Worship notes: sabbath as resistance #1

WORSHIP NOTES:  Over the next 6 weeks I will be using Walter Brueggemann's new book, Sabbath as Resistance: saying NO to the culture of NOW - as the foundation for my worship reflections. We'll also have conversation about the text after each Sunday celebration. I am looking forward to being with the community again after two weeks apart. It was a joy to celebrate midday Eucharist today.

I LOVE vacations:  I love every PART of vacations – from the planning and anticipation to the actual experiences and surprises – and this year at the Montreal Jazz Festival we encountered some wonderful musical experiences and met some truly remarkable people along the way. We had the chance to bask in our birthday celebrations with our children and grandson and take in a few soul-satisfying walks around an incredible city. For me it was a time for rest and play, love and music, conversation and silence.

+  And as we were driving home I began to realize that over time I have even come to love the ending of our vacations: we return to our own homes and beds, reclaim the rhythms of our ordinary lives, unpack our luggage, listen to the new music we have collected and try to carry forward a gentle sense of refreshment into the work of each new day.

+  As the Scriptures tell us, to everything there is a season, yes? 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.

Our spiritual cousins in Judaism are better at doing this than most
contemporary Christians. Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has written, “As in so many things concerning Christian faith and practice, we (often) have to be reeducated by Judaism (because) it has been able to sustain its commitment to (hallowing time) as a positive practice of faith in the Sabbath.” So today, fresh from the re-creation of my time away, I want to talk with you about the radical importance of honoring the Sabbath.

Throughout the summer I will be using brother Brueggemann’s new book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of NOW as a guide – and I invite you to get it and read along with me. Each week I will lift up some of his biblical insights, share them with you and then invite you to share your reactions and questions with me. We’ll even regroup for more conversation after worship, too, for those who would like to go deeper.

And here’s why I think this is so important:  we no longer understand or practice Sabbath keeping in its deepest and most liberating sense. We have forgotten why God ordained this way of life as essential for faithful living four thousand years ago. We no longer grasp what a bold alternative the Sabbath is to the busyness that infects and addicts us all. And as independent as we like to think we are, we don’t really know how to unplug ourselves from “the demanding, chattering and all pervasive presence of advertising” that saturations our contemporary culture and clutters our soul.

·   This morning’s gospel reading finds Jesus telling his disciples a story about the way God has written grace into the very rhythms of creation: the seed of God’s love, he tells us, will grow and bear fruit wherever there is rich, deep and uncluttered soil. It will try to bring blessings amidst the rocks and sand and thorn, but it needs uncluttered soil to prosper.

·   And in the tradition of Moses and the prophets this uncluttered soil comes into being through Sabbath keeping. Honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy, you see, not only unclutters our lives, it brings us clarity about the very nature of the God we love – and how we can go deeper into God’s love. 

·   How does the Psalmist put it:  happy – or more precisely blessed – are those who are undefiled as they walk in the way of the Lord?

To walk in the way of the Lord is to move and live according to the Holy One’s commandments – God’s decrees as the Psalm says – to embody and embrace the 10 Commandments. That’s what Jesus did during his ministry and that’s what we are called to do in our generation: live and move and have our being in the ways of the Lord.

So let’s look at the opening of these commandments in Exodus 20 because they offer us invaluable insights – and what is the first commandment? Thou shall have NO other gods before me, right? Now think about this with me for just a moment:

·  The first four commandments concern God and the remaining six speak to us about living as God’s people.  Scholars have suggested that the fourth commandment – remember the Sabbath and keep it holy – is the hinge between the sacred and the secular precepts of the Lord.  Brueggemann puts it like this: the fourth commandment looks back to the first three and the God who rests, and, looks forward to the commandments that concern a way to live at rest with our neighbors.

·   The Sabbath is not only at the heart of these commandments, you see, but for Israel the Sabbath is also a short hand summary of God’s story. How do the commandments start out in Exodus 20? Would someone read that text out loud, please?

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Our God – the God of Israel and Jesus Christ – is the God who brought us out of the land of bondage and slavery in Egypt.  In this sense, Sabbath is a short hand way of talking about the Exodus – the experience of God hearing the cries of those in pain, inspiring Moses to lead the Hebrew slaves AWAY from the never-ending work of Pharaoh’s slavery and the children of God finding a land of grace and hope in the Promised Land.  “The Sabbath commandment” Brueggemann writes, “is drawn into the Exodus narrative for the God who rests is the same God who emancipates from slavery… those who had been bound by the work system of Egypt and its gods.”

·   Are you still with me? Because here’s the kicker: the REASON why we are told – and prohibited – from worshipping other gods – in this case the gods of Egypt, Syria, Babylon and Persia – is because these gods are insatiable. They demand work, work and more work.  All they want is MORE – more products, more gold, and more grains to store in more pyramids – and to get more, they required slaves.

·   Part of what the Ten Commandments teaches us is that Pharaoh served gods whose demands were relentless, whose economy required slavery and oppression, who organized life in such a way that there could be no rest for all but the elite.  Just do a quick survey of chapter five of Exodus and you will be dumb-founded for “Pharaoh comes across as a hard-nosed production manager for whom production schedules are inexhaustible.”

Read selections from Brueggemann re: working for Pharaoh pp. 3-4

Now contrast “this hopeless weariness with the God who erupts into the story
as a burning bush – a God who hears the despairing fatigue of the slaves – and who is resolved in liberating the broken and wounded ones from their suffering.” This is the God who celebrates freedom – a god who knows about rest – and has created all things in such a way that grace is built into the natural order of things – so much so that not only do all of God’s creatures need and honor rest, but so does the LORD!  “The first commandment is a declaration,” you see “that the God of the exodus is unlike all the gods the slaves have known heretofore.”

·   And just so that there can be no confusion between THIS god and those who relentless crave more and more, THIS god is revealed as “the God of mercy, steadfast love and faithfulness.”

·   That’s one of the crucial truths about Sabbath keeping: it reveals God’s deepest nature. It tells us that the LORD GOD is NOT “a workaholic, that the Lord our God is NOT anxious about the way creation works and that the well-being of all creation does not depend on endless work.”

Ours is a God who RESTS – who seeks refreshment and renewal – who enjoys a vacation.  Ours is a God who is not restless, but restful.  And we grow closer to God’s nature – learn more about God’s will – and unclutter our lives when we, too practice resting:  “Sabbath becomes a decisive, concrete and visible way of opting for and aligning ourselves with the God of rest.”

·   The other three opening commandments – NO other gods before me, no idols and no trivializing God’s name – reinforce that walking in the way of THIS God is different from serving the gods of oppression and obsession.

·   In fact, I would go so far as to say that the reason the Bible tells us that ours is a jealous God is because God’s love for us is so fierce. We often think of jealousy in a negative way, but this word – qanna in Hebrew – is only ever used for God. It is as if the Lord’s heart were breaking with extreme grief and anger whenever we choose to walk in the way of other gods.

·   Does that make sense? Please, God weeps and shouts, do NOT return to the ways of bondage that exhaust and destroy:  walk in my ways – follow my path – that you might no longer be weary and heavy laden but know… rest.

Ok, that’s my reflection – born of the study and hard work of both Walter Brueggemann and others – about Sabbath and its importance. Brueggemann likes to say that Sabbath is not only a way to resist the culture of over-work, stress and anxiety, but Sabbath offers an alternative, too.  So, what are you thinking?

·   Did I clearly state why Sabbath is so important to our way of being faithful?

·   Do you have any questions you want me to unpack or go deeper with?

·   What gets in our way of honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy?

·   What clutters our hearts and minds and live? What stresses us out?

This challenge is obviously ancient – not something we’ve just encountered – but something God’s people have been wrestling with since the start of time. The way we experience the relentlessness and inadequacy, however, IS different .  
+  Can you name aloud some of the other gods that consume us – and wear us out – and render us anxious and exhausted?

+  God’s word in Scripture suggests that honestly keeping and practice Sabbath unplugs us from the madness: it is one of the ways we move from death into life.

+  So what’s it going to take for us to start making Sabbath keeping an essential for us at First Church:  what would that look like?

Blessed are those who practice God’s decrees – who honor and keep the Sabbath – for they seek the Lord in all things with their whole hearts.



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