Faith Matters: My sermon for a sick day

By THE REV. LIZA KNAPP

First Church of Deerfield

Published: 03-04-2023 8:05 PM

I missed church last Sunday.

That’s unusual for a pastor.

But I was sick on Sunday morning, and as I write this on Tuesday morning, I still am. It could be COVID or just a nasty cold; either way, I hope and expect to be better soon. But meanwhile, I’m grounded. I’m probably contagious and definitely exhausted, so here I am, restricted to my house of germs, doing nothing.

Hello, mandatory sabbath.

For the past two days, I have mostly slept. In between naps, I prepared some very low-effort meals. That’s it. For two days, I have been spectacularly non-productive. It is hard not to feel guilty; in modern American culture, productivity is next to godliness.

Right now, it is snowing outside, and the kids have a day off from school — another mandatory sabbath. There was a time in our history when nature regularly ordered such rest for all of us. When the sun set, the plowing stopped and the shops closed. Not so much now; the convenience culture has us working odd shifts, and the internet has blurred the line between home and work, day and night, on-duty and off. We can work straight through a snowstorm. We can shop straight through the night.

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Right before I came down with this bug, I happened to be reading a fascinating book by Jenny Odell, called “How to Do Nothing.” Odell speaks urgently of the need to reclaim our attention from an economy that is intentionally attention-grabbing. In the internet age, human consciousness has become a sellable commodity, aggressively harvested through a barrage of sensational headlines, adorable click-bait, and addictive social media. We all know this; we’ve all had the experience of accidentally devoting time to the screen, which we had hoped to reserve for ourselves. What is our attention worth? and What is worthy of our attention? are two different questions.

Before Jesus began his ministry — before he began preaching, or healing, or performing miracles — Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days. During this time he fasted, and in our celebration of Lent we tend to focus on this aspect of his sabbatical. But Jesus withdrew not only from food, but from company and activity; he had no work to do, no book to read, no cell phone to distract, nothing to buy, make, or sell. We seldom stop to wonder, what did Jesus do with so much empty time? We seldom stop to wonder what might be found in such emptiness?

Some 500 years before the birth of Jesus, the great Chinese sage Lao-Tzu asked, “Do you have patience to wait until your mud settles, and the water is clear?” Perhaps this is what Jesus was doing, during those 40 days in the wilderness. It’s hard to let the mud settle, when the world around you keeps stirring the pot. We are constantly being tempted to fill our emptiness. Jesus was tempted, too, to opt for a quick refill. The devil came to him in the wilderness, saying, do this! Jesus resisted the devil’s click-bait.

Welcome to Lent — season of resistance, season of rest.

The irony, of course, is that here I am, sick at home, writing this column when I should be resting. Enough stirring up the mud for now. Back to doing nothing…

About First Church of Deerfield

The First Church of Deerfield is an inquisitive, inclusive, open and affirming congregation. It is affiliated with both the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The congregation gathers for worship, music and friendship each Sunday at 10 a.m. in the “Brick Church” at 71 Old Main St. in Deerfield. Rev. Knapp may be reached at DeerfieldPastor@gmail.com.

An earlier version of this column included outdated details about the First Church of Deerfield’s services.

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