Sabbath Rest

Luke 6:1-16

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I remember when this floated across my Facebook newsfeed from the New York Times – “Failure to Lunch: The lamentable rise of desktop dining.” It made me think of my friend Kate who, upon her first days working in a new office, she sat at her desk to eat lunch, avoiding the social awkwardness of the work lunchroom. Pretty quickly, one of her co-workers approached her and invited her to sit with them to eat, saying, “You can’t do that. They’ll see you and then we’ll all have to work.”

Over 60% of American professionals eat alone, at their desks, in front of their screens or while continuing to work. Maybe you are one of those. Maybe you think stopping to eat slows you down.[1]

Taking a lunch break in America is seen as a sign of idleness, of not getting things done, of taking unfair advantage of a company’s time, not being productive. Eating at your desk is good time management, good multi-tasking. So we tell ourselves. The reality is, when you eat with others, when you take time to put sustenance into your body away from your work, it actually helps better your work, helps you manage your time better, and improves your relationships with your co-workers.[2]

Perhaps the disciples could be accused today of multi-tasking, picking grain and eating it as they walk through the fields. The first century equivalent of eating at your desk. But instead of being asked to join the others in the break room for a lunch with the Pharisees, they are criticized for working on the Sabbath. Picking grain was considered work. A strict interpretation of the law.

Sabbath, the day of rest, was a critical part of the Jewish life. Jesus and his disciples would have lived in that rhythm of Sabbath that is spelled out in the 10 commandments. But we cannot forget that the founding rhythm was set by God in Genesis in the creation narrative. “God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done.”  Right there. The creator of the universe put into the rhythm of creation rest. Even God rested. God was idle. God pushed back from the divine computer screen and joined the others at the lunchroom table.

So, the poor Pharisees, the religious officials who just really want the people to live a life with God the best that they can, have lost the thread of the story of God. They’re forgetting what it’s all for and are, instead, busy keeping tally marks against Jesus. They’re catching onto a pattern of his wild interpretation of God and who God loves and how God loves. Spoiler alert: Jesus gets killed at the behest of the political leaders and religious leaders of the day because he dared to break the law again and again in order to show God’s love to people we would deem undeserving.

So today’s stories expose what Sabbath is actually for: not keeping the law for the sake of the law. No, Sabbath is for life: for healing and healing and being called to follow Jesus.

For the disciples to be harvesting grain to eat was seen as work, a clear, nit-picky violation of Sabbath law. Yes, Jesus knows this and further demonstrates he’s read scripture by referencing a story of David. Yet his point is being able to eat on the Sabbath is more important than going hungry. The Sabbath is not for restricting life but giving life. And, Jesus points out that he, referring to himself as the Son of all, is Lord of the Sabbath. Not the Pharisees. Not the rule book.

On yet another Sabbath day, Jesus is in the synagogue teaching and there was a man with a withered hand. And the religious authorities are just waiting for Jesus to break Sabbath law, to heal this man, so they can add yet another hash mark to their growing list from which they will justify his crucifixion, prove to the government that he is a threat to national security. It’s then that Jesus asks this question of those gathered: I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it? And he heals the man’s hand, answering his own question. Putting relationship and wholeness over the law of the day.

The law of the day dawning for we here in the United States is one that is more restrictive to Syrian refugees who are not Christian. The Syrian refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world. But as fear becomes the base from which rules are enacted, the more strict the interpretation of the rules can become. And if you’re not actually observing even a moment of Sabbath rest, if you’re not rejoicing in the God who made you, if you’re not able to take deep breaths in the creation that includes you, if you do not trust God with your time or your money or your faith, then you can’t see that it is there for other people either. For non-Christians, even. And then we pull the reigns tighter, out of our fear.

This is what Jesus was up against then and now.  I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?

The Pharisees, in their efforts to keep the peace with Roman rule, to prop up the Temple system and to preserve their way of life, saw Jesus as a direct threat to all of this.  And when they see Jesus choose to loosen their strict interpretation of the law by choosing relationship, by choosing wellness and wholeness of people…well, as Luke says, But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

It’s no wonder Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. He makes time to breathe, to listen for God, to get out of the fray and to ask God to help him choose his disciples. Even Jesus needs this holy rest.

It’s hard. I’ve worked hard to create a Sabbath space in my life. Fridays, more often than not, are mostly a day of play and rest. Sure, I catch up on stuff that needs to get done at home, I pay bills and I clean. But I make sure that Friday feels different from the other days so that I don’t mistake it for a day of work. So that my body gets used to the rhythm. And you should know, it’s taken a long time for the day to feel good instead of a little “off” – it started out feeling like I was doing something wrong.

And I think it feels off or even wrong because when you stop the flow of the work week, suddenly you’re faced with stuff you’ve been able to ignore because you were busy working. Suddenly you’ve got time to pay attention to the stuff you haven’t dealt with, that remains ragged or withered. Sabbath rest is hard. It’s easier to just keep working.

Sabbath rest is a holy gift that helps you work better and love better and include others in this generous gift. Make a goal this week to include 5 minutes of time for you to just breathe. To not think about work or what’s next but to just breathe. Then increase that next week to 10 minutes. Or make time, even a few hours, on a weekend to play games or go for a walk or to just play. Don’t feel guilty for “just” watching a movie or taking a nap. Just do those things. And don’t work. The rhythm of creation is based on taking a rest every week. Make the time. Nobody else is going to give it to you.

Stretch out your hand. Be healed. Step away from your work. Take a deep breath. Let go of your need to keep track of your work. God is not checking your time sheet. Loosen your grip on the reigns so you can improvise with Jesus, and love more widely, more dangerously. Stretch out your hand. And be healed.