Misunderstood but engaged...

As pastor/preacher/teacher, I am often stunned by what people hear me saying on Sunday morning. I am equally baffled by some of the conclusions they reach. I've experienced it long enough to know it is beyond my control, but still I find myself shaking my head in wonderment.
+ In my current series re: Sabbath keeping, I can't tell you how many people have said to me they are truly too busy to keep the Sabbath in any real way, shape or form. And this doesn't include those folk who are genuinely too busy to come to worship on Sunday.

+ Other folk have interpreted my encouragement to keep the Sabbath as license to escape from the busyness of their lives. Now, Sabbath rest IS all about getting a break, but it is a break that is intended to both refresh our souls and strengthen us for loving re-engagement with real life. Escape is the polar opposite of Sabbath keeping.

+ I have even discerned that because some of our folk are so exhausted, they have heard the call to Sabbath as an invitation to disconnect from church!


Believe me, in more than one way, I know many people are worn out and over extended. But the call to Sabbath is NOT about disconnecting from that which is life giving. Nor is it license to opt out of community. To me that seems like selfishness not repentance. You see, Sabbath keeping asks us to rethink all the rest of our lives - how we spend/waste/fritter/indulge the vast bulk of our time. To be sure, there are church events and commitments that should be critiqued, too. But not before a serious ethical inventory of what we do with the vast bulk of our waking days.

One of the blessings of Sabbath is that it helps us live as our deepest and best selves during our WORKING hours. Norman Wirzba puts it like this in Living the Sabbath:

When we become Sabbath people, we give one of the most compelling witnesses to the world that we worship a God who desires our collective joy and good. We give concrete expression to an authentic faith that is working to deflate the anxious and destructive pride that supposes we have to "do it all" by ourselves and through our own effort.

And, of course, if the ONLY wiggle room we have is to cut out worship - or disconnect from community life at church - then something is out of whack - and it probably ISN'T church. Smith and Patison note in Slow Church that in the United States "we come close to worshiping work. Eight-six percent of American men and 67 percent of American women work more than forty hours a week."
The Japanese have a word, karoshi, meaning "death by overwork," but according to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than the British and 499 more hours per year than the French. We don't work to live; we live to work. The only one of the Ten Commandments we publicly brag about breaking is the one about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy, and yet we are never given any indication (in the Old Testament or the New) that forsaking the Sabbath is any more or less justifiable than murder, theft or adultery.               (Slow Church, p. 140)

My hope and prayer during this series on the Sabbath is two fold: I want to encourage and equip our folk with the desire and resources to start unplugging from the modern madness of overwork, and, I want to show that learning "what is enough" is a sacred way of living as a prayer. "Sabbath is an exercise in radical grace: in the midst of our sin and brokenness, God loves us." Loves us enough to help us rest, loves us enough to show us when to say yes and when to say no, loves us enough to claim a rhythm that lets us become our best selves.

This week, Di and I embraced the Sabbath - and it was just what the soul
doctor ordered.  We walked and rested on Friday - NO commerce - we talked and feasted. On Saturday we did modest errands and rested some more so that we could be fully present on Sunday morning. And after worship, and yet another nap, we visited with our children and sweet grandson before they headed home to Brooklyn. This type of gentle resting and renewal strengthens me for a week of ministry. Without it, I begin to see everything through the "eyes of resentment." (That's a statement I made this morning that I've been asked to unpack and will in a subsequent post.)

My deepest prayer is that more and more of our people can unplug from the frenzy that is killing them and weakening their beautiful families. In this the Sabbath becomes a grace-filled encounter that is truly counter cultural. And I guess I will keep risking being misunderstood because this is too important to give up on.

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