“Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list.” This is one of the ways in which the director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, Omid Safi, writes about what he calls “The Disease of Being Busy” in a 2014 article from On Being. Safi puts forward that in our society today we are aching for connection with other people; not just a passing conversation that follows the expected and standard script, but genuine connection which lingers over meals, the type of connection that asks “how is your soul” rather than for your itinerary. This type of connection is not easy to do, it is counter-cultural and radical; until it becomes habit, it must be intentional, but it connects us to something true about our created nature: that we must slow down long enough to hold deep within our souls the truth that to be a human being is a gift and a responsibility.
Today in our lectionary cycle we hear in our Old Testament passage, the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps this short passage of scripture is familiar to you and falls pleasantly on your ears, or maybe you know that to keep the Sabbath was one of the big Ten, but wouldn’t necessarily be able to say which it was or to list all the variety of people that are included in the umbrella of this commandment. The commandment about the Sabbath, I think it is important to know, is unique in both versions of the Ten Commandments.
It is the only commandment that begins with “Remember,” or as we have it in our translation, “Observe”; the other commandments, outside of one, all begin with “Thou shall not.” The very structure around the commandment to keep the Sabbath is not a rule that one must follow to be faithful, but it is a reminder of who God has created us to be. The commandment of the Sabbath is also the longest of all the commandments, and no one is left out of the gift and the responsibility of the Sabbath.
The commandment to keep the Sabbath is not just for devout people of faith, it is for you, for those who work for you, for the animals, and for those who are visiting your homeland. The Sabbath is not purely about doing things right, it is about remembering. Keeping the Sabbath is about remembering who you are, and remembering that you are a human being and that being a human requires much work and also much care.
To say that the Sabbath was important is an understatement. The Sabbath is tricky, however. Because sometimes the Sabbath is used as a synonym for rest or for an (unneeded) excuse to take a break from the unrelenting pace of our lives, but Sabbath is not about hammocks and lingering naps, the Sabbath is a reprieve from burdens and from obligation; we do not only practice the Sabbath by spending our day off refraining from the beckoning call of responding to that non-urgent work, but also by choosing how we use that free time. Sabbath is not about need, it is about intention; we do not take a day of rest because we need it, but because it was made for us.
There’s a danger in practicing the Sabbath, too. There’s a danger in living out a cheap moralism. We could perhaps carve out for ourselves and for our families a day of rest, but fail to live into the intention of the Sabbath and forget how others are unable to truly rest. To practice the Sabbath requires that we regard our own created nature and the nature of the whole created world with respect, and while it’s difficult to remember how to do that, I think that the key is in the first phrase: “Overserve the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. But what does it mean as Christians in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2018 to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy?
To remember the Sabbath is to remember some important truths. It is to remember that we are not just human doings but that we are human beings; it is to remember that we cannot function at full speed all the time. It is to remember that we, though finite and fragile, are created in the image of the Almighty God. It is to remember that even God, Godself needed rest in our creation narratives. To remember the Sabbath is to remember that it is not our work ethic or our push to constantly be engaged that drives the world; it is to remember that we are very small and control very little. To remember the Sabbath is to remember that to take a day of rest is not about whether or not you have the luxury to take a day of rest; it is to remember that the Sabbath is about God’s grace, not your wealth.
The other vital aspect of the practice of Sabbath is to keep it holy. The key to keeping the Sabbath holy is to pay attention to the rest of the commandment. It is to remember that the Sabbath is not just for those who can afford it, but that the Sabbath is for all; there is no one in the whole of God’s creation that is not deserving or tasked with the gift and the responsibility to keep the Sabbath. The commandment of the Sabbath is a vision of God’s kingdom – all are welcome, no exceptions, not even in its original context where in which it was very easy to exclude others because they were women, or slaves, or animals, or resident aliens. To keep the Sabbath holy in our day is very much the same, it is the same kingdom vision as it was when it originally was cast. To keep the Sabbath holy now means to not exclude people, no matter their gender or their social class or their citizenship status from the fact that we are created with the need for rest. To keep the Sabbath holy means that we remember that we are not the only ones created in the image of God, and thus we are not the only ones in need of God’s rest.
So, what do we do with this, then? To remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy is noble and good, but to do that alone isn’t quite enough. Yes, to remember that we ourselves, and all others, are created in the image of God and to welcome everyone we meet into the kingdom vision, wherein which there is no exclusion from God’s grace is a good and right thing to do, but our task doesn’t stop there.
As the author of 2nd Corinthians says in our Epistle passage today, “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
As Christians, we must let the light shine out of the darkness, and to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy can be a powerful way to do that. To remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy is one of the ways in which we help shine the love and the grace of the kingdom of God to all people, because as we all know, sometimes this life is heavy and darkness seems too deep, but God is gracious and loving and part of our task is to let our lives and our days give focus to this truth. So, remember the Sabbath and keep it holy to let the light shine out of darkness.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on June 3, 2018 for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B on Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and 2 Corinthians 4:5-12.