The Whole Wide World is Waiting – by Dave Holmes

Read all the sermons in this Sabbath series:

Scripture: Matthew 11: 28 – 30

In 1982 the movie “Gandhi” came out.  Anyone here remember that movie?  I was impressed by several things, but the one thing that has really stuck with me over the years is the way that Gandhi researched and organized campaigns.  In particular, there was the “salt march.”  He and his researchers determined that the British monopoly on the production and sale of salt was a leverage point in the fight against British rule.  So they organized a large public march to the sea, where Gandhi made a small amount of salt from seawater.  Without going into the details, challenging the salt monopoly eventually brought down the British rule, and opened the way for Indian independence.

I have often wondered, since then:  in a consumer society that has become unsustainable, toxic to environment and human well-being alike, oppressive to third world nations and aboriginal people throughout the world, what might be “salt” for us?  Where is the leverage point in our society, where a relatively focused action might turn us towards health?

In 2001 I burned out, and while I was on leave I read this book by Wayne Muller called, simply, Sabbath.  It struck a deep chord in me, personally, but it also raised the possibility:  could Sabbath practice be our “salt?”  Could this be the leverage point?  Could Sabbath save us?

Now in the Protestant tradition, Sabbath sometimes conjures up bleak memories of a dim, dark day of “don’t.”

Don’t play games, don’t invite friends, don’t play music, don’t have fun…  It’s not like that in the Jewish tradition.  In fact, for Jews the Sabbath, or Shabbat in Hebrew, is the crown of the week.  It’s a day, like Christmas, that requires some preparation, but like Christmas, when the day arrives, it is a day of celebration and family.  Shabbat has the rest and freedom from work that many of us only find on holidays, away from home.  It has the spiritual focus that refreshes us, as on a retreat.  It is a day to live as if we are already in heaven – one day every week.  Wow.

Of course, we are not encouraged to actually do it.  We are commanded to do it.  This is one of the Big Ten:

Deuteronomy 5:12 (NRSV)

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work– you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Several summers ago now, Rabbi Hillel Goelman from Vancouver taught me this song, and I’d like to teach it to you.

The whole wide world is waiting to sing the song of Shabbat
The whole wide world is waiting to sing the song of Shabbat
And I am also waiting to sing the song of Shabbat
I am also waiting to sing the song of Shabbat

About ten years ago or so as I was doing my research, I read that the average North American witnesses about 3000 sales messages – ads – every day.  They might be as simple as a brand name, or as complex as a short film on TV.  But there is a basic common ground to most advertising in our world today.  By and large, advertisers are not selling products or services so much as they are trying to increase demand for products and services.  In other words, they aren’t selling stuff – they’re selling discontent.

So we have a Cialis commercial, in which an attractive older gentleman walks in on his mystified teenager, and turns up the stereo playing heavy metal.  He wanders out of the room to where his very attractive and probably not nearly as old as he is wife is waiting for him – and we know why they turned up the stereo.  Okay, it’s a fun commercial.  But it makes us think, doesn’t it:  we’re not as attractive as they are!  Our sex lives aren’t as exciting (you know, can’t even wait until bedtime but have to run off right after supper).  Advertisers sow discontent – discontent with how we look, what we have, who we are, how we relate – and then tell us that they have the product that will ease our discontent.  Buy what we sell, and things will get better.

Does this consumer economy serve our well-being?  Not really.  Because only a discontented consumer will buy things.  If we’re happy, we don’t need to.  So the advertisers need to continually undermine our well-being, so we’ll continue to buy stuff.  We can look over into the promised land of happiness, but we can never actually go there.  Because if we do, we’ll stop our incessant shopping.

At the heart of our economic system is a vast, widespread discontent, and it can never be allowed to go away. 

In contrast:  Shabbat is a day of gratitude, in which we appreciate and give thanks for all that God has given us.

The whole wide world is waiting…

Does anybody out there feel like the days and years are flowing by a bit faster these days?  I actually think there’s a reason for that.

A while ago, there was an obsession with “saving time.”   I’m going back a ways, but microwaves were a way to save time – cook your food in only ten minutes instead of half an hour.  A dishwasher was meant to save time:  you can wash the dishes with just 10 minutes of work instead of 30 minutes with your hands in dishwater.  Oh, and computers.  Computers used to be a way to save time.  You know, balance the chequebook in only ten minutes instead of… well never mind how long it took me to balance a chequebook!   For millennials out there:  there used to be a thing called a “chequebook.”

Now, “saving time” is a weird concept from the get-go, but do these things save time?  Heck no!  Because now I can and will cook dinner, wash up, and balance the chequebook in that same half hour.  Life doesn’t feel better, it feels faster, because everything feels like it’s done in a hurry.  Efficiency is the cardinal virtue.

On Shabbat, we stop.  We put away the phones.  We don’t save time, we take time.  What a relief!

So there’s this guy in the car next to me.  He’s holding a drink in his left hand, which he is also using to steer the car.  His burger is unwrapped on the dashboard, but he is looking down in his lap, texting.  And this is on the Deerfoot.

The whole wide world is waiting…

Something about this world now:  we tend to be connected.  Most of us walk around with these “smart phones” in our pockets.  We are accessible by phone, e-mail, and text pretty much 24/7.  It’s convenient!  If we need to do some work, we probably don’t have to go into the office to do it.  But it also means we never really leave work.  We never unhook.

So you see guys reading and answering e-mail while they’re out to dinner.   Look over at the line going into a restaurant, and there’s a group of four people, all looking down at their phones, not talking to each other.  Teenagers sleep with their phones, not wanting to miss anything.  People talk about cyber-stress, which comes from trying to manage life in person, and life on line on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and so forth.

We are always on call, never fully present, never “off.”  Tired?  Tell me about it.  Frustrated?  Have you ever had dinner with someone when half of the time they’re engaging more with their phone than with you?

All of the Rabbis I spoke with agreed.  On Shabbat, the phone gets put away.  Sabbath is a day for rest, but it’s also a day for touch, for sensuality, for here and now, and for you.

The whole wide world is waiting… 

Taken all together, the trends and habits of our consumer society leave me, and I think many of us, shallow, tired, and unfulfilled.  That’s not how I want us to live!

When I was doing my doctoral work, I tried to practice Sabbath.  I didn’t do very well.  Between church work, and the kids’ schedules with hockey and curling and all they were doing, there was never a 24-hour period without some sort of commitment.  My inability to say no to worthwhile things or minor crises kept me at work evenings and even on days off.  The best I could do was an afternoon and evening Sabbath, most weeks.

But when we practiced as a congregation I was amazed at what I heard.  People saw their lives in a new light.  They appreciated things differently.  They did, and enjoyed, ordinary things at a depth they had never managed, before – sunset, sunrise, meals with family.

My supervisor suggested that I write a book about all this.  I thought that was a great idea, until I found out just how much work writing a book is!  I was relieved when the publisher finally sent me a refusal.  So relieved that I dropped the whole thing.

And now I am back to shallow, tired, and stressed.  

So when Greg asked me a few months ago, “what about Sabbath?”  it was a very welcome prod.

God has given us a great gift.

The gift is a commandment, a commandment to take one day out of every seven to practice heaven.  One day to live as if the Kin-dom of God has already arrived.  A day to pay attention.  A day to live justly, reverently, gratefully, joyfully, restfully, sensually.

Our bodies and souls cry out for it.

Why would we refuse such a gift?

The whole wide world is waiting…

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