Worship and the time we have…

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

April 12, 2015

Genesis 1:14-18, 1:26-2:3

 

Over the next five weeks, I want us to think about how worship can assist us in being better disciples.  How might worship help us reflect Jesus’ face to the world?  This series of sermons will correspond to a class I’ll begin teaching starting this Wednesday (at 7 PM). In these sessions, we’ll explore in depth what I am trying to convey in my sermons.

We worship a God of order.  The first thing God does in the opening of Scripture, is to bring order to chaos.  The earth was a formless void in which wind blew upon the waters and all was dark.  God begins by creating light and separating it from the dark, and then creating the sky and then separating the land from the sea.  In the first three days, the earth takes shapes.  Now this isn’t to say that God does this in our understanding of a 24 hour day in which the earth spins around.  There is a deeper meaning to be learned.  Besides, God’s time is not our own, as the Psalmist reminds us when he proclaims that a thousand years in God’s eyes are like a day to us.[1]

We live by calendars and watches (or iPhones, which combine the two).  We’re all incredibility busy, but that’s not something unusual for humanity.  We learn early on that if we want something done, we best do it ourselves and in such we work hard, which is good but we risk making an idol out of ourselves when we achieve.  Therefore, it is good to have reminders to pause and worship.  The church has a calendar which strives to remind us of what God has done and we’ll talk more about that in my Wednesday night study. Today, I’m going to focus on our daily and weekly schedules and the need for regular prayer and for observing the Sabbath. These two things will enhance our worship of God.

When we carve out space with the time we’re granted in order that we might focus on God, we bring a different order to our lives.  We realize our dependence on our Creator and our own limitations.  When our lives are ordered in a holy way, we align ourselves with God’s purposes.  Order reprioritizes our lives.  We’re important to God, as we’ll see in our morning reading, but we’re not the center of the universe.  Today, I want us to look at the ending of the first account of creation as found in Genesis 1.  I’ll begin reading with verse 14.

###

 

I’ve always marked time by the sky, at least since I was a Boy Scout and became interested in the constellations and their movements.   Growing up, I’d spend nights in the fall fishing on Masonboro Island with my dad.  This nine mile long uninhabited island can be quite dark, especially when the moon is not up, providing a wonderful vista to watch the winter   constellations rise on the horizon.  As the hours in the evening passed, the stars would rise higher.  By the time I was in high school, I had come to associate the rising of Tarsus, the Pleiades, and Orion with fall.  The later in the season it was, the earlier in the evening they’d rise, so by winter they’d be up in the sky as soon as it was dark.  As we’re now in the spring, you can watch them setting in the west shortly after the last of the day’s light has drained from the sky.  It won’t be long and they’ll all disappear in the evening sky, only to return in the fall.

Having lived and camped in the arid west, where you can sleep on the ground without a tent and bug net and not be rained upon or driven crazy by bugs, I used to make a game of guessing what time it was by how far the constellations had moved from when I first fell asleep.  When I’d check my watch, I’d generally be close, within an hour.  While doing this, I often thought about how the ancient people kept track of time by the heavens.  Not only was the heavens their clock, it was also their calendar.  When certain stars appeared on the horizon early in the evening, they’d know it was time to plant their crops or that the rainy season was approaching.

We’re told in the Book of Ecclesiastes that God has instilled in us a sense of time—past, presence and future—and has made everything for a particular time in our lives.  We can’t know what God’s up to, but according to this Old Testament book, we’re to enjoy what God has given us while we stand in humbled awe before our Creator.[2]  Today, think about the cycles of time and how we worship God.

The early Christians had their prayers at dawn and sunset, the latter known as vesper or evening song.  The monastic movement within the early Christian Church divided up the day into “hours” and the night into “watches” as a way to help them fulfill Paul’s command to pray without ceasing.[3]  Kathleen Norris, a Presbyterian lay pastor and author, spent two sabbatical periods of her life living in monastic setting in which she set her day by the canonical hours.  Reflecting on her experience she wrote:

“In our culture, time can seem like an enemy: it chews us up and spits us out with appalling ease.  But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use rather than allowing us to be used by it.”[4]

 

Perhaps we need to look at how we allow time to control our lives and reorder our time so that it might inform our spiritual lives.

The Bible opens with a story of time, as God brings order into the chaos.  Everything has its place–earth and water, light and dark, sun and moon…  Interestingly, light is created on day one, the sun and the moon are placed in the sky on day four.  What’s going on with this?  God isn’t telling us how the cosmos was created; God is making a theological point.  True light comes from God, as we read in the first chapter of John’s gospel.[5]  There were those in the ancient world who worshipped the sun and sought meaning from the stars, but the God of creation dethrones such fake deities.  The sun, moon and stars become a calendar instead of a god.  The opening chapter of Genesis is filled with theology that helps us understand the nature of God and our role within God’s creation.

The next thing I want you to understand about this reading is how the day is organized.  We’re told over and over again that there was evening and then morning, then the first day (or the fourth of the fifth).  In other words, as we learn from our Jewish friends, our days don’t begin with the ringing of the alarm clock and the scuttle to get somewhere on time, but with the setting of the sun.  God invites us to begin our days in rest, not labor!  Slaves labor to earn rest, but that’s not a part of God’s gracious plan for us.  Each day begins with the rest necessary for us to sustain life.

But there is another rest that we’re old of in these verses, one that comes at the end of the week, the Sabbath rest.  But before we get to that, we come upon God’s creative activities of the sixth day and are reminded that God has been busy long before we came on the scene.  We didn’t inherit a formless void of earth.  Instead, God created the earth and then brought us into it to be his partner in maintaining it as we enjoy its benefits.  According to Genesis 1:29 and 30, we shouldn’t be going hungry because God has taken care of our needs.

Then, after finishing the work of Creation, God takes a break.  When we observe this Sabbath rest, we are emulating God.  Daily rest is granted so that we might be renewed for work, for God created us in that way.  But the Sabbath is a gift.  It’s a chance to unhook for the pressures of life and step back from all that we’re doing and acknowledge our dependence on God.[6]

How many of you have seen the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”?  If you haven’t, you should; it’s a beautiful film.  Tevye, a milkman in Czarist Russia, is a devote Jew.  At the end of the week, he greets the Sabbath at sundown, playing his violin.  It’s a special day, a special time.  By observing the Sabbath religiously, he has fostered a deep relationship with God, often talking to God as he delivers milk to the village.  If we can instill within our routines time (to reflect, to mediate, to pray, and to enjoy the Sabbath), we’ll be brought closer to God.  Tevye, in the movie, is able to find strength to get through some very difficult times including persecution, because of how, participating in this godly ritual, he’s been brought closer to the Almighty.

If time, as illustrated in the setting and rising of the sun, the positions of the stars and the moon, has been placed into order by God, it’s sacred.  It’s a gift!  As one’s who acknowledges the source of this gift, we should give thanks to the Creator by hallowing out a portion of time to focus on the relationship we’re called to have with God through Jesus Christ.

Now Jesus, as we heard in our New Testament reading, warns us against doing this in a legalistic way.[7]  We don’t observe the Sabbath as a way of earning salvation.  Instead, the day is provided for our benefit, as a way that we can grow closer to our Heavenly Father.  Jesus grants us the freedom to observe the Sabbath for the right reasons.

We could all benefit of taking a day off, a day to stop and just enjoy. Furthermore, as Jesus shows us countless times in his life, when he went off alone to pray,[8] we need to take time during our days to pray and to be at one with our Father.  Through Christ, we’re called into a relationship with God and as we know from our relationships on earth, they require a commitment, they require time…

The first way that worship should help us reflect Jesus’ face is to remind us that time is sacred and that our lives need to be reprioritize so we can connect with God in order that we might reflect the face of God’s Son.  Some of you are already doing this, but if you’re not, I encourage you to take a day a week to enjoy life and then to carve out of the other hours you’re given moments to connect daily with God.  At the very least, pray that God gives you strength during the day when you wake, give God thanks for that which you have when you eat, and surrender your burdens to God at night when you go to sleep.  Such simple gestures reminds us of what’s important and orients our lives in a manner that will bring God glory.  Amen.

©2015

[1] Psalm 90:4.

[2] Ecclesiastes 3:11-14

[3] 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  See C. W. Dugmore, “Canonical Hours” in The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986).

[4] Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996),  xix.

[5] John 1:4-5.

[6] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Dower’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2007), 106.

[7] Mark 2:23-28.

[8] Examples:  Matthew 14:23, 26:36-35; Mark 1:35, 6:46, 14:32, 14:36; Luke 5:16, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28-29.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *