“God’s Sabbath Is Our Rest”
by Rev. David P. Aslesen
Scripture: Exodus 20:1-8, Mark 2:23-26
Sunday: August 2, 2020 / The Sabbath Day
Maybe like me you have noticed over these last few months some changes in your ability to rest. Some days I’m resting more or some daysI’m resting less. Rest might be the first thing sacrificed when faced with a busy workload or household or when anxious or worried about the upcoming school year or the loss of work or the loved one who is sick or your own well being. Rest would be such a gift right now, right? If you need to nod off during this message I won’t take it personally. I will trust that God is at work to give you what you need. You see our faith understands rest as God’s Sabbath gift to us. Even God rested. But why?
The 4th commandment tells us that after God created all of creation that God rested. Constructing the platypus must have been exhausting! And with God’s finishing of creation, God institutes a day of rest: Sabbath. In our Christian tradition, Sabbath has come to mean a lot of things; a holy time to reconnect with God, to be restored, renewed, to recover from the week that has been and even to resist those things that make us anxious.We will explore these additional meanings in our worship series in later Sundays. The essence of Sabbath is rest.
Rabbi Michael Samuel notes translations differ in our bibles as to the word “rest” or “rested.” The Hebrew word “shavat” as “rested” might be more accurately translated as “abstained,” i.e., “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because God abstained from all God’s work.” Huh?Could God be setting the example for us? If God believes it is good to abstain from work for one day to honor all that had been accomplished maybe that would be something for us to do too or in the very least, for us, to abstain from interfering with creation for at least one day of the week? Interfere, manipulate, control? There is a confessional element to Sabbath to consider. We might be working so much that we cannot tell when we’ve crossed the line in being helpful or harmful to creation.
God abstained not because God was doing harm but because there was to be a sacred time to honor what had been created. Could the Sabbath be a time for us to abstain, to rest from harming and to spend the day honoring not human ingenuity or innovation or implementation but to give praise to the One who is worthy of praise? With Sabbath, we abstain from the refrain that we contain all power, authority and judgment. Instead, we rest with a new breath which is another way to honor the gift of God’s Sabbath.
Another Hebrew word for rested is “nefesh.” Nefesh can sometimes mean to catch one’s breath into our inner being so that we may live in God’s grace. In the context of Sabbath, God took in the breath of life. God celebrates all that has been created with a really good breath: Ahhhhhhhh! And a nap to follow. Samuel notes that“the authors of the book of Exodus, wanted to teach us that for God work is not an end in and of itself.” Hallelujah! We must have Sabbaths as days to not only renew our strength and spirits but to remember we are not machines or walking clocks or slaves to our smartphones.
Author Steve Harper writes “Sabbath-keeping is a sign we are living a here-and-now life. But to see this, we must not view the Sabbath as one day in seven separated and isolated from the other six. Jesus Christ pointed to the rightview of Sabbathwhen he said, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.’He was talking about the flow: the Sabbathinto us, not us into a particular day. Sabbath is a rhythm, not a day–a pattern, not a 24-hour period. So, how does sabbath influence living in the present moment?” asks Harper.
“More than anything else, Sabbath is a reminder that every moment is a gift, and it is lived by grace. Kimberly Richter notes that when we lose the Sabbath, ‘we become enslaved to our economy and efforts. We come to believe everything depends on what we can provide for ourselves. To keep a rhythm of Sabbath rest is to remember that God is the maker and giver of all good things.” Out of this realization we live humbly in every moment, giving thanks to God who is the Source of the here-and-now and offering ourselves in each moment to be instruments of God’s peace. This is precisely why the idea of rest is associated with Sabbath. In a literal sense, it is the renewal which occurs as we leave our agendas and adopt God’s for the living of our days. And in the figurative sense, it is the relaxation which comes upon our souls as we realize we are not the creators of moments, but only the beneficiaries of and servants within them. To be fully present in a day’s moment is to live the Sabbath, receiving from and giving to what that blessed and graceful moment is” –as holy and of God.
Today, the spirit of Sabbath comes to teach us about sacred time, sacred space and sacred relationships with God our Creator, with others and with our own tired and troubled souls that need to be nurtured and even healed. Into a rhythmic time of respect, reflection, remembering, recreating, restoring, renewing and resting, we enter into Sabbath.The invitation comes to us in a call to give ourselves to what our hearts desire most: intimacy with God and permission to enjoy the gifts God has given to us including the simple gift of our creation.
In The Simplicity of Activity Renee Miller writes “When you and I rest our lives on Sabbath time, we are invited to enjoy what is and exert our energy in being astonished at the wonder of God, in becoming fully human and fully alive, and in being a part of God’s and our imaginative creative development of this enterprise called life.
There is a lesson in grace here, for the times in which we live, for all the personal and family schedules being amended, the distortion of our work habits (when to work, where to work, how to work if there is work) or for those retired with more limits upon your time than the freedom you had hoped. Within all of our stuff, how we ache and sweat in our daily labors, writes the poet Wendell Berry,“and yet no leaf or grain is filled/ By work of ours; the field is tilled/ And left to grace. That we may reap,/ Great work is done while we’re asleep.” There is great work being done by God within us as werest. How about it? Shall we rest more so even greater work can be done?
In Practicing Our Faith, Dorothy Bass writes: [‘Humans] need rest, and we need to be reminded that we do not cause the grain to grow. Moreover, the planet needs a rest from human plucking and burning and buying and selling.”This is a different kind of God, a God who rests, a God who, in the words of author Walter Brueggemann words, says, “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.” Belden Lane notes, “This is a life-changing way of thinking: work is not finished until it is enjoyed in rest.” Resting as Sabbath means taking this time to benefit from all that God is working on in our lives; to rest that God’s care is with us in every ordinary part of living.
How could our daily routines change by taking rest in the gift of Sabbath? How might all areas of your life—home, school, family, job and planning for the future—be connected in a new way based on the practice of rest?The next time you look at your calendar –whether it is on your phone or IPad or an old-fashioned paper one,“Make sure the page breathes” writes the Rev. Donna Schaper. Make sure you have some breathing time, “nefesh” time, to rest in God’s grace.Let God do a good work in you today AND rest in the goodness, love, patience, kindness, faith and peace and all these things shall be added onto you. Enjoy living the Sabbath way.
Let us pray…
God in Christ Jesus, we are assured that your Sabbath rest is a gift to us to reorder the day and to reimagine our living upon this earth. Help us to abide in your love and grow in your grace for the daily challenges we face, the struggles and stresses that cause usto lose touch with mind, body and soul, with you and with those we love and the earth we enjoy. By your Spirit, guide us into holy times of receiving your blessings. With this promise we come to you in prayer seeking your love to be found in our prayers for ourselves, for one another and our neighbors near and far, for all whose health is compromised by the corona virus or other issues, for healthcare workers, first responders and public servants, police officers and firefighters, for those overworked & unemployed, for the homeless, the hungry, the children & students, the teachers & parents, the school boards and administrators, support staff of institutions, hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, for co-workers and those who defend the cause of justice and peace, we pray for the health and well being of our loved ones and join in offering hope for the church of Jesus Christ. May your blessings be upon us and the good earth now and always, Holy God. Amen.