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“A Moment of Quiet Stillness”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
“A Moment of Quiet Stillness”
Isaiah 40: 21-31; Mark 1: 29-39
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
February 4, 2018
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
New York City at Central Park

In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, we watch an entire day in Jesus’ life.  It begins at the synagogue on the Sabbath, where Jesus drives out an evil spirit from a man ranting and raving during his sermon.  He leaves this mad house and heads to Peter and Andrew’s home for supper and a much-needed breather.  Before he tastes even one hors d’oeuvre, he must first heal Peter’s mother-in-law.  And as soon as the sun goes down and the Sabbath draws to a close, people still swarm around Jesus, hoping he will be the one to heal their sick relatives.

One wonders how Jesus survived the frenzy.

I have told you about one of my favorite seminary professors, Henri Nouwen.  I will never forget his sermon on this morning’s gospel reading.  With his Dutch accent and expressive hands, he said: “‘In the morning, long before dawn, [Jesus] got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.’  In the center of breathless activities, we hear a restful breathing.  Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness.”

Henri warned us of ministry’s pressures. He counseled us, as soon as we arrive at a new congregation, to tell the members that, except in extreme emergencies, there is an hour in each day which cannot be interrupted.  If people call during this sacrosanct hour, the parish administrator should tell them the pastor is busy at prayer with God.  He told us this message is as vital for parishioners as for pastors.

The Christian life can be bone-wearying.  You know that.  The moment you received word that your mother had been rushed to the hospital, you left work immediately and flew across the country to comfort her.  You stayed with her night and day.  You were so exhausted one evening that you left your dear mother to go home for a quick nap and a much-needed shower.  Your beloved mother died while you were away.  You have beaten yourself up for fifteen years now for not being there at her darkest hour. Caring people are often like that: they can’t do enough for others and they often don’t do enough for themselves.

The weight of caring can consume good people.  There is a name for it, “compassion fatigue.”  Compassion fatigue particularly haunts those who are vehement about justice for the downtrodden.  I have watched people deeply committed to ministry, in the city and to the poorest, burn out from exhaustion and become haunted by bitterness, alcoholism, and despair.

I so admire the Sabbath-keeping tradition of Orthodox Jews.  When sundown arrives on Friday evening, they drop everything; no more work is to be done—no cooking, no turning light switches on and off, no driving to the synagogue, and as you New Yorkers know, no pressing of hospital elevator buttons. Funny thing what our good Jewish neighbors can teach us Lutherans about grace, the grace of resting on the Sabbath in the arms of God.

In her book, Keeping the Sabbath Holy, Marva Dawn writes: “A major blessing of Sabbath keeping is that it forces us to rely on God for our future.  On that day we do nothing to create our own way.  We abstain from work, from our incessant need to produce and accomplish…The result is that we can let God be God in our lives.”

People often ask me—and I’m sure they ask you—about ministry here at Holy Trinity: “What does your church do?”  I always answer, “We worship.”  Inevitably there is silence, befuddlement.  “Worship? What else do you do?”   Worship is clearly not enough in our busy, success driven world.  When I mention that we also have a women’s shelter and a Saturday meal program, they suddenly liven up and all seems better.

And yet, we must not forget or apologize that worship has been the cornerstone witness of this community for 150 years. Few congregations stick around for 150 years if they don’t worship regularly and well and it is the rare person who can confront injustice and serve those in need over the long haul without taking a break.

Sabbath-keeping is happening right now.  You have turned off your smart phones; if you haven’t, please do!  Sabbath keeping releases us from the incessant cacophony of cantankerous news and the one-upmanship madness of Facebook.  Yes, you are Sabbath-keeping, taking a break.  You are not even watching the lead-up to the Super Bowl even though some of us have hedged our bets with Isaiah’s reassuring words, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles.”  Do you feel helpless, out of touch?  If so, good: your whole life is now in God’s hands.

Sabbath-keeping does not just happen here on Sunday morning.  Dagmar and I have so enjoyed our Miller Mondays in New York—walking in Central Park and along the Hudson, moseying through the Metropolitan Museum, reveling at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and in two months returning to the great cathedral, Yankee Stadium.  I hope you have a place or two where you can find a moment of quiet stillness and enchantment.  Those places, my dear friends, are grace, sheer delight.

Resting is a good thing and God commends it, “Remember the Sabbath Day.”  God even models this behavior. After six grueling days creating the heavens and the earth, I like to think of God flopping those massive EEE heavenly feet up on a La-Z-Boy and binge watching something or other on Netflix.

Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others.  Yes indeed, as the prophet promises, “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Treat yourself to a Sabbath.  Enjoy the rest.