May 6, 2013, 1:34 PM
Searching for Everyday Sacredness: Sabbath
A few years ago I went to San Francisco to work on a part of my doctor of ministry degree in an intensive six week program. My friend and colleague, the Rev. Katie Ladd, was a part of our cohort. Katie keeps Sabbath as a spiritual discipline. In fact, Katie is the only one I know who keeps Sabbath. I decided I wanted to learn from Katie so I practiced along with her. We made a special trip on Saturday afternoon to buy our food for Sunday. We began the day with worship, had a leisurely lunch, sat in the sun talking and laughing, and played Scrabble. There was time for a much needed nap and time for Katie to play the piano in the student lounge. We did not spend any money other than dropping a check in the offering in church. Other members of our cohort—all clergy—shook their heads as they passed our Scrabble game. We had a thousand pages to read, research to do, papers to write and deadlines that had to be met in a very short time. I was worried, but not Katie. Our colleagues said we were nuts and went off to their rooms to study or to the Laundromat, but we played. Katie would just smile and say that it was the Sabbath and that there was plenty of time to work. This was God’s time.
God’s time. Keeping the Sabbath is the only spiritual discipline that is a commandment—one of the ten commandments. It’s not a suggestion, it’s a commandment, right up there with not killing or not stealing. It is a time set apart for relationship—with God and with others. We are to keep it holy, meaning that it belongs to God. Keeping Sabbath is a way to remember that we belong to God, we are holy. Holy as in “belonging to God,” and holy as in being precious, beloved, of infinite value. We are to treat ourselves with care because we belong to God. We have to take care of ourselves. Because we are created as social beings, our first responsibility is to our relationships. We worship to spend time with God in community. It is here in worship that we are reconnected with the body of Christ. Here we praise God through song and prayer. Here we learn or are reminded that we are welcome, accepted just as we are, and loved unconditionally. Here we find a pattern for abundant living.
After worship, we are to go nurture our human relationships by enjoying the company of our family and friends. Most of us can remember families who observed a very quiet Sabbath that seemed more prohibitive than life giving. Abundant life is the purpose of the Sabbath. It is a time to enjoy the fruits of the earth by delighting in food. It is a time to enjoy the pursuits that give you pleasure—playing sports, music, gardening, entertaining guests. The work of preparation comes before and clean up can wait—the Sabbath is to enjoy the gift of friendship and family. The Sabbath is set apart to enjoy and celebrate the gifts of God—to notice those gifts and give thanks—to celebrate the goodness of God. We don’t celebrate if we haven’t taken time to notice.
The second purpose of Sabbath is for rest for your body and mind. If you leave your computer on all the time, it eventually slows down and scripts get corrupted. You have to turn it off to let it reboot. We have to rest or we don’t work well. We cannot keep going without stopping or we will malfunction. We’ll become irritable, thoughtless, confused, and/or sick. We are created with a need to stop and rest. There is also a prescription in Deuteronomy to allow the land to rest every 7th year so that the soil can be replenished and support crops over time. We also need to rest and be replenished in order to be at our best over the span of our years.
When we rest and pay attention to the relationships in our lives with God and with our family and friends, we build community. Community doesn’t just happen. It requires attention—our undivided attention. A marriage doesn’t just happen. It requires attention to grow and thrive—undivided attention. A family doesn’t just happen. Whether it is our nuclear family or extended family, we have to work at staying connected in order to have a family. Children, parents, siblings—those relationship require time and energy to be healthy. And it takes time to make and keep friends. Sabbath calls us away from our busyness to attend to our relationships.
Keeping Sabbath has another communal component that bends toward economic equality. Notice that in the reading from Deuteronomy all in the community get to rest on the Sabbath. Everyone, slave or free, native or alien, human or animal gets to rest from their labors. All are equal on the Sabbath. All are of equal regard on the Sabbath. The needs of all are the same and to be honored. Keeping the Sabbath envisions and honors equality in the created world.
Finally, keeping the Sabbath is a lesson in humility. I am not so important that the world will not keep spinning without my labor. The sun will come up, the grass will grow, the earth will produce fruit without my efforts. God does those things, I only benefit when I work in partnership with God. I cannot do it alone. The truth is that God can keep life going without me. The Sabbath reminds me who is the ultimate source. It is not me—and that is such a relief! I am not responsible for everything—only my small part. The Sabbath requires me to recognize my place, how I fit, and that is good in so many ways.
You’re here today observing the first part of the Sabbath. I encourage you to keep the rest of the day holy to the Lord because you are God’s beloved and you need to take care of what is holy.