Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Commandment We All Break

Since I have just come back from a week of Annual Conference followed by 10 days of vacation and now foot surgery, it seemed a good day to contemplate, sabbath rest.
Sometimes the rest is forced rest.

The forced rest of Healing: bone healing, ligaments, the physical body takes time to heal and must be rested (& foot elevated) in order to limit further pain and complications.

(The Rest of Conferences: For our Annual Conference, It is A break from routine and yet involves such long days that we often feel more exhausted than when we left.)

The Rest of Vacation: which can be restful or extra busy. (Ever felt you needed a vacation after your vacation?)

Land Between the Lakes, KY

The truth is, We have trouble doing nothing - Even when we desperately need rest. As usual with biblical commands, God knows what we need more than we do. Is rest the real purpose of the Sabbath command? Let’s hear it again:
    “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." CEB

Sabbath command has the intent of honoring God and of resting. It is an extensive command that covers everyone and every animal in the household.  We think of sabbath-keeping as one of 10 commandments when there are actually 613 individual commandments each equally important.

In order to eliminate mis-understandings, the people of Israel developed interpretations based on the law of Moses, or Torah. These interpretations made it easier to obey the Sabbath command and all the commandments. One didn’t have to decide before each action, what was allowed or not-allowed. 
    For instance, there were 39 specifically forbidden acts that included:
Sowing 2. Plowing, 3. Reaping, 4. Binding sheaves, 5. Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving - those are just the first 17...

Actually, not ALL work is prohibited on sabbath, just the work that requires exercising dominion over one’s environment. Confused yet? Prohibited work is similar to the kind of work that God performed creating the universe. So, today, while one might be allowed to turn on a light that takes no effort, one couldn’t pick up a briefcase and break out ‘work’ from the office.

You may remember the NT reference to a Sabbath Day’s Journey. This was the distance one was allowed to walk on the sabbath w/o breaking the law. It was 2,000 cubits, or less than half-a-mile. Interpretations often resulted in a focus on a legal interpretation rather than on the intent of the Law. This was Jesus’ criticism. Our focus today is on What God intended for God’s people when the command to ‘keep the Sabbath holy’ was given.

Christian interpretation and non-observance.
I had a OT professor say no Christians observed the sabbath. Sabbath is a day of REMEMBERING (creation and exodus, if you read the Deut version of the command) AND OBSERVE, the day as a gift of time from God.
    We have substituted attending Sunday worship for sabbath observance which is not the same thing, he said. (Think about his comment the next time you hear a commentator or pundit proclaim that we should follow all the commandments strictly. I wonder if they are thinking of all 613 commandments AND especially of observing the sabbath day, the 7th day of rest. . .)

Even when we skip the argument that began in the middle ages about Saturday or Sunday observance, we have to admit that we have a problem keeping sabbath. In fact, I doubt that we really know how to ‘remember and observe’ it.

Yet it seems that there is something about the importance of Sabbath that we dare not ignore.
It is appropriate that I am sitting today as I talk to you, because I admit I need to hear this sermon, as much or more than any of you. I hear each author that I’ve read this week and each comment as if it is directed to me.

David Lose, a scholar and professor I greatly admire said, “if I have an opening of time, my first thought isn’t to rest and to give thanks for the opportunity to rest. Heck, not only is that not my first thought, it’s pretty much my last thought. Instead, the first (second, third, and fourth as well) thing that occurs to me is, “What can I get done?”1
I am right there with him.

Whenever I have to call or email some of you about a cancelled meeting I hear rejoicing!... But I wonder if you take the gift of time to rest or you merely take up what is next on your ‘to do’ list and try to ‘get something done.’
 Prof Lose and others point out Jesus’ leadership of his disciples in Mark 6. When they returned from the mission trip on which he sent them, he didn’t take time to listen and teach, to offer praise and affirmation, he said, “Come away to rest.”
FIRST THING, FOB (Flat On Back) Time! Even with the pressure he felt because he always had the end in sight, he commanded REST first, affirmation and teaching later.

Lose says, “our senses have been dulled by a culture that confuses frenetic activity with meaningful action.”     “That’s the beauty of Sabbath, (he says), It’s an invitation to stop, to desist, to unplug (literally), to come away, to find some quiet, to rest.     This is also the importance of devotions, it is a chance to be quiet, to let the email simmer a while and the phone rest mute for a time in order to spend a few moments with our Lord and receive, in return, rest for the body, renewal for the spirit, and bread for the journey.”2

Take a minute to let that sink in. Close your eyes if you wish and hear this command again,
STOP. . . . Desist. . . . Unplug. . . . Can you hear Jesus saying, “Come away. . . To a place of quiet. . . . So you can rest."

Rest. A break from all the bustle and activity.
Rest. A chance to renew, to stop, to slow.
Rest. An end of work, if only for a little while.
Rest. An opportunity to stop doing that you may simply be. Rest.

What a beautiful word!3
 You can open your eyes if you want, or keep them closed if you need the rest. You have my permission..

It feels good, doesn’t it?

Our world is a busy one. “Busy” is now the typical answer to the greeting, “How are you?”
When UCLA studied 32 middle class adults, they found ‘disheartening’ results. The families were “So consumed with working, collecting, amassing, and generally "getting ahead," they actually spent very little time together enjoying what they were working for.”4

Like the Hebrew slaves, who first heard this command from G-d, we too are enslaved to notions of success and the ‘busy’ behavior that society rewards. So we put few if any limits on work.5

I’m old enough to remember “Blue Laws” and I don’t advocate legislating morality either in regard to sabbath keeping or any of the other 613 commandments.
I do call us to notice, as did another author, Dorothy Bass, that we often stand and whine about all the work we still need to do today, or any other Sunday.        While we don’t usually stand around and tell each other about the adultery, stealing, or coveting we plan this afternoon.
We, including ME, have let the sabbath commandment slip into a casual status that is not part of our weekly life. It certainly does not fit the context of a commandment from God.
    “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy.  Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a - Sabbath - to - the - LORD your God. Do not do any work on it...”

Recognizing how far we have fallen, is the first step to recovery. We can stop bragging about how we are 'importantly' busy. We can stop telling everyone all the ways we plan to break God’s commandment this afternoon. We can realize that we are NOT masters of time, God is.
Our worth is not proven by how busy we are.
And our ultimate safety is not secured by our own efforts.6

    If a typical Sunday includes: "watching Meet the Press," attending morning worship, buying takeout on the way to a sporting event, shopping for groceries, checking office email, and paying bills?”7 --- How can we return to a place that is OPEN, to the GIFT of sabbath that God so wants for us?

This is where we move from the 1st step of admitting our guilt to trying to repair the damage and change our ways.

Let’s recall the feeling we had a moment ago when you closed your eyes and heard the word, STOP. You felt the peaceful feeling of being called away to rest. FOB time. We CAN cultivate a desire for the rest that God calls us to, true sabbath where we enter God’s Holy Time.

    Take the 3x5 card you were given when you entered, or get one from an usher. Write on the card ONE, just ONE thing you will NOT do today. Or if you prefer, one day this week that you identify as sabbath time, so you can REST.
    (I know this is hard, I’m with you. Will I not answer the phone, or even harder, not check email? Or do you need to take a break from the news? It may be different for each of us.) Write it down so you don’t forget.

    Then write on the other side, one thing you WILL do, one ‘practice’ that will move you closer to sabbath rest.    Maybe it’s read A book for fun, set aside a time for silent prayer, or play a game with a child, take a walk outside, or on a single night promise yourself that you will sit still and watch the sunset while doing NOTHING ELSE.

    These will be our first steps toward sabbath keeping. I will do them too. I will take a night away from email and spend time that nourishes instead of increases demand.

We will turn to each other for support with whatever we have decided NOT to do and for companionship in the sabbath we have promised to ENJOY. (In fact, if you are comfortable doing so when church is over, tell your neighbor in the pew what you will and won’t do and get help keeping each other accountable.)

These first steps will help us admit we are human, that we aren’t meant to do everything, but we are meant to live life abundantly. - receptive to each other and open to God.

This is the way we will receive God’s greatest gift, the gift of time as we ‘remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”
Ed Payne's photography

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