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July 2022 - Keeping Sabbath

Sabbath – that’s a word rich with meaning. Sadly, far too many of us do not understand Sabbath, let alone practice it in our lives. In the 24/7 world that we live in today, is there any relevance for this ancient practice in contemporary life?

Rooted in God’s own work of creation, we first read about this in Genesis 2:1-3 ESV - The Seventh Day, God Rests - Thus the - Bible Gateway. God sets the tone for his own creation by resting on the seventh day, which is the original meaning of the Hebrew word, Sabbath (“day of rest”). This became codified at Mt. Sinai when God made a covenant with his chosen people, after having delivered them from slavery in Egypt. This has come down to us as the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV - “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it - Bible Gateway). It’s interesting to note that Dr. Martin Luther, in his explanation of the Third Commandment, makes no mention at all of resting, but only of attending to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. As Luther writes: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Of course, it is Jesus himself who came to fulfill all that was written in the Law and the Prophets. It is Jesus himself who reaches out to us with these wonderful words of invitation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

What about us today? Is there something we can learn from the ancient practice of keeping Sabbath each week? Our electronic devices – smart phones, iPads, laptops, gaming – beckon to be first in our lives. What is the first thing we touch in the morning when we get up and what is the last thing we touch at night before we go to sleep? If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s likely that it is our cell phone. How do we disentangle ourselves from this? How do we keep these amazing devices from becoming idols that take over our lives? Technology has certainly opened doorways for communication, learning, and many other things in ways that previous generations could not even imagine. But does there come a point when we need to unplug in order to recharge? The answer is yes.

Sabbath is all about recharging – not our electronic devices, but ourselves. Most of us probably think that this all sounds like a good idea, but it’s not very realistic or applicable for our busy lives today. Stores are open almost every day, we can shop online at any time, and we can get in our cars and drive wherever we want, whenever we want. So, how do we begin to think about Sabbath for today? More than thirty years ago, a Christian theologian and writer named Marva Dawn wrote a marvelous book entitled Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting: Dawn, Marva J.: 9780802804570: Books. I highly recommend this book as a starting point. The author unpacks what Sabbath is, the blessings of it, and how to start claiming this in our lives today. The truth is, we need what Sabbath has to offer us now more than ever.

 The word sabbatical flows out of the word Sabbath. The underlying themes of rest, rejuvenation, and restoration are at the heart of both Sabbath and sabbatical. The real-time relevance of this is important now more than ever. COVID impact from the last two years has taken its toll on church workers who have carried heavy burdens and of necessity had to pivot in big ways in ministry (The Pastors Aren’t All Right: 38% Consider Leaving Ministr...... | News & Reporting | Christianity Today). My own congregation has recently revised a longstanding sabbatical policy. Not every congregation recognizes the importance of sabbaticals for church workers, and so I give thanks that the congregation I serve does. The sabbatical revisions approved by my congregation include the following:

  • Sabbatical policy to include called staff vs. pastors only.
  • Changes eligibility for a sabbatical from every seven years to every five years.
  • Changes the maximum sabbatical period from six months to three months.
  • Aligns sabbatical planning to the church’s budget cycle.
  • Requires the Church Council to establish a separate Sabbatical Committee for each sabbatical and the Staff Care Team to serve in an advisory role to those committees.

All of these revisions are in keeping with best practices of churches that do have sabbatical policies. So we find ourselves in good company together with other congregations who are serious about keeping Sabbath and blessing church workers with periodical sabbaticals. This blessing then comes back to the congregations where these church workers serve. There is a renewed sense of calling that flows out of the sabbatical. Church workers return to their congregations with fresh insight and perspective about what the Lord is calling them to do for the sake of his kingdom. New patterns for faithful living and serving come forth that have a domino effect upon the lives of others.

Many years ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers said something profoundly simple but true: “One of the bravest things we can do in life is to say no.” I’ve always remembered those words and have come to realize how true they really are. The tyranny of the urgent is always before us, but what is urgent is not always what is important. Reclaiming boundaries in our lives might well begin with saying “no” to some things so that we might say “yes” to other, more important things. It is as Jesus explained to his friend, Martha: “You are anxious and troubled about many things. There is only one thing needful” (Luke 10:41-42a). Jesus is that one thing.

Sabbath blessings to you in Jesus -