I often wonder, as many of us do, about the ways in which the community of Jesus followers can act in subversive ways to bring about more Kingdom Life on earth. I think of things like collectively choosing to not purchase items made with slave labor in such mass numbers that the powers that be are shaken, taking in all the kids in foster care (there is more than enough of us to take in 500,000 kids) and fully embracing the broken without caveat in both grace and truth. But then of course there’s the lonely, the elderly, the trafficked people who live ensnared under the radar in my city and yours – sometimes just blocks away from our own homes. And there’s so much more that is so upside down. I feel the weight to be too much to bear most days. When the yoke becomes too heavy, I know I have lost my bearings.
Keeping the Sabbath is also a subversive act. I am one who so often gets caught up in the seeming importance of my own life – feeding the Sheep, ministering to the broken, listening to stories, shepherding my own family, crafting words of hope. These are good things. Some days I am in awe of the life I get to lead that is so full of people and rife with glimpses into redeeming work of God. But this is where I get to participate. It is where I get to serve. It is where I get to learn and be sharpened by iron that is sharper than my own. But this is not my life. Sabbath is where I recover my life. I am rediscovering Sabbath as a spiritual practice.
Sabbath brings to mind the Genesis week, the birthing and flourishing of life culminating in the Rest of God. Richard Middleton says that the Hebrew words of Genesis 1 are similar to words used in the rebuilding of the temple by Nehemiah. He was creating a living tabernacle in which to dwell with us. Creation was to be a place that births and nourishes life and a place to participate in that life and where God communes with us and we commune with each other. God created a place of His Shalom (peace) which carries the idea of universal flourishing, wholeness and delight. It is a “rich state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom He delights.” It’s Kingdom stuff.
Of course we know what follows the creation story – Creation turned against God and has been fragmented ever since. But herein lies the subversion. Our western culture says that says waiting is wasting and play is self-indulgent. (On the other hand, it also glorifies dissociation as the answer to work and stress but that’s for another time.) It says that ultimately, we control our destinies. But observing the Sabbath points to God. It says we do not make the earth spin or the crops grow or bring the rain and the sunshine. We stop our striving as He makes space for our very souls to be restored and re-created. And God’s command was for all. It reflects His heart for justice. Sabbath points to true Shalom because time set apart for rest and pleasure and friends is not just for the leisure classes. When we all stop working, even hierarchy falls away. The CEO and the hotel groundskeeper are difficult to distinguish when playing volleyball on the beach. The ways of measuring ourselves one against the other are diminished. A taste of Shalom is ours again.
I was reminded of Sabbath rest and God’s Shalom as I sat with some dear friends this week. We sat in a little circle on a deck overlooking the green and lush Colorado foothills. We were utterly at peace in one another’s presence. One poured out her heart, sharing depths that few others in her life could understand. Our little circle held her stories, rejoiced with her, wept with her, sat in awe of her. Then we lunched and chatted for hours and ended the day with ice cream – the real kind full of fat and richness and flavor. None of that no-fat nonsense for us. It was sacred space. Sitting in these moments of Shalom, I sensed that the engine within me that is perpetually revving was finally starting to slow down, even though it’s been a whole month into our sabbatical time. It’s no small irony that those in church ministry tend to neglect the Sabbath the most! No wonder we lose the vision for Shalom.
This is God’s command: That we restore our souls by intentional time with good friends and family. Set-apart time. Holy time. We shalt play and enjoy, we shalt take in beauty in mind, heart and stomach. We shalt take in each other. We shalt play board games and go hiking and read and rest. We shalt barbecue and fill the cooler with soft drinks and beer. We shalt throw the ball for the dog and teach our kids to fish. We shalt watch silly movies and pour peanut M&M’s into the popcorn. As in Hebraic tradition, we shalt also welcome the other, whoever that may be, to join with us. We shalt remember that we awake each morning into a day that God has already begun, into a story that has been playing for millennia. It does not begin or end with us.
On this day I lay down what has not been accomplished. For this day I lay down my anguish to be a hero and entrust even the suffering ones who are ever present in my mind to God. We must all learn to entrust the work of our hands both finished and unfinished – as important as we may believe it is – to God alone. We remember that we are held by Someone larger than ourselves. We remember that He is God and we are not.
We remember why play and rest are serious stuff. For in our obedience to Sabbath, we also prepare together a vision for the coming reign of God.
Lord of the Sabbath, I relinquish to you my important papers and emails and phone calls and projects. I give you my mind abuzz with ideas and visions. I lay my dreams and the energy that drives them on Your altar to do with what You will.
Lord of the Sabbath, I call on your grace to live full and present today. Help me to give Your Spirit full reign and to act from my truest self, where You reside. Help me to receive and enjoy others just as they are.
Lord of the Sabbath, may our play and laughter and teasing and eating be a pleasant fragrance to you as we enter in with whole hearts. Pour out Your mercy on those who are enslaved whether in mind, body or soul – or all three- and so are not free to observe the Sabbath. May You give them Kingdom moments. Help us to remember You, Lord of the Sabbath, who holds us and our work and lives as we enter a new week.
In the strong name of Jesus who is our Sabbath, Amen.
(quote is from Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. from “Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be: A Breviary of Sin”)