Sabbath Life August 18, 2019
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
Genesis 2:1-3 and John 15:9-15
August 18, 2019
Main Idea: We abide in God.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
As I have explored ideas around the Sabbath these past few weeks, I keep returning to the idea that, for our Jewish friends and neighbors, a new day begins in the evening, just after sunset, when the first 3 stars can be seen in the sky. The old day ends just around supper time and the new day starts with a slowing down, and sleep; “a time of preparation, renewal, and anticipation” with no delineation between sacred and secular time. (Ismar Schorsch, jtsa.edu/the-day-begins-with-night). Instead of waking up to start a new day, the new day starts with, and includes, rest.
For 3 Sundays we are exploring what Sabbath is and how we can experience it. The Sabbath is a gift from God to us, that frankly we are not very good at receiving. Last week we affirmed that the Sabbath gives us rest. This week we will dig deeper into what Sabbath life means, and how Sabbath rest impacts all aspects of our lives. “Sabbath turns our worlds upside down, and asks: How do we gain something by doing nothing? How do we refill ourselves by emptying? (J. Dana Trent, christiancentury.org)
Our first Scripture are the closing verses of the first creation story. It is striking that the story does not end with “Ta Da! It is finished! Instead the last piece of creation is God’s rest. On the seventh day, God finished the work by resting! In the whole creation story God gives three blessings, the first to the creatures (1:22), the second to humanity (1:28) and the third to rest itself! God makes holy the act of rest, as an opportunity to stop work and recognize the beauty of what is. Let’s think about this for a moment because it impacts not only our understanding of sabbath but also our understanding of creation as a whole. God creates in order to enjoy creation; to revel in creation’s beauty, diversity, and wonder, and to be in relationship with us. God is not defined by creating, creating, creating, more and more and more, just to keep up with the Jones, or with China, or with Amazon. God is not defined by productivity but by connection and relationship. This we know through the history of the people of Israel contained in our Scriptures and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Christ.
The creation story of today’s text is closely connected to the 10 commandments found in Exodus chapter 20. We are to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” (Ex 20:8) because “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it” (Ex 20:11), God rests so we should rest! “Made in the image of God, we are drawn into the rest of God, in fact, commanded to participate in it, in order to remember who God is, and who we are outside of what we do to keep things going.” (Kara Root, workingpreacher.org)
So, how do we do it? How do we live a Sabbath life? Jesus tells us how in our reading from the Gospel of John. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” (John 15:9) Abide is a funny word, it means “to accept, to wait, and to live”. To abide is to decide how one will live their life. We are invited to abide, to live our lives, every moment of our lives, in God’s love, so that Christ’s joy may be in us and our joy may be complete.
Let’s think about that for a moment. How would living as though God’s love animates our every moment, change our outlook and behavior? How does the Sabbath impact the other 6 days of the week?
Observing the Sabbath, one day a week, brings meaning and focus to the other 6 days. Our work is valuable, especially when we consider it as a vocation. We are called to share of our time and resources to make the world a better place. And we do that through our work. We makes things. We help people. We participate in systems and programs that strengthen our communities. If we are fortunate, our work allows us to pay our rent or mortgage. It buys our food, our clothing, and other things we need or want to have. Our work can provide us with experiences that we learn from and hopefully enjoy. Our work enable us to have resources we can share with others. Observing the Sabbath helps our work. It helps us plan our time better to get stuff done in the time available. Physically, the Sabbath helps us feel better; we are better rested and better able to deal with whatever may come up at our job.
Observing the Sabbath reminds us that we are not God. We are dependent on God for all that we have and all that we are. If God chooses to rest, and commands us to rest, who are we to ignore God’s direction? God is more than creator and we are more than the work we do.
Observing the Sabbath puts us in right relation with God and with others. We recognize our dependence on God and we recognize the roles others play in our lives. We see our interconnectedness and acknowledge that we are not all powerful. To think that we are indispensable is both arrogant and foolish. The world really can keep turning even if we take a day off. Perhaps what we fear is not that the world will come crashing down without us but that the world actually can do just fine without us. The Sabbath makes us face that fear.
Observing the Sabbath makes time and space for us to deal with essential issues of identity. If we are constantly on the move, we have no time to stop and think “Is this what I want to do with my life?” “Who have I become?” Our secular society does not encourage us to ask these questions. It defines us by what we do rather than by who we are. If we are anxious about our jobs or our resources, we are more likely to see others as competitors rather than companions. We have talked about the axis of the world (competition) versus the axis of God (cooperation). It takes great courage to step out of the competition way of thinking. If we take a day off, someone else may step in front of us. The Sabbath exposes that this thinking is not of God.
Observing the Sabbath also gives us the time and space to grieve in a healthy way. The death of a loved one, or another jarring life event shakes up our lives. Sometimes we try to fight our grief by never slowing down enough to feel it. This does not work, although it is tempting to try. Grief can only be moved through by giving oneself time. The Sabbath gives us that time.
Finally, observing the Sabbath highlights the needs of others. The Sabbath is for the whole community, not just individuals. When we slow down, we can see those around us. We can acknowledge those who have no choice but to work all the time, those who work 2-3 jobs just to care for themselves and their families. The Sabbath calls us to ensure that all have the opportunity to rest and work with dignity.
A Sabbath life is a life lived with love, joy, and purpose. It is a life defined by God rather than by a job, by possessions, or social status. A Sabbath life takes the time to stop regularly to rest and to acknowledge God. Rest is intrinsic to God and to us. It is not optional even though we sometimes act as if it were. For myself, I am going to try to think of days starting in the evening, when the first 3 stars are seen. I am going to consider our rest as crucial to the day ahead.
As we move through August and prepare for the busyness of September and beyond, let’s lift up the Sabbath life as a model for our lives, both as a church community and for the other aspects of our lives. Let us honor rest and recognize the gifts that it gives us; Gifts of renewal, Gifts of insight, and gifts of community. As my friend, Rabbi Amy Small said “Shabbat is about being together”. We can live the Sabbath life by enjoying each others’ company and resting in the company of God.
Let us pray,
Resting God, we praise you for all that you have given to us, including the gift of Sabbath. Help us to slow down and stop our busyness so that we can truly worship you. May our service to you, and in your name, help to bring about a society where all are valued and all may rest. Amen.