon on May 22nd with assorted activities, there will be a chance over the summer for you to be interviewed in order to discuss the significant people and moments from your baptismal journeys. 


And so I hope you will avail yourselves of the chances that will be available to think about and share your bapsitmal journeys with others this summer. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have the time, take a day or two to check-out for a bit and do nothing but ponder and wonder about life in general, and yours in particular.        


CONCLUSION: For it’s good to stop every now and then to think about our lives, right? 


It’s good to pause and to ponder not only where we’ve come from, but also where we might be going. For if you are like me, there are numerous moments in your lives worth recalling that have been formative and worth ruminating over. 


And likewise, there are surely people who have also been instrumental as guides and mentors in your bapsitmal journeys also worth recalling and celebrating. 


So I hope you too will be able to find some time this summer to get off the treadmill of life in order to also just be still. 


Now to the Ruler of all worlds, undying, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.