Rev. Vernon Gramling
Faith in Real Life Blog
Decatur Presbyterian Church

March 31, 2022

Genesis 2:1-3
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
Mark 1:35-39

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The spiritual discipline this week is ‘unplugging’. This discipline is similar to our ‘fasting’ and ‘living simply’ discussions of the last couple of weeks.  When we are immersed in options, it is easy to react instead of operating out of our core values.  We lose track of what is important.  It takes discipline and intentionality to create space where we have a better chance to listen to God.  
The first association in FIRL to the word ‘ ‘unplugging” was to talk about unplugging from our screen centric electronic world. Who among us has not complained (or been complained to) about watching too much TV, playing too many video games, or having conversations interrupted by texts, phone calls or buzzing watches.  We are deeply attached to our electronics. Instant availability has become the norm but it has also become intrusive.  Many families now have rules about shutting down the electronics during meals.  Corporate workers protect their time by designating scheduled times that they will respond to emails.
 I realized at one point that I could lose all track of time playing solitaire.  The games were fun but they so occupied my mind, I could look up and realize I had been playing for two hours.  I finally deleted the games from my computer.  I’m not sure I’ve used my time better, but it did require me to seek other options.  Facebook, instagram, Tik Tok, Netflix etc provide a seemingly infinite list of ways to distract and entertain.  They are seductive, if not addictive. 
 But complaining about the plethora of electronic options however is wasted energy.  Nostalgically wishing for a simpler time or worse yet, becoming a modern day Luddite denies the inevitability of change.  These same devices have allowed many of us to get through the pandemic.  They are used to monitor our health and even call for help if we are unconscious. There are many problems associated with the ready availability of news, information, games and social platforms.   They can be  used to help us connect and to nurture ‘heavenly treasures’—and they can be used to distract us and disconnect us from others. We may well need to literally unplug our devices to assess how they actually function in our lives but they are not going to go away. 
Unfortunately, there is nothing magic about creating a space in which we can center ourselves. We can reduce our distractions if we literally unplug.  But we are every bit as much ‘plugged into’ expectation and obligation that go unreviewed. We convince ourselves we are indispensable or that ‘if I don’t do it, it won’t get done.”  We hate to disappoint and seek to please.  We claim we don’t have choices and overextend ourselves.  That is a pattern that is even harder to unplug from.  
 In our first scripture we read that even God took a break.  We are taught that working every day is not sustainable.  Rest is required.  We forget that at our peril.  But even the  commandment dedicated to rest “Remember the sabbath day and keep it Holy” has exceptions.   Jesus blew up that commandment many times.  A good solid rule to enhance our lives could not be universally applied.  You don’t deny healing to the suffering nor leave an ox in a ditch because it is the Sabbath. A good solid rule to enhance our lives could not be universally applied. This presents the difficult truth that even obeying the commandments requires discernment. The spirit of the law supersedes the letter of the law.  Pure obedience is not sufficient.  Unexamined obedience is an easier way to live but we must unplug from that safer way to listen to what God would have us do.    
In the second scripture, Jesus literally had a line of people waiting to be healed—and he walked away.  He decided it was time to move on.  I am quite sure that the people who were not healed were not happy.  Jesus decided that even healing the suffering could come in second place—so he moved on.  It is easy to agree with the principle that we need to rest to live.  We need to find a ‘deserted place’ to gather our thoughts, to pray, to choose our direction. But it is more complicated than that.  No matter how important rest is, there is no designated  time of rest that cannot be interrupted.  The opposite is also true.  There is no activity, no matter how important that cannot be interrupted—even healing the sick.  Unplugging in such situations requires creating a space in which we can be surprised by God instead of looking to God to bless our ways of living.
RG Evans told us about a doctor who was serving an underserved area.  The doctor reported that he had not had a day off in over two years.  The good news is that he was a faithful servant.  The bad news is that it took him two years to realize his efforts were not sustainable.  The importance of his work and the demands of his job prevented him from struggling with the difficult task of discernment.  Paradoxically legitimate needs interfered with his creating  spaces—another form of unplugging—to struggle with the difficult question of his own limitations in the face of needs that surpassed his stamina.  He was so plugged into his responsibilities and obligations, he could not leave room for guidance that might take him to unexpected places.  
Unfortunately, there are many people who cannot survive if they take time off of work.  Nursing mothers do not get a respite from a hungry child.  What happens in a church when ‘no one else will do it.’  I’m sure there are situations in which we really are indispensable but I think it is far more often our personal ego needs are getting in the way.  We may need to be needed; we may not be able to tolerate people being disappointed in us or it may be as simple as we’ve done the same thing for so long we cannot imagine new alternatives.  
Don’t expect an answer.  I have overextended myself plenty of times for ‘righteous reasons.  It is a lot easier to unplug from computer games than it is to unplug from automatically doing what I am supposed to.  But when I do not, I do not leave room for God.  I am acting as if my way is the right way.  At my worst I become self righteous (silently, I hope) and ultimately ‘nobly’ exhausted.  I am pretty sure that is not what God wishes for me.  I know how to live my way.  I’m not sure I can unplug enough to risk learning God’s way.  I am sure however, unless I unplug, it is unlikely I’ll leave room for God.  Unplugging becomes a way to open ourselves to discernment.  It is difficult. But most disciplines are. 
Unplug from your distractions and your assumptions. Take time to examine your life.  Humbly consider what is kind, what is good, what is respectful of yourself and others.  Live in service to God’s righteousness  instead of our own. 
Let it be so.