Exodus 20: 8 – 11 (NIV translation) “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 1 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Deuteronomy 5: 12 -15 (NIV) “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day”
This morning, I preached in different wards in a mental hospital and got the same response — a sense of longing — so I thought I’d share my thoughts here, just in case anyone else needed to hear them. After I read the two passages above, I read from the gospel of John, various verses that show the crowds coming toward Jesus or the disciples coming to Jesus and Jesus going away from them to be alone — on a mountain, on a lake, on a boat, later to the Garden of Gethsemane … alone.
“For a guy who had three years in which to save the whole world”, I told them, “he sure took a lot of time off”. And it’s true. Throughout the gospels, the people keep coming to — or at — Jesus, and he keeps getting away to be by himself. Why? Because he needs to hear himself think. Jesus goes away because he needs to listen to God, because he needs to just rest, because he needs sleep, because he needs to pray. If Jesus is like God, maybe he needs to time to admire the created world. In any case, he needs to be restored — and so do we.
I had a client who wen to detox the other day because he was overwhelmed with a million problems and his addled brain was the only thing he had left to cope with. Scheduled for a five-day detox, he left after three. When I asked him why, he explained that visitors had told him of drama at his apartment so he was worried. “And”, he said, “I felt like I wasn’t doing anything there. I was just taking a rest. I was just resting.” When I pointed out that he was supposed to be doing that, he said, “Oh, yeah”.
While most of us would like to think otherwise, we aren’t really that different from my client. We feel, like him, that’s there’s something wrong if we’re resting when, in fact, God commands us to rest. Not only is resting not wrong, it’s the opposite of that. It’s the right thing to do. In this society today, we have come to believe that we’re somehow bad if we’re not working or busy doing something. If we’re not producing or consuming, there’s something wrong — but look where it’s gotten us. We’ve gone insane. Our planet’s a mess, our lives are a mess, our children are — egads! — bored. We work and we work and we never get ahead. Maybe the reason we never get ahead is because we work and work, as odd as that sounds.
When we don’t stop to hear ourselves think, we go off without thinking. When we don’t stop to let our heads stop spinning with to-do list after to-do list, we feel like our head spins and we wonder why. Schools are getting rid of recess because “our kids need to be more productive”. I and my peers had 1/2 day kindergarten and I ended up with two Master’s Degrees, so I have trouble seeing the link. Our businesses are open more often, and yet the economy falters. Our families now have both parents and any teenager working, but our families are falling apart. Our employers tell us to work harder, advertisers tell us to work hard so we can buy more. This new “toy” is replaced by that new “toy” so we work to get it. In the world of addiction, a person spends $50 on a drug, then $100, then hundreds in a night on their drug if choice and — before their brain can clear — they have already decided to and acted upon their next spending extravaganza. In short order, they end up someplace in their lives they can’t have imagined.
For the rest of us, it takes a longer time to end up at that place, but we end up there nonetheless. ten or twenty years of new technology and the old pay grade and we end up some place where we can’t imagine and we can’t figure out how we got there. For myself, I now often take my iPod with it’s “Lectionary” app to the hospital to impress the kids there — and to lighten my load, somewhat from carrying that big, thick Bible and “only carrying” the scriptures I need for the day. When they turn off the Wii on the ward, I can say that my family has one of those. And when I go home, I plug that same iPod into the cassette player in my car and listen to whatever I’ve already programmed. One of my children has a cel phone and we all have our computers and of course there’s the TV with Netflix. In our house, we all play one form of computer game or another on a fairly regular basis. There is no end to the possible distractions we can use to also not rest while we “come down” after a “hard” day’s work or school. It goes on and on. My kids think there’s something wrong if they’re not plugged in on waking — because they saw me playing on my computer when they went to bed.
I consider myself a fair-to-middling Christian most of the time, but Sabbath is hard. Stopping and doing nothing is hard. And by “nothing”, I mean the actual nothing, not the “plug and play” nothing that I usually do. For the last few weeks, I have been trying to cut down on my electronics time, and have found myself with extra time to get caught up on paperwork, extra sleep to meet the day, extra brain cells not lost to sleep, time to make lunch, not buy it on the road and so on. I find myself actually seeing my wife — if she’s not too busy working. The other day, someone apparently used my debit card numbers in the midwest somewhere and I had to stop using my ATM card, which meant going back to the old-fashioned: checks! I can only use them when the bank is open, so one more piece of slowing down has happened and it’s excruciating until I realize that I have more money left at the end of the week.
But back to the Sabbath: the Sabbath has two parts. The first is simply not doing any work. It is resting and doing nothing because our bodies weren’t designed to “go” 24/7. This allows the troubles of the week, the thoughts about work and kids and clothes and sports and what-activity-to-do-next stop. Our brains can clear up and — as a special bonus — we don’ t get ourselves into more of the trouble that our activity has already caused. If addicts took a day off of their drugs every week, their lives would go to hell 1/7th slower at least. They stand a chance of getting clean because they have a day where the poisons in their system aren’t getting in the way. Their spouse doesn’t yell and their kids don’t cry and they might have enough money for bread and cereal before the weekend’s over.
The second part to the Sabbath is focusing on what’s important. For Christians, Jews and Muslims (I think), it’s a day to focus on God, whether through worship and a sermon to think about, experiencing holiness and remembering there’s more to life than we normally see, taking a walk in nature and actually seeing a sunrise or a mountain. Sabbath is time with your children and family, renewing the relationship just by being there, seeing how goofy your child can be telling knock-knock jokes or how tender your spouse can be when they are relaxed.
Sabbath is about listening to yourself, and hearing yourself think. It is about connecting with that “still small voice” within you — the Spirit of God that gives you the best advice of all because it speaks directly to you in a way that no one else can. Now that your brain is clear, you can put life in perspective, and with that perspective, you can see the direction your life is going. You can decide whether or not you like it going that way. If you like what you see, you can do more of that. If not, you can do less of it — or none at all. You don’t get to a place you can’t imagine — or at least you don’t get there quickly.
That’s what we’re missing when we don;t take Sabbath — Energy, because we haven’t stopped working; Clarity, because we can’t hear ourselves think over all the other voices in our lives — the “shoulds”, the “to-do’s”, the mindless moving from this to that and the distractions that keep us from seeing reality; Perspective on the “same-old-same-old”; Awe as we stop to look around us; and Choices about what to do when we re-enter the “normal” busy-ness of life.
Can you imagine what would happen to you as a person — and society in general — if we had more energy,clarity, perspective, and awe? Can you see how different our lives and our civilization would be? Can you imagine how much better our choices would be if we just “kept the Sabbath” ?
Why is it so hard to do? What’s a Sabbath? We need to start remembering. Amen.