The Move Back into Freedom

A friend and colleague, Rob Smith, pastor of Spirit of Life Presbyterian Church, invited me to blog on the topic of Sabbath as part of their Year of the Bible, Here is what I wrote.  (You can find the original post here).

What if I told you that most of us live like we believe we are slaves most of the time?  In slavery, you belong to a master who dictates your entire identity, worth and purpose, and even directs your very days and hours. Like the Israelite slaves of Pharaoh, we are told that we matter only if we produce, produce, produce.  In our modern day slavery, it’s a little more sophisticated – we also matter if we consume, consume, consume.  As long as we are part of the relentless system of production and consumption, we have value.  So we measure our worth  – and others do too – by how much we produce or consume in a day.

But how does life work for a people who are free?  
The Ten Commandments, or “Ten Words,” are given by God to a people coming out of generations of slavery into a new life of freedom.  The first few commandments talk about our connection to God – to whom we truly belong, and the last few talk about our connection to other people with whom we share this life. But right in the middle of these valuable guidelines is this long and very detailed “hinge” command about keeping the Sabbath.  
What is this doing there? 
Why is this so essential that it would make it into God’s top ten instructions for life? 
And what could it possibly say to us today?

I want to suggest that Sabbath does two absolutely vital things, without which we lose our very humanity.

First, Sabbath reminds us whose we are.

You belong to the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt!  begins the Sabbath command.  (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)  Outside forces can’t dictate the terms of your existence.  Only God can.

Sabbath refuses to let us be defined by a lifestyle of slavery and relentless production.  When you are just being and not doing, your worth cannot come from what you contribute.  You are not defined, owned or measured by what you make, earn, buy, sell, own, produce or accomplish, Sabbath says. You are free.

Also, Sabbath as God commands it is when everybody rests, even the land!  So my neighbor and my daughter and the kid who mows my lawn and my boss, and the person on TV who seems so important and essential are all just people, just like me. Loved by God, and caught in the cogwork of an overextended, under nourished life, just like me.  You can no longer measure your worth by what you produce and consume, or rank yourself against one another. You belong to God and not to Pharaoh.

Second, Sabbath reminds us who we are.

This God to whom we belong is the creator who looked on creation and called it good, the maker of heaven and earth who rested and enjoyed what had been made.  (Exodus 20:8-11) And rest itself is part of creation’s cycle, and actually is part of how God created everything on earth to function, you and me included.

We are made in God’s image and called to participate with God in the world. How can we do that if we never stop to rest?  We are actually supposed to enjoy what we are part of in this short life, and to call life good, like the Creator in whose image we are made!  
We are all God’s beloved children, and we are all made in God’s image– each one different, each one with specific things that fill us with joy and satisfaction and express our true self and God’s unique delight in us.  
When we stop doing and allow ourselves the space to be, things slow down and we notice.  And we can see, sometimes in tiny, ordinary and surprising ways, God’s pervasive presence in the world and our own place within it.  And our capacity to praise our creator, and to delight in life, grows deeper.  
Observing the Sabbath reconnects with who we are, and celebrates who God made us to be.  Resting on purpose makes us human again. 
The other nine commandments take the people out of slavery. The Sabbath commandment takes slavery out of the people.* Sabbath sets us free, by grounding us in us again in the truth of whose we are and who we are.

I want to invite you to accept the life-saving gift of Sabbath.
This week, set aside a day.  Or if you need to start slower, a half day, or an evening, an hour early in the morning, and STOP. Rest. Notice. 
Turn off your phone and the TV.  
Put your work in another room.  
Ignore the dishes in the sink and let the laundry wait for tomorrow.  
Pause to hear the voices that compete to tell you who you are supposed to be and let them go.  
Listen to the lies that try to tell you what owns you and let them go. 

Close your eyes and look deep in your soul and ask yourself, What would give me joy right now?  What does my soul need? 

Look into the face of your kid or your spouse, or call up a friend, and ask them, What do you need to say no to today, to remember that you’re free?  

And let God meet you at that place.

*I think Walter Brueggemann said this somewhere, but if so, I can no longer find the citation. But props anyway - check out his awesome book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now.

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