Tending the Image of God
Over the next several weeks, our theme in worship will be Summer Sabbath. How do we honor the Sabbath and keep in holy? How do we bring Sabbath into our daily lives? Why is it that summer has a different rhythm of life that we look forward to, and then when it is time for school to start we take a deep breath and hold it?
When I think of summer, I think of vacation and time with family, lazy days of reading, time with my hands in the dirt and then the refreshment of ice-cold lemonade while I rock in the shade, evenings of lightening bugs and watermelon, 4th of July, lake time, pool time, beach time, play time…it may not be completely realistic, but does have its roots in the reality of a different rhythm of life.
What can we learn from summer, how can we reorient our lives, so that the deep breaths of the rhythms of summer – of vacation and lemonade on a hot day of working in the yard and watching lightening bugs in the evening – are not like finding an oasis in the desert.
So this morning, let us begin by taking a breath. Simply inhale and exhale. Deep breaths. Inhale and exhale.
In the beginning, there was a lot of work to do. Everything was chaos. And for six days, God worked and created. Then, on the seventh day, God shabat. The Hebrew word “shabat” means “ceased.” On the seventh day, God ceased working, ceased creating. We translate it rested usually.
God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God ceased from all his work which he had done in creation. Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggeman says, “God does not spend the seventh day in exhaustion but in serenity and peace.” God looks at all that he has made and pronounces it very good and then takes a day to enjoy it.
God finished. In America today, the average full-time worker works 47 hours a week and the average number of hours worked on weekend days is 5.5. These are averages – some work less, but some work more. Since 1950, the productivity per American worker has increased 400%. Another way to say that is we do as much work in 10 hours a week as the average worker did in 40 in 1950 – the projections about our ability to do more faster with computers was right. And yet, the work never seems to be done. We have laptops and smart phones to take it with us wherever we go. And so we do.
I don’t think it is because it is required of us, though. I think it is because we don’t discipline ourselves to shabat, to cease. Many of you checked in with me the week before we left for the Holy Land. Have everything packed? Ready to go? We had made our lists of things we needed, we kept a list of things that popped into our minds that we knew we would be likely to forget, we laid out clothes and counted socks, but that’s not the hard part of getting ready.
Getting ready to be gone is hard! Getting caught up enough to leave things, doing those things I’d been putting off so that they wouldn’t hang over me the whole time I was gone, preparing worship bulletins for the two weeks I would miss, getting ahead so I wouldn’t be so behind…
You’ve done it. Think about the last time you prepared to be gone. You finish up. You make stacks and lists so you know where to start when you return. And at some point, you’ve wondered, “is it worth it? It really would just be easier to stay here and work through.” So, as Americans we tend not to take all of our vacation days, fewer than half of American workers take all of their vacation days, and when we do take vacation days, many of us still work. And a weekly day of rest is not even seriously considered by many of us.
From the very beginning, we are made in the image of God – God who works and who ceases.
Our bodies need rest – that’s the way we are made. Ask any athlete who is training, and they will tell you that they have rest days so that their muscles can heal, and if they don’t take them they will get injured.
Our minds need rest – that’s the way we are made. From Ovid, the Roman poet, who wrote, “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” to a recent article out of UC Berkely that says, “All of the research points to the importance of rest in our fast-paced lives. When we treat rest as work’s equal partner, recognize it as a playground for the creative mind and a springboard for new ideas, and learn ways to take rest more effectively, we elevate it into something valuable that can help calm our days, organize our lives, give us more time, and help us achieve more while working less”, we read that rest sharpens our minds and makes us more creative and productive.
But it is not only our bodies and our minds that need rest – our spirits need rest. 14th C. German theologian, Meister Eckhardt, taught that “The spiritual life is a process of subtraction.” Our souls need us to winnow away the distractions and the demands that keep us from resting with God.
Shabat, ceasing, is an act of faith. Walter Bruggeman writes, “It announces that the world is safely in God’s hands. The world will not disintegrate if we stop our efforts.” “The celebration of a day of rest…[is] an announcement of trust in this God who is confident enough to rest. It…[is] an assertion that life does not depend upon our feverish activity of self-securing, but that there can be a pause in which life is given to us simply as a gift.”
Shabat, cease, from grasping, from reaching, and rest. Here God’s invitation from the 46th Psalm, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
I invite you this week each day to pause throughout your day, and to try to remember to pause when you are feeling frenzied or stressed, and breathe. Breathe in and say to yourself, “Be still and know” and exhale with the reassurance, “that I am God.” Try that with me. Inhale, “Be still and know” exhale, “that I am God.” (Again.)