Rev. Rebecca Heilman
(Mark 4:35-41)

I’ll be honest, I prepare for worship like I’ve never prepared for anything in my life. Especially in my first year of ministry in New York City. Now, what’s interesting about the churches in the Big Apple is that they are just as big there as they are here, except they are vertical. The homeless shelter and the fellowship hall are in the basement. The day school is on level 4, 5, 8 and 9. The apartments are on 4 and 10. And the pastor’s offices are on level 7. I learned quickly while at this church how to restart, safely, an elevator stuck in an elevator shaft. It was practically a requirement to work there and let me tell you, they don’t teach you that in seminary. I’ve never been more thankful to be here and not risk electrocution to restart an elevator…nearly every single day. Like I said, I prepare for worship like I’ve never prepared for anything in my life. And so one Sunday, pretty early on in my time there, I was set to preach that morning. And so as I do, I was in the office early, fully prepared, mic on, stole centered, sermon in hand. I was ready. My beloved head of staff, who really knew how to calms nerves by the distraction of talking, joined me in the tiny, tiny elevator with the purpose to head down to worship together. We got in, both distracted and the elevator wasn’t moving. My friend had no idea. She was paying no attention and kept on talking for a full 3 minutes. Now, I was fully aware that the elevator was not moving. I was also trying to be polite and let her finish her story, however, on the inside, I was full panic. Sometimes my kindness does not serve me well. How would worship start without the pastors? What if we have to wait on the fire station? How long would that take? Could I preach from the elevator since my mic was with me? Oh my goodness…we left our phones in our offices. People don’t know we’re stuck in here! At this point, my head of staff is still telling her story. Suddenly, she stops full sentence, looks at the elevator buttons on the wall and says, “Oh, it looks like we forgot to push the button.” We collapsed with laughter as the rickety elevator bumped its way down 7 flights and opens to a line of people waiting to hop on. I never forgot my cell phone again in that elevator, often I would just take the stairs.

There are moments in our life when things don’t go as planned. Where we can be as prepared as possible and then a storm hits or you might get stuck in an elevator. I imagine the storm the disciples experienced on the Sea of Galilee was not part of the plan as they “crossed to the other side”. The disciples and Jesus had been nothing but busy in the days and weeks leading up to this moment. They first went to Capernaum where Jesus exorcised an unclean spirit and immediately afterwards, healed many at Simon’s house. Jesus cleansed a leper, healed a paralyzed man, and preached on the seashore. They were all over Galilee and the surrounding area, preaching and walking, teaching and walking, healing and walking. And so on this particular day when they had just finished talking to a crowd, Jesus invites the disciples to cross to the other side and to leave the crowd behind them. I’d say they were ready for a break. They were ready to rest. Ready to lay down their heads, regain some energy, for who knows where Jesus might take them next. But the only person on that boat who is resting, is the napping Jesus. There is a storm whirling around their boats. Waves beating, water crashing, thunder, lightning, the boat is nearly swamped. And Jesus is napping. Mark does not write that Jesus wakes up because of the storm, but writes that the disciples wake Jesus up. I imagine that Jesus would have continued to sleep if he could. The theologian, D.E. Nineham observed, “The ability to sleep peacefully and untroubled is a sign of perfect trust in the sustaining and protective power of God.” Jesus napped through the storm as we learn just a few short verses later because of his unconditional, uninterrupted, soulful faith in God. Jesus napping taught the disciples more than they were expecting and maybe us too.

It seems only appropriate to preach on napping during our sabbatical summer. Maybe a little cliché and an easy solution to how to spend this time. However, how easy is it to actually nap? I would be right there with the disciples on that boat, panicking because of the storm and angry that Jesus sleeps through most of it. Often, just when we lay our head down to rest a list forms in our brain or the worst-case scenario rushes into fear and an unrealistic outcome. Not only is it impossible to rest in intense moments in our lives, but more recently as our country has said it’s safe for vaccinated people to reopen their lives to things we used to know so well, we’ve suddenly found ourselves overly busy and not enough time for a nap. The pandemic lifestyle for some of us slowed things down, but now that things have reopened, we have a meeting in the morning, book club in the afternoon, a birthday party in the evening, and still a Zoom meeting at night. Sports are back, restaurants are open, our social lives are glittering with seeing our friends and family. We now have heavy to-do lists and many more people to please. I hope I’m not the only one who is feeling the exhaustion while also the joy of reopening. As our social lives whirl around us. As the fears and anticipation on who to be as we reopen, as the grief of this pandemic settles into the creases of our hearts, as we hug loved ones and toast friends, as we learn how to act again in public, as we learn how to continue to care for those who are still vulnerable. As we maintain this joyful time and I pray you maintain the gratitude we feel right now in our hearts. Friends, as we do all of this, I give you permission to nap. Permission to rest. Permission to slow down. Permission to take what we’ve learned from the pandemic and truly lean into the trust and comfort of God’s protective presence sustaining us through another shift, a happy shift and yet strange shift of this reopening life. Throughout this sabbatical, we will talk about spiritual rest, meditation, the power of music and the importance of our God-given gifts. However, I couldn’t let this moment pass to not talk about physical rest. This is not the only example of Jesus resting. He would often go off by himself to be in prayer and to recharge for the miracles and conversations he’s about to face.

We did not read the passage following today’s Scripture because of its length.
But not long after Jesus says, “Peace! Be Still!” to the storm and to the disciples, they land on the shores of Gerasene where he exorcises another unclean spirit. However, this spirit is different from all the others, the spirit calls himself, the Legion, as in a Roman regiment of about six thousand soldiers. Jesus cleanses the man with the spirit and the spirit enters the unclean animal of pigs who then run into the sea. Theologians have often interpreted this passage following the calming of the sea as liberation from the threatening and powerful Roman empire for the Jewish and even, gentile people. No wonder Jesus had to rest up for this moment. Not only was he liberating the disciples from the storm, but an entire nation from the threat of the empire. Rest was essential for Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph and the son of God for even God rested on the seventh day.

Tricia Hersey, a modern liberation and womanist theologian, created the organization, the Nap Ministry. Her ministry believes “rest is a form of resistance and names sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue.” You can follow her on Instagram which is how I was introduced to this ministry. She invites her followers to “think about when you have been deeply exhausted and sleep deprived. Were you able to tap into inventive and creative thinking? It’s a dangerous place to be disconnected from your body and exhausted. Nothing liberating can come from it. We must rest.” When we rest, we recharge and can look at who we are as God’s people with a different and more creative perspective. Rest opens our opinionated minds to hear others and listen to the voice of opposing thoughts. Rest allows space for patience. Hersey believes rest is the key towards liberation, especially liberation for the black, indigenous, people of color community. She says, “it really is important [to rest] because rest disrupts, pushes back and allows space for healing, for invention, for us to be more human. It’ll allow us to imagine this new world that we want, this new world that’s liberated, that’s full of justice, that’s a foundation for us to really, truly live our lives.” We keep hearing that the church will be a different place when we are completely out of this pandemic. This sabbatical has settled upon us at the perfect time. We have three months to rest, to take naps if you would like, and to slow down. To provide space for creativity, invention, and energy to enter our hearts and the life of this church when COVID becomes less and less at the center of our lives. May we be more like Jesus and nap, calming the storms of our lives, settling into the sustaining comfort of God’s presence, and liberating ourselves and the communities of color in our city of Charlotte.

Pray with me. Loving God, We believe, help our unbelief. Amen.

[1] R. Alan Culpepper, Mark, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Marcon: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2007), 155.
[2] Tricia Hersey, The Nap Ministry,