When they were boys, my Dad, and his elder brother, Ed, had a brilliant way of assuring equality. It’s called, “You Cut, I Choose.” So- there was one huge, drippy, moist, achingly sweet chocolate cupcake. One cupcake. To be split between 2 brothers. Grandma knew that if she cut it and gave it to them, Dad would howl, “His piece is bigger than mine!” and Uncle Ed would chortle back, “Your loss, kid!” So instead, she’d make one brother cut the cupcake, and the other take first choice.
I think this is how my dad learned higher math. Because you can bet that when he cut the cake, it was cut exactly even. EXACTLY. There was not a single crumb that wasn’t divided down to its fractional molecule! And so when my Uncle Ed chose, he never got a bigger piece. He always got an equal piece- even though he was older and bigger and could beat my father up if he wanted to. You cut. I choose.
This past fall, we explored what the Sabbath was: 6 days a week, we work really hard- at work, at school, at sports, at making the world a better place. But on the seventh day, we all stop and rest, and just enjoy. We don’t get crazy or frenetic or try to accomplish anything: we just enjoy all that God has blessed us with, and say ‘Thank-you’. Attentive gratefulness is at the heart of the day.
That’s the Sabbath day, once every seven days. Then, God goes on to say that once every seven years, we’re supposed to give the whole YEAR a rest. For 6 years, you can make or lose money; but in the seventh year- the Sabbatical year, everything that we’ve accumulated- debts we owe, or debts owed to us- are let go. No more debt. If you owe me $15, or $15,000, it’s cancelled. You cut, I choose.
Imagine it: every 7 years, everybody starts out equal again, and nobody gets really, really rich, and nobody gets really, really poor. No welfare state. No endless, grinding poverty. No privileged wealth. No getting grabby or selfish or resentful or bitter. That is the ‘Sabbatical’ year.
Now, this was not any more popular a divine command in the year 750 BC than it was in the year 2017AD. We are, in fact, selfish, grabby people, and unless we’re the younger brothers, we don’t much like the idea that just because we got it first doesn’t mean we get to keep it. In our world, once we get something, we think it’s ours forever. MY house. MY land. MY money.
Truth is, God wants us to have a house, and land, and enough money to live well. It’s not that God is an Indian-giver; God is like this eternal Grandma who wants all of her children to have part of the cupcake. An equal part. A fair part. Enough for both.
And that means that every seven years, God instituted a “Do-Over”, so that our mistakes, our misjudgments, and our bad luck don’t hover over us from generation to generation.
This is a really hard Bible passage for us to hear, isn’t it? It’s not economically viable. But it is Christian. Because what this Bible passage presumes is that God really does love all of us, and God will provide all we need, if we don’t get greedy and start hoarding our wealth.
This was one of the very first lessons God had to teach the Hebrew people. You had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, and as a slave, you knew that you might not get fed tomorrow; you knew that if you didn’t look out for Number One, Number One might not be alive next week. You can’t trust an overseer with a whip to take care of you like Grandma does.
And so when God freed the Jews from slavery, and parted the waters of the Red Sea, and started to take us to the Promised Land, one of the very first things God did was to make sure that every morning we had enough to eat. God gave us manna every morning.
This miracle bread would just show up on the ground every morning, and God told us, Gather enough for the day, but no more. Don’t try to hoard it for tomorrow, because it will get worms & maggots & nasty crawly things in it. Trust Me! If you are selfish & afraid & try to hide it for yourself, it will just make you sick. So trust Me- that every morning I will provide enough for all of you. And know that there will be more tomorrow because I love you.
Do you know the first thing we former slaves did? We tried to hoard our bread & save it up so we could have a safety net for the next day. And sure enough, it got worms and made us sick.
It took us a long time to learn how to trust God. And when we reached Mt Sinai, and the giving of the Ten Commandments, God told us: That trust you learned by getting your daily bread from Me- let’s stretch that trust out. Every 6 years, you can accumulate money and land and stuff. But in the seventh year, in the Sabbatical year, you have to stop. Stop accumulating. Stop hoarding. Stop working. Stop and rest, and share all that you have so that everyone has enough. I WILL PROVIDE FOR YOU- but you have to trust Me for it.
Think deeply about what you’ve been doing the last 6 years: Have your labors brought you life? Joy? Have the past 6 years been good for the people you love? Have they been good for your neighbor? Or have you just been running so fast, and getting so frantic that you have lost perspective? Have people been getting hurt? I want you to lie fallow, and allow Me to heal you. And the next year, you may start again, in a new cycle of fruitfulness.
You know what? That Sabbatical rest could have never happened when we were slaves. A whole year to rest, to contemplate, to heal? Right. That would have never happened in Egypt. Taskmasters don’t care if you get healed, or if your families are whole, or if your soul is alive. They just care if you are producing, if you’re building that monument to their immortality.
A year of rest and re-evaluation could never happen to a slave in Egypt. Can it happen here? Dear friends, what if we were to seriously contemplate a sabbatical year for ourselves? What if, once every 7 years, we stopped short and re-evaluated what we are, and what we need? What if every seven years we came back to center.
I can tell you what would happen! The world would stop and we would all die! Amen! Dear Friends, privately we all know that if you and I were to tale a year off to rethink our lives, the world would in fact stop, and in fact, we would all die. Right?
I was reading a great article by Rabbi Arthur Waskow. He was trying to figure out what a 21st century Sabbatical year might look like- something that embraced the Biblical vision of the redistribution of wealth, the healing of the earth, & the celebration of community.
Rabbi Waskow suggested we start out small. God has the whole tamale in mind, but you and I- maybe we can start out small, right now. Go through our closets, our garages, our attics. What is it that we are just accumulating? And could it help someone else? It’s like the Marie Kondo decluttering method: If it doesn’t bring joy, get rid of it.
You and I accumulate because it gives us a feeling of security, because we like to shop, because it makes us feel alive or full or safe. Sometimes we accumulate because we don’t even notice how much we have- we liked it once, we might need it again, we’ve forgotten we even have it.
And sometimes we accumulate because we’ve gotten in the habit of hoarding- a profound spiritual disease which causes worms and maggots and crawly things to start living inside us.
For a year, Rabbi Waskow suggests- try to go through our homes, and downsize. Just get rid of stuff. Give it away to someone who needs it. Think of it as a spiritual and material purging.
And then, he says, for one year, stop buying just for the sake of buying. Don’t buy a new pair of shoes because you’re in the store and you just feel like buying something. Don’t rework your wardrobe, when in fact you can still wear everything that’s still in there. Don’t upgrade your computer, or your cell phone, or your cable service. As a spiritual discipline, see what you already have, and call it ‘enough’ with a grateful heart.
And when we’ve gotten the knack of getting rid of material things, let’s try to do the same things with the rest of our lives. With our work. With our hobbies. With how we are living our lives. Come back to center, and work out from there.
Coming back to center: It’s a very freeing thing, to be satisfied, to be content. It is a very freeing thing to dedicate a year to exploring what it is that brings our lives meaning.
And oddly enough, when we come back to center, we are freed us up to be able to reach out and share what we have with our sisters and brothers who don’t have enough. Because when we don’t hoard, there is more to go around.
Because God is, in fact, trustworthy for our daily bread. God is, in fact, trustworthy for our very lives.
In the Name of the One who has always only wanted the best for us, Even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR DEC. 31, 2017 DEUTERONOMY 15:1-5, 7-8, 11
Every seven years you must announce, “The Lord says loans do not need to be paid back.” Then if you have loaned money to another Israelite, you can no longer ask for payment… No one in Israel should ever be poor. The Lord your God is giving you this land, and God has promised to make you very successful, if you obey God’s laws and teachings that I’m giving you today… After the Lord your God gives land to each of you, there may be poor Israelites in the town where you live. If there are, then don’t be mean and selfish with your money. Instead, be kind and lend them what they need… There will always be some Israelites who are poor and needy. That’s why I am commanding you to be generous with them.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.