Sabbath Reflections 2013
We are created in the image of God, creatures of the earth, meant to serve and to observe; to participate in the ways of the earth.
Do you ever watch a garden growing? Or have you seen a forest evolve and grow over a period of 20, 30, 40, 50 years? They rest. The leaves droop down in the night when the sun goes down. The plants die off in the winter and whether you replant them or not they’ll find their way back in the spring if you let the ground alone. Forests catch on fire and leave a clean bed of ground behind so new plants can grow up. There’s an innate sense of growth and rest and renewal and death and new life that cycles over and over and over again.
Our texts tell us that we are creatures of the earth called to participate in its ways. The text tells us that we are created in the image of God. Our text tells us that even God lives in this rhythm; rested on the seventh day.
Now it seems as though we want the new life. We want the new life right? Who doesn’t? Even the most cold-hearted human being can’t help but smile a little when there’s a sleeping baby around. Why? It’s new life. It’s hope. We want the new life. But take a look around your world and there’s plenty of evidence that we try to get it without the rest and the renewal and the death. We’re scared to death of rest and renewal and death. We don’t have time for it. We can’t afford it. Taking a break for rest and renewal is a direct front to our own sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
Who hasn’t heard the conversation where one guy says to the next, “Man I did 70 hours last week.” And he didn’t say it looking for sympathy, he said it looking for that nod of approval – that recognition that “Wow, he sure is a hard worker.” Now I know this isn’t the case for everyone.
I don’t know many harder workers than my father. My whole life he was out of the house on the construction site before the sunrise but I can’t remember a single day of my childhood when he wasn’t home by 5 o’clock and he didn’t say a word about work the whole weekend. And about 5 years ago the new company president thought that the guy who didn’t even own a calculator all of sudden needed a laptop. Then the last 5 years until his retirement he had to email in photos of the job progress to the main office every day and he had to spend two hours every Sunday night on his laptop writing reports and submitting time cards for his guys before Monday morning. I never saw a single sign of job stress until those last five years. It literally almost killed him.
We want the growth. We want the new life. But we can’t afford the rest and the renewal. Where’s time for that? Where’s the money in that? Where are the bragging rights in that?
But we are creatures of the earth created in the image of the God who rested and called it Sabbath. It’s so hard I know. Sometimes there are outside forces that make it almost impossible but Sabbath is so deeply a part of our humanity that we cannot ignore it and still call ourselves Christian. So like every religious habit that God calls us to we are called to live our lives in a manner that sets us up to succeed. Plan for Sabbath. Schedule it. Write it on your weekly and annual calendar. That’s what we do. It’s the only way to get it.
Last week it was me, Cara, our dog Pilot, my truck, the kayaks, a cooler with some food and a couple of backpacks and we were off to our favorite little cabin up north in Brethren, Michigan. Now in case you didn’t catch it allow me to point out the obvious that there were no children involved in this trip whatsoever. That would have required another vehicle, and about a million more bags. It also would have required an endless replay of the Mary Poppins soundtrack and at least 4 potty breaks.
Don’t get me wrong I love my children. If going along with the plan to add a third child to the Weiler household isn’t proof enough then I don’t know what is. It’s just that sometimes you need some time alone together. I hear parents tell me that they’ve never spent a weekend away from the kids and their kids are pushing 10 or 11 years old and I think “Wow when do you get a break?” It’s vital to marriage to have some time alone together to remember how to talk to each other and be together.
West Michigan Conference pastors are allotted four weeks of vacation. Some take it all at once, some break it up, and most in an incredible act of self-righteousness never take it at all. Cara and I elected last summer to take a nod from my home pastor and take a two-week chunk of vacation at the end of the summer. It usually takes about two days to stop worrying about work and get into vacation mode, and then typically the last three days we start thinking about work all over again so we get about 9 good days of real rest in there.
This year’s family vacation has been more or less a stay-cation. We spent the first week in Chicago with Cara’s family so the little cousins could all play together, and then Nana and G-Pa Newhouse kept the kiddos for the second week so we could have some time alone before number three arrives. And true to form we spent one whole day at the cabin talking about church, and then pulled out our laptops so Cara could write reports and I could write my sermon for Sunday. That Sunday sermon always comes around every week you know? But, the rest of the time we hit the hiking trails and the lake with the kayaks. It was fantastic. It was rest. It was Sabbath.
Did you know that Sabbath is actually a gift that God created for humanity? It’s a gift. It looks like a commandment but really it was a gift. When God gave it to the Hebrews out in the wilderness with the 10 Commandments they didn’t think “Man what a burden; we have to love our parents, and not kill anyone, and quit stealing, and take a day off at the end of the week.” It was received with celebration. They would have thought, “Brilliant! Yes, this stuff will make living together much better and if we take a whole day off each week we can do just that, we can be together!” And it was a gift of love. It was like a wedding present; God binding God’s self to God’s people. “Here take this gift. A day-off. Do it and the world will keep turning and there will still be food on your table.”
Now a day in the Jewish consciousness is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The day begins with the night. You see, the day begins with rest so it can be fully enjoyed: A full 24 hours. So after all of God’s creating God followed God’s own gift. He rested. And the world turned. And the plants grew. And the people were fed. In Brueggemann’s words God thought to himself “I’m not going in to the office tomorrow. I’ve put in long hours every day all week and tomorrow I’m putting my feet up and enjoying what I’ve accomplished.” And if you scale through the entire creation story you might recall that after every act of creation God pronounced each one good. And when God looked over the totality of it all God pronounced it very good. But when the entire creation was at rest, in Shabbot, God pronounced it holy. Consecrated, Sacred, Blessed, Sanctified…HOLY.
When we are at rest God sanctifies that time; blesses it, calls it holy.
Now early in the week I came to this point in this sermon. I came to this discovery that our Sabbath is made holy and then I just stopped writing. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to wrap this thing up. Every morning I got up and made my coffee and sat down in front of the computer and stared at those words when the creation is at rest God calls it holy. And I thought “What more to write, what more to write, what more to write…” And finally on Saturday morning I remembered one definition of Sabbath: “to cease.” Stop. Just stop.
And that is my encouragement to you. Stop. Just be for once. Need a place to start? Find that thing that you are convinced will fall apart without you. And then for a full 24 hours just completely take it off your mind. Need baby steps? Take the email function completely off of your phone some weekend. Don’t let a single sign of work touch your kitchen table. Go to bed with Jesus’ words on you mind some night: come to me all you who are weary with heavy burdens and I will give you rest…I will give you rest.