Sabbath as Peacemaking
Last week Norman Pasche share with us about some different ways of thinking about the Sabbath. The one that stayed in my mind the most vividly was that rather than the Sabbath being at the end of a week of work, we should try organizing the week around the Sabbath, so that three days before we would begin to look forward to it, plan for it and think how we might spend it.
Then the next three days we would look back at it and what a good day it was to step back from the busyness of life, trust God to provide, and rest in thankfulness to God for friends, family, and creation itself, especially as it is so nice to be outside on days like we had this week.
Thus there is a rhythm to our life, a weekly rhythm that revolves around the Sabbath, the day of rest and spending time with people and playing and being aware of all the gifts God has given us. My comments today will focus on the Sabbath as resistance, and draws heavily on Walter Brueggemann’s book, Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now.
Sabbath as resistance – resistance to what? Resistance to the lifestyle experienced in Egypt. The ten commandments start with “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery”* Remember how Pharoah needed more and more storehouses for his grain, how when you asked for time off, Pharoah said “I will make you work even harder, now you have to find your own straw for the bricks, and you still have to make the same quota of bricks as before.”** That was how you lived before.
Now you shall take every seventh day off from all work, and I will provide for you extra manna for the day off. God is not a workaholic, the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work. Because the community of God is based on relationship, not commodities (number of bricks) – that is NOT what life is about.
The commandment to keep Sabbath requires more verses than any other one. The first three commandments take up six verses; that’s two each. The last six take up only 6 verses.But the Sabbath commandment takes four verses*** – why does it get so much airtime on the mountain? There was NO work stoppage in Egypt, any free time was used to gather more straw. System of frantic productivity – God nullifies that system – he breaks the cycle of production and we are invited to an awareness that life does not consist of frantic production and consumption. Stopping work gives us energy to take seriously the next six commandments about committed neighborliness.
Work stoppage is an act of resistance. It declares that we will not be defined by busyness, consumerism, and materialism, the pursuit of getting more and more things., either in our economics or our social relationships. Our life does not consist of commodities. No wonder Jesus invited his disciples out of the system of anxiety about what we will eat, what we will drink and what we will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field****. and that wonderful invitation, “All ye that are tired and heavy laden – come unto me and I will give you rest.*****
And there’s more! The Sabbath is for everyone, your family, your slaves, even your animals, and the stranger within your gates – everyone gets to rest just like you. It is a day of great equality. Not all are equal in production; some are more efficient that others. Not all are equal in consumption – some have greater access to consumer goods. If the societal goal is to produce more and to consume more, these inequalities lead to the “haves” and the “have nots”. The rich and the poor, the important and the unimportant.
But the Sabbath is a resistance to coercion by societal norms. On the Sabbath, you do not have to do more, you do not have to sell more, you do not have to control more, you do not have to know more, you do not have to be more young or more beautiful, you don’t have to have your kids in little league or ballet.
This day breaks the pattern of coercion, and we are all equal – equal worth, equal value, equal rest. Sabbath should be a great day of freedom and thankfulness. And it is a dayto remember! Remember when you were a slave in Egypt? [Do you fall asleep worrying or counting bricks? Thinking of things you ought to have done? Things you didn’t do correctly? How you can get ahead?]
Keeping Sabbath can help us feel less coerced, less driven, less frantic to meet deadlines, free to be rather than to do. And this new social order that we experience on the Sabbath can be carried back into the other six days of the week.
Finally, keeping the Sabbath is a resistance to multi-tasking. If we make shopping lists during church, or spend our open worship planning what we will do next week, try to get all our shopping done in the afternoon, this is not really a work stoppage – it represents a attempt to control more, to extend our power and effectiveness – it leads to a divided self. Jesus offers a warning to us: No one can serve two masters. . . you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.******
Observing the Sabbath is a big step toward a peaceful household and a peaceful neighborhood. The next six commandments describe neighborliness, ending with the last commandment “Thou shalt not covet” – an act that is the ultimate destruction of the neighborhood, because it generates mistrust and sets neighbor against neighbor. So that command is all about respecting the neighbor, which Jesus says is the second great commandment. Thus love of neighbor and thankfulness become the desired alternative to acquisitiveness and greed.
Jesus never said we should not practice Sabbath. What he did say was that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. It was made for us, because it is important for us to take a step away from our six days of busy, busy, busy and remember who we really are, we are the children of God. The anxiety and agressiveness of many of our lives does violence to ourselves and to our neighbors and to God’s creation. We need to reconnect with God, with our families and our friends. We need time to be in community with each other.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he did not come as a CEO of a big company or a dealer in commodities, or with the trappings of wealth from all his hard work. He came, not in a limosine or a Hummer, but on a simple donkey as a person who was interested in people, not in material possessions.
We think of Jesus as the great Peacemaker (the Prince of Peace), and he asks us also to be peacemakers. During the whole last week of his life, which was a very difficult one, to say the least, Jesus never resorted to violence either in his actions or his words. We also know that he regularly went far away from the crowds to spend time along with his heavenly father. Practicing Sabbath could be our way of spending private time with God, and we also might return to the world less prone to violence and better equipped to be peacemakers.
Scriptures: *Exodus 5:4-18
** Deuteronomy 5:6
**** Matthew 6:25-31
***** Matthew 11:29
Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014;
Sabbath as Peacemaking: Leader’s Handbook. Cherice Bock, General Editor. www.nwfriends.org/peacemonth; firstname.lastname@example.org