Sunday, April 3, 2011

Remember the Sabbath...


We've been working through the gospel of Matthew at church for a while now and today the text was Matthew 12:1-21: 1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. 15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:1-21, New International Version, ©2011)
Pastor Rick (who just wrote a new book that I look forward to reading through with Allen) mostly talked about the Sabbath. He made a point (which I'd heard before but rarely think about) that if all Christians took the other commandmants as loosely as we often take the 4th commandment about the Sabbath, then there'd be a lot more murders, thefts, and affairs conducted out in the open in churches, since most of us are fairly open with our lack of Sabbath-keeping.
What, then, is Sabbath keeping? One can easily get legalistic about it: Sunday is church day, so make sure not to do anything that would make you miss church. No sleepovers, soccer games, etc. But it's just as easy (easier, actually) to ignore the "make it holy" part of the fourth commandment. We remember the Sabbath by planning into our mental calendar that there is church on Sunday morning and home community on Sunday evening for potluck dinner. That's remembering it, but is it really making it holy, special, set apart? Not really. If I spend my Sundays in a frenzy between church and home community doing all the same stuff I'd do any other day, there isn't anything really special about it. Rick talked a lot about how the Sabbath was given as an anchor that always brings us back to God in our week. We tend to think that we can't rest until we get all of our work done; not a bad idea on the small scale, but let's think about it in terms of life at large. As they say, "A (fill in the blank)'s work is never done." There are just too many tasks and too many cycles of activity to wait until they are all done. Rick exhorted us not to work with the mindset of "Ughh, I've got to finish everything so I can not have to do anything on Sunday!" because that will likely lead to a very stressful Monday through Saturday and an exhausted Sunday where you're thinking about how, in a sadly short number of hours, you'll go back to it all over again. He said rather that we should see the Sabbath as a respite from our work. My analogy is that taking a Sabbath should come more as a mid-sentence digression--such as you see here, between these fine double dashes--rather than a period at the end of the sentence.
Well, THAT'S a lot easier said than done. There are so many things to do, and our good old American instinct is to say, "Go! Do! Achieve! Progress! NOW!" The Western church must share some of the blame: they don't have the expression "the Protestant work ethic" for nothing. I remember reading "Little House on the Prairie" about what the Ingalls girls did (or rather, didn't) do on Sundays. They couldn't play with their dolls or do anything besides look at the Bible, and they had to sit through a long church service, and it sounded awful. Work, work, work, and then that's the "Sabbath rest" they get? No thanks. I'd actually been mulling over what I hope Sabbath will look like for the Cook family. Here are my thoughts so far:
1. A time to enjoy each other's company, whether at home or elsewhere
2. A time not to worry about the usual cares of the week (homework, chores, errands, etc.)
3. Flexibility (go to evening church if Allen has a soccer game during the morning...or even missing church occasionally to go on a field trip to worship God elsewhere)
4. Spontaneity in what we do together, yet enough consistency that our kids will look forward to it and not see it as "ugh, it's family togetherness day, barffff"
5. Naptime/down time Our friends who host our home community have four kids, and I think they all have to take naps or at least be quietly playing in their rooms for some part of the afternoon. The kids are all under 10, so I don't know how it will go when they are teens...then again, my students love naps and sleeping, so it will probably be fine then, too! Allen and I took a short nap this afternoon and it was really nice. Naps rock. My mom often took naps on Sundays. It was not uncommon to find her fast asleep in the big king sized bed surrounded by sections of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times. Thinking back from my teen years, I'd say that Sabbaths for the Lowe household included Einstein Brothers bagels and newspaper reading after church, having homemade pizza for dinner, and doing homework.
Ah yes, homework. Friday night? Forget it, I need a night off. Saturday? Sorry, still not ready. Sunday? Well, it has to be done sometime. So maybe I could borrow some insight from Judaism: Sabbath could be from sundown to sundown. From Saturday night until Sunday night, just rest. One Christian school I considered teaching at made it a rule for teachers not to assign homework due Monday. Sounds good. But most of my students do not seem to suffer from too little rest where their work is concerned.
Well, writing in this blog has been a nice way to relax on the tail end of this Sabbath. And to make it all extra wonderful, there's no school tomorrow! Well, it's a teacher planning day, but it's just an extra day to get ready for the week, and then it's only a four day week. Four day work weeks make so much sense for teaching; the extra time to plan is invaluable. (I can just hear the pundits blaring on about how little teachers already work and the inherent selfishness of us wanting more time off...bleahhh.)
Oh, and if you get the chance, give Pastor Rick a little listen on this topic. Here's the link to today's sermon.
p.s. the picture at the top was mostly just supposed to be a tranquil picture. It was taken from the top of Mt. Tabor, looking out at Portland. I haven't figured out how to make captions on this thing, though.

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