A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Saturday, June 9, 2018
Exodus 24:12-18, Exodus 31:12-18
Our story tonight begins where last week had begun, or maybe a different perspective of the same story. God calls Moses up the mountain, where he stays, surrounded by a cloud that looked like a devouring fire.
Moses had to wait 6 days in the midst of that before God spoke.
I wonder if I would have waited.
I mean, sure, I would have waited. I wait at least 20 minutes at a coffee shop before I decide the person has forgotten and it needs to be rescheduled. I’m sure I would have waited 6 days. Right? No problem.
Even before we hear the “if you don’t do this, you’ll be put to death” stuff in the second reading, I’m stuck at the beginning, aware of how difficult it is for me to wait.
And sabbath is, to some degree about waiting. About setting a day aside, leaving things to wait for the next day.
Sabbath is counter cultural. And it is deeply grounded in the memory of slavery in Egypt. Remember the first description of Sabbath we heard last week from Exodus 20:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me…. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
In Sabbath, we are to remember that we once were slaves in Egypt and were delivered by God. We are not to treat other people as if they, too, are slaves, or are throw-away people who can work while we practice Sabbath. To participate in Sabbath is to not participate in an economy that sees the work of other people as less important than our own. Practicing the Sabbath is practicing a new way of community, where everyone gets the benefits.
I don’t always agree with the politics of the people who own Hobby Lobby or Chik Fil A, but they close their doors on Sunday each week, giving up the potential profit they could be making, in order to honor the Sabbath and to allow their employees to do the same.
Are we willing to give things up for Sabbath?
Sabbath isn’t given to just one person. God doesn’t say, “Beulah May, you look awful. You need a rest. I want you to go home from work early today”.
Sabbath is given to and for the people. All of the people. And we have set up a 24/7 world where some of us have the privilege of sabbath rest and others do not. Attending to living wages, access to childcare, access to healthcare, seeking economic prosperity for all—not just those at the top of the ladder—are not just political issues. They are sabbath issues. If you have to work 2 jobs, 7 days a week, to feed your family and pay the bills, you are cut off from the rhythm of Sabbath. Are we keeping Sabbath, even if we take the day of rest, as long as we benefit from a society that requires some people to work while we have rest? Is that even Sabbath?
Twice in Exodus 31, Sabbath is referred to as a sign. First, ‘You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.”
As we talked about last week with the entirety of the 10 Commandments, they are, and Sabbath in particular is, a reminder that God is the one doing the sanctifying, the saving, the liberating of the people. It is not our work, or our goodness, that earns it. Sabbath is a weekly “sign” for us to remember we don’t have to work to earn God’s love.
The second reference to a sign is, “It is a sign for ever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.’”
Every week, we are reminded to have a little humility. If even God took a day off as God was busy creating the world, who do we think we are, exactly, when we don’t practice Sabbath?
It’s seductive to point out how much more we get done when we’re busy all the time. “If God wouldn’t have taken that day off, I wonder what else God might have created? Would God have had time to make unicorns and dragons? Water slides off Mt Everest? Fitted sheets you can easily fold? JUST IMAGINE.”
Ceaseless production is not the point of life. Ceaseless production is not the sign God offers us.
Hear these words from Genesis:
God saw everything God had made, and indeed, it was very good….Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work he had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work God had done in creation. Gen 1:31a, 2:1-3
As I read those verses from Genesis, I’m struck by all the work that God had done. I am reminded that Sabbath isn’t a call to be lazy every day. It presupposes we work and labor and create the other days of the week.
When I take my day off each week, when I step out of the rhythm of church work and routine, something re-sets itself for me, erases whatever had started to go off kilter, and gives me a fresh start for the new week. When I don’t take my day off, I feel it. I fall out of rhythm.
In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes:
“All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep. There is a rhythm in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning. There is a rhythm in the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat. The lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale. We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something—anything—is better than doing nothing.”
What do we need to get permission to just stop? To rest? To pray? To enjoy? To be present?
We started this pattern of Sabbath Saturday worship 4 years ago now. Has anything changed for you in your practice of Sabbath since then? Has the rhythm of it allowed you to incorporate rest into your life more regularly? Or has it become just another time to worship, leaving you more time to work on Sundays? I invite us to remember it as a sign to us from God, and to pay attention to the rhythms of our life. Are they what we want them to be?
Anna Quindlen, in a graduation speech, told the graduates this:
“So I suppose the best piece of advice I could give anyone is pretty simple: get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you developed an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast while in the shower? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your regular phone, for that matter. Keep still. Be present. Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.”
A gift of Sabbath, I think, is that it gives us the frame of mind to notice life with that kind of beauty and detail.
I want to close with one final quote from the Sabbath book.
“Sabbath time assumes that if we step back and rest, we will see the wholeness in it all. We will naturally apprehend the good in how things are, taste the underlying strength, beauty, and wisdom that lives even in the difficult days, take delight in the gift and blessing of being alive.” (p. 42)
As we go out into the evening tonight, I hope you will be intentional about setting tomorrow apart, as a day of rest and enjoyment.
May we experience the blessing of being alive as our Sabbath blessing. Amen