Monday, January 10, 2005

A Working Sabbath?

Yeah, the term sounded funny to me, too. I conjured it this morning while planning out my week at the church. Tonight and tomorrow night are a couple meetings. Tomorrow and Wednesday I meet with ministerial colleagues for different reasons. A couple visits, a few phone calls, and planning for Sunday's service which actually won't demand a lot of my time this week. A representative from Habitat for Humanity is speaking during the sermon time and a layperson is doing the children's sermon. So other than a confirmation lesson, I'll have a pretty laid-back Sunday morning.

So what's that have to do with the oxymoronic title of this post? Well, not having a sermon to plan this Sunday means I have some time to plan ahead, take an afternoon or two for Biblical study and see if God speaks to me through any particular lectionary (or non-lectionary) texts. What makes this particularly relieving for me is that such time won't feel like work in the least. It's work-related, but it'll feel much more like leisure, even my own time for spiritual growth. It's my own time for replenishing, for Sabbath. Only kind of not. Maybe that'll make sense to someone besides me.

So in beginning this time of reflection, I noted that the lectionary readings for January 30 are as follows: Micah 6:1-8 ("What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, etc."), Matthew 5:1-12 (The Beatitudes), and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 ("God's foolishness is greater than human wisdom...") Three of my favorite texts all designated for the same Sunday!

The 1 Corinthians text in particular has stuck with me over the years. My first brush with it was while at Heidelberg. At the time I was heavily active in a Methodist congregation and had a couple opportunities to preach. On one of those occasions I chose this text. My reason for choosing it was based on something I had just read in one of Tony Campolo's books where he talks about "God's left hand," that is, using that which is weaker or considered unclean for God's work. It's still one of my favorite sermons.

Fast forward a year or two to the beginning of seminary, where the lifelong UCC member with the Religion degree quickly began to feel small and uncertain about why he was there. That first year was a greatly humbling experience in many ways, and some moments were spent questioning how I'd get through. Second semester rolled around, and with it came New Testament Foundations, where the assigned texts included Paul Among Jews and Gentiles by Krister Stendahl. In one essay, Stendahl writes of a possible physical affliction with which Paul was wrestling, how frail and weak and small he may have looked compared to other "super apostles" like Apollos. The 1 Corinthians text is in part a justification for his own ministry: "I'm weak, yet God chose me, just like God chose you." So I was re-introduced to the text at a time when I myself was feeling weak.

It is for this reason that maybe I should purposely choose a different text for that Sunday. After all, with so much baggage attached to this text it might be worthwihle to explore another one. The others are familiar enough, yet new insight can always be brought forth from them. In any case, I'm overdue to begin my work. Or Sabbath. Or both.