Monday Scripture - Luke 6:2 “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Monday Quote - Abraham Joshua Heschel - The glorification of the day, the insistence upon strict observance, did not, however, lead the rabbis to a deification of the law. ‘The Sabbath is given unto you, not you unto the Sabbath.’ (Mekhilta 31:13) The ancient rabbis knew that excessive piety may endanger the fulfillment of the essence of the law. (Genesis Rabbah, 19:3)
Monday Thought -
Correct observation of the Sabbath was important for my family growing up. Primarily, Sabbath was observed by going to church, twice. But Sabbath was also observed with a series of prohibitions. We don't watch tv, go to the movies, listen to 'secular' music etc. We didn't go shopping on the Sabbath, but that was because no stores were open anyway. Sabbath was presented more as a day of disallowance than anything else. Sabbath was about don't and can't. I don't think this was intentional, but this was the effect. And lets' admit it, its hard to get excited about that. Today, Sabbath is largely a forgotten concept for many Christians, at least in practice. Our children have sports to participate in, we have errands, shopping, yard-work, and laundry to catch up on. Stores are all open. While we may not be at work, we often are still at work. So this week we will re-visit, at least in part, the importance of Sabbath. Today, we review Sabbath as rule and Sabbath as ritual.
When Sabbath, as I recall how it was taught to me, is primarily a list of constraints, it fails to be compelling. This is the main tension in this weeks story. Jesus and disciples engage in a brief episode of harvest labor in order to get something to eat and then later, Jesus heals a disabled man on the Sabbath. It is important to realize that the portrayal of the Pharisees may not be entirely accurate. They certainly knew that breaking Sabbath restrictions to save a life was allowed. So let's not stereotype all historical Pharisees by what we see in this story, because the phenomena of making Sabbath all about correctly following the rules of what we can't do is certainly not confined to Pharisees. For instance, a few years ago a very articulate and passionate missionary from the Seventh Day Adventist Church knocked on my door to, kindly, explain why my observance of the Sabbath on Sunday was simply the wrong day and so displeasing to God. This is exactly the kind of thing Jesus is reacting to. Sabbath is simply a rule, or list of rules, a series of prohibitions to obey in order to avoid the anger of God. This isn't the point of Sabbath, according to Jesus.
Jesus engages in two life-giving activities on Sabbath. He and his disciples feed themselves and then Jesus heals a disabled man. The Sabbath is the day to celebrate the gift of life and so, to share the gift of life. While he and his disciples are not in immediate danger of death due to malnutrition and the disabled man not in impending danger due to the malformation of his hand, in the larger society, hunger and the inability to provide financially for one's family were clear and present dangers to life. When Jesus says aloud, 'The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,' he is claiming that he has the power and authority to create life. It is a statement about his mission. And as a part of his mission he will celebrate and create life for all those who, because of forces out of their control, cannot experience the joy and fullness of life. But he is also reminding us of the point of Sabbath. It is to appreciate and celebrate the gift of life. In Genesis 1 (and in Exodus 20 where the 10 Commandments order observation of a Sabbath), God rests on the seventh day after creating the world. It is a day in which God delights in what God has created. It is a day to savor the good that God has done. In Deuteronomy 5, where the story of the giving of the 10 Commandments is told again, the celebration of Sabbath is rooted in God's liberation of the Hebrews from slavery. God rescues the Hebrews from a life of forced labor and gives them the gift of enjoying a labor-free day, in which to celebrate and enjoy life.
Celebration, savoring, and appreciating the gift of life is the core of Sabbath observance. This is what Sabbath is for and I think you'll agree, it is much sweeter to contemplate what we are for, than to always focus on what we are against. So Sabbath is a day to engage in that which allows you to savor and be thankful for God's gift of life. It is a time to take a break from stress and worry and enjoy life. It is much bigger than obeying a few rules. It is a day to pause and focus on the wonder of being alive, at the wonder of all that is alive around us. While focusing on the rules belittles both Sabbath and ourselves, that does not mean we shouldn't make a ritual of Sabbath. If taking time to pause, celebrate, savor, and enjoy life is not made a priority and a habit, it is very simple for other priorities and responsibilities to interrupt and distract us. And this does mean that if we are going to say yes to the gift of Sabbath we will need to say 'no' to some other things. This is where faith is required. We must trust that if we observe Sabbath, the benefits to our spirit, life, faith and very humanity will outweigh the the sting of saying no to things, even the things that demand our attention.
Monday Study - Isaiah 58
Monday Prayer - Give me the gift, Lord of the Sabbath, of silence from all that demands my attention, all that calls to completed, all that spurs me to action. Give me the gift of rest and in that the gift of knowing that I can trust in you to provide and to protect. Allow me to give myself the grace and mercy to savor and enjoy the life you have given me. Amen
Tues Scripture - Deuteronomy 5:12-14 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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.
Tues Quote - Eugene Peterson - If you don't take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You're doing too much, you're being too much in charge. You've got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you're not doing anything.
Tues Thought -
It seems as if many generally believe that they cannot afford to rest. There is just too much to do. I agree. There is much to do. And the thought of leaving things undone (laundry, yard-work, housecleaning, etc) in order to observe Sabbath and simply rest, is, well, unthinkable. But what if we flipped this and asked, can we really afford NOT to get enough rest? According to a study published in 2012, 30% of the civilian workforce in the U.S. was not getting an adequate nights sleep. And the thing is this doesn't mean that we simply go to work and (as my wife would put it) ride the struggle bus for the day. This has real impact. 20% of car crashes are due to drowsy driving. Inadequate rest has a direct connection to work-related injury and work-related illness. Lack of rest causes real injury to ourselves and others, not to mention that it is expensive. Lack of adequate sleep has also been tied to an increased risk for diabetes and obesity. So again I ask, can we afford NOT to get our rest? Are our lifetimes as adults spent avoiding rest to mow the lawn or get one more project done, worth the risk of injury or illness to ourselves or others?
The Pharisees are focused, some might suggest preoccupied, with observing Sabbath correctly. It is of vital importance to them that they and all of Israel get Sabbath absolutely right. It is important because observing Sabbath is one of the ways that Israel can maintain unity and communal pride as they live under the oppression of the Romans. Romans wanted and did all that they could to entice Judeans to be 'more Roman.' To be more Roman would be to abandon Israel's identity as God's chosen. So observing Sabbath was incredibly important. It was also vital because, these Pharisees believed, God's blessing and God's liberation from oppression was contingent upon correctly observing Sabbath. In Isaiah 56 the prophet writes, 'Maintain justice and do what is right for soon my salvation will come and my deliverance be revealed.' In the next verses the prophet reveals that the root of justice and right is Sabbath observance. So many interpreted this to mean that deliverance was contingent upon correctly observing Sabbath. Deliverance, ultimately, was up to them. They had to earn that deliverance. I look at this and see an error. The deliverance is not caused by correctly observing Sabbath, the deliverance is present IN KEEPING Sabbath. Sabbath is a part of the deliverance. Deliverance is not a result. But I can understand why some would draw the conclusion that to be delivered, Israel would need to get Sabbath right.
This error is just what Eugene Peterson highlights in our quote for the day, 'you're being too much in charge.' Sole responsibility for deliverance fell to Israel. They need to earn deliverance. But deliverance is not earned. It is a grace, a gift. Living either overly focused on getting Sabbath absolutely right OR not observing Sabbath at all because we have too much to do, are both rooted theologically in fear and anxiety. We are afraid that God is angry or has abandoned us so we must earn God's love. OR, we are afraid that we will not have enough, will lose control of our lives, will become vulnerable or that someone will take what we have, so we dare not observe Sabbath. We must continue to earn, procure and protect because our security is up to us alone. Both sides of the spectrum are based in fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety make us small. They make us distrustful. They divide us. They can even compel us to be violent. Sabbath then, is an antidote to fear, anxiety and violence. Sabbath is reminder that life, all of life, including what he have and the security we feel is a gift. It is a gift that comes from a source that is always abundantly creating and giving. This is why Jesus observes Sabbath by feeding and healing. Sabbath is a day to celebrate the abundant goodness of God, the wanton creativity of God. We rest so that we remember that who we are and what we have comes from God. We need not fight to procure nor fight to defend. We can rest because we trust in God to provide.
Tues Study: Isaiah 56
Tues Prayer: Still my mind and still my body Lord of the Sabbath. Turn my thoughts to gratitude for what you have provided. In these Sabbath moments, free me from fear and anxiety and allow me to relax into the experience of being your beloved. Then, as I rise to go into the day, allow me to take this peace and rest with me, so that I can be the shelter in a time storm for someone else.
Wed Scripture - Deuteronomy 5:14 - so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.
Wed Quote - Walter Brueggemann - “Thus the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus-causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, two, and three. Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighborly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.”
Wed Thought -
My hope is that I have established that Sabbath is not simply a rule to follow, but a gift given. A gift that reminds us that we are loved by God, not because of our productivity, our success, or our striving, but just because we exist and God delights in our existence. It is also a gift that reminds us that we need not live in the fear or anxiety of lack. Sabbath is, in essence a reminder not to worry, as Jesus taught in Matthew 6, about what we will eat or drink or wear, but to trust in God to provide. Falling into fear and anxiety creates tension and violence. Sabbath trust in God to provide shapes us as kind, loving and generous people.
The implications of that realization go far beyond our own sense of being loved and at peace. For instance, when we look to Leviticus 25 we find that the Sabbath day grows into a Sabbath year. Every seven years the land is to lie fallow, to have its own rest. And, every seventh Sabbath year is a year of Jubilee. This is a year in which debts are forgiven. When we read Leviticus 25 carefully we see that God has instituted Sabbath, Sabbath year and Jubilee as spiritual practices which teach us how to treat one another with dignity. In the year of the Jubilee, the poor are offered a chance to escape their poverty and provide for themselves again. If they have sold land, that land goes back to their ownership. If they've sold themselves into slavery due to debt, they go free. And the description of this year of Jubilee includes details of how to treat the impoverished with dignity; “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you.'
Leviticus is not the only place we see this. In both Isaiah 58 and 56 which I have encouraged you to read as further study this week, Sabbath practice is directly connected to the dignity of the vulnerable. In Isaiah 58 we read, 'If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry,' the prophet says,' and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, which he then connects to keeping Sabbath. Isaiah 56 extends the blessing of God to two social groups often considered farthest from God's blessing, foreigners and eunuchs, when they keep Sabbath. When they take on the covenental identity of one of God's chosen by keeping Sabbath, they are given the gift of dignity. It is no longer ethnicity or gender identity that identifies them or qualifies them. They are loved by God because they have chosen to accept the gift of Sabbath. All of this is rooted in the passage of Deuteronomy which is our scripture for the day. The gift of the Sabbath day is given as a reminder that God rescued the Hebrews (the outsiders) from slavery and gave them a new identity as God's chosen people. Sabbath is a reminder of this radical dignifying and re-identifying act by God on behalf of the Hebrews. Or, as we say in our communion celebration, Sabbath reminds us that God turned nobodies into somebodies by giving them (us) God's family name.
We are encouraged to rest and not labor on Sabbath so that we remember that unlike Pharoah who only values us for our effort and labor, God values us because we exist. And that Sabbath gift of love and dignity is given, according to Dueteronomy to all, including the foreign and domestic slaves that live in the land. The dignity of rest is a gift for all, regardless of where they come from or where they exist in the social hierarchy. Sabbath restores to us our dignity. We are loved. We are beloved. We have not earned it, which isn't a reminder of how sinful we are, but a reminder that we are no better or more worthy than others. Returning to Sunday's story, when Jesus heals the disabled man, he is restoring the mans dignity, his ability to earn and provide for his family, his status as God's beloved. While saying yes to Sabbath does mean saying no to some things, it also means saying yes to the opportunity to love others and treat them with dignity, for this is the purpose of Sabbath.
Wed Study - Matthew 6; Leviticus 25
Wed Prayer - Remind me Lord, in this moment of Sabbath, that I am loved. Too often my failures, faults and frustrations crowd my thoughts. Remind me in this moment of all that is Beloved in me. Still the voices that tear me down and allow me to hear your voice of confidence and affection. Then send me out into the world to lend my own voice to your own that I might remind someone else that they too are your Beloved.
Thurs Scripture - Isaiah 56 -
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Thurs Quote - Walter Brueggemann - “Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”
Thurs Thought -
The passage from Isaiah 56 that I have quoted does not reference Sabbath. But as I have stated earlier this week, the chapter closes by connecting all of what the prophet has said about creating justice to the faithful observance of Sabbath.
What we notice in today's reading is a call from God to leave behind unjust systems of oppression and exploitation. God is describing the kind of social systems operating in Israel, operating presumably at the same time as Sabbath observance. And God is displeased that the observance of Sabbath has not explanded into just social systems as intended. It is apparent that the hungry go unfed, the poor are not provided for, the wanderer (foreigner?) is not greeting with hospitality, or the naked clothed. There is not only social but familial breakdown according to the prophet who says, 'turn away from your own flesh and blood.' The social systems God had intended to establish through Sabbath were breaking down. OR, put another way, social systems not based on the grace and mercy of Sabbath, were taking hold in Israel, and return to Sabbath was encouraged so as to resist what Brueggemann calls the 'anxiety system.'
But let's go to another story in which Sabbath figures prominently. In Exodus 16 the Israelites have been freed from slavery in Egypt, led across the Red Sea and so rescued from Pharoah's army. Now they are in the wilderness. They are hungry and not knowing where their food will come from, anxious and afraid. So God provides manna, bread from heaven. Remember, they gathered manna every day, but on the sixth day they gathered twice as much as usual so that they did not have to gather on the seventh day because it was Sabbath. Here is where the story is very interesting. Those who gathered more than their share of manna found that it went bad, it rotted. Those who were left without enough, miraculously were provided for. And those who went out on the Sabbath day to gather, found nothing. The manna was not only a means of sustenance, but a lesson. The manna was a lesson in trusting God to provide. And the manna was an illustration of the Sabbath community God was creating in opposition to the anxiety system of Pharoah. The anxiety system made people fearful and try to hoard more than they needed, which left some without enough. The anxiety system could not trust in God and did not care about the well-being of others. The manna was God's way of teaching Israel to resist the anxiety system of Pharoah.
As we have been learning over the past few days, Sabbath teaches us not only to trust in God, but to value and honor all of creation, including enemies and others, but first teaching us to be merciful to ourselves. But as we see in today's scripture from Isaiah and the story from Exodus 16, Sabbath teaches us to discern unhealthy social systems that privilege a few and impoverish the vulnerable. And, Sabbath teaches us how to create healthy, wholesome and just alternatives to systems that exploit and oppress the vulnerable. Sabbath is a method of resisting a culture which defines success on earning more, amassing more goods and wealth and doing so in competition to others. Sabbath says that this divides us, makes our neighbors into our enemies. Sabbath also says that this reduces us in our own humanity. It makes us small by making us combative. It diminishes us because we are compelled by fear, not joy,not purpose. Sabbath says that this reduces our Spirituality because we are not trusting God to provide, but making ourselves and our wealth the center of life, the ultimate good, the only active agent in our lives.
This does circle back to Sabbath as NO, as a series of prohibitions. But now we can see better what we are saying NO to. We are saying no to social systems that value profit over personal connections and communal well-being. We are saying no to systems that pit us in constant competition against one another. We are saying no to valuing ourselves according to welath and possession. We are saying no a mind-set that tells us that it is all up to us. This last one is subtle. It can feel good at first, not only to be in control, but to be depended on and important. But it degrades us, eats away at us and burns us out. You can probably think of other things that Sabbath is teaching us to say NO to. No to abusing the earth, No to degrading humanity, No to violence. But remember, we are saying no to these things because they diminish the humanity of others and of ourselves. We say no to these things so that we can say yes, as we will explore in full tomorrow, to life as given and defined by God.
Thurs Study: Exodus 16
Thurs Prayer: Teach me, Lord of the Sabbath to set limits in my life. To set limits on my working, on my purchasing, on my striving. Teach me to set limits on my fears and anxieties. All of these in moderation are good. All of these, when they functionally become my god, my ultimate priority, diminish and use me and make me less. Use Sabbath to teach me to set limits, and in the space these limits open up, come and dwell with me. Heal and inspire me, renew and empower me in that space, that in my work and my rest I might find joy. Amen
Fri Scripture - Luke 6:9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
Fri Quote - Eugene Peterson - If you keep the Sabbath, you start to see creation not as somewhere to get away from your ordinary life, but a place to frame an attentiveness to your life.
In today's quote, Eugene Peterson suggests that Sabbath inspires an attentiveness to life.
Attentiveness to our lives seems to be a great challenge. Technological advances, such as internet, home computers, and smart phones, keep us attentive to a wealth of information about the world around us. Social media keeps us connected to friends and is a source of news, real and fake. Cable television allows us to customize a host of entertainment, educational and informational programs. We have already, at the beginning of the week, rehearsed some of the demands and responsibilities we must prioritize, like activities for our children, care for aging adults, dr's appointments, chores, etc, etc. Our lives are full. I know people who take lap-tops on vacation so as to check work e-mails because otherwise, the load of unresponded to e-mails that would pile up while on vacation would simply be too much to handle.
And this, perhaps more than any other reason, is why we need to stop regularly and observe Sabbath. Because it seems so illogical and even impossible to stop. But we are careening through our lives, trying to fit everything in, working long hours, working when we aren't at work, working while on vacation, rushing and hurrying without pausing to consider, why? What are my life's goals? What is best for myself and my family? What is necessary for happiness? How do I even define it? 'Life' throws so much at us, not only challenge and struggle, but potential and opportunity. A wise mentor once said to me, 'you can't say yes to everything.' And I would suggest we are trying to do too much. Perhaps it feels good to be busy and important and feel a sense of pride and purpose. But after a while it is exhausting. Perhaps it is a relief to be busy instead of still and silent and alone with our thoughts. But ignored problems and pains don't go away. My point is that we are so busy living life, that we aren't being attentive to life. And that is the benefit of Sabbath. It allows us a time of rest to be attentive, but not anxious. It allows us a time to pause but not for distraction and entertainment alone. It is a time to assess what our lives mean, how our time is used, and above all to listen for the voice of God telling us where, what we are called to be and do. More importantly, who we are called to be.
Let's review all that we have learned about Sabbath. We have learned that Sabbath is a opportunity for us as individuals to be merciful to ourselves, to give ourselves the gift of rest. It is a time in which we can set aside responsibility and enjoy life. And that is the root to so much good. Because we have learned to love ourselves, be grateful and taken the time for joy, Sabbath teaches us how to define what the good life is, how to recognize and then resist those temptations that diminish us and use up. Sabbath teaches us how to love and care for others, to form bonds of friendship, to value community and family. Sabbath teaches us how to be generous and giving and so contribute to the common good. Sabbath teaches us to care for ourselves and for others, because it is a reminder of the God who cares for us. Sabbath teaches us again about who God is and how God acts. God cares and provides and protects. God is the sources of life, we are not, which takes the pressure off of our working and striving. And so Sabbath re-orients our lives. It shows us what is good. It teaches us to balance between purposeful work and rest, sacrifice and joy. It reminds us how valuable and loved we are and how loved others are as well. It rescues us from fear and anxiety and empowers us to face those with confidence. Sabbath, when accepted and observed faithfully has the potential to reshape our lives. Which is exactly what we saw in Sunday's scripture. The Lord of the Sabbath was able to restore the good life.
Fri Prayer - Help me Lord of the Sabbath to pause and take a look at my life, this life you have given me. So much is thrown at me, so many responsibilities, so many challenges, so many opportunities. Help me to pause for Sabbath stillness to listen deeply within myself to rediscover my priorities and also to listen for your call. What would you have me do and be? What should I say yes to, and what do I need to refuse? What work would you have me do? But just as importantly, what joy would you have me experience? In Sabbath stillness, help me pause and look at this life you have given me, not in despair or disappointment, but with gratitude and hope. Amen.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.