Rev. Teri Peterson|
Broken With Pride
Exodus 20.8-11/Deuteronomy 5.12-15, Luke 13.10-17
26 August 2012, People’s Choice 13
Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
In Deuteronomy, the commandment ends not with creation, but with this:
Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.
Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. A woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight. When he saw her, Jesus called her to him and said, “Woman, you are set free from your sickness.” He placed his hands on her and she straightened up at once and praised God.
The synagogue leader, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded, “There are six days during which work is permitted. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath day.”
The Lord replied, “Hypocrites! Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from its stall and lead it out to get a drink? Then isn’t it necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham, bound by Satan for eighteen long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?” When he said these things, all his opponents were put to shame, but all those in the crowd rejoiced at all the extraordinary things he was doing.
All summer long, you’ve been asking the questions and we’ve been trying to answer them from the pulpit. Now it’s time to reverse—I get to ask the questions! Unlike the questions you’ve asked us, I’ll start with an easy one: put your hand up if you have ever thought “I wish it was the weekend” or “how many days until vacation?” Next...what comes to mind when you hear the word “Sabbath”? ... okay, now hands up if you’ve ever thought “I’m too busy to take a break.”
What would happen if you did take a break, or a day off, or a nap, or a vacation?
Of all the ten commandments, I think this is one of the top two hardest—the other being that pesky first one about no other gods. When it comes to observing the Sabbath, honoring God by keeping it holy, taking a day to rest and let others rest as well...well, it just seems a little archaic. In our fast-paced 21st century world, taking a day off could mean falling behind in the productivity race, which could mean less chance of a promotion or a raise, or could lead to a boss’s displeasure, or even the dreaded loss of opportunity. Observing the Sabbath would mark us as strange, or old-fashioned, or selfish. And besides all that, there’s the question: what would our work, our family, or the world do without us if we stopped for a moment? And then the frightening follow-up thought—what if they get along just fine...what does that mean for who we are, our place in the world, our importance?
And so we go on—busy busy busy, and proclaiming our busy-ness at every turn. It’s almost as if we take pride in breaking the commandment to rest—surely our busyness means that we are too important to follow it, surely it must be more of a suggestion for people with as much to do as we have, surely God doesn’t mean it.
Until the day our bodies rebel, and sickness forces us to rest. Until the day our creative energy gives out because we haven’t left it any time to rejuvenate. Until the day we snap and brutalize our relationships because we never had any downtime.
Then we discover, for at least a few minutes or a few days, that even as we have been rebelling against the perceived shackles of the commandment, we have been enslaved by our own view of ourselves.
Now I know, most of our cultural understanding of Sabbath comes from things like Little House On The Prairie, where Sabbath-keeping is about sitting in a straight-backed chair reading the Bible for a whole day that could be spent playing, or from the blue laws that restricted our shopping and eating and drinking habits until just a decade or two ago. Those legalistic Sabbath experiences feel more like restraint than freedom. But did you notice that in the lesser-known version of the commandments, the one from Deuteronomy, the reason given for keeping the Sabbath is that we used to be slaves, and we’re not anymore, so celebrate that freedom—take a day off! Slaves don’t get days off. Slaves don’t get to recline and enjoy a meal or a conversation with friends. Slaves don’t get to give their animals or their land or their families a break...they work work work because their life literally depends on it. But we are not slaves anymore.
Except when we are.
Nearly a thousand years after the commandments were first given, a woman walked into worship. She was a woman defined by her condition—bent over, afflicted, outcast, broken. She was a woman who worked hard to overcome the situation, every moment of every day, without rest. When she came to worship that day, and when Jesus straightened her back and looked into her eyes—maybe the first person to look her in the eye for eighteen years—the church elders turned on her. Not on Jesus, but on the woman, who dared to step out of her definition and into a new one—Before, she was the bent over woman, she was the afflicted one, she was the local outcast—but now she is a child of God, beloved, a daughter of Abraham, a member of the covenant community, a human being. She was freed, not only from illness but from a false identity and from all the work it takes to keep that up. And in that same moment, the elders and the congregants were freed as well. No longer must we sit by while others suffer—we are freed to act compassionately. No longer must we have special powers or the right degree or a title to share good news—we are freed to speak the word of God into every circumstance. No longer must we keep silent while leaders bully or buy us into submission—we are freed to witness to another way. We are not slaves anymore.
Except when we are.
Many—perhaps even most—of us are in thrall to the ideal of self-reliance. We are enslaved by our perceived need to be available all the time. We willingly wear the chains of an identity primarily defined by what we do and how productive we are. We are slaves to the idea that we can waste or make time. Our pride is in the way of our freedom. We need to step aside and recognize that we are not the ones whose effort creates and redeems and sustains. In fact, sometimes we hinder God’s movement even with all our good intentions.
Following the commandment—to lay aside our work and rest awhile—shows us another way. It gives us some perspective, teaches us that we do not rely only on ourselves, but on one another and ultimately on God. It gives our bodies, minds, and spirits a chance to take in the glory of God and to connect with God’s providence in new ways. It allows us the space to just be, to rest in the heart of God, and so to be renewed for the calling God has for us. It is freedom of the best sort—freedom to be who we are created to be, not who we think we have to be.
So, even in the 21st century, need Sabbath as much as ever. Now, as at every other time in history, we are in danger of believing ourselves to be capable and crucial to the running of the universe—to be as important, or maybe even more important, than God. Which means it makes sense that Sabbath and Idolatry are two of the hardest commandments to keep—because they are so interrelated. When we break the fourth commandment we also break the first, for we place ourselves in the God-spot. It’s God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, it’s God who creates and redeems and sustains...and it’s God who rests, and calls us to do the same. Notice that the commandment doesn’t lay out how exactly—we have to figure out how to use the time we have been given, to keep work and housework and obligations and maybe even technology from intruding into that holy space...and that “how” will be different for every family. But I believe, and God believes, that it can—and must—be done. So lay your burdens down, put up your feet, and rest awhile.
May it be so.