Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Celebrate Sabbath – “Live in Holy Rhythm”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
January 15, 2022
Exodus 20:8-11; Luke 4:14-16,31-32
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 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, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read… (Later) He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Sabbath-taking is about rest and rhythm, about breathing out, then breathing in. As the human body breathes out day by day, laboring at our places of work and at home, the body and the spirit naturally need a time of recovery, a time of rest.
Consider what activities constitute for you breathing out, and what activities constitutes breathing in.
Jesus, on the sabbath day, after spending his weeks healing people and responding to their troubles, would go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day to read the scrolls, to listen to others, and to teach. During the week, when he found himself fatigued by the many demands upon his presence, he would go off alone on the mountain to pray. It was Jesus’ custom to gather weekly for synagogue worship and to enter regularly into private prayer – a worthy model of breathing out, then breathing in.
In our gym, we occasionally engage in “Box breathing”, sometimes called “square breathing”. Box breathing is when you breathe in for four seconds, for example, hold your breathe for four seconds, then breathe out for four seconds, and wait for four seconds to breathe in again. This technique has been used as a tool by many for managing anxiety. Many persons these days, especially when under some form of stress, experience a racing heart, and rapid breathing, and dizziness.
Such symptoms can make people feel out of control and anxious and on the verge of a panic attack. The practice of controlled, slow breathing can allow a regained sense of control, and can even offer relief from anxiety and even panic attacks. (medicalnewstoday.com)
Sabbath rest and rhythm is about individual health and wholeness of life. Rhythm is important to our daily lives. Just as we must breathe in after we breathe out, regular, sufficient sleep is critical to our physical and mental health. Try living without a regular rhythm of sleep for a month, and you’ll find yourself fatigued and unable to think clearly – just ask most any parent of a three month old child.
When our twins were just a few months old, we were experiencing a severe imbalance in our sleep schedule, as you can imagine. I remember going to the church office one morning and finding myself in need of a cup of coffee. I didn’t drink coffee regularly until our twins were born.
The backstory is that our coffee maker at home was one of those with an automatic shut off. That is, when you pull the pot out, the coffee maker shuts off the flow of the brewing. But that morning in the church office, undergoing a severe lack of regular sleep, I pulled out the pot to pour my coffee, just as I did at home, not recognizing that the old coffee maker at the church did not have the shut off feature.
I am standing there, bleary-eyed, pouring my coffee into a cup while three or four staff members around me are trying to communicate that the coffee maker is still going, dripping coffee onto a hissing hotplate and all over the counter. I was so sleepy I didn’t even notice.
How do you find rest and rhythm in your practice of sabbath in order to be fully alive and well? My niece is a nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She works three 12 hour shifts during the week, which is difficult, but it does give her four days off in seven. The problem is that her shifts are from 7pm to 7am, and all the other activities and hobbies she enjoys occur during daylight hours. So she finds it difficult to find weekly rhythms of sleep and rest that work for her. She is young and strong and vital, but she wonders how long she can maintain a work schedule that does not coincide rhythmically with the other activities that she desires to include in her life.
No one size fits all. When the fourth commandment was given, the vast majority of people were agricultural workers. Many people worked outdoors with their hands. Our needs are different today.
As Jesus said, the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Thus, each of us may discover different requirements for our Sabbath rest and renewal. If you work alone all week long, you probably need to spend time with people on your Sabbath. If you work with many people all week long, you just may need a Sabbath that includes solitude.
If you work all week behind a desk, at a computer screen, indoors, then your Sabbath may need to include time outdoors, time in nature, reconnecting with the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.
If you work outdoors all week, exposed to the elements, then your Sabbath may well need to include indoor warmth and physical rest and comfort.
Sabbath rest is about discovering healthy rhythms for our individual lives, and it is also about communal justice and fair treatment under the law.
Do you remember why Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis where he was shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel on April 4, 1968? King was in Memphis to encourage the efforts of the sanitation workers. The garbage collectors had been oppressed in their work and their wages for years. At the time, they were making only 65 cents an hour and allowed no overtime pay. Working long hours in often unsafe conditions, the sanitation workers were being taken advantage of, being taken for granted.
They were treated as “less than”, and unworthy of what others received. King went to Memphis to encourage them in their strike and seek to make a difference in their fight for fairness and just treatment under the law.
In our class on Wednesday, we were talking about child labor laws. Do you remember when our nation officially approved child labor laws? It was not until 1938! I had assumed it was much earlier. Did you know that in 1900, 18 percent of all American workers were under the age of 16. Congress began passing laws restricting child labor in 1916 and 1918, but the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional.
In the 1920’s, supporters of child labor laws sought a constitutional amendment authorizing federal child labor legislation and it passed in 1924, but many states were not keen to ratify it. It was not until the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that a national minimum wage was set, as well as the maximum number of hour for workers in interstate commerce— and important limitations on child labor.
Sadly, even today, protections for the children of migrant agricultural workers are often not covered by these laws.
There is a key difference between the Exodus and Deuteronomy texts when it comes to the Fourth Commandment. In Exodus, we are told to rest on the 7th day because God rested. All people – men, women, children, servants, and even domestic animals are to rest on the 7th day as a remembrance of God’s providence. The earth is abundant in its resources, and Sabbath rest helps us to recognize and reflect on the sacred truth that “indeed, it is good, very good.”
In Deuteronomy however, the commandment to rest on the 7th day is couched in the remembrance of slavery in Egypt. Remember how you were slaves in Egypt, God says to the Hebrews? Remember what it felt like to work every single day, non stop, under the threat of the whips of the slave drivers? Remember making those bricks for the Egyptian Pharoahs, for their precious pyramids? Remember how you never felt free, never quite felt fully alive, but were always hard pressed to make it through another day, another week?
Work hard for six days, then rest. Rest because God has liberated you from oppressive work schemes. Rest, because you are no longer a slave to your work. Rest, because you are not a slave to your boss. God has provided an Exodus, a way out, so be grateful as you remember the Sabbath day And keep it holy, sacred, set aside for you and for all people.
Sabbath rest and rhythm is about re-framing our lives, and remembering what is most important. “Sunday, the Sabbath, was the day when Martin Luther King, Jr. was always off the streets and in the pulpit. It was the day when the community was called (together) to confess their sins, find inspiration, consolation, and rest…”
The world could seem to be saturated with darkness in the 1960’s, and many in the black community would wonder what difference their worship could make. “But when people come to worship…we change the nature of the way we understand our lives. Worship is not just something we do as part of our lives; it is how we frame our lives…”
The non-violence of Martin Luther King Jr. was rooted in his rhythm of Sabbath worship and rest…”Trust in God comes from rest in God.”
On April 7th, 1968, just three days after Martin Luther King, Jr, had been assassinated, Nina Simone, a friend of King’s, sang a concert at the Westbury Music Festival in New York. Nina had a stunning voice and was a well-known persona in the blues world, but when King was assassinated, she found herself broken-hearted, questioning, and on the brink of hopelessness on the day of her concert.
That day, a Sunday, she sang two songs in King’s honor. The first was an angry elegy, one that would predict the rest of her career. In it, she cried out in full lament of the condition of the black community and she predicted that violence was coming.
The “King of Love”, as she called him, was now dead. To many, this was a frightening song, prophetic of the times, incisive, and painful. But her other song was very different. It was a sultry, peaceful song about Sunday in Savannah. Nina Simone knew that her friend Martin Luther King, Jr. disagreed with her about violence and hope, and she knew that this had everything to do with where he spent his Sundays and what he believed.
King’s biographer, Richard Lischer, wrote that King’s world “consisted of two dialectically opposed realities. The first was the heritage of suffering, which included enslavement, poverty, segregation, murder, and all the hopelessness inherent in this heritage. The second was the affirmation of God’s purpose for the whole world, especially for those who bear burdens imposed by others… Every Sunday, King brought those realities together in his person and in his pulpit. He brought his work as an offering and rested in the word and the congregation, preaching and praying and singing beneath (both) the cross and in front of a picture of Jesus praying in Gethsemane (Lischer, 1995).
In the audio recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr’s ministry in his home church, he would relay the terrors of his week and ask his congregation for prayer. Then, he would offer thanks to God for allowing him to come home one more Sunday… and after the preaching would end, the singing would begin, and he would join along with the others, bellowing praise at the top of his lungs.
Worship is not just something we do as part of our lives; it is how we frame our lives. As Richard Lischer noted, one doesn’t sit down at a segregated lunch counter or face fire hoses and dogs because such action makes sense or is guaranteed; it is only because there is a greater logic at play.
It is said that the more pessimistic Martin Luther King, Jr. grew with regard to humanity, the more optimistic he became about God. Even in the darkest period of his own discouragement, King continued to say to African Americans, “Go ahead! God can be trusted” (Lischer, 1995). This abiding trust in God came from his regular sabbath rest in God.
No matter how busy we are, no matter how long the to do lists, we make time to worship and to rest in order to make sense of the rest of our lives. As we breathe in through worship and rest, we prepare ourselves to breathe out fully during the rest of the week, with the voice of God ringing in our ears and the grace of God to carry us through.
(Kirsten Pinto Gfroerer, Lay Pastoral Associate at St. Margaret’s, Winnipeg.
On this Martin Luther King, Jr weekend, let us rest because we are not slaves to work, as were the Hebrews in Egypt. And let us ensure that others in our community may rest as well. While we have moved beyond the legalistic Blue Laws of Sundays, we have not moved beyond the need to ensure that all workers, restaurant workers, train conductors, and migrant farm workers, are getting sufficient time off and sick days, and parental leave, as well as fair wages so they don’t have to work two or three jobs with no time for sabbath rest.
Sabbath taking is about rest and rhythm, about breathing in and breathing out, for us and for all people.
To God be the glory as we worship God’s holy name and as we follow God’s holy commands.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church