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Shared Reflections for a Sabbatical Time

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Feb 11

Texts: Psalm 139, Exodus 20:8-11 and Matthew 11:28-30

Dan is leaving on sabbatical—four months of rest and study. Today is his last Sunday (possibly even his last day of work!) and so we are taking time this morning to thank him for his energy and vision and his total dedication to the work of this church. At a luncheon in Margaret Jewett Hall, following worship, we’ll offer very specific words of gratitude and appreciation. (All are welcome to stay for lunch!) But right now, in worship, we’ll share a moment of theological reflection and grounding and, at the end or the service, we’ll offer a sabbatical blessing. This is a day of gratitude and joy.

So, why begin with this rather solemn-sounding admonition from the Decalogue—the Ten Commandments—in the Book of Exodus? “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy?”

We begin here because Sabbath, from the Hebrew shabbat, is the origin of our English word, sabbatical. We begin with Exodus because it provides the scriptural and spiritual grounding for what we are about to undertake together as a congregation—a time of sabbatical.

The origin of the Hebrew noun shabbat seems to be derived from the verb sabat, which means to stop, to cease, or to keep. The Torah tells us that even God rested. On the seventh day of creation, after bringing into being light and darkness, form and void, animals and plants, heavens and earth, God ceased from all the work of creation and God rested.

Exodus tells us there is something sacred about the rhythms of work, rest, and play. On that seventh day, I like to imagine that God sat back and took utter delight in the play of light on water, the intimate relationships between creatures, the thriving of life on this gorgeous blue and green planet, spinning through space.

Like God, we all need time to rest and time to take in the beauty and sacredness of life. Sabbath is time set apart for this purpose: time out from under the weight of ordinary responsibilities. Time that helps us keep perspective, rest deeply, and notice that God alone is God.

Our ordinary work lives are so driven, it’s hard not to feel we are at the center of some small universe. Sabbath rest reminds us that if we stop our frantic activity and our striving, the world will not come to an end. Most of us are “non-essential employees.” In a blizzard or a state of emergency, the Governor would order most of us to stay home and off the roads. Our work is important, but it’s not everything. Sabbath reminds us that God’s got this. Our efforts and commitments do make an important difference—but the sun does not halt in its path across the sky when any of us stop to rest.

And the First Church will not stop being the church when Dan is away. God’s got this!

That said, First Church staff and leaders have been busy making preparations for Dan’s sabbatical. We have shared lists of tasks to hand off, final updates, and work-in-progress. And with the help of all of you, we are ready! We’ve got this!

Taking time away for spiritual renewal not exactly the norm in our society. Not many people get a sabbatical these day. Some clergy, a few fully-tenured professors, maybe. So, it’s a practice we may greet with puzzlement, curiosity, or even envy.

But based on this scriptural grounding, we at First Church take sabbatical time quite seriously. In the past three years, Kirsten Manville—Church Administrator; Karen McArthur—Minister of Stewardship and Finance; and Sarah Higginbotham—Director of Creative Worship and Arts, have all taken time off for professional and personal renewal. And, hey—we survived!

Dan, we are so grateful for the energy and vision you bring to your work. We are truly excited about your work on themes of Remembrance and Reparations. We are committed to walking that path with you—both in your absence and when you return. We trust that your rest and your study will shape our future together and God’s future for this church. We love you, Dan!

Before I turn this mic over to Dan, one final comment. Circling back once again to Exodus, notice that the fourth commandment places the positive command to keep the Sabbath holy before the negative prohibition to cease working. (1) Isaiah, too, reminds us that the Sabbath is to be a delight and joy. “If you honor the Sabbath, you shall take delight in God,” he says.

Sabbaticals are intended for more than rest and renewal; they are meant for joy. So, Dan, we wish you rest, easy, relaxed time with your family, meaningful studies, fresh insights, safe travels. Most of all, we wish you joy.

1) https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/sabbath/
2) Isaiah 58:13-14a
If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord…

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