“Blessed with rest”
Message preached on
June 3, 2018
(no audio recording)
God started it. The “it” to which I refer is our crazy need to pack as much as possible into as little time as necessary. God started it. In less than a week everything as we know it came into being. Less than a week. That’s what it says in the first chapter of the Bible. God did it all in six days. It doesn’t say how long those six days were (chronologically or geologically), but they were labor intensive. No wonder the seventh became a day of rest, a time for the Almighty to let out a huge “Phew!” and sit down a spell; maybe lie back and catch a few Zzzz’s.
Of course, the Bible doesn’t exactly say that the Great I AM WHO I AM was controlled by a need to be busy. It doesn’t say that the One who is beyond time was in a frantic rush to get things done. If anything, in the beginning God took this work day by day, intentionally pausing to ponder the most recent brush strokes of Creation and, with a nod, saying “this is good.” No, the first chapter of this book reveals a God of purpose, not of panic.
That’s not to say that we haven’t tried to read in to this good word our own desperation. We tend to justify our existence by what we accomplish. Our sense of worth is defined by what we do. Why else would we, as we introduce ourselves, so often begin with our occupation – as if this is what is most important about us: what we “do” for a living? God started it? … I don’t think so!
Yes, one of the names we give to our God is “Creator.” However, being our “Maker” is but one of many ways in which God is known. It does not encompass all that God is. In the first chapter of Genesis, this One who Created is referred to as Elohim, “God most high.” It’s not until later in the second chapter that we encounter another name for God. Where we read the LORD (with all four letters capitalized in many of our translations of the Hebrew), here is the name of God (Yahweh) our Jewish friends do not utter because it is so holy. In Exodus, Moses gets about as close to grasping what this name means, when through the burning bush the LORD says, “I am who I am,” or “I am that I am” (3:14). It is not by what has been or will be accomplished that God is most fully known.
Back to Genesis, by the seventh day the work of creating the heavens and the earth was done. It was finished, completed. So, on that seventh day, God laid aside work and rested. I find it interesting that on this seventh day God did not look around and find it all very good, as was the pattern for the previous six days. Instead, God blessed the seventh day – the resting day – and made it holy, sacred. Yes, it was good, but it wasn’t merely a “good” day. It was instead a day of “blessing.”
The fourth of ten Words Moses received from God and passed on to the children of Israel was the instruction to “observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD (Yahweh) your God (Elohim) commanded you” (Dt. 5:12). This command is to lay aside, to move beyond “work,” to be defined instead by that elusive word, “rest” – which is intended as a blessing.
Jesus understood this. “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath,” he said. We need the blessing of rest. It is built into our spiritual, if not our biological DNA. Stepping into sabbath is not so much an obligation, something we must do because we have been commanded to do it, as it is an inclination, something we fall into (like one falls to sleep) because we are wired that way. We were created in God’s image, and if God rested, we were made to rest, also.
Of course, there are other inclinations that seem to be built into us. “If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are.” So wrote a son of this congregation, Tim Kreider, several years ago in the New York Times. “It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: ‘Busy!’ ‘So busy.’ ‘Crazy busy.’ It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: ‘That’s a good problem to have,’ or ‘Better than the opposite.’” (from “The ‘Busy’ Trap”)
We weren’t created to be busy, my friends. To work, yes, for labor is good. There is a difference, however, between work and busy-ness. Work has a purpose. And it can be set aside. Busy-ness is pervasive. It knows no boundaries. I worry for my children’s generation, that they are always “on,” rarely “off.” And even when they are “off,” they seem to work at their play. Maybe, as parents, we created them that way. Perhaps we, before them, have fallen into the busy trap ourselves and passed it on to them with a degree of pride.
This inclination to busy-ness robs us of rest, of connecting to the transforming power of the One who created us. In Jesus’ day, pharisees focused upon the technicalities of sabbath, and looking for reasons to oppose him, lost sight of the purpose of this day of rest. “You ought not to be working in the field on the sabbath,” was their complaint. But walking through it, Jesus responded, can we not eat and be nourished? King David did long ago. And is not healing someone whose hand (if not his soul) is withered a sabbath blessing itself, a restoration? Legalism was what got in the way of rest in today’s gospel message.
What gets in the way of sabbath rest for us today, of simply being with the One who said, “I am who I am”? Perhaps busy-ness? We are always on the go. Well, maybe not all of us. Some of us cannot physically handle the rat race of busy-ness any more. Mentally, however, we may still be caught in it. “I’m not doing enough,” we tell ourselves. And we don’t receive the blessing of sabbath rest, just like those of younger years who run here and there, from job to job, activity to activity, always on, never off, even on the sabbath.
Of course, when is sabbath? For our Jewish and Adventist friends, it is the seventh day – Saturday. Though they don’t call it sabbath, our Muslim neighbors turn toward Friday for their day of prayer. We, like many others, look toward the resurrection day – Sunday - as a time for rest. Of course, we do so imperfectly. Sometimes, we work hard just to get ourselves (and our families) to church. Do we really rest? And the time has passed for our busy society to build sabbath back into the fabric of the week. We can complain about everything now planned for Sunday, sports or otherwise, or we can focus upon the purpose of sabbath, and incline ourselves in simple ways to the blessing of rest.
During the offertory, you were invited to creatively think up sabbath ideas, things that might help bring a sense of restfulness to the week. These don’t have to be new ideas. It may be something that has proven helpful to you over the years and would be good to share. What promotes sabbath rest? Can we come up with a list? I hesitate to call these “activities,” something to “do,” for in many ways the whole purpose of sabbath is not to focus upon what we “do,” but to cease “doing,” or at least slow down and find rest in our God who rested on the seventh day.
I’ve asked Sharon to be our
scribe for this. What thoughts and ideas will you share? Sometimes the
simplest is the best.
For other ideas, see Sabbath in the Suburbs,
Let me end with a Sabbath story which illustrates the blessing of rest.
Derek Black was raised in a white supremacist family and was groomed from an early age to become a leader in the movement. He ran a political campaign and a radio network, and organized conferences. His godfather was David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. When he went to college, Derek kept a low profile, but his classmates eventually discovered and condemned his extensive involvement.
Matthew Stevenson, one of the only orthodox Jews on campus, then invited Derek to Shabbat dinner. Every Friday night Matthew and Derek and a handful of others would gather around the table after sunset (when the Jewish Sabbath begins). Slowly, they became friends. They did not talk about his racist beliefs at first. They simply broke bread together and got to know one another, even as Derek was ostracized by others on campus.
After a while, these friends did start to talk with him about his views. One in particular said, “let’s go down to the bay to watch the sunset and just spend time as people.” One-on-one this friend tried to understand where Derek was coming from, why he thought as he did, and then challenge his thinking. Because friendship had been established, Derek was himself able to listen. Slowly, over the course of two years, he began to question his life. He was a brilliant debater, a master at twisting facts, but these friendships gradually opened a door through which Derek eventually stepped out of the white nationalist movement.
Lest you think that this weekly Sabbath meal was the only thing that made for change, Derek admits that all this happened in the context of others on campus openly confronting his views, saying he was wrong. Those challenges were important, he says. They set the stage for transformation. But it was the friendships that were developed around the table that paved the way. Such is the power of Sabbath.
Sisters and brothers, may you be blessed with God’s rest.