I hope and pray that some of you were able to get a Sabbath from the heavy work of planning, production and distribution of your online worship services this past week. I realize that not everyone was able to take advantage of the Cabinet’s worship service. Many of our language ministries could not use an English only service, and had to put together their own service in their native language. Some other churches wanted the intimacy of their own worship, and I totally understand that.
However, this shouldn’t take away from the need for all of us to take the time for rejuvenation and renewal. We all need to go back to our Jewish roots in the Hebrew Bible and observe Sabbath. Even if you did not get a Sabbath from worship this Sunday, you need to schedule this on a regular basis. Remember, Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before and extends through the entire next day. As Abraham Joshua Heschel so eloquently puts it in his book Sabbath,
“The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; The weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath.”
With social isolation and safer-at-home protocols, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my life which I tried to share some of in my sermon this past Sunday. The weak part of that worship was the sermon, but I tried to convey how much we should not want to return to our former lives, post COVID-19. A book that I quoted a lot when it first came out in 2014 is Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance. Brueggemann draws the analogy that Pharaoh took away the Sabbath from the Israelites and forced them to slave away seven days of the week. Thus, the only part of creation that was deemed truly Holy by God, the Sabbath was taken away from them. By analogy, in our contemporary time, Pharaoh has become our “culture of now,” that demands more and more of us and makes “doing” the god that we bow down to.
When I first read this, I was the Bishop of the Greater Northwest Area and Brueggemann’s words hit me like a rock. You see, I was driving that Area and all the staff to change, innovate and prosper, and it was “take no prisoners” in terms of scheduling. After reading the book, I asked the Director of Connectional Ministries if I was driving him and the staff too hard. His answer: “Bishop, you have been killing us – We are exhausted!” I then realized that I had become Pharaoh, and was pushing my own agenda to turn the Northwest Area around from decline to vitality by driving them to exhaustion.
Thank God I learned my lesson, and hopefully, I haven’t pushed this agenda completely onto all of you. Being an “A” type personality, it is a default gear I possess and I have to intentionally counter it. However, this social isolation time has reminded me of the brutal schedules that we have subjected ourselves to before the pandemic hit. COVID-19, with all of its fury, has forced us to slow down and cut back. God did not cause or create the Coronavirus, but in God’s ultimate wisdom there are lessons for us to learn from it. One of those lessons is to slow down, and not return to the speed and pace of more and more in our former lives. Now is the time for all of us to take Sabbath seriously, and program into our lives the time and focus of true Sabbath. This is my expectation for all of you!
On the financial relief front, I hope you have seen that Wespath has decided not to collect clergy pensions for a three-month period. This is not to be confused with our own Cal-Pac Board of Pensions decision to use reserves to fund clergy pensions for the last three months. When our Board of Pensions learned of this, they could have collected those funds to replenish their reserves, but graciously, they are granting both, so churches will not have to pay clergy pensions for six months in total. I am so grateful we have such a wise and caring Board of Pensions!
For inspiration this week, here are some quotes from Heschel’s Sabbath:
“It is not a day of diversion or frivolity, but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives.”
“It is not dedicated exclusively to spiritual goals—It is a day of soul as well as body; comfort & pleasure are an integral part of the Sabbath.”
“It is to celebrate time rather than space. 6 days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, Sabbath
Enjoy your Sabbath!
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop