Keeping Sabbath

John McLarty

Audio Recording:

Sermon manuscript for Green Lake Church of Seventh-day Adventists for July 23, 2016.
This is a preliminary version. Comments and criticism welcome.

Deuteronomy 30:11-16
Matthew 13:44-46

Insert Grand Park Photo

Last Sabbath, I made the mistake of stepping into the kitchen where Mark Haun and Eric Lundstrom were engaged in a Sabbath School conversation. They immediately accosted me: we’re looking for some people to hike Grand Park with us this afternoon. Did I have any plans that would prevent me from going? I didn’t. And I made encouraging noises about going-subject to checking with Karin, of course.

Mark and Eric took off right after church. Karin and I left much later. And to be honest, I pretty much forgot Grand Park. I was sleepy and all the way home I was dreaming of taking a nap. I could barely keep my eyes open.

We pulled in the driveway at home and saw Mark’s and Eric’s cars in the driveway. I groaned.

Inside, the kitchen was full of people. Mark and Eric had teamed up with my son Garrett to plan the hike. I was going, right?

I groaned. I was sleepy. The sky outside full of clouds. I got on line and checked the web cams at Crystal and Paradise. More clouds. I did not want to go hiking in gray weather. Karin tried to cheer me up by offering food. I wasn’t particularly interested. I wanted a nap.

Mark and my son ganged up on me. “Quit looking at the computer.” They said. “Let’s just go.” Mark assured me there would be enough flower power in the meadows it would make up any amount of clouds. My daughter chimed in, “Dad, do you ever wish you had not gone on a hike? Even if it rains, do you ever really wish you had stayed home?” She had me there.

I left Karin to go to a local park with the daughters and grandkids and I joined the three young men. They really needed me to go, because the typical way to do this hike is to have two parties that drive to opposite ends of the trail and exchange keys in the middle.

The hour drive was brutal. Sleep kept calling me. Finally, we were on the trail, starting out at Sunrise on Mt. Rainier.

Insert photo of crag and fog

As always, my grumpiness about the weather and every other problem in the world slowly dissolved in the rhythm of walking and the magic of the place. Fog swirled among rugged crags. I’ve hiked the trails at Sunrise so many times, that every step has the sweet familiarity of home. There are even funny memories of stumbles that almost ended badly, and days I failed and underestimated the amount of needed insulation. And every step is redolent with memories of sunny days and endless miles.

In a meadow called Berkeley Park we came across a bear. I was so excited. I’ve never seen a bear that close in the wild. Ever! It wasn’t close enough to be scary. It ignored us and continued its rooting around in the meadow.

We passed an enticing rock face that Garrett had to try his rock climbing fingers on.

Insert Fremont Peak photo

About nine o’clock as we entered Grand Park, the clouds thinned. The sun painted utterly enthralling colors on the slopes of Fremont Peak. The clouds on the western horizon appeared to be billowing clouds of blazing white smoke. The meadow itself was suffused with shimmering light cut by the beckoning single line of the trail headed north.

Except for the small, clean line of the trail, everywhere we looked was glorious wildness.

Insert trail pic

Garrett remarked that in the part of the world where he lives (in the mountains in another country) a meadow like this would have a hundred trails snaking here and there across the meadow. There would be plastic bags snagged in the branches at the base of the trees. The mountains and sky would still be grand, but you would have to carefully keep your eyes away from the earth to avoid the spoilation and defilement.

I’ve been there. I have seen places that have not been kept. The memory of those unkempt places, those spoiled treasures, makes me appreciate even more deeply the unspoiled treasure we have. I’m a keeper of the public lands on the north side of Mt. Rainier. I pick up every piece of trash I see—which fortunately is very little. The tens of thousands of people who use the trails there have embraced the ethic of land keeping. On our ten mile hike last Sabbath afternoon, I found only one piece of trash.

I gave thanks for the land keepers.

None of us who hike those trails played any role in creating the landscape. The mountains were built hundreds of millions of years ago. The National Forests and National Park were created 120 years ago. Our public lands are treasures. It is up to us to keep them.

Keeping them is work.

There is the work of protection.

Some people dump stuff. It is up to us to work to prevent dumping and when it happens, to clean it up.

Alpine meadows are quite fragile. Many high meadows were degraded by hikers and horses requiring the Park Service and Forest Service to create carefully routed trails to preserve the meadows. I tasted the sweetness of the their work last Sabbath afternoon as Garrett and I hiked across Grand Park enchanted by the pristine, breathtaking beauty.

Our public lands are under constant pressure from commercial interests. Administrators face a daunting balancing act as they juggle the competing demands for “use” and “preservation.” Protecting our public lands is not simple or easy. BUT those lands are a treasure so precious they deserve every bit of effort put into them.

Have you tasted the sweetness of this treasure?

I know some of you have. Some of you have spent many happy days in the forests and on the lakes and slopes and peaks of our region. I was looking at family pictures with the Jonsens and Hasselbracks. Most of the pictures were taken on camping trips.

Even those of us who have not spent time in the wilderness—we have still savored the sweetness of our local public lands. I meet you running and walking around Green Lake across the street. I hear about picnics at Golden Gardens or Alki Beach. Public land—it’s where we create family memories and nurture the links of friendship. It’s where we feed our souls.

Keeping our public land means protecting that special space from encroachment. We fight to make sure these special places will be available to our children and grandchildren.

Keeping our public land also means enjoying it.

Mt. Rainier will exist whether you ever visit it or not. Because the area around the mountain has been designated a national park, Grand Park will always be there. You will always be able to get on line and find pictures of it. But if you listen closely enough to people who have walked through it, likely you will discover in your own heart a growing hunger to taste it for yourself. It will not be enough to listen to people talk about it. The pictures, instead of being satisfying, will be enticing. If you pay enough attention to the glory of Grand Park, you will start telling yourself. I must go there. I will put it on my bucket list. I can’t let Mark and Eric have it all to themselves. I will go there.

Keeping the park moves beyond protecting it from encroachment and moves toward enjoyment.

It is the same with Sabbath.

When you listen to people talk about their experience of Sabbath keeping, a few of them might sound like I did when Mark and Eric were trying to get me to enjoy Grand Park last Sabbath. I complained I was tired. I groused about the clouds. (Part of the reason I complained about the clouds is that the last time Mark dragged me along for a hike through Grand Park, for nearly the entire hike the sky was depressingly heavy. It wasn’t just cloudy. It was gloomy. The sky itself was morose and gloomy.)

You can probably find a few people who have tried Sabbath keeping who report it was a gloomy, morose experience. But the vast majority of people who have tried Sabbath keeping have discovered the magic treasure of special time.

Most of us live crazy busy lives. Occasionally, we wonder if we’re too busy. We wonder if there is some way to order our lives so there is more space to enjoy the treasure of relationships, the treasure of shared meals. We who are old urge parents with young children: take time with your kids now. They will be gone before you know it.

Sabbath keeping is one way to experience the sweetness we know should be part of our lives.

One of the values of regular Sabbath keeping is the way it begins pulling into our lives deep, almost bodily memory of rich time. Because I have hiked and run the trails at Sunrise so many times, every step now is not just today’s step, every step now evokes the multiple-level memories of steps last year and last decade.

When we keep Sabbath regularly, every particular Sabbath meal evokes memories of hundreds of previous Sabbath meals. Every Sabbath worship service connects with our life history of participating in church. Every Sabbath afternoon hike or nap or picnic, takes us into a stream of joy that connects all our Sabbath memories together.

Regular Sabbath keeping brings together our earthly friendships, our worship, our meals, our experience in the out-of-doors. And because it is Sabbath, all of this connects with God. Our meals and worship, our hikes and naps and picnics are holy, enriched by the blessing of Sabbath.

Some of us, hearing these words, will start to scold ourselves. We start thinking, “I should be more diligent in my Sabbath keeping”. And because we “should” be more diligent, thinking about Sabbath increasing our discomfort. It increases our stress. We start scolding ourselves. Please don’t.

Scolding other people does not usually produce useful change in their lives. And scolding ourselves probably won’t increase the quality of our lives either. When you think about Sabbath keeping, let it serve as an invitation. Pay attention to the benefit Sabbath keepers report. Let their words entice you, beckon you.

If we pay attention to something beautiful and desirable long enough and intensely enough, we are likely to begin moving that direction. And when we move that direction the tastes we get will call us deeper.

When you’re considering Sabbath keeping, the difficulty of pulling it off might seem daunting. You might be like me in the kitchen last Sabbath afternoon, grousing about the difficulty, feeling the challenge, feeling the effort. I felt the weight of the clouds. I felt my own tiredness. Those problems completely obscured the sweetness of the treasure waiting for me in Grand Park.

Then my daughter challenged me: “Dad, have you ever wished you didn’t go hiking? Have you ever gotten out on the trail and wished you had stayed home?”

I couldn’t answer. I could have stayed home. I could have gone to bed and taken a nap. And it would have been wonderful. The nap would have been heavenly. But she was right that there has never been a time when I went for a hike or run in the mountains and then later wished I had stayed home, wished I had taken a nap instead. That has never happened.

I invite you to taste the same kind of truth in Sabbath keeping. I have never met anyone who kept Sabbath and regretted doing it. Sabbath is a treasure so rich that every bit of effort we put into keeping it comes back to us in joy.