Pastor Devin Strong, Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
In a society that idolizes work and considers exhaustion a personal badge of honor, one of the more radical things that a person can say publicly is, “I am taking a break.” Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the official summer vacation season, so it seems a good time to say a few words about sabbath.
The world of ancient Judaism was hardly an idyllic place to live. Conditions were harsh; society was rigidly stratified economically, and many religious leaders were more interested in power than shepherding. But one thing that our old friends in the faith got right was a faithful keeping of the sabbath. From sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday, a good Jew was to do no work, including cooking, cleaning, or tending to the flocks. That is to say that culture-wide, twenty- four hours a week were set aside for rest and worshipping God. People of faith recognized that even God rested after six days!
In earlier days, we Americans also recognized the value of sabbath. Unions in this country helped to establish a standard forty-hour work week with a two-day weekend. In theory, we still believe in this schedule. No law has rescinded it, but as our own culture has become more stratified economically and our craving for things has become insatiable, the work week has become longer, stretching into the evenings and growing like weeds to consume the weekend. We in the church have been little help. Most congregations equate effective ministry with busyness, and pastors are often the chief offenders.
Many of us take only one day a week off, spending far too little time with our own families. Recently, we were blessed to have a seminarian preach the sermon in our congregation, and all week I felt strange with less to do. Am I allowed to have an easier week? We sin against ourselves and God when we do not make room for sabbath.
So what, exactly, is sabbath? It can be a nap, a day at the beach, or an afternoon playing games with the kids. It is NOT laziness! We know the value of work. If we do not contribute, create, and engage, you and I quickly start to whither and get depressed. But we are so much more than what we produce. As Christians, we live by grace, not what we do. The Lord of Love made us, first and foremost, for relationships. Sometimes work builds relationships; often it impedes them. Sabbath is a time away from our regular work for the express purposes of improving our relationships with self, others, and God. This means that not everything we do away from work is necessarily healthy sabbath. Spending an afternoon playing video games may, for one person, be good self-care, but for another, it is mindless escapism. There are no hard and fast rules, which is probably why you and I are so terrible at sabbath! Sabbath is meant to be a time away to pray, reflect, and learn what God made us for. It is intentional rest so that one day soon we re-create and be the people God needs us to be. Sabbath is necessary for our best work.
As the summer vacation season begins, I invite you to get away and rest awhile. Jesus did, and you need it! Even more, I invite you to make space in your life for healthy sabbath.
God Loves You, and So Do I!