Making room for the Sabbath: keeping it holyWhere's the Faith?, Bottom Highlights Thursday, March 14th, 2013
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
You are cordially invited to join me in celebrating my birthday at The Center – Tuesday, April 2, 6:30 p.m. Only $20 for dinner and dessert catered by Babbo’s Restaurant. All proceeds benefit the outreach of MCC – our community church!
Like some of you, I was raised in a Christian tradition and was taught to observe Sundays as a special day of rest, seeing Sunday as the Sabbath. And the way it felt to me was more like a bunch of do’s and don’ts. It was about rules and regulations. However, there definitely was a change of pace on Sundays.
We couldn’t mow the lawn or do yard work – no matter how nice a day it was – because, “What would the neighbors think?” I grew up where there were blue laws. Many stores closed on Sundays, including most grocery stores, and you definitely could not buy any sort of alcohol.
Even the elaborate making of a meal on Sundays was frowned upon. Most common was putting a roast with vegetables in the oven before going to church; then coming home, boiling potatoes and making mashed potatoes. Served piping hot, mashed potatoes always accompanied the special meal that we didn’t call lunch, but Sunday Dinner.
Then the afternoon was spent taking naps or playing games or making long distance phone calls to relatives and the Sunday drive. You would just get in the car with no destination in mind; but many times you’d end up at someone’s home usually around supper time! The humorous thing was that most of the time they had no idea you were going to just show up!
Oh, how times have changed! For many of us, Sunday is just another day of the week.
So, what do we do about the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy?” Is it still important?
The commandments, “You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal,” are the ones that get our attention. We can understand the importance of following them and the consequences of breaking them. But what about observing the Sabbath? In a 24/7 world, is it even possible to think about setting aside one day as special?
This Lenten Season, we’re exploring the theme of Sabbath keeping. It’s kind of different and unique, but then, so are we!
Let me remind you, Lent isn’t just a time to give up something, like chocolate; rather it’s a time for intentional spiritual growth and healing. The only things we are asked to give up are the attitudes that keep us from experiencing the gifts of hope, joy and wholeness in our lives.
Lent is the church-calendar season between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It’s a 40-day period that lasts 46 days because Sundays aren’t counted in the 40-days of Lent. Sundays are like mini-Easters. Sunday is always a celebration of Resurrection Power.
This Lent we are going to focus on intentionally taking time for the Sabbath, trying to break the frenetic cycles we frequently find our lives in, making space for God to fill us and renew us.
For ancient Israel, a part of Sabbath observance had to do with rest, and specifically, physical rest. The Hebrew word for “Sabbath” means “to cease, or stop” doing something. Israel had 39 sets of laws governing what they could or couldn’t do on that day. They couldn’t cook. They couldn’t start a fire. They couldn’t plow the land. They couldn’t harvest the crops. They couldn’t write two or more letters of the alphabet. They couldn’t even go out on a long walk. Only a Sabbath day’s journey was permitted.
Now, to our ears, rules like these may sound a bit silly. But to Israel, at that time, they were life-giving. They needed rest. Look around, and you’ll discover that people from cultures all over the world have tried to find a way to build rest into their lives. And, let’s be honest, we need that too.
Our world is only getting faster. There’s so much technology, so much information, so much to take in. And it’s only increasing. We try to speed up to just match the pace of all the action around us.
We spend a lot of time trying to answer all of our emails. We Tweet, we Facebook, and we Linkedin. We scan news Web sites, making sure we keep up with the latest headlines. And if we miss a headline, it pops up on our smart phones or tablets! And, like Pavlov’s experiment, we salivate each time we hear the beep or vibration of our phone. Just try to ignore it and don’t look at it when you feel it vibrate or hear your unique “ding.”
Am I right? So, where do we begin to change our pace? I think this is one of the great challenges of our day; finding the time and the space we need to slow down, to unplug and to stop ourselves from going crazy.
There was a second part of Sabbath observance in ancient Israel. Leviticus 23 describes it like this: “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work … it is a Sabbath to God.” Evidently, Sabbath-keeping wasn’t just about taking a break from work. It was a day to assemble with others and to nourish one’s relationship with God.
Exodus 20 says: “The Sabbath was a day to remember that God created the world, and when God was finished with the creation, God rested.” Deuteronomy 5 says: “The Sabbath was a day to remember that once they were slaves in the land of Egypt, but then God came along in the Exodus and set them free.”
So, here’s a question for you. In the midst of our busyness, what is it that we need to remember? That God created the world and gave it to us to use and enjoy? Yes.
That if we are feeling broken and wounded, God’s love is available to bring about transformation and wholeness? Yes.
But don’t we know these things already? Sure we do. But in our brokenness, we get too busy and preoccupied, and we forget them. We go faster and faster, and try harder and harder, and we lose sight of the fact that there’s a natural rhythm to life. God has given us times and seasons for our own good.
A reading in Ecclesiastes says this very well: “There is a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven.” There’s a time to plant and a time to harvest. There’s a time to keep and a time to throw away. There’s a time to laugh and a time when laughter is terribly inappropriate. There’s a time when words are important and other times when words just get in the way. There’s a time to cry and a time to laugh. There’s a time to grieve and a time to dance. There’s a time for work and a time for rest. It’s all part of the rhythm of life.
Like the seasons on this planet, there is a natural rhythm to life. And according to Ecclesiastes, we’re at our best when we live according to that God-given rhythm.
As our world spins faster and faster, it’s crucial to be intentional about the choices we make.
There’s a little word that’s probably more important than ever: No. No, I’m not going to read that article. No, I’m not going to forward that email. No, I’m not going to sit through that presentation. No, I’m not going to try to do it all, try to have it all and try to be all things to all people.
There is a time for everything, including a time to say no. It’s part of the rhythm of life. It’s part of keeping the Sabbath.
As we live out that rhythm, we are reminded that much of life is outside of our control. That’s why I love to watch a sunset over the ocean. (I can’t control that!) That’s why I get energized being in the mountains, seeing a rainbow, eating vegetables from my garden and seeing the variety of people on our planet. Verse 11 says: “God has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, we cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Only God has that perspective.
It’s true, isn’t it? Sometimes we’re OK with that reality, but at other times, it’s really hard. When we can’t see what God is up to, what choice do we have but to trust? God, I can’t see where this is all going, but I’m going to trust you. God, I don’t always like where this is all going, but still, I’m going to trust you. Sabbath-keeping is a way to live into that reality. It’s an ongoing reminder that we are not in control. God is.
As we begin this journey of Lent, I encourage you to give Sabbath-keeping a try. A little tidbit of information for you, the Sabbath moved from Saturday to Sunday for most in the Christian faith because that’s the day Jesus rose from the dead. But it doesn’t have to be Sunday, especially if you work on Sunday! It just needs to be a day that fits for you. Find a time in your schedule that works best for you.
Find some time, maybe a specific day once a week, to step away from the crazy pace of life.
Find the strength to say no to every demand on your time and attention. Find a way to remember and nourish the most important relationships in your life, including God.
How can we do this? There are a number of spiritual practices you might want to incorporate: daily devotions, weekly worship, eating right, exercise, acts of kindness, focused prayer.
There are also a number of Sabbath-day practices you might consider: going for a contemplative walk; having some friends over to play games; “unplugging” from your cell phone for a few hours; going for a drive on Sunday afternoon and showing up at somebody’s house at suppertime! OK, maybe not that last one. But you get the idea.
Find a practice or two that gives you a change of pace. Mix it up! Now, keep in mind, we’re not ancient Israel. We’re not bound by 39 sets of laws. Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for us; we weren’t made for the Sabbath.” In other words, the Sabbath is meant to be a gift. It’s meant to be life-giving. It’s meant to bring us wholeness and joy and restoration.
God has given us a rhythm to life. That rhythm involves Sabbath-keeping. It’s about rest. It’s about remembering who we are, and whose we are and drinking deeply from that relationship.
I think now more than ever, we need to be reminded of this ancient commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Amen.
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the senior pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met), 2633 Denver Street, San Diego, California, themetchurch.org. Services every Sunday at 9 and 11 a.m.
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