People outside the Christian movement hear us talk about "keeping the Sabbath." That usually means, to the non-Christian, a day full of religious ritural and obligations. Serious stuff. Joy is prohibited. The sort of day each week that reminds you of those long days in a stuffy classroom on a very warm, fall day. When every bone in your body longs to be outside... throwing a football or kicking leaves.
But I don't think the Sabbath was meant to be like that. I think God gave us this one day, each week, to stop. To let God's joy catch up with us. To slow down for 24 hours so that we can get in touch again the down-deep, ordinary miracle of being alive. To look around and notice, again, the people traveling with us...living with us...worshipping with us.
I have been thinking, this afternoon, about how I keep the Sabbath. Let me tell you what my Sabbath looks like. I get up early, look over a sermon manuscript, make myself some tea and pour myself a bowl of Grape Nuts, and eventually find my way to church. There are days, like today, when the worship and the music and Spirit of God just knock us all over...and nearly out. One friend walked out of the sanctuary and shook her head. "Now that's what I call church!" she said with a smile.
Then, I race home and get into bluejeans (fall-winter) or a pair of shorts (summer-spring). We head to lunch with friends. Then, I stretch out on the living room floor and the read the papers. If it is water-skiing season I may head to the lake, or we pay put the top down on the Miata and take a drive. When the weather gets cooler -like this afternoon- I lay down and watch the Colts play the Packers. Later, I'll slice up some apples, put peanut butter on them, and read a sweet little novel. Or I may go to Volcano's and pick up a stromboli. The deeper into the day I go I focus on doing nothing.
God does something with the "doing nothing." "Doing nothing" is actually very re-creative. Even well-designed machines break down when they are run non-stop. So God does good work with our play time...our stopping... our Sabbath.
Deuteronomy 5:15 says to keep the Sabbath day, as does Exodus 20:8. Keep it holy, the Bible says. I think that means to be sure to stop. For God's sake. No matter how important the stuff is that sits on the desk. No matter the length of your "to do" list. No matter how important and indispensable we think we are.
It's funny. This whole Sabbath thing sometimes clashes with the expectations congregations have of their pastors. Friends of mine, who don't serve as gracious a congregation as Trinity, are often expected to do "command performances" at Sunday class parties or choir get togethers
- even if that event falls on the pastor's Sabbath. One ouchy critic of a pastor said, "I never stop...even on my day off. I'm always available. We expect you to do stuff with us...even when you may be 'off.'" The pastor was so stunned that he didn't think to respond, "That's not Biblical. That's not Christian. Go look at Exodus 20:8."
Somehow hanging out at home, lying on the living room floor in bluejeans with the newspaper, munching an apple, watching the Colts take on the Packers, seems pretty hard to defend when the world -and duty- calls.
God says it is a holy thing, though.
Keep the Sabbath. Chill out. Slip into those bluejeans, take that walk, watch that game, read that book, tune the engine on your favorite motorcycle, go skiing, close your eyes and take a nap, play a game with the kids...just stop.
"I command you to chill out," God said.
God is still saying it.