(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on April 17, 2015)
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, NRSV)
Because I work on Sundays, Monday is supposed to be my designated day off. I can’t remember the first time I came into the church on my day off, but I’m sure it was just to pick something up or drop something off. After a few weeks of doing that, I found myself taking a half an hour or so to straighten my desk, and go through a few emails. After a while, I spent a couple of hours in the office, mostly getting a head start on the week while I waited for the sermon video to upload to our website. Next thing I knew, I had turned it into a half day. I’d even schedule appointments. My kids came to expect that on Mondays, after daddy picked them up from the bus stop, we went on errands all over town and spend a few hours at the church. But all the while, I told myself it was still a day off because, after all, I didn’t shave that morning.
Last month I went to the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Frankfort with a group from our church. The featured guest speaker was Matthew Sleeth, MD, Executive Director of Blessed Earth and author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. The breakfast was wonderful and Dr. Sleeth’s talk was outstanding. During his presentation, Dr. Sleeth noted how the first three of God’s commandments all had to do with our relationship with God: have no others Gods before me; make no idols; do not take God’s name in vain. He then pointed out that the last six commandments were all about our relationships with each other: honor your parents; don’t murder; don’t commit adultery; don’t steal; don’t bear false witness; don’t covet your neighbor’s things. And then he posed a question about the fourth and longest commandment, which is to keep the Sabbath. Who is this commandment about? Is it about God, or about us?
Dr. Sleeth’s observation was that it was both. God rested on the seventh day, and so we are to rest on the seventh day. God released us from slavery, so we should honor our broken chains by being free of labor one day a week. The fourth commandment is a bridge commandment, connecting our lives with the Divine. In other words, the Sabbath, he argued, is the bridge upon which we meet God. Furthermore, Dr. Sleeth pointed out that our culture has systematically dismantled observance of the Sabbath. It used to be that no businesses were open on Sunday. After church, people went home and spent the day with their families. Now, working, shopping, traveling, and cheering for your team occupies what used to be a sacred day of rest. Even kids’ sports fill up Sunday afternoons, sometimes even during the worship hour! It appears as though the bridges between us and God have all been blown up. Blowing up bridges, by the way, is precisely what an invading army might do when conquering another country to prevent an effective defense against the enemy.
Do you take a day off? Do you take a full 24 hours of no work, no commerce, no travel, no errands, no “catching up?” Do you ever take one day a week to leave the computer, the smartphone, the television turned off?
I’ll admit that the Sabbath commandment, the longest and perhaps the most important of the ten, is the hardest for me. It is so hard for us to do nothing. Work is glorified in our culture. And because of technology, we have become accustomed to having the ability to alternately produce and consume anywhere, 24 hours a day. And we often fall into the thinking that if we take a day off from working, consuming, or being plugged in, that we’ll get behind or that the world will stop spinning. But while we have now the ability to work or shop every day of the week, are our families, our communities, and our faith any stronger than they were in an era when everything was closed on Sunday?
I propose that we as a community take the time to intentionally rebuild the bridge between humanity and God. What a refreshing thing it would be to see people spend time with their families in the living room or in the park, not at the department store. What a joy it would be for our children not to have to compete with our email for our attention. What a breath of fresh air it would be for a community to have enough faith that God provides enough in six days to last us all seven, and that when God delivered us from bondage, it was so that we could spend that time living a life of joy and thanksgiving. I hope for the day when we can gather on that bridge.