Putting the REST in RESisTance
This week...Jesus asks a big question, "is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?" Read the full text:
Here's the thing. Arguments are rarely about the thing you think they're about. At least at first. Perhaps you've found yourself arguing with your spouse about who took the dog out last when it's really about equality in partnership, being appreciated and valued. I was just listening to a podcast called startup where two entrepreneurs had hit a boiling point over the way one of them called out the other in a public way. In the end, the blow up wasn't at all about client relations but how they are valued as partners, how they fit in the dream of the business, and ultimately their shared fear that it all might fail and they would be shamed as failures.
So when we see this scriptural squabble we have to ask, what is this really about. The Pharisees and Jesus are arguing about what is lawful in the sabbath, but the bigger question is what is at the heart of God’s law and who are we as God’s people.
In a culture as politically charged and divisive as ours, it's helpful to remember that the Pharisees were actually concerned with what would keep them true to their identity and their values. The question is about what's at the heart of that identity. They're not evil overlords, their concern comes from a faithful place. I'm not saying every argument is equally valid or holds this same weight, but perhaps the people on the other side of the table are more human than we often acknowledge.
The sabbath is one of the things that makes the Jewish community distinctive. It was established as a reflection of God's own being as she rested in the ultimate act at the birthing of creation. It is a gift to the people were slaves in Egypt. It was commanded that the gift extend to every slave, every field, every animal, every person. It was the original labor law. It forces us to acknowledge that we can not ignore our souls forever, that our spirit needs regularly tending to.
It is established for the purpose of cultivating restoring life and life abundant. Somewhere along the way we forgot and misplaced the means as the ends themselves. Jesus comes to right the ship, to correct our course. To fulfill the law of the sabbath at its heart. Is it really about avoiding all activity, or even attending temple? Only as those means serve the end of restoring the soul for the work of the kingdom of God.
We still desperately need the sabbath, perhaps more than ever. In our 24/7 world of connectivity and content it's hard to establish a true sabbath. We are enslaved to “production mode.” Always being stimulated to consume or agitated to accomplish. Beyond our struggle to find stillness, the dissonance experienced in our souls between our faith which clearly and repeatedly calls us to care for the immigrant and the refugee and the news that they are being rejected midair, it's emotionally and spiritually exhausting.
The sabbath roots us deeply within god's care and promise. And a tree with deep roots is not easily blown over. You are allowed to rest, to take a break. You don't have to respond to every Facebook post, you can't make it to every doctor's appointment with your friend. We don't have to feel shame or guilt. We have to be rested in order to restore the strength we need for the resistance ahead.
The sabbath is essential to our rhythm of work and rest. Essential to our right understanding that it is God and not ourselves at the center of the universe. That goodness and mercy will continue, that God will provide beyond our own actions. I say this as the person who is blowing up people’s Facebook feeds, feverishly texting folks about rallies at the airport, while running around from plane to hotel to meetings. But God humbles me and reminds me that there must be rest within God must be a part of this rhythm or I will lose the anchor, the holy tether, the deep root of the Gospel which is the real reason I do any of those things. in prayer and in worship and in rest, in playfulness and in beauty, God reminds us who we are. That we are loved and we are connected. That we are not machines, we do not exist for what we can accomplish or achieve. We exist for love and healing and hope.
Sometimes following Christ will mean we forego our liturgy of worship and practice service to our neighbor or the joy of celebration like we did at Beer and Hymns at St Arnold’s last fall, or when we walked to neighborhood to collect donations for homeless youth last summer. It's Not what we'll do all the time, but as the Spirit calls us to engage this practice of life-giving redemption.
What the sabbath gives us is goodness and life, and it's the kind of life that begets life. And to that end, God will not be stopped. Jesus will have none of our attempted “good order” or misplaced morality if it stands in the way of the Gospel. God will not be stopped by executive orders, border walls, or internet trolls. God will not abandon us to our addictions, not to opiates nor incessant motion and production. God pursues her people with fierce and enduring compassion, takes us and ALL people under her wing so that we might find rest sufficient for the day and remember why it is we work in the first place. Amen.
Resources for your practice of sabbath:
Local: Did you know there's a beautiful labyrinth nearby at St. Thomas University? It's a great way to center yourself, meditate, pray, or just find stillness.
I connect and restore through quiet time, nature, and spirit-stimulating podcasts or music. Here are a few more of my local favorites: Buffalo Bayou Park, Houston Arboretum, a quiet Sunday morning coffee at Campesino, free yoga at Discovery Green, Hermann Park and Centenial Gardens.
Digital: commonprayer.net - it's a website or an app that gives you a brief order of prayer (including music). It's what we use for morning prayer while baking our weekly bread.
Meta: While sitting on a plane, the woman next to me shared about a book she had read that listed 4 things that are even more restorative than healthy eating, exercise, and rest. Say what? Yup! They are: unitasking (as opposed to multitasking), self compassion, optimism, and mindfulness. Here's the book: