Work and Rest
A sermon preached by Pastor Ken Carrothers on August 25, 2019
•Genesis 2:1-3; John 15:9-15•
In the beginning God created a rhythm for life. Read Genesis 1 aloud and it is unmistakable. “And God said, ‘let there be…’” “And God saw that it was good.” “And there was evening and there was morning.” All of the first creation story is a single rhythm — until it isn’t.
The rhythm is repeated day after day until we come to the final refrain. “God saw everything that (God) had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.”[i]
And as God finished a different rhythm emerged — the rhythm of work and rest. “And on the seventh day God finished the work that (God) had done, and (God) rested on the seventh day from all the work that (God) had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that (God) had done in creation.”[ii]
The unfortunate piece is that we haven’t really lived into the new rhythm formed on the seventh day. The first six days we get. We understand how to work. How to rest — not so much. And as I have been reflecting this week I think it is because whether we want to admit it or not — God doesn’t subscribe to our American value system.
Or perhaps a little more bluntly — God is un-American. Our 24-7-365 run from here to there — gorge ourselves on pizza in the middle of the night — acquiring the most toys so we can win — is not really the place for a count the hairs, consider the lilies, rest on the seventh day kind of God.
We can’t afford to let the competition get a step ahead of us. We cannot afford to be asleep when the next big thing is introduced. We are convinced that we need to be able to get whatever we want whenever we want. And we have been deluded into believing that this type of life is to be defended at all costs — because we are certain that the world depends and revolves around us.
Yet the God who spoke and breathed us into existence… the God who blessed us… the God who saw it was good… that God created everything and then took the rest of the day off. And if the creator can step away and admit that they do not need to work 24-7-365 to make everything move — what makes us think we do?
God wove a beautiful rhythm throughout all of creation. When we stop and pay prayerful attention to what is around us, we can hear the God-ordained rhythm still this day. Evening and morning. Inhale and exhale. Ebb and flow. Give and receive. Action and reflection. Speech and silence. Work and rest.
And it this creation rhythm that is at the heart of God’s life-giving gift of Sabbath. Just as God rested after God labors, so we are to rest. It is what we heard last week. “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy… Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…”[iii]
But is the Sabbath is only held as a commandment we really miss the point. For Sabbath is truly a gift. The God, in whose image we are made, knows us and what we need. God knows we need meaningful work in order to make a positive difference in the world and live into who we were created to be. But God also knows we must periodically pause to allow God to make a difference in our lives. It can’t be all work. There must be a rhythm of rest as well. And that is Sabbath. Sabbath is a letting go — to cease our labors and accept both our work and rest as a gift from God.
Now we also partially miss the point when we limit or suggest that Sabbath is simply one day of the week. For Sabbath is truly something that applies to all our days. Of course the rhythm set in the creation story is a weekly day of rest, but the practice of dedicating and observing a block of time each week should connect us in a deeper way to God’s presence on the other days as well.
Sabbath should never be limited by the clock or calendar. Rather Sabbath can be encountered in brief moments of prayer within a workday. It might be experienced during a particular season of life in which there is time for rest prior to another period of productivity. Sabbath, in whatever way it is experienced, realigns us with the divine rhythm, releases our hearts from those cultural values that are not life-giving, and opens our mind, body and soul to God’s care.
Sadly, despite its gift, the Sabbath rhythm finds very little foothold in our society. Distorted assumptions about what Sabbath means, the value our culture places on possessions and productivity as a measure of self-worth, and our own need to be in control erode almost any chance Sabbath has. The reality is it is even a challenge to keep Sabbath within the rhythms of a faith community. Every church program that provides rest for some, seems to add to the busyness of others. Therefore, it is no wonder that most of us are exhausted having taken on too much. It is why Sabbath keeping is truly countercultural living.
A living that is easier said than done. After all, as stated early, we Americans fill every chard of silence with noise, music and activity. As a culture we are bombarded with a distorted truth — that enough is never adequate, overachieving is actually average, virtual connections are actual relationships, and padding our resumes will make us more important. Hearing and heeding the divine rhythm of rest is no easy task in this space, but it is worth the effort.
The rhythm of Sabbath is a call to rest, redemption and re-creation. Within the rest is the meaningful and sacred work of getting to know God. Rest is not the same as plopping in front of the television with a plate of nachos and the beverage of your choosing. Sabbath is not a call to be a couch potato. Rather Sabbath is the rhythm of doing more with our lives than working and running ourselves to death so that we can fall asleep watching reruns of “Friends” or holding our lives together all year long so we can get two weeks away worrying about all we have to do when we get back home.
Sabbath is a holy time. It is not a holiday. It is not vacation. It is not reward. It will look different for each of us, because we are each unique individuals. There isn’t one universal Sabbath way, because God has called us into different vocations. Rather, Sabbath is a surrendering to a rhythm of sacred space and time — setting aside the cultural values — and leaning into the God-ordained rhythm of creation. Evening and morning. Inhaling and exhaling. Giving and receiving. Action and reflection. Speech and silence. Work and rest. Amen.
[i] Genesis 1:31-2:1 (nrsv)
[ii] Genesis 2:2-3 (nrsv)
[iii] Deuteronomy 5:12-14a (nrsv)