Rev. Jonathan wrapped up our sermon series on the seven practices of the Way of Love with a meditation on the importance of Rest. Practicing the sabbath is a way of resisting the dehumanizing influences of rampant consumerism in our society.
“This week, the practice is rest. To me, this is probably one of the most critical practices of the seven we are talking about. And the biggest reason why I think it’s one of the most critical is because of the way our world functions. The western world in particular functions as if rest is not important. That we can somehow just keep going, we can go harder, we can go faster, we can go longer. And that we don’t build rest into our rhythms, which are naturally already there. So, as a culture by and large, we come up with all sorts of ways of extending our lives… And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the impulse, I think, comes from a place of the longer we can be productive, the longer we can grow our gross domestic product… it’s a weird sort of thing that consumerism does to us. We have a 24-7 news cycle. I remember a day when there were large portions of the day where I could flip through all the channels, and not hear all the news that was going on. Our minds are not meant to absorb that much information, absorbing the amount of information that we absorb in today’s life, with social media and the internet and all of those things. So rest is one of these things that we tend not to value in our society, in our culture. And it’s something that’s really embedded in our natural rhythms.
Some of you have and still do farm. And what do we know about the land when we’re farming? Is has to rest at some point! At some point, the land will be zapped of all its nutrients - it will not produce the vegetables or the fruit that you intend to produce based on what you put in the ground. So we build in natural cycles of letting the land lie fallow for a year, or we plant different crops so that the soil can replenish itself.
We have our own individual natural rhythms of needing sleeping. What happens to us if we don’t get enough sleep? We get cranky, among other things! Our brain isn’t able to function the way that it typically is able to. Our bodies don’t function the way they’re supposed to under normal circumstances. Lack of sleep can be tied to all sorts of diseases… Even though we don’t have a work week anymore, we still use that language that we have a work week and then a weekend. You have two days where you don’t work. Although these days it seems like there are a lot of people that are still working. So even if you’re not working and I’m not working, a lot of people are. Because we have it sort of built into our system that stores have to be open every single day, right? My generation in the Midwest still kept the practice of no sports activities - no extracurricular activities on Sundays. But after my generation, a couple years after I graduated high school, that went out the window. So now you have activities on Sundays that are connected to schools, or are extracurricular outside of schools. And we don’t really have a day of the week that is set aside just for resting. Do you see what I’m saying? None of these things are bad necessarily, but if we don’t take some time to intentionally set aside for rest, it will go away, it will pass us by…
Theologically and liturgically, we have rest build into our way of life together. Genesis says that God created in six days and on the seventh day, rested. And when Moses went up to the mountain and brought down the covenant to the people, one of those ten primary covenants was keeping a day of sabbath, a day of rest. We look at our natural rhythms of the church and the church year and we have times or rest. In fact, after the sermon each week, what is the scripture that the priest always quotes? “Let the earth keep silence.” There is so much noise in our world that the silence is a respite for us. It’s a place of rest and of quiet. So the world will always value going hard, going fast, going as long as you possibly can until you can’t go any further, until you “burn out,” right?
The world also values what we do, what we produce, what we make. And that again, is not always a bad thing, but when it’s balanced too much on that side, it becomes unhealthy. We are not called human doings, we’re called human beings. This is what Moses was doing. This is what Jesus was doing. They were going into the presence of God to just “be.” Moses was not contributing to the gross domestic product of the people of Israel when he was up on the mountain with God. Jesus was not out changing the world when he took Peter and James and John up on the mount to be together and to be with God. And in those spaces of just being and being present, something changed about them. Moses’ face would shine. Jesus was transfigured. There was a sense of glory about him. And though we’re talking about rest today and it seems like the disciples weren’t getting any sleep up on the mountain, there’s a sense in which they were just resting in the prescence of God. So that when they did come down from the mountain, they were able to experience the world in a very different way. And the world was able to experience them in a very different way. The people of Israel were able to listen to Moses in a way they weren’t able to before because they could see the value of Moses just resting with God.
Taking time away. Taking time to stop and to just be. To leave the rat race of the world. And the rat race looks like a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I get asked questions a lot of times - did you read this story or did you hear about this thing that happened? And I often have to say no, because at some point I just have to shut everything off. I have to shut down Facebook. I have to shut down the media. Some people work in industries where they’re expected to just go and go and go. Mentors of mine, even before I was ordained, talked proudly about their sixty and seventy and eighty hour work weeks. It was a source of pride. I said no, I don’t want to do that! That’s not healthy. You’re not modeling a healthy life for the church and our congregations. But there’s this sense that we always have to do more. And sabbath is a way, rest is a way, of actually resisting that and saying that that’s not of the greatest value.
Walter Bruggerman, who is one of my favorite biblical scholars, wrote a book called ‘Sabbath as Resistance.’ He’s talking about politically, and in terms of the consumer culture, how sabbath rest is an act of violation against the empire, which it is. Saying that we’re not going to participate in that game. That game that’s going to say - wear us out, keep us enslaved, work us to the bone - because we’re more than that. We’re more valuable than that as people. He connects that to the people of Israel being enslaved in Egypt and coming out of slavery. The idea is that we are always supposed to be producing more for the nation, for the empire, whether we’re an active participant in it or not, whether we’re enslaved by it or not. He’s saying sabbath is a way of saying: we will resist that. We will take back our dignity as human beings and not do everything that you say that we’re supposed to do. And we know this naturally again, because of the natural rhythms that we are endowed and created with. From the beginning of creation, God has established this sacred pattern of going and returning. You go up to the mountain and you return down from the mountain. You go to the temple or synagogue to worship and you return back to your community. You go to church on Sunday morning and you return to work. You return to your home life. But you go, and set time aside, set time apart, for rest, and for restoration.
And the really challenging part of that is when we participate in the global capitalist scheme of overproduction and overworking ourselves, we believe this myth that we somehow have control of our lives. And the more we exert control over our lives, we exert control over the lives of others, the less we trust God to be in control. So the practice of rest and the practice of sabbath is saying, “I willl let go of control. At least for a day. At least for a few hours. And I will try to trust that God, in the midst of that absence of doing, that absence of going, will do something to transfigure my life. Will do something to change my life, something to restore my life to who I really am, restore me to the fullness of who I am as a human being, as a person. God invites us into that time of restoration, that time of wholeness. With our, bodies, with our minds, with our spirits, our communities, even our church institutions. By resting we place our trust in God to be the primary actor in our lives, not the secondary actor in our lives. The actor who will bring all things to their fullness in due time.
So as a community that is called to live in the Way of Love, resting allows us to restore ourselves back to people who have the capacity for love. Because when we’re worn down and we’re tired and we’re cranky, we’re more reactive. We’re less able sometimes to love others and to love ourselves. And we’re less able to receive the love of God who calls us ‘children,’ who calls us beloved, and calls us to listen. And it’s hard to listen when we just fill our lives with noise, with words, with work, with productivity. So we create space and silence, space for rest, we create rest for just being. Being with God, being with one another. So as we continue on this Way of Love together as a community, may we consider the ways in which we need to rest. We need to just stop and to just be.”
Readings: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36