Rev. Danielle K Bartz June 27, 2021
Exodus 29:38-46 “Temporal Dislocation”
I can’t remember exactly when it was, sometime mid-pandemic when I was working exclusively from home and worship was broadcast using my cell phone and poorly fitting earbuds. Around that time, I would wake up in the morning and struggle mightily to remember what day it was. My habit has long been to lay in bed for a few minutes and review the day ahead – highlighting in my mind at least one thing to look forward to. But, there were a few months when I would lay in bed and spend my time just trying to figure out what day it was. On several occasions I was forced to ask my smart speaker for clarity. This is what Diana Butler Bass meant when she wrote about temporal dislocation.
We are in the midst of a sermon series I have created about the four dislocations that Diana Butler Bass describes for churches and individuals. These dislocations – historical, temporal, relational, and physical – are her way of describing one of the universal realities so many of us faced during the pandemic. We were dislocated in many ways and are struggling to relocate ourselves as the pandemic recedes. We know we are not returning to the way things were before, and for that we should be grateful, but we are not entirely sure where we are going. The effort to relocate ourselves is a challenge, both individually, communally, and as a church. But it is a task which we must face. So, today I will spend some time reflecting on the temporal dislocation we have been experiencing and offer a suggestion to find a relocation.
I shared about my struggles keeping track of days, and I have heard from nearly everyone that the struggle was shared. Time either seemed to move far too quickly or far too slowly. The seasons came and went, and we found ourselves wondering what just happened. The same is true for church as well. There are ways we at First Congregational, and the wider church, mark time. The simple and obvious one is Sunday morning worship. We would gather for corporate worship on Sunday mornings – it was a way to mark the week, a touchstone to keep track of time. But during the pandemic, when our worship was online, worship changed. Some continued to worship on Sunday mornings, but others watched the service later in the day or week. Neither was right or wrong – and the flexibility of online worship has proven to be a valuable addition to the ministry of this church – but it was a disruption, a dislocation.
And it wasn’t just Sunday morning worship that was dislocated. It was the seasons of the church, the way we know how to mark time. The sacrament of Holy Communion was paused, we didn’t have holiday gatherings, the Christmas Eve service was completely prerecorded and finished a week early, so Christmas Eve arrived and it didn’t feel like Christmas (at least for me). This temporal dislocation is one that has been acutely experienced by every person and institution. And even though so many things have returned, many of us are still struggling a bit to track time like we did before. So, how do we relocate ourselves?
I am once again turning to the Book of Exodus – an epic story about the formation of the Jewish faith – for guidance. This ancient story is foundational to our faith. I am not sure if you are aware of this, but Exodus is the oldest story in our Bible. It may come second in the Canon, it comes after Genesis, but it is the story that sets the stage for literally everything that happens after, all the way to today. The Jewish people were not a people until Exodus – there was no faith, no relationship with God, no practices to guide them. They were a people in the wilderness, literally and figurately. Moses, a man dislocated from his own people and history, has been called by God to lead the Hebrews out of slavery – and he has done that. The Hebrews, with God’s help, have escaped their captivity in Egypt, have miraculously crossed the Red Sea, found nourishment in the wilderness – manna from heaven and water from a rock. They have held together, and while they complain bitterly the entire way – even more than once suggesting that it was better to live as slaves than to exist in the wild – they continue to move forward and create a new sense of community.
God favors and guides them along the way. Not only creating miracles that save the people, but also giving them directions about how to serve and worship. The section of Exodus I read today is part of those directions. Moses is up on the mountaintop, receiving directions from God. Soon he will come down with the two stone tablets to share God’s instructions. But, contrary to common understanding, it was not just the 10 Commandments Moses received on the mountaintop. In fact it is chapters of instruction, at least as they are told in Exodus. Instructions about relationships, justice, trade, dress, and building. These were instructions about not only forming a community but also forming a faith with God at the center. Today’s scripture outlines the daily rituals that people are to do to keep their focus on God. The burnt offerings of lamb, given regularly or twice a day, are ancient rituals used to not only mark devotion and submission to God, but to also mark time. God instructed the people to create rituals, habits that are done in devotion to God, to create order and structure around their faith, the seasons, and even the day.
These ancient rituals were given to help the people form a community steeped in tradition with God at the center. But, I think, even more than that – they were a way of creating order out of chaos. Something to hold onto in the wilderness. A way to locate one’s self in the midst of the ultimate dislocation. And while I am most certainly not suggesting we relocate ourselves from our temporal dislocation by offering a sacrificial lamb twice a day, I do think there is something we can reclaim from these ancient practices that will help us mark time once again. So, my suggestion this week is for us to try the practice of daily prayer, otherwise known as praying the hours.
While not as ancient as the instructions God gave to Moses, the practice of praying the hours is one of the most ancient Christian practices that is still in existence today. Many Christians – Orthodox, Traditional, Progressive, Catholic, and Protestant – still mark their day with prayer. Some formally pray the hours – seven prayers a day that include scripture. Those who follow the monastic tradition use this as the basis of their practice. Either individually or communally, the day is divided not by the time on the clock, but on the prayers set for each day.
It is not just traditional monastics who follow this – progressive Christians like you and me do as well. “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” was published in 2010 by progressive, justice-oriented Christians who were seeking a way to reclaim the ancient practice of praying the hours to create structure around their days – of making sure everything they did was done as a form of worship to God. Mid-pandemic, when I was struggling deeply with every type of dislocation, I began to do the daily prayer found in this book. Each day, morning, mid-day, and evening, I set aside time for guided prayer. Not only did it ground me, but it helped me track days better. Each day felt complete, and I was grounded just enough that I could keep my footing. I even have the pocket guide, just in case I need to pause my day while I am out and about. So, as we begin to relocate ourselves as a congregation, let me suggest we all try to mark our days with prayer, just for one week.
The insert in your bulletin (for those worshipping online, it can be found on the church website under the ‘Worship at Home’ tab) has three prayers for you to read or recite each day. Don’t make it harder than it has to be – you don’t have to do each prayer at a specific time and if you forget, just move on to the next. The point isn’t to make the practice a burden, the point is for the practice to complete your day. To give you a moment to pause for prayer, even if it just feels rote or insincere. God is at work in the practice, even if you can’t feel it, I promise. There were several days, there still is, when my daily prayer practice felt like I was just reading the words and asking God for the same things over and over again. But, God was at work in my Spirit through this practice, and I have faith God will do the same for you. Try it, just for a week. You never know – it might help you to relocate yourself in a new time that puts God in the center. Amen.
God of Creation, create in us a new rhythm of life composed of hours that sustain rather than stress, of days that deliver rather than destroy, of time that tickles rather than tackles.
God of Liberation, by the rhythm of your truth, set us free from the bondage and baggage that break us, from the Pharaohs and fellows who fail us, from the pans and pursuits that prey upon us.
God of Resurrection, may we be raised into the rhythm of your new life, dead to deceitful calendars, dead to fleeting friend requests, dead to the empty peace of our accomplishments.
To our packed-full planners, we bid, “Peace!”
To our over-caffeinated consciences, we say, “Cease!”
To our suffocating selves, God, grant release.
Drowning in a sea of deadlines and death chimes, we rest in you, our lifeline.
By your ever-restful grace, allow us to enter your Sabbath rest as your Sabbath rest enters into us.
In the name of our Creator, Liberator, our Resurrection and Life, we pray. And we do so in the name of Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray together by saying…Our Father…
*Prayer from ‘Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, Pocket Edition’