“Lord you have taught us that in returning and rest we shall find strength. And in quietness and in confidence shall be our salvation. Lift us we pray by thy spirit, where we may be still and know that thou art God” AMEN
The first lines of the book of Genesis say, “in the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind, the Spirit of Holiness, swept over the face of the waters and stirred it into life….” (Gen 1:1). In this, the second week of Pentecost, we remember the movement of the Holy Spirit in the first moments of creation as well as the Spirit’s continued movement in our lives.
As the ancient story tells us, God works in sweeping, powerful and gorgeous moments to shape the world, from the largest mountain peak to the tiniest insect’s wing. By Gods Spirit, the seeds and shoots are planted, animals take to air, land and sea and humans are made simply, poetically, beautifully.
And scripture tells us that in all that God does, God sees what he has done and it is good.
The creation story offers us a picture of a balanced relationship between God and earth, earth and creature, creature and human, human and God. Rather than being set apart from creation, we are deeply connected through the work of the Spirit. Everything begins in God and everyone belongs to God.
And it is good.
Given all that God does in the creation story, perhaps it is most striking that on the final day, the last day of creation, God rests. Yes, not only does God bless the six days in which he worked, he blesses his final day, his full day of rest.
That day is called the Sabbath in Hebrew.
It is a blessed day, a holy day, not only according to the book of Genesis, but all throughout the scriptures, Old and New, there is reference to the sacred importance to the Sabbath; Genesis, Deuteronomy, Exodus, Isaiah, Leviticus, the gospels, the epistles, over and over we receive instructions, teachings and commands to honor rest.
In the 10 commandments, along with the more talked about sins of murder, adultery and idolatry, God prohibits work on the day of rest, instructing his people to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” (Deut. 5). In honor of God’s primacy in creation and the restorative power of rest in God’s goodness, God invites, God commands, God implores the people of his creation to rest, that is to practice Sabbath.
To honor the Sabbath means resting from non-essential work, letting the busyness and productivity be set aside to allow time for prayer, worship, contemplation and thanksgiving. The purpose of such rest is born of the creation story, to both honor the creator and to commune with him. Sabbath rest is practiced whenever we set aside the work of our lives, whether it is a late night at the office or the busyness of shopping, watching t.v., and seek in their stead, restorative time in scripture, prayer, worship or exercise.
While few of us consider rest a burden, look at the culture in which we find ourselves. It can be so hard to make rest a regular part of our lives.
We are a frenetic people, indeed, it is a point of pride the level and intensity with which we work. For many of us it is a habit, so busy are we sometimes that even when we have the chance, we can’t seem to stop adding more things to our schedules, our responsibilities, our commitments. From a young age we are taught by our larger culture to measure our worth by our productivity. We are rewarded, even when that activity is over the top. Just last weekend I was at a college graduation where a student was honored for graduating with 4 majors, concurrently! (I doubt that overworked young man has had many Sabbaths in these last 4 years.)
Yes, it is indeed counter-cultural to speak of Sabbath rest as valuable and productive in and of itself. Yet Christians must be counter-cultural if we want to continue to not only honor the commandments of scriptures and the example of Jesus Christ, but also if we want to be in real relationship with God. Just like a healthy marriage, our relationship with God requires regular time and attention if we ever hope to enjoy a real relationship with the divine.
Perhaps one of the greatest concerns about a busy life is that it teaches us to define ourselves by what we produce. By such standards we are told that we are only as valuable as what we do for work, how much money we have or the number of hours we labor. Sometimes, when we are successful by such standards, we grow so impressed with our abilities, we easily forget from whom our abilities came in the first place. Not only do we forget to thank God for the gifts and abilities we have, we also forget to use these gifts and abilities in honor of God. We can too easily take the gifts of the Spirit and use them for the sake of personal gain, disregarding our God’s wishes and our neighbor’s needs.
We may think that our over activity only effects ourselves, not harming others, but it doesn’t. It effects our relationship with God while also setting an example for others. (When we put greater emphasis on schoolwork, for example, than prayer, we certainly can’t fault children for seeing Sunday worship as perfunctory).
Part of the challenge of the Sabbath imperative is that we need to learn, again, how to be still. We need to remember how to practice the study and prayer of Sabbath. Having a community of faith is essential in this. By encouraging each other in the study of scripture, and reminding each other to rest, we can relearn the power of stillness.
And we also need to remind ourselves and each other that we are inherently valuable. We do not need to earn the love of God, and we cannot earn true value by what we produce, what we consume or even what we DO. As part of God’s good creation we are, just as we are, incredibly valuable. Practicing the Sabbath is a regular reminder to ourselves that we do not have to earn our value. Practicing Sabbath stillness allows us to listen for God’s voice and God’s direction in our lives.
You do not have to find God. God is actively seeking you and, if you stay still, you make it that much easier for you to be found. As the psalmist writes: “in returning and rest we shall find strength. And in quietness and in confidence shall be our salvation. Lift us we pray by thy spirit, where we may be still and know that thou art God”
It gets easier too, Sabbath practice. As you begin to make time in your schedule for rest, the sort of rest that brings you to pray more frequently, read regularly, discuss scripture and listen for God’s voice in your own soul, your priorities naturally start to shift. With faithful practice, you will find that it is easier to make choices about how you spend the time God has given you and you will find yourself more grateful to have it.
In the warmth of these coming summer months you will be given, by the gift of the Spirit, opportunities to rest. Whether it is on a Tuesday after work or a weekend morning, recognize that time as God’s time and enjoy it. Take time to go for a walk, listen to music, to pray. Rather than running an errand or seeking entertainment at movies or shops, spend that precious time alone or with family, simply enjoying the created world that God has given you to share.
God’s will and guidance indeed becomes clearer for everyone who offers their time and abilities back to the one who created them in the first place. And that Spirit that moved over the face of the earth with such power that it shaped the earth and all who inhabit it? As you relax further into the part of the creation that God intended for you, you will find the power of this same spirit working in your life, moving you, with the same dexterity that it has since you were born.
For as God created each of one of us, scripture says, he looked upon his creation and saw that it was good. Good, just as we are.
Thanks be to God.