by Rob Lewin
This Lenten season our community has been discussing Walter Brueggemann’s great little book Sabbath as Resistance. It’s been a breath of fresh air and wonderful read. One of the critical issues in the book is learning that the God of Israel, of the Ten Commandments, YHWH, or Yahweh, as we say it, builds identity in a narrative. That defining narrative is the Exodus, the extraction of the nation of Hebrew slaves out from Egypt, crossing the Red sea on dry ground, and delivered safe to Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. This community is given the commandments with number 4, on Sabbath, as the “bridge” commandment between the first three that explain how to relate to God and the last six that explain how to relate to your neighbor.
In this commandment God builds a community based on “rest.” In Genesis 2 we learn that God rested on the seventh day. God is a God of rest. This community is also to rest on the seventh day as well, just like God. They are to be a people of rest, in a Covenant of rest, living a life of rhythm and rest. God isn’t a workaholic and neither are they.
To us this seems like “old hat.” Yesterday’s news. But the Hebrew slaves had been in bondage for 400 years. There was never, ever any rest. Not one day, or hour or minute. Ever. When Moses showed up to bring his message to Pharaoh, they are words that Pharaoh simply can’t understand. They are the most hope-filled, joyous words ever uttered. And even to us 21st century people yearning for God and hope ourselves, the words ring clear and true. “Let MY People GO!” God says “These slaves are the ones I seek. I want them for myself. I am the God of slaves.” Anyone in bondage needs a God who will command, “Let MY People GO.” This isn’t just good news. This is the best news. This God wants to not only free the slaves, and make them God’s own people, but for the first time, God wants, even commands, them to rest. To breathe. To sing. They get to be really free.
This “Gospel” of freedom speaks to our current enslavement today. What are you enslaved to? The Bachelor? Instagram? Clothes? Complaining about the Government? Work? Sex? Bitterness? Booze? Money? Weed? Opioids? Sports? Hate? This is a God who says “let them GO!” God is on your side for freedom. Freedom and rest are at the core of the Covenant with Israel.
Each week our community has discussed the book chapter by chapter. As we continue to look at the text, I feel myself saying, “Have I ever really had a true Sabbath; in a regular week, not a retreat, but as a normal weekly rhythm?” And the real unvarnished answer in a simple “no.” Could that be the reason that my enslavement seems so strong? What would 24 straight hours of honest rest, and focus on the “God of freedom” really be like? Heck, what would just 2 or 4 hours be like? Right? It seems to me that it’s time to take this God at his word, and learn to rest on purpose and with meaning. I also need to remember that if the Spirit of God lives in me, then the heart of Sabbath lives in me as well. I see engaging in this rest as taking hold of the rest and freedom birthright I’m being offered. Is it possible that this day of focused rest is the key to escaping my enslavement? Can I fit into the Exodus community too? Can you?
Can we possibly “not try?” Really? What do we have to lose, except our bondage?
So, how do we start? What, Dr Leo Marvin, are our “Baby Steps?” (See “What about BOB”)
- The first baby step then is an awareness, an understanding. Do you believe that consistent time awake and aware of God in a peaceful way is worth committing too?
- If you do, then step two is to stop now, put down your cup, and pray. Ask God for how you can honor this rest that is already built into you.
- Step three is to commit to four weeks of some kind of Sabbath. If you think 2 hours one day per week is all you’ll be able to handle, then do that. If you think that you can handle more, do that.
Make sure it’s “do-able” by you. Remember Jesus’ injunction that the Sabbath is for you. You’ve been set free, and you GET to rest. And begin. Peacefully.
Peace to you as you begin your journey. You’re walking into loving arms.
Rob Lewin is the author of Community of Kindness, A Refreshing New Approach to Planting and Growing Churches.