Remember The Sabbath

September 4, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

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“Remember The Sabbath”

Rev. Melanie Homan

September 4, 2016

Exodus 20:1-11

Then God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Labor Day weekend seems like a great time to think about work. Not only work, but vocation, and not only vocation, but Sabbath. If you are lucky, you have found a way for your work and your vocation, to be the same.  By work, I mean whatever it is that you spend the majority of your day doing – whether you get paid for it or not.

Vocation is that “churchy” word we use to describe our calling from God. We might assume that if you have a vocation or calling from God, it’s a calling to “spiritual” or “religious” work. It’s a vocation to be a pastor, or to do music ministry or youth ministry or children’s ministry.

But, God calls people to more than just “spiritual” work. God calls us to offer our gifts and passions and interests to meet the world’s needs in a variety of places.  I worked with a youth back at Centennial UMC in Roseville years ago.  From the earliest of ages, he was excited about being a dentist.  He was always talking about teeth….always.  It sort of reminded me of Hermey in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  Hermey did not want to build toys.  Even if that’s what all the other elves were called to do – he just couldn’t do it.  His passion was teeth and that was his vocation.   And now, this former youth who grew up talking about teeth all the time is a young man who is almost finished with dental school.  I have never seen someone so excited about teeth!  But, this kid was, and now he’s doing what he needs to do to live out his calling.

I took Rylee and Dylan to get their teeth cleaned this summer and, while there, Dylan spoke up, “I’m going to be a dentist when I grow up”. So, the dental hygienist gave him a mask, a set of rubber gloves, and let him move the dental chair up and down while Rylee was in it!  She let him hold all of the instruments for a time.  When we left, she gave him extra “supplies” so he could play dentist at home.

Who knows what Dylan will grow up and do with his life. But, I hope that, whatever it is, it is something that he is passionate about and that it’s something that he just can’t imagine not doing with his life because he loves it that much.  And, I hope that he has the skills to be able to do whatever that something is.

You can have a job as a dentist.  Or, you can have a vocation as a dentist and love doing the work because you’ve discovered God’s calling in your life and you’re doing it.   I’ve always been very clear with the Bishop that I have more than one vocation, more than one calling.  I’m called to serve the church, but I’m also called to the vocation of parenting our children and that work is just as important to me.

The fun and the hard part of life is figuring out what our multiple vocations are. For some of us, it’s easy.  We’ve known from an early age what it is, and we do it.  For others, we still don’t know what it is we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.  And for others, it just keeps changing.

The reality is, sometimes we just need a job and it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with vocation. We need money to live, so we work.  But, even in that, no matter the work, we can find ways to make it meaningful.  Vocation gives each of us an opportunity to serve others with compassion and kindness, to do whatever work we are doing within the framework of Jesus’ teachings.  How do we treat one another?  How do we serve one another?

So, I challenge you to think about how you spend the majority of your time each week and focus in on what it is you are called to. What is your vocation?  How do you and God together use the gifts you’ve been given to serve others?  It doesn’t matter whether you work at a bank or a coffee shop, at home or in a factory – you can be a channel for God’s grace.

There is a flip side to all of this work, though, whether it is work we do just for the money or work that is our vocation. We tend to do too much of it!  Many of us have a  tendency towards working, working, working, without stop.  Rick Morley put together some research on studies that show we leave 429 million vacation days a year unused.  Even when we’re out of the office, we’re still working – so much so that it amounts to that we voluntarily work a day of overtime each week.  Forty percent of us check our work email on vacation, half of us check our work email in bed, and a third of us check our work email at the dinner table.  DON’T DO THAT!!!!   What would happen if you stopped doing that?!?

There is a traditional rabbinic tale that goes like this: “Rabbi Levi saw a man running through the street and asked him, ‘Why do you run?’ He replied, ‘I am running after my good fortune!’ Rabbi Levi said to him, ‘Silly man, your good fortune has been trying to chase you, but you are running too fast.’”

“We weren’t made to work like this. We weren’t made to go full-tilt 24/7.  God made us with a need for rest, recreation, and reconnection built-in.”  (Rick Morley)

In that way, I view God’s commandment about Sabbath rest as not a rule or a law, but a gift. We need Sabbath as much as we need a vocation. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Now, not only do you get to think about how your work is your vocation – how God is working through you – but, I also challenge you this Labor Day weekend to think about how you are observing Sabbath.

Wayne Muller writes about Sabbath and he describes the wisdom of traditional Jewish Sabbath, which begins precisely at sundown. “Sabbath is not dependent on our readiness to stop.  We do not stop when we are finished. We do not stop when we complete our phone calls, finish our project, get through this stack of messages, or get out this report that is due tomorrow.  We stop because it is time to stop.  Sabbath requires surrender.  If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop – because our work is never completely done.  With every accomplishment there arises a new responsibility.  Every swept floor invites another sweeping, every child bathed invites another bathing.  When all life moves in such cycles, what is ever finished?  If we refuse rest until we are finished, we will never rest until we die.  Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished.”  (Wayne Muller, Sabbath, 82-83)

We need Sabbath – rest – in our lives. I know that’s what I need.  And yet, I fall into the cyclical trap of wanting to finish things before I rest.  So, I keep going, going, going until I get sick.  Being sick forces on me the Sabbath rest I should have honored all along.  And, the cycle continues on from there.  If only I could remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, I could break this crazy cycle!

How do you remember the Sabbath? How have you built a rhythm of rest in your life?  And, if you aren’t, how can you start to do so?

As an example, I’ve talked to some friends who are instituting a Sabbath from technology. For a set period of time each weekend, they don’t utilize technology.   It’s amazing the sorts of things you find yourself doing when you unplug!  Board games, conversations, nature…just the sort of things that help us to reconnect with one another and with God.  We’ve implemented phone-free dinners at our house.  We went through a time when our meals were interrupted with one “important” email or text every few minutes.  So, now, no phones allowed during meals means we have undistracted conversations with one another.

Maybe your Sabbath comes all in one day a week, or maybe it comes in moments. Walter Brueggemann writes in his book, “Sabbath as Resistance”, “The divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work…God rested on the seventh day. God did not show up to do more.  God (stayed away) from the office.  God did not come and check on creation in anxiety to be sure it was all working.”

Think on that for a while!

May God bless you with a clearly defined vocational calling. And, if not that, may God bless you with serenity as you live into your calling.  At the same time, may you bless God by honoring and receiving the gift of Sabbath.  May our worship together be part of our Sabbath rest.   And, may God commission and send us out into the world to be God’s partners in our work – this week and every week.

Amen.