Sunday, August 23, 2009

Family Ties Sermon Work, Rest, and Purpose

Texts: Deuteronomy 5: 12-15, Luke 13: 10-17

Deut 5:12-15

Nightmare scenario that you get to a certain age and you look at your daily routine, you look at yourself “going through the motions” and you think, “What have I done with my life? Where did it go?”

I don’t think this nightmare scenario is all that uncommon. It is an epidemic in our culture to suffer a “mid-life crisis” when this kind of question is confronted, and then we hear about a full and reckless swing to the other end of the spectrum where people do things that are out of character and bear all the hallmarks of relieving the stress caused by an unfulfilling answer to that question: “What have I done with my life?”

Fortunately, the scripture gives us the assurance that our work is and should be done with a purpose in mind.

In our work, no less than our eating, we have the opportunity to share
in the peace of God. To what end do we perform our tasks? Do they serve
and reflect the glory of God, and thus take fully into account the goodness
of God’s creation, or do they foster self-glorification? Sabbath law in the
Jewish scriptures no less than the action of Jesus Christ, who proclaimed
himself as the Lord of the Sabbath, suggests that the overriding aim of
our work is to enable the
full life of others.

Scripture also sets up for us a pattern of life that will keep us in a better frame of mind.
Judy Prather, “Praying with the Rhythms of Grace.”
“Sadly, this sabbath rhythm is almost lost in our society. Distorted
assumptions about what sabbath means, the value our society places on
possessions and productivity as a measure of self-worth, and our own
need to be in control are eroding sabbath practices. Keeping sabbath is
even, or particularly, a problem within our congregations; every church
program that provides rest for some adds to the busyness for others.

Working with a public charity, Wayne Muller regularly moves between
the spacious offices of wealthy donors, the crowded rooms of social service
agencies, and the simple homes of poor families. “Remarkably, within this
mosaic,” he notes, “there is a universal refrain: I am so busy.” For despite
their good hearts and equally good intentions, most people do not find
their work light, pleasant, or healing. “Instead, as it all piles endlessly upon
itself, the whole experience of being alive begins to melt into one enormous
obligation” because busyness and fatigue make us unable to draw from the
deep wisdom that is available.1”

We are bombarded
with the distorted “truth” that enough is not adequate, overachieving
is average, acquisitive is better than imaginative, networking
is building actual relationships, and padding our resumes makes us more
important. Hearing and heeding the Still, Small Voice is no easy task.

God’s menuha, or rest, on the seventh day of creation is something
more like tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose. Rather than
being a leave-taking from his working days, suggests Abraham
Joshua Heschel, God’s menuha reflects the divine pleasure in a creation
finely made. It suggests God’s attunement to a creation that in the integrity
of its own being promotes joy. Indeed, as we later read in the book of Job,
God takes obvious delight in creatures that are of marginal or no interest
to us. God cares about the calving of deer, watches them crouch as they
give birth to their offspring (39:1). In a speech that devastates human pretension
and narrowness, God reminds Job of the divine care for and delight in the great animal Behemoth, “which I made just as I made you . . . ”
(40:15). The sense of passages like this is that creation is not primarily
for us. It exists for God, and is the occasion for God’s care, pleasure, and
delight. It is a sabbath creation in which all the members of creation, including
humanity, achieve their true end as they approximate God’s own
tranquility and joy.

But hear what the voice is saying. The call of the sabbath is to rest, redemption,re-creation. Rest is the meaningful and sacred work of getting to
know God. Rest is not the same as plopping in front of the ball game with
a plate of nachos and the beverage of your choosing. God has not called us
to be couch potatoes. The call to sabbath is to do more with our lives than
work ourselves to death so that we can fall asleep watching reruns of “EverybodyLoves Raymond,” or holding our lives together all year so we can get two weeks away worrying about all we have to do when we get back
home. The sabbath is a holy
day, which is not the same
as a holiday. It is sacred
space and time.

Jesus’ activity on the sabbath was of like mind. When the Pharisees
were quick to point out that he was not resting, Jesus responded that they
were missing the point: meaningful, redemptive, relational work is what
the sabbath is all about. What better redemptive act than to heal someone?
If we are created in God’s image, why should we not be about re-creating
lives through love? The Pharisees were worried about people breaking the
Blue Laws; Jesus was reminding his disciples that faith is not based on
what you don’t do.

According to [Aristotle], “we need relaxation, because we cannot work
continuously. Relaxation, then, is not an end”; it is “for the sake of activity,”
for the sake of gaining strength for new efforts. To the biblical mind,
however, … the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil,
is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit
for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is
not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing
the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first in intention,” the Sabbath
is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.”
A B R A H A M J O S H U A H E S C H E L (1907-1972), The Sabbath

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