Summer and Sabbath

Good morning, Friends!

I’ve got a question for you this morning. Where did the summer go this year?

School is starting tomorrow. The weather’s getting cooler. It just doesn’t feel as though summer ought to be over. It feels as though we ought to have just another few weeks of long days and lazy evenings. It feels as though summer ought to last just a little longer.

I want to sit out on the porch and eat breakfast few more times, on a warm summer morning. I want a few more weeks when there’s nothing pressing that has to be done. I’ve got some books I’d like to read without interruption. I’ve got some walks I’d like to take, and places I’d like to visit, before the cold weather comes.

There’s actually a purpose to this reflection. Because rest and re-creation is actually a commandment of God. Let’s read the Bible together on this point.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.

On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

– Exodus 20:8-11

During most of the year, we’re always thinking about the two great commandments. Do you all remember what those are?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and with all your soul. And you shall love your neighbor. . .”

Love God, and love your neighbor. That’s what we do around here. All your heart. All your mind. All your soul. All your strength. Full throttle. And come June 1st, we all lie down and pant.

Actually, you might have noticed that I didn’t repeat all of the two great commandments. Some of you who are really sharp may have picked up on that. Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul, and love your neighbor. . .as yourself. 

So, in a way, that’s not two commandments. It’s three.

a) Love God
b) Love your neighbor
c) love yourself

I think that summer time here in North Carolina is partly about c). It’s partly “love yourself” time.

We tend to feel guilty about loving ourselves and taking care of ourselves. It seems like such a selfish thing to do. But it’s also necessary. We need that self-care and self-repair time.

There’s a time for us to work! There’s a time to burn those calories for Christ! But there’s also a time for us to rest. There’s a time to recoup. There’s a time for us to kick back, and enjoy the pleasure and the simple beauty of God’s creation.

And it’s not just being lazy. Most of the time we see ourselves as active, and tough. We accomplish things by our own efforts. We forge ahead by the sweat of our brow. This morning’s scripture encourages us to change that perspective. God says we’re supposed to rest. To stop all the things that we spend our time on doing.

God says we’re supposed to take time off, time away from all the things we spend our time and energy and passion on. One of the very first commandments God gives is for us to step back, one day in every week, and rest.

Our strength is not just in doing things. Our strength isn’t just in acting, or building. Our true spiritual strength is in returning. Returning to God. That’s what makes strong people strong. Turning back. Turning in. Turning toward God. Turning and re-turning are the most basic movements of the spiritual life. Inward quiet and inward trust are the rock, the foundation, of religious faith.

One of the things we don’t do very well during between Labor Day and Memorial Day — that is, during the school year – is to rest. We live very un-restful lives.

I counsel people from time to time. It’s not the main thing I do as a pastor, but people come and talk with me. One of the things that people talk to me most about, is burnout. We do too much, for too long, with too little spiritual reserve or margin. Many of us are scheduled from early in the morning till late at night, seven days a week. If some people could figure out a way to work for eight days a week, we still wouldn’t be satisfied.

And it’s because we feel responsible. Unless we have a long “to-do” list, we feel guilty. Unless we’re on the ragged edge, we feel unfulfilled. Time is not a resource for us. Time is our enemy. It’s a kind of a spiritual disease of our generation.

Burnout has replaced martyrdom for many modern Christians. Did you ever think about that? Burnout is almost like a badge of honor. It’s an acceptable form of self-sacrifice. We work ourselves to death. Many of us are so tracked into our work into that we think that it’s holy.

Today’s scripture gives us a different point of view. It says, On the seventh day God finished the work which God had done. God rested on the seventh day from all the work which God had done.

If all we do is work, we’re not walking in the way of God. Part of what makes us truly faithful, is not that we burn out. It’s that we rest.

I had a friend back in Indiana who boasted to me that he had never taken a day off from work, never took a vacation day, in fifteen years. He worked seven days a week. The only time he went back to the home place was for a funeral.

He was proud of himself. He really felt virtuous. But he also kind of twitched a lot. He was a nice guy, I really liked him, but he was angry a lot of the time.

One time I told him, “You know, even God Almighty took a day off once a week. Do you think you’re better than God?”

He didn’t get it. My friend was burning out. He was close to a nervous breakdown, because he was working so hard all the time.

The biblical cure for burnout isn’t therapy. It’s something called sabbath.

Part of what this “break time” over the summer is all about is the re-creation and restoration of our lives. And I guess what I want to say is that maybe we could be a little more intentional about it.

I remember a couple of years ago, a friend asked me, “Well, Josh, did you spend a lot of time this summer out in the yard on a blanket, soaking up rays?”

And I had to say, “No, I didn’t.” In fact, when I thought about it, I couldn’t remember the last time I just sat out in the sun. Doing nothing, just be-ing. Do you know how important it is, just to be? For somebody who talks about prayer and re-creation as much as I do, it was pretty embarrassing.

I’ve got a confession to make. My wife and I have been here two years. We arrived here at Springfield two years ago this week. And we have never been to the mountains. We have never been to the beach.

At first, I was busy starting a new job. Then we were fixing up the parsonage. Then we were taking care of my mom. It was all important. It was all good. But we’re missing out. We’ve been missing out on the beauty of this area. We’ve been missing out on the sabbath.

Earlier this summer, I was reading a book of serious theology. I was reading Calvin and Hobbes. You remember them? It’s a cartoon strip about this crazy kid and his toy tiger – it ran a few years ago.

Anyway, Calvin’s been out playing hard all day, he’s getting undressed for bed, and he says to Hobbes, “Any time when you don’t finish the day with grass stains on your knees, you ought to seriously re-examine your priorities.”

When I talk about sabbath, I’m not talking about being more prayerful and solemn. I’m talking about finishing up at the end of the day with grass stains on your soul from playing outside.

Do any of you remember in the Bible where it talks about the Jubilee? The jubilee, is you remember from the Bible, was a celebration, kind of a year-long sabbath that happened every 49 years. During the jubilee, people who had been slaves were set free. People went back to the place they came from, back to their home place, and reclaimed their identity.

They found out who they were again. They remembered the God who guided their ancestors. They remembered the blessings they were born with. They threw off the chains that life put on them. Their debts were cancelled, and they started over again.

The sabbath is kind of like that. It’s a once-a-week mini jubilee. It’s remembering our blessings, and remembering our freedom, once a week. It’s a day off from slavery – slavery to our jobs, slavery to our responsibilities, slavery to our endless to-do lists.  It’s a time of physical and spiritual rest, and God commands us to do this, one full day a week.

It’s interesting to note that in the Ten Commandments, the commandment to rest comes just after the one to worship God, and not to use the Lord’s name wrongly. But it comes before all those other commandments – the one to honor our parents, not to kill, not to break our marriage promises, not to steal or lie or be greedy.

Those are all important things. But it’s almost as if God says, “If you rest – if you really and truly rest every week – you won’t need to do those other things. Your heart will be healed. People who are rested don’t want to kill. They don’t want to steal. They don’t want to do bad things. Because their hearts are rested and centered in God.

We like to party here at Springfield Friends. Most of our “activities” have fellowship and refreshment as their main purpose. Most of our activities aren’t do things. They’re be things.

I would like to encourage us to find our own ways to do this. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Ask some friends over for chips and sodas or dessert. When was the last time you had people over just to sit on the porch? Part of summer is just grace. Just enjoy. Listen to the crickets together. Laugh together.

Sabbath is a time when we re-store, when we remember to rejoice in God’s good creation.
All the time, you hear people say we don’t need to work harder, we need to work smarter?

Usually, we think that means we need to work with better planning, with an agenda, with new tools and ideas. But part of “working smarter” also means to stop what we’re doing, and listen to God’s wisdom.

I think a lot of the time we get tired and burned out because we’re not working the way God intends for us.

We’re working at the wrong job. We’re in the wrong place. We’re fighting the wrong battles. We’re arguing about things that should have been forgiven and reconciled, long ago. “Working smarter” means we need to stop what’s exhausting us, and do the kind of work God intends.

Do you remember that place where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. . .” (Matthew 11:25-30)

That’s what I’m talking about.

Rest is good by itself. But rest and sabbath also help to re-direct our lives, to help us find who we are again. Sabbath is God’s cure for the sickness of the soul, and for the sickness of the world.

Did you notice, back in the Scripture reading this morning, that is says not only are we supposed to rest – which is a pretty big change – but also “your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your animals, and even the foreigner residing in your towns. . .”

Not only do we need to rest. Not only will we benefit from the sabbath. But we also need to extend the blessing to everybody near us. Our whole society works too hard, too foolishly, and our whole society needs a sabbath.

The person who works 3 jobs just trying to make ends meet. The immigrant working 2 shifts a day. The nurses working 12-hours at a a time, then going home to their families. All the people who work way too much for their health or for the health of the people at home.

More rest, more prayer, more reflection, more renewal, more consideration for the needs of those around us. That’s not just good advice. That’s God’s commandment. And we’d all be a lot better off if we followed it consistently. Work isn’t bad. But work isn’t everything. It shouldn’t take us over and destroy us.

We’ll have plenty of things to do this year, and we’ll do them. But we always need to renew ourselves, to renew our contact and our friendship with God, to lay down our busy-ness, and to let God renew us, this week, by the gift of rest.

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