Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sermon Series: Sabbath as Resilience

"Sabbath Sermon Series: Resilience"
Matthew 11:28–30 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 26, 2016

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

- Matthew 11: 28-30

My first real job after college graduation was in restaurant management. I had worked with a casual dining company through my college years as a server waiting tables. I was grateful to be promoted to Associate Manager. I loved working in hospitality, with a team, and with good food. I had the privilege of hiring and training wait staff. I wrote the weekly schedule for about 35 employees. I was called to speak with our patrons when they sang the kitchen’s praises and also when they grumbled if the food or service was not up to par. My favorite part of my job was working back in the kitchen with our cooks to prepare food. We would sing with the radio and I would occasionally grab a few copper foil sheets and make Wonder Woman wristlets and headbands. Hospitality was not just for the patrons, it was also to build up the team of 70 employees.

There was also the work that was not fun, like terminating employees, breaking up fights in the bar, and the administrative details that come with any management position. A work week easily added up to somewhere between sixty and seventy hours. It was easy to hit a breaking point with all the stress and demands. In those days I worked all the time and I did not have a broad support system. Too much stress quickly led to forced rest by a weakened immune system and illness.

Back then I did not understand what true rest should have looked like as a twenty-something, other than sleep. But as I look back through the last forty plus years of the shared human experience, I realize that all of us have a hard time finding true rest when our noses are to the grind stone. The average American works over 55 hours a week now. The more we work, the more our stress weighs upon us a burden. Stress compromises our well-being physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When we are stressed by all of the other plates we spin during the week then we find it difficult to bounce back in healthy ways.

We push through the exhaustion because our work is closely tied to our identity. We normalize daily stress and carry the weight alone, too proud to ask anyone for help. We grumble and complain more. For some a break is found when we take to social media or facebook instead of looking into God’s faithbook. I have done all of these and maybe you have too.

Why are we so stubborn to search for a life of balance and resilience? Why do we resist Sabbath?

There is some truth to Eric Carl’s Hungry Caterpillar story I shared in the children’s sermon. We will tear through everything else around us before we will pause to look more deeply within.

Saint Augustine was a fourth century bishop and theologian. He once said, “Our hearts are restless until the find rest in God alone.”

When we are stressed and burdened, this restlessness that Augustine mentions is very real. And we reach towards so many other things in hopes to satisfy and quiet this restlessness. But nothing will calm the restlessness of our stress and burdens quite like God.

Every time I read Jesus’ words from Matthew I am reminded that we need to unburden ourselves and seek Jesus’ strategy for self-care with spiritual resilience.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11: 28-30).

Spiritual resilience is found in relationships. Jesus says “Come to me – not come to work one more day or to facebook or to your spouse – but come to ME and I will give you rest” (verse 28). God created us out of the sheer joy of living in relationship with us. Within this gift of God’s love we find the sacred center of all things. Jesus lived his life according to this profound yet simple truth. Jesus’ life got a bit chaotic. The days were filled with demands to give of himself for his work and to help others. The crowds would charge after him with hands lifted in praise or fists raised with stones. There were days he felt the world’s weight of fulfilling the promise of salvation upon his shoulders.

But Jesus did not work in isolation until he hit a breaking point. Jesus would regularly leave the scene to rest in God alone. Jesus knew the importance of quieting himself to be still and nurture his relationship with God. Jesus, while fully human and fully divine, knew he needed a regular time out with God to feel restored by grace for the work that lies ahead.

Spiritual resilience is found in tapping into God’s strength. Jesus says, “Take my yoke and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart” (verse 29). The yoke Jesus talks about is not a single yoke but a double yoke. It implies that the burdens we carry are meant to be carried with God and the body of Christ. The yoke is a spiritual support system.

Jesus knew he could not bring about God’s purposes all on his own ability. Therefore Jesus called the twelve disciples to teach them to lean into a deeper trust of God so they could carry on Jesus’ work in the world. Jesus’ gentle and humble heart teaches us to more fully rely on God and one another as a source of strength, empowerment, and peace. Even Jesus needed to rest by setting down the weight of the world and to trust God and others with it.

Spiritual resilience is being diligent to rest so that it may be well with our soul. We are to follow Jesus’ example of wearing this yoke that is easy and light because God has fashioned it in a particular way for us. God has ordered life with a rhythm of work and rest and when we allow our steps to be guided by this rhythm then all the burdens we carry are more bearable. There is nothing we carry that is too heavy for God to lift with us and even work through. But we must have the courage, humility, and discipline to allow God to lighten our load and just be.

To be still and know that I AM God. To be still and know the I AM. To be still and know. To be still. To just be.

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath and the true giver of self-care. It is through the example of Jesus Christ that we find the sacred center – our sacred center – of all things. When life feels overwhelming and seems to fall apart we cannot hold the center of it all by ourselves. And we are not meant to.

The hand and heart of God hold us and all that weighs on our shoulders. We feel God’s deep embrace through our relationships as the body of Christ and through the strength of humility and disciplined rest. This rest is not just an absence of work but it is self-care that allows us to explore what re-energizes us. Maybe that is centering yourself in prayer, taking a run or a walk as you let your thoughts unwind, painting with friends in a class, or claiming some time with family.

Sabbath is a sacred center of all things. It lightens the load to set our burdens down and trust God with them. It builds us up in God’s grace and strength. It empowers us to be resilient and bounce back in our daily lives. Sabbath is a weekly spiritual discipline that allows us to thrive and grow through any burden or challenge.

If we choose to ignore Sabbath and we never find a true rhythm of resilient rest then our center cannot hold. We deny our Creator’s gift; isolation causes us to feel cut off from community with God and one another; we compromise our well-being; and we lose a sense of gratitude because we are constantly depleted and have nothing to give.

I pray we reclaim the gift of Sabbath. It is a spiritual space created and set apart for us to rest in God alone. Sabbath frees us from being a slave to our work. Sabbath empowers us to feel fully alive when we play in God’s creation. Sabbath allows us to be agents of restoration when we are the grace of Christ to one another. And Sabbath shows us how to unburden ourselves in order to thrive through any challenge so that we may be spiritually resilient.

As we claim this day of Sabbath together, I lift this prayer from Walter Brueggemann for us:

Things fall apart
The center cannot hold.
We are no strangers to the falling apart.
We perpetuate against the center of our lives,
And on somedays it feels like an endless falling,
Like a deep threat,
Like rising water,
Like ruthless wind.
But You – in the midst,
You back in play
You rebuking and silencing and ordering,
You creating restfulness in the very eye of the storm.
You – be our center
Cause us not to lie about danger
Cause us not to resist your good order.
Be our God. Be the God You promised
And we will be among those surely peaceable in your order.
We pray in the name of the one through whom all things hold together.

Source Referenced:
Walter Brueggemann, “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth”, p. 26.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sermon Series: Sabbath as Grace

Sabbath Sermon Series: Grace
Luke 13: 10-17 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 19, 2016

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’

But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
- Luke 13: 10-17

Sometimes life unfolds in such a way that we are moved to see it from a new perspective. Luke tells the story that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue as he often did. This particular day was a Sabbath day to the Lord. It was a day for all to rest in God’s grace. But then a woman appeared. For a very long time she had been overcome by a tremendous weight. Her ailment caused her to stand completely bent over and she was unable to lift herself to the whole.

It is important for Luke to say that Jesus saw her. Jesus called her over to be drawn near to him. Jesus set her free through grace in spoken word and physical touch. All the bonds that had deprived this woman of having enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment in life were loosed. And in that very moment life unfolded in such a way that the kingdom of God broke in. The very hand of God embraced a marginalized woman’s brokenness by the grace of the Sabbath.

Jesus then continued this teaching moment with the synagogue leader and the crowd. Jesus saw the indignation of the leader. Jesus heard the leader’s words to lean into the Law more than Love. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy as the Law commanded; six days you shall work but the seventh day is a Sabbath day to the Lord and you shall not work (Exodus 20: 8-10).

Jesus knew that the leader’s interpretation of Sabbath was putting limits on God’s grace. According to God’s Sabbath Law even the leader himself would do the minimal work to untie his ox or donkey on the Sabbath to give it life giving water to be refreshed. God’s Sabbath grace was given as a gift to all - no one and no creature was excluded. If the leader would allow even an animal to taste the goodness of Sabbath then why not allow this woman to be restored by God’s incarnate grace?

Jesus reinterprets the Sabbath. While Sabbath is a gift to receive God’s grace and rest from work, Jesus is not satisfied if we keep this gift solely to ourselves. Jesus knows we all need to sit in the space created to receive God’s grace. But Jesus makes a point that we all need to make room to freely share this grace that restores as well. Sabbath is a reminder that God’s grace sets us free to partner with God in this holy work of restoring. Grace is not idle but it is on the move.

A few weeks ago our church held vacation bible school for kids of all ages. I was grateful to lead an adult study on Sabbath as we peered through the highlights of Old and New Testament Scripture. We took some time to discuss this very text from Luke and share our insights. One of our members shared in the discussion that Sabbath today has become an hour that we take ourselves to church. We limit Sabbath to one hour of worship and then we go about our business.

This comment has caused me to consider the difference between taking ourselves to church and being the church.

“Taking ourselves to church” infers that our faith is nurtured in a passive way. Yes we do all need a time to be still and allow our spiritual cups to be filled. We all have an emptiness that God desires to fill with amazing grace. But if we only allow ourselves to be takers of grace then we put limits on it.

As our spiritual cups fill they begin to run over. Remember grace is not idle but it is on the move and grace moves us to be the church. “Being the church” infers that we are sent out into the community with our overflowing cups to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who are aching for hope. Being the church means we are not meant to be mere takers of grace but givers of grace.

I am grateful for the active faith of this community here. But church, we still have work to do as a local church, as a presbytery, and as the Church Universal. This holy work we are called to requires that we see the world through Jesus’ eyes of compassion, love, and grace. This holy work seeks to partner with God to help others stand up in God’s strength.

There are so many situations that overwhelm us to the point that we feel completely bent over and crippled by our burdens. Stress from too much work or not enough of it, relationships with deep wounds, financial struggles, grief that ebbs and flows, and tears for a broken world. Jesus looks upon those of us who are completely bent and weighed down and says, “I see you and my grace will set you free.” Who does not long to hear those words?

This past Sunday during our time of prayer concerns a number of individuals asked to lift Orlando in prayer. As the details of this tragic shooting have unfolded this week, it has brought me to tears. I have cried reading the stories of the 49 women and men who have died and their surviving families. I have cried reading articles where pastors have said the LGBT community deserved this tragedy.

While the Greater Church remains divided on the issue of same-sex relationships, the kingdom of God has broken in a little more this week. Diverse peoples of faith have been coming together in solidarity to show compassion, to mourn, and to grieve the loss of so many lives and the victims who remain critically injured.

I was moved to learn Chick-Fil-A employees in Orlando worked on the Sunday of the shootings to prepare and take food to the long lines of people giving blood for the critically injured. As you know Chik-Fil-A is a Christian based company with conservative beliefs that stands firm on keeping the Sabbath on Sundays.

But this local branch saw their community completely bent over by grief and hurt. They followed God’s nudge to engage in this holy work of helping others stand in the strength of God’s grace. The employees did this despite Chik-Fil-A’s corporate theological differences with the LGBT community. Seeing one another through the lens of compassion, grace, and love was more important than inciting differences and limiting Sabbath to a day off.

Not only did Chik-Fil-A respond in this way but hundreds from the Muslim community in Orlando gave blood despite their month long fasting for Ramadan. Those who gave blood could not eat or drink as the American Red Cross suggests after blood donations. Ramadan is observed world-wide by the Muslim community. It is a time of spiritual reconnection and prayer and it is similar to a Jewish or Christian understanding of Sabbath. This is a very poignant image of reinterpreting Sabbath so that others may experience a sense of wholeness, restorative healing and grace.

Sabbath is not solely a time to rest in God’s grace as an individual, as a family, or as a community. It is a pause that transforms because we are freed by grace and called to partner with God in this holy work of restoring the world. As God’s kingdom slowly breaks in, the hand of God embraces and is restoring all human brokenness out of grace and love.

We partner in this holy work by pausing each week for Holy Spirit to open our eyes and see what breaks God’s heart so that we might offer healing as the body of Christ.

We light candles to pray for God’s grace to encircle all of us in the bonds of love, healing, and unity as one family, for we are all children of God.

We share our gratitude with first responders in our hometowns when we cannot say “thank you” to those serving in real time tragedies far away.

We search for words that build bridges of understanding and respect.

We listen to one another’s stories that reveal our shared humanity over a cup of coffee, while giving blood, and even at quilt shows, like we hosted last week.

We take neighbors a meal and take them to doctor’s visits when they feel weak and alone.

We take a posture of confession and humility when we do not understand the world around us or even the unthinkable acts we do ourselves.

Grace is not idle. It is on the move just like Jesus was. As we reflect upon Sabbath, let us pause to consider how we might more fully commit ourselves to this holy work of restoring the brokenness around us. We are all tethered to God and one another through grace. And we are our brothers’ keeper.

You and I have been called to the holy work of being the grace of Christ for one another. We are to follow Jesus’ example to see each other and the work that lies before us with eyes of compassion, love and grace. Let us be the church and look for those who are bent by burdens. But more importantly, let us say, “I see you.”

The truth is that today there is someone near to you and me who desperately wants to know that that they are seen with eyes of love and to know they belong to the whole. May we allow our spiritual cups to overflow and strengthen our sisters and brothers with nothing less than grace. And when we do, life in that moment will unfold in such a way that there is no denying the kingdom of God has just broken in a little more.

In the name of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Sermon Series: Sabbath as Play

Sabbath Sermon Series: Play
Ecclesiastes 2:22 – 3:15 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 12, 2016

What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.

There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.
- Ecclesiastes 2: 22 - 3:15

The saying goes, “Once an adult, twice a child.” If you are an adult then I want you to close your close and tap into your inner child. If you are 18 years or younger then I want you to be who you are. Imagine before you is a giant ball pit. You are about to jump into a sea of blue, red, green, and yellow balls. It is a sea of fun and you do not have a worry in the world. And there are no germs in this ball pit!

This was the experience for employees who work in an advertising agency in New York City this past fall. The agency built an onsite ball pit filled with 81,000 balls. The goal was to empower the employees’ well-being and open new channels of creativity. When employees hit their stress limits at work they would take a break to jump into the ball pit and submerge themselves in a sea of silliness.

Adult play is transformative. It taps into our childhoods. It breaks down stress and brings us back to the basics to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Researchers state adult play generates something we all need a little more of - “lightheartedness, empathy, optimism, flexibility, and adaptability.” A sense of playfulness restores us to finding joy in the challenges of life

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes senses the weight of life’s challenges. He is quite a realist as his words point to the difficulties that come with the human rhythm of all our toil. And his words of cynicism point to the hazards of working all of the time. The Teacher begs the question, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun” (verse 22). If this is our approach to adulthood, then our days are full of pain, our work is filled with grief, and our minds race at night (verse 23).

This is a reality for many in today’s society. When work is a task master it becomes a means to an end. Its yield is meaningless and void of purpose or pleasure. It is all vanity and chasing after the wind.

This is not how we are intended to go through life. Not only does a constant inner drive of working deplete the enjoyment of our labors but it destroys our well-being and quality of life. Stress is the number one cause of health problems in the work place. While there is a season for everything – even a time to work and a time to rest – we do not truly give ourselves permission to seek balance.

The Teacher urges all those who have ears to listen: there is nothing better for humanity than to find a sense of happiness and enjoyment. This is God’s gift that all should find a way to take pleasure in all our toil (vv. 12-13). Therefore the Teacher’s wisdom notes that a life well lived is marked by one thing: be intentional to enjoy God’s great gift. That gift is a life of both work and play

The National Institute of Play is located in Carmel Valley, California. They have been researching the benefits of adult play since the late 1980’s. The institute notes “Play is a hard wired contagious response to a child’s development. It is a prerequisite for the capacity for intimacy throughout life.” We see the importance of play for children in the home and on playgrounds as we raise kids to be experiential learners and well-rounded adults.

Just enter the classroom of Play 101 with your son, daughter, grandchild, or godchild and let their imagination be your guide to a lesson in life. A child’s mind is fueled by curiosity and wonder. A child’s playful imagination is a lens to see new ways of engaging the world.

Dolls, Legos, Crayons, and Playdough are objects that help a child engage emotions, relationships, experiences, and faith. Life becomes a playground to discover joy and develop skills for problem solving. Children use their whole being to explore and create something new by stretching the limits of the ordinary. Laughter, wiggles, and silliness are must if you want to get an ‘A’ for effort in the classroom of play.

It is unfortunate that once we become adults we often forget how to be child-like with a lighthearted and playful outlook. It is no coincidence that more therapists and life coaches are prescribing play as adults consider new ways to engage challenges in work, significant relationships, and retirement. Play gives us a sense of humor to surrender the seriousness. Play empowers our confidence to step out of our comfort zones. Play harkens back to the building blocks of fostering intimacy in our relationships.

Our deepest place of intimacy is our relationship with God. And play brings us back to experiencing the wonder and awe of God. As we talked last week the very beginning of Scripture gives us an amazing picture of God’s engagement with the world as a way of life for us. God had a rhythm of work and rest and even playfulness in bringing forth new life. God worked and paused to see what was good and marveled at what could be imagined. God’s rhythm moves us to find God’s gift of pleasure in all our toil.

The pause of Sabbath transforms us as we take the time to play in the ordinary spaces of life.

To take in the beauty of a sunrise.

To be amazed as God dots the stars that are far too many to count in the night sky.

To play in the sandbox and feel the cool grains of sand tickle your toes.

To lie in the tall grass because the Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures and see God’s goodness in vivid color.

To sit beside a river bed and skip rocks because the Shepherd leads me beside still waters that restore my soul.

To play Gaga Ball and feel the pure delight of childhood again with the beading sweat of healthy competition on your brow.

To pick up a crayon and color your prayers with God’s love and grace.

When we consider Sabbath as a time to play then we are guided by God’s grace to feel fully alive. Play restores us to the joy of God’s salvation. Play generates new self-discoveries and opportunities to be co-creators in the world with God. Never forget that we are created in the image of God and that image bears the mark of playfulness.

As we consider ways for authentic Sabbath keeping, make time to rest and to play

In the name of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

A Play-Doh Prayer from our Prayer Stations in Worship

Read More About Adult Play:
Vince Gowman, “Remembering to Play”

“The Benefits of Play for Adults”

Rev. Ed Bacon, “8 Ways to be More Playful,” HuffPost Religion, November 14, 2012

Elisha Goldstein, “The Essential Ingredient You May be Missing for Happiness,” HuffPost Healthy Living, March 30, 2012

Monday, June 6, 2016

Sermon Series: Sabbath as Freedom

Sabbath Sermon Series: Freedom
Exodus 20: 8-11; Deuteronomy 5:15 by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
June 5, 2016

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. - Exodis 20: 8-11

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. - Deuteronomy 5: 15

A few years ago I was co-leading a confirmation class of very bright and energetic youth. Confirmation is a time of reviewing the tenets of faith with the 7th and 8th grade youth as they prepare to respond to their baptismal vows and join the church. We began the class with an overnight retreat with interactive lessons and recreation. One part of that lesson was discussing the Ten Commandments. We asked the youth if there was any commandment that they did not see as relevant in today’s culture. I was surprised to hear the majority answer, “The Sabbath.” Or maybe I should not have been surprised.

Currently we mark our time with how busy we are. We are busy earning a living. We are busy paying the bills and saving for the future. We are busy shuttling children to opportunities to develop their character. We are busy caring for aging family members. Busy is the new normal because we do not fare well with idle time. Busy is results oriented. If we want to be successful at anything we do then busyness must be the path to take the next step forward.

We have lost touch with the relevance of Sabbath. It is the fourth commandment which God imparted to Moses on the tablets of stone. And it wins for the highest word count of all the commandments, thereby revealing some important ways to follow the path of God’s faithfulness.

The book of Exodus is the story of Moses leading God’s people out of Egyptian slavery into the freedom of God’s promises. Their days had been filled with hard manual labor for hundreds of years. Egypt’s oppression weighed heavily upon the generations of Israel and it shook their foundational identity. As the people of God followed Moses towards a future of hope, God revealed how they might live more fully into God’s abundant faithfulness through the Ten Commandments. Sabbath was not solely a commandment instituting rules of rest. Sabbath was a gift of finding freedom in the chaos.

Sabbath freed the people to remember how God’s story defined them. Israel was not defined by past mistakes or even the work that had enslaved them. Sabbath reminded the people to keep God at the center of their lives. Our text of Deuteronomy is very specific to name this. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm…therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut 5:15).

If the people held God as their sacred center then nothing could move them. God delivered Israel from Egypt and God would always be the people’s saving strength. God’s deliverance is the most powerful narrative threaded through all of Scripture. Sabbath was a radical practice of remembering God’s faithfulness and trusting God’s presence in the midst of chaos and wilderness.

Sabbath freed the people to know their intrinsic value. Every time I read the commandment of Sabbath I am struck by its inclusiveness. There is no one and no creature that is excluded from knowing Sabbath rest. God’s command claimed all of the community equally in God’s amazing grace. Sabbath leveled the manmade hierarchy of status and worth for all.

Rev. Maryann McKibben Dana is a Presbyterian minister at large, a speaker, and an author. A few years ago she was quoted on a PBS special on the topic of Sabbath: “Sabbath is the great leveler. I mean, if we take that seriously as a culture, it means that no matter what your life situation, whether you are Bill Gates or the person who cleans Bill Gates’ office, you have an inherent dignity and for a time each week, you do not need to defend your existence. To prove your worth in the culture and the marketplace.”

That is a radical notion! Sabbath creates a spiritual space where we do not need to prove our worth. We are all equally loved and valued by God. We are all equally encouraged to rest in that kind of grace that regenerates our lives.

Sabbath also freed the people to follow a new rhythm. It was not Egypt’s rhythm. It was not Moses’ rhythm. It was God’s rhythm of engaging the world. From the very beginning God’s hands moved in an ebb and flow of work and rest. The rhythm of God’s work to create new life held both purpose and pleasure. God’s work was never out of obligation or even domination. God always works, creates, and acts out of a great love to live in relationship with creation and humanity.

God’s ability to actually pause and rest sets forth a profound way of engaging the world. God took the time to enjoy the fruit of God’s labor. By doing so God freed Israel to enjoy the process of God’s work in their lives. In the practice of observing Sabbath God frees us to give ourselves permission to not only enjoy the fruits of our own labor but to enjoy the process of God’s work in our lives.

Walter Brueggemann says, “Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms.”

We encounter the holy and enter a space of sacred time when we observe the Sabbath. God created the Sabbath for all of God’s people to savor God’s goodness and God’s abundance. If we limit Sabbath only as a command that we “shall not work” then we miss the blessings of Sabbath.

How have you allowed the Sabbath to give you a sense of freedom within your work, intrinsic worth, and rhythm of engaging the world?

While many Christians observe Sabbath on Sundays because it is the day of resurrection, our Jewish brothers and sisters observe Sabbath on Friday evenings through sunset on Saturdays. It is a time to share a special meal and to worship in the synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning. The Jewish Shabot, as it is called, is marked by the lighting of candles just before Friday’s sunset. The light is a marker of time set apart to be claimed by God’s shalom (peace).

Susannah Heschel is the daughter of Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, and she shares her memories of this sacred time with her family:

“Friday evenings in my home were the climax of the week, as they are for every religious Jewish family. My mother and I kindled the lights for the Sabbath, and all of sudden I felt transformed, emotionally and even physically. The sense of peace that came upon us as we kindled the lights was created in part by the hectic tension of Fridays [for Sabbath preparation]…Whatever had not been finished in the kitchen [before sunset] we simply left behind as we lit the candles and blessed the arrival of Sabbath.” [1]

Years ago when I read Susannah’s words, my family and I began observing Sabbath on Friday evenings together. We light candles at the table, share a special meal together, and have family time. The light of the candle reminds me of God’s presence and the freedom we have in Jesus Christ. The light allows us to find a sacred centering because we are sitting around the table of God’s household, all as children of God.

Sabbath frees me to know and trust that God is restoring us to the core of who we are and to God’s keeping. Out of the chaos each week God is at work to bring about a new creation in us, but we must pause to notice it. As the Sabbath candle shines on my table, its circle of light sets a new boundary that we are not enslaved to our work. We do not belong to our work or to the world.

The world is not dependent upon our labors, thoughts, or contributions in this time set apart, nor is our self-worth. Even as the chaos of life swirls in the background, God remains in control. The world was still turning when God rested and the world will still turn when you and I rest too. Resting in God’s grace is to know we are more than enough just as we are. I find that very freeing.

In a time when culture pushes down upon us to always be accessible, to always be working, and to always be busy I invite you to consider the radical nature of Sabbath keeping. You might observe Sabbath on Sundays to worship and remember God’s grace in song, prayer, and story and enjoy time with family. You might choose another weekday to be still, or you may even choose just a few hours. However you observe Sabbath - claim some time apart to be claimed by God’s rhythm. It is the pause that transforms us by this gift of freedom.

In the name of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Source Referenced:
[1] Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Sabbath” (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951) pp. vii-viii.