“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