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Calling Plays and Halftime - January, 15, 2017

Exodus 20:7-11

 When I was in Riverside, we worked a lot with a lot of people. We worked with the teenagers, many of whom would spend their afternoons tucked away in a corner of the building smoking, or smoking out. We also worked with the homeless, some of whom were chronically homeless having been on the streets for 10 or 15 years. And, as you might imagine, we had a fair number of issues. We tried to offer a safe place where people could receive food, a hot shower, fresh clothes, and God's grace. We also tried to be a place that didn't permit illicit drug use, or enable bad behaviors. Our policies and practices changed over the years as we adapted to the ministry needs and often, my name carried the greatest weight for enforcement. People knew I was the pastor of the church and people knew that the pastor's

word was the law of the land. That wasn't my thing, it's just how things panned out. On more than one occasion, in an argument with a church member, one of our ministry friends would counter with, "Well, Pastor Debbie said I could." Generally the church folks knew better, but that wasn't always the case. And some of our friends would even use my name when the police came through claiming that I had offered permission for this or that or the other. But the best was when I would come upon someone new and offer a reminder of the rules and they would argue with me saying, "well Pastor Debbie told me I could." That was fascinating. They used my name because they thought it held power. But they had no idea who they were talking to or what "power" they might be invoking with that name. They had just been told that "Pastor Debbie" was the name to use in order to win the argument.
I can laugh about it now, but at the time I would get frustrated that they were using my name in vain. I hadn't talked to them. I hadn't given them permission. Yet they were using my name for their purposes.
I don't equate myself with God, but those encounters help me catch a glimpse of what God is getting at when we are told not to take the Lord's name in vain. In simpler terms, the third commandment means, "Don't use God's name carelessly, as if it means nothing to you, or without an appreciation for the weight it holds." Said in a positive light, "Use God's name according to the power it holds."
God's name has power. Did you know that? Do you believe that? Do you feel like it makes a real, tangible difference if you say God bless you? What about if you say G-D? Do you believe God actually does anything when we bless or when we curse? What we saw it happen....would that change your approach? Would you be more or less inclined to bless people? Would you be more reluctant to wish ill on another person?
What if we really believed God's name has power? Would we pray differently? Would it change the way we view God in general?
The Jewish tradition actually has some intensely powerful respect for the name of God. While there are various names for God, THE name of God is rarely used, and when it's written, it's often as as not to actually write the name of GOd....for it holds power. In the early years when the Bible was copied by hand, the work was done by scribes. And as they wrote, the scribes would stop when they came to the name of God. They would stop and pray before they wrote God's name, then write the name and then pray again. They prayed each and every time out of reverence for the power of God's name.
Some people over-simplify this commandment and make it about swearing. Honestly, while I'm not a fan of those little four-letter words, I don't believe the 3rd commandment has a whole lot of anything to say about it. The third commandment is about not taking the Lord's name in vain. It's about respecting the power of God's name....a name that is meant to heal, redeem, and restore. It's about trying to know God, and learn about God's power; it's about building a relationship before you invoke God's name for any purpose.
It's not an exact parallel, but it's like that with God's name. We might use God's name in ways and phrases that we've picked up. They seem to sound right or make sense to us. Or we've been coached to say them. But honestly, we don't really know what it means or what might happen if we say, "Be healed in Jesus' name." or "God bless you" or even if we use "G. D." Unless we understand that God's name has power and use it with meaning and purpose, we lose the opportunity to do amazing things for God's sake. If we really appreciated the power of God's name and how to use it, we might have the faith and courage to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, or allow the lame to walk. God's name has the power to do all of that. So the question becomes, will we learn God's plays? Will we use God's name with purpose and intentionality? Or will we just pretend we know what we're saying and only wish God would do something?
The next commandment is the one to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. I don't know why, but it seems like the 4th commandment is taken as a mere suggestion and considered kind of trivial. I'm not sure most folks even think about what it would mean to practice Sabbath or keep the Sabbath day holy. We understand what it means to have a day means you don't go to your paid job, but instead you run around like a crazy person doing all your errands, washing dishes, doing laundry, and getting caught up on housework and yard work. And most of us think our day off is our Sabbath and if Sabbath is errands and chores, it's no wonder we think it's kind of a worthless suggestion instead of a commandment that's meant to benefit us. J. Ellsworth Kalas is a scholar and a professor and a pretty extensive writer and he translates the 4th commandment like this: you shall keep the Sabbath for the Sabbath shall keep you. The Sabbath shall keep you. To understand what that means it's actually most helpful to turn to the New Testament. In the Gospels, we see Jesus heal on the Sabbath and he's often rebuked by the Pharisees for breaking the Sabbath...for working. But Jesus argues against them. In essence, he says, the Sabbath is meant to be restorative. It's meant to offer healing, wholeness, and peace. The purpose of the Sabbath is redemptive. And so, when he heals, forgives and redeems on the Sabbath, he's fulfilling the law, not breaking it. So when Kalas says "the Sabbath shall keep you" he means, "the Sabbath will restore you, heal you, and offer you wholeness."
All of that sounds pretty different from running errands and doing chores. Because most of the time those things aren't restful or redemptive for us. So what is? Well, that depends on the person. For some of us, sleep is redemptive. For some of us, it's reading a book. For others of us, it's a 20-mile bike ride. Others it's a run. Others it's cooking a meal, for others it's gardening. For others, it's crafting. There are lots of things that help us feel whole and complete, it all depends on who we are.
When I was in seminary, I heard a talk about Sabbath that was really compelling. I had never practiced Sabbath before. Like most, I had been dismissive about its relevance in my life. I would go to school all week and work on the weekends at a church, plus study, read, and write for my classes. Every day was full. Every day was busy. And every day required something from me. And then I heard that talk, and she talked about doing things that were good for her soul. That could include a pedicure or a massage or a good book. And that sounded different and desirable. So I started practicing Sabbath. Even then, Sundays were a work day, so I decided to take Saturday instead. Saturday was my Sabbath. No church work and no school work. And at first, it was really hard. I had intense feelings of guilt. I was supposed to be productive. I was supposed to be doing things. And I had huge guilt that I wasn't. I literally had to fight those thoughts and tell myself, "it's ok to sleep or watch movies, today is your Sabbath, you can do work tomorrow." I fought that for awhile, and, in time, what I noticed was if I allowed myself to rest on Saturdays and do what I wanted to do with my time, then when I went back to work and to school on Sunday, I had more energy and more drive. I wasn't fatigued and always asking myself to give and do and be. Instead, I felt restored, my reserves were being filled on the Sabbath and I was better able to do my work on the other days. Sabbath was becoming redemptive. That time practicing Sabbath in seminary convicted me. The Sabbath would keep me, it would heal me, fill me, and restore me. It wasn't some ridiculous thing God suggested, it was God's gift to me and I was meant to enjoy it.
I've continued to practice Sabbath. Each week I have a dedicated day set aside for rest and restoration. Admittedly, it's different with a husband and a child. There are some "jobs" like cooking, diapers, and the demands of parenting that don't ever really stop. But instead of seeing those things as taxing, I try to think of what helps us rest and be restored as a family. It's not always naps, but those help. But it's play time. It's meal time. It's hanging out together. And it's not work. Of course, there are exceptions. I've always been flexible to do a hospital visit, a memorial, or a wedding rehearsal on my Sabbath. But, for those things that can wait, they do. It's important that I allow God to fill me before I try and do my job day in and day out. The scriptures encourage us to work and to do our job well. They also say we should rest and keep it holy. Holy in the Hebrew is qadash and it means holy and hallowed, it also means set apart. God is holy for who God is but also because God is separate and set apart. So in keeping the Sabbath holy, we are meant to set that day apart and find time with God. Some of us are wary of that part. We think it means we have to sit and meditate or pray all day. But I don't think that's the commandment. I believe we can find God in the things we love and enjoy. I listen better for God's voice when I'm rested and enjoying life. I find God in Ruth's laughter. I find God in my own laughter. I find God in Rick's hugs. I find God in a savory meal. I find God in the creativity of a good book. I find God in the construction of a sewing project. I find God in the restoration of order in my house. We don't do every Sabbath the same. Each Friday is different. But the sacredness is in our time away from work and the demand to be productive. The divine is present in the moments where I am receptive to God at work and I'm more receptive when I'm not stressed and drained.
Most of us have made the mistake of treating the Sabbath like a time out. We think if we take a momentary pause from our work, that's enough. But restoration and redemption take more than that. If we play a long hard football game, a two minute time out isn't going to do a whole lot for us. It allows us to catch our breath and get a swig of water. But it doesn't allow our muscles to relax, our bodies to be cleaned, our mind to stop focusing on what we have to do. We should play a good game and give the best of what we have, and take our time-outs, our momentary breathers. But beyond that, we need the Sabbath. We need a chance to slow down and stop. We need to not be plagued by productivity. Instead, we need to relish and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We need to allow God to fill our spirits and restore our bodies. Most of us are convinced we can't afford to do that. There's too much responsibility. There's too much to do. But really, we can't afford not to do it. The Sabbath shall keep us. It shall be our life source in the midst of our busyness. It shall be a time set aside for us to attend to our souls—maybe reading scripture and praying, or maybe simply being present in the things we love most.
I will say this, the transition can be tough. You will likely have to quash the voices that tell you there's no time for this, that you have work to do, that you need to be more productive. Tell them to be quiet and come back tomorrow. Your day of Sabbath is a gift that is meant to be enjoyed. Thanks be to God.

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    4:00 PM Family Christmas Eve. This service is especially designed for wiggly, giggly children and is intentionally kept shorter. It will include music by Children's bell choir and leadership from children.

    7:00 PM Traditional Christmas Eve. This service includes music from Choir and Bell Choirs, plus Holy Communion and the Candlelight Ceremony. Child care is provided.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...