Stop and Go – What Is a Sabbath Anyway?

During Lent I am returning to a quote from John Ortberg in The Christian Century:  "The true indicator of spiritual well-being is growth in the ability to love God and people.  If we can do this without the practice of any particular spiritual disciplines, then we should by all means skip them" (as quoted in Scot McKnight, "Jesus Creed: What Is the Focus of Spiritual Life?" in The Christian Century, September 7, 2004, page 24).

Sabbath_cwToday I am asking us to pay attention to the Sabbath.  Please note that I will not ask us to consider the notion of a community Sabbath or call us to re-invoke the Sunday "Blue Laws" of my childhood.  Rather, I will point us to the need for each of us to find Sabbath, whether or not our culture dictates it!

Let’s turn to Matthew’s Gospel and read the following:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath."  He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.  Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?  I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath" (Matthew 12:1-8, NRSV).

I return us to one of my mentors in the pastoral life, Eugene Peterson, who wrote this about Sabbath:

accurate understanding of Sabbath is prerequisite to its practice:  it
must be understood biblically, not culturally.  A widespread
misunderstanding of Sabbath trivializes it by designating is "a day
off."  "A day off" is a bastard Sabbath.  Days off are not without
benefits, to be sure, but Sabbaths they are not.  However beneficial,
this is not a true, but a secularized sabbath.  The motivation is
utilitarian: it makes us feel better.  Relationships improve.  We may
even get more done on the six days than we would on the seven.  But the
day off is at service of the six working days.  The purpose is to
restore strength, increase motivation, and keep performance incentives

Sabbath means quit.  Stop.  Take a break.  Cool it.  The word itself
has nothing devout or holy in it.  It is a word about time, denoting
our nonuse of it – what we usually call wasting time (Eugene Peterson,
"The Good-for-Nothing Sabbath," in Christianity Today, April 4, 1994).

goes on to say that there are two primary reasons given by scripture
for keeping Sabbath. The LORD’s gift of the Ten Commandments to Moses
and the children of Israel in the Exodus 20:1-17
account suggest that we are keep Sabbath because God "rested on the
seventh day from all the work he had done" to create the earth (see Genesis 2:1-3).  The LORD through Moses reminded the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 5:1-21 that they has gone 400 years without a vacation (e.g. "remember you were a slave in the land of Egypt"). 

How are we to STOP in a GO-GO-GO world?  Majorie Thompson, author of Soul Feast,
suggested in a conference I attended several years ago, that the
following questions help focus out thoughts about creating space for

  • Sabbath Promptings:
    • I enjoy life most when …
    • I am most at peace when …
    • I am most aware of God’s presence when …
  • Sabbath Reflections:
    • What do my responses tell me about the Sabbath I need?
    • What prevents me from receiving the Sabbath I need?
  • Discernment Question for Saying Yes and No:
    • What do I need to do?
    • What do I not need to do?
    • What do I need not to do?

Last week we learned about saying yes, saying no, or saying nothing.
This week I invite you to say "No" to the demands of your calendar by
saying "Yes" to God by clearing your calendar of three consecutive
blocks of time in a week (morning – afternoon – evening) and carving
our six total blocks for you and your family to do nothing but waste
time with God.