Sabbath as God's Work
I continue my thought and study on biblical Sabbath. The following is from a sermon preached July 22nd, 2012.
At around two or three years old, a child learns the phrase, “I do it.” They are developing independence and individualism. So you go to mow the lawn and he says, “I do it.” The blade starts spinning, he grabs the handle and starts pushing it through the yard. All the while, mom or dad’s hand is gripping the handle and pushing and steering. Or you go to sweep the floor and she says, “I do it.” She goes around, not so much sweeping, but scattering dust bunnies and crumbs. All the while, mom or dad follows to catch all the dirt that was missed. You go to drive, and he says, “I do it.” So he grabs the wheel and steers around the parking lot, squealing through left and right turns. All the while, mom or dad quietly grip the bottom of the steering wheel, braking and accelerating along the way. The child says, “I do it,” but all the while it was really mom or dad.
Regardless of age, a human tendency is to say “I do it.” It’s a question of who’s in charge and who’s doing the work. As Lutherans, we have a solid belief that in terms of salvation, it’s all God’s work – not “I do it.” But we leave God’s work there – strictly to the realm of salvation and spiritual things. “God is in charge of my salvation, but everything else is mine.” In doing this, we clearly separate our work and God’s work.
The result is an increasingly busy, frantic, exhausted society. The pace of life is blistering. I’ve observed an epidemic of people who work too much and rest too little. People who are: Over-committed. Over-programmed. Over-worked. Stressed out. Burned out. Strung out. You have trouble saying “no.” You feel you have to do more or you’ll left behind. Your kids have to do more sports, more camps, more classes or they’ll be a failure. You have to keep busy or you’ll feel lazy. I see a people oppressed by their frantic pace, and over-crammed schedules, and unrelenting work. Oppressive calendars, oppressive to-do lists, oppressive gushes of information and media. I do it.
In such a franticly overworked society, the third commandment is increasingly radical. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” The word Sabbath means “to cease” or “stop.” The significance of observing the Sabbath is that it forces us to see the limits of “I do it.” Work is not bad. But Sabbath tells us, “Your work has limits.” You can work hard six days throughout the week, but on seventh day, you stop. You rest. And you realize that the world goes on without you. Sabbath says, “Your work has limits. Stop for a day, and see that God has been working all along. HE has been creating. HE has been providing. You thought it was ‘I do it,’ when all the while, HE did it.”
We often separate God’s work and our work. “He does the salvation and spiritual stuff. I do everything else.” This attitude dismisses God’s work in our everyday life. There is a mysterious intersection with God’s work and ours; where we work, and strive, and toil, and at the same time God is at work in us and through us. He gives us the work, and guides the work.
It’s like gardening. You till and fertilize and water. You sweat as you pull the weeds. And then you go to bed, and when you wake up, the bean plants are flowering. The lettuce got a little bigger. The tomatoes turned green to orange to red. And you had nothing to do with it. Wendell Berry writes of this phenomenon. He says, “Great work is done while we’re asleep.”
Or it’s like pregnancy. We all know how babies are made. Certainly two people are involved. And yet, God mysteriously goes about his work. Fingernails are formed. A brain develops. Little feet with little toes. And mother and father have nothing to do with how the child forms. It’s left to grace. Great work is done while we’re asleep. Great work, because GOD DOES IT.
In Mark 6:31, Jesus told his disciples, “Come away to a desolate place and rest a while.” They needed rest from their work, but the crowds of people would not leave them alone. When it was late, the disciples noticed a logistical problem. A small stadium full of people, and no concessions. Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” They recognized the limits of their ability. “I do it” won’t cut it. You’d need almost a years’ salary to buy enough food for all these people.
But when no work of ours will suffice, God’s work becomes evident. Jesus provides. Five loaves of bread. Two fish. 5 + 2 = 7. The Sabbath day is the seventh day. Seven is the number of completion, wholeness, fullness. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus refers to himself as “Lord of the Sabbath.” HE is Sabbath in a person. There is a limit to your work, to “I do it.” And when you recognize this, you see that he it’s not your work, but HIS work. HE is rest. He is relief. HE is power. HE is peace. He is provision. All of creation is HIS work. Under HIS rule. Subject to HIS Lordship.
And when the humans said, “I do it,” he didn’t say, “Well, you got yourself into this mess, you can get yourself out. No, the Creator chose to redeem. He said “I will do it.” And HE invaded broken humanity. HE suffered the consequences of our bloated arrogance. HE has compassion because we are sheep without a shepherd. HE shackled death. HE stands as the King. Him, not me. HIS work, not mine. His control. His will. His love. His provision. His Sabbath. His rest. His work. In a person.
How do you live and work in a way that acknowledges God’s work? That trusts his control? How do you observe the Sabbath beyond simply “going to church”? Three suggestions (not laws):
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