Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 23, 2024

Posted on June 24, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

June 23, 2024

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Leviticus 26:3-22, 34-35, 40-45

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

My mom used to collect cookbooks. She inherited a bunch from her mom and her grandma. She bought a lot on her own. And my sisters and I bought them for her, too. She had quite a collection.

Her favorites were ones that included stories about either the meal or the ingredients that were called for in the recipes. And I bought her one like that for Christmas one year. I just ordered it from Amazon, and I didn’t read through it before I wrapped it for her.

But I flipped through it on Christmas night after we were done with everything for the day. And I don’t remember the recipe that caught my attention, but I remember that it was recommended to be made in the spring and that it called for eggs.

And I remember that because the story that was alongside the recipe talked about the availability of the ingredients – specifically, that the hens would have started laying again. And I thought about that for a minute.

And my mom was in the kitchen, so I hollered, “Did eggs used to not be available year-round?” And she paused for a second, and then said, “No. In fact, the hens would have stopped laying altogether right about now. And they’d start back up again in March or April.”

I learned something new that night. And I thought about it as I prepared for today – about that cycle. That everywhere in the world, there are times in the year when things are naturally supposed to slow down and rest. And how in the US, and other parts of the Western world in particular, we’ve gotten away from that, and the negative impact that it’s having on the environment and all of life.

When it comes to scripture readings on creation care, the book of Leviticus doesn’t typically rise to the top of anyone’s list – and that’s understandable. It’s page after page of Law teaching the Israelites how to live as God’s people after God freed them from slavery in Egypt.

And without broader context, our reading today is harsh and, honestly, not very helpful. So, to help it make sense, we’re gonna back up to chapter 25 for a minute.

Because it is all about how to care for the land and for one another. And it covers everything from food to economics. And it has detailed information about how to observe the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year. And it’s clear that those years are times of rest for everyone and everything, including the land.

[1]What these laws do is remind the people that the land belongs to God. It isn’t theirs; it never was. God gives permission to work the land for six years in a row, and to let it rest during the seventh. Park the tractor. Put the plows and work boots away. Because the seventh year is to be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land.

And moving forward into chapter 26, verses 1-2, the commandments for no idols and to honor the sabbath are repeated. And then our reading begins.

All of this together, the laws and the commandments, connect the people’s relationship with God to their relationship with the land – and, by extension, all of creation. They connect all of life with God as its source. It’s a relationship of trust. The people had just been freed from a system that didn’t honor this way of living.

So, in order for the world to be as God created it, they had to live trusting in God’s promise of abundance and care for life. They had a choice to make. And if they followed God’s way of living, every year would be a year of abundance. Each harvest would last until the next one.

And that abundance wouldn’t happen because of the people’s capacity to produce bumper crops and store the excess, but because of God’s promise of goodness year after year.

But if the people chose to not live in relationship with God and the land, there would be consequences. Which is what our reading is all about. There would be anxiety over whether they had enough. There would be loss and disruption. The land wouldn’t produce an abundance. Their enemies would conquer them. And at the end of all that, the land would ultimately get its sabbath.

But even if all that happened, it doesn’t end there. God would still be their God. God’s relationship with them would endure. That’s the promise.

The Sabbath command is a tough one for people to honor. Because we like to think we’re in charge and everything comes from us. But Sabbath is an important command because it reminds us that God the one who’s in charge and is the source of everything.

And when we think about it for us today, that the command to rest extends to all of creation, it’s difficult to imagine anyone letting any type of production rest for an entire year.

Whether it’s a field. Or a factory. Or any other type of business. Especially here in the US, where “rest” is often considered to be a waste of time because we put our value in the amount we can produce.

But when we don’t rest, when we don’t let creation rest, there are consequences. The world God created doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. And we’re living with the effects. Weather systems have become erratic – there are severe storms with massive rain and flooding in the Upper Midwest this week.

Wildfires in New Mexico. Earlier than normal 100+ degree days in the desert Southwest. A heat dome in the Southeastern US. We had our own heat dome here a couple of years ago.

When these things happen, it isn’t only people that are affected. Crops are devastated – which means livelihoods are devastated.

But honoring Sabbath for creation makes a difference. We were forced into it during quarantine four years ago. Remember the air quality reports in 2020 when hardly anyone was driving, and air travel was at a minimum? The skies cleared up all over the world.

It didn’t fix everything. In part because we were chomping at the bit to get back to doing things. And in part because the environment needs decades to recover. But it gave us a glimpse of how things are supposed to be. That’s what the Sabbath is intended to do.

[2]When we observe the Sabbath for creation, we recognize its holiness and the life it has in God. We acknowledge the need for rest for us and for all of creation. It literally gives everything space to breathe and reset.

Even with context, this is a tough reading; it’s a tough subject. I’m not gonna try to deny that. Next week’s is easier, I promise – it’s about renewal. But we have to reckon with the consequences of the choices that have been made. Because things won’t get better until we do.

The grace, because there is good news, is that it points us back to God – God as the source of life. It reminds us who created us, who created the world. The one in whom and on whom all things depend. And how the world can work when we live within that relationship.

It is so freeing when we remember God is God and we are not; there’s tremendous hope in it. And because God is who God is, God’s relationship with us endures.

My prayer for you this week, is that you find space and time for Sabbath rest. For you, for the world. Even if it’s only for five minutes, because sometimes that’s all we’ve got. Take time to breathe, and to listen. To rest in God’s relationship with us and with the world.

And to say, “Thanks be to God!” for the beauty of what’s around us. Amen.

[1] Earth & Word: Rest for the Land (pp277-283).

[2] Earth & Word: Rest for the Land (pp277-283).