Even the Puritans Took a Day Off

June 15, 2014

Wasting Time With God

Genesis 1:1 thru 2:4

Pastor Kim Blocher


On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the actions of a God in three persons, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.   We serve a God who made us and the whole cosmos, saved us, and remains with us. Our reading in Genesis celebrates the first person of the Trinity. It prompts us to remember where we came from and how we got here.   It is what we call an origin story. An origin story helps us to understand who we are and where we came from. All cultures across time have origin stories that share similarities.   Such a story will generate more questions than it answers. There is so much that remains a mystery.

Whether you believe the creation story in Genesis is the literal way in which the world created, or if you view it as not factually true but as testimony to a deeper truth–we must admit that God must love us an awful lot to have made this world.

If you have seen the movie “Gravity” you had a front row seat for a simulated glimpse of what our beautiful blue planet looks like from space. The special effects from the movie are captivating 9and for the tens of millions they cost, they should be!).  But real astronauts don’t need special effects to see the dazzling sight of our earth. Those of us old enough to remember those first images of our earth taken from outer space will not forgot the awe they inspired.

Hey…Our planet really is round! The continents look just like they do on those flat wall maps Miss Collins rolled down across the blackboard in the sixth grade. The oceans are exactly where they are supposed to be! Clouds and weather patterns move across the earth just like those graphics on the Weather Channel! Those glaciers are sprawled across the top and bottom of the globe just like in our earth science textbook!

Those who have traveled to outer space, those who slipped the surly bonds of earth, have seen from where they come. Particularly, the astronauts who traveled to the moon had the vantage point of looking on earth from several hundred thousand miles away. I think that the wonder of that sight would transform the rest of your life. Indeed none of the astronauts came home unchanged and many struggled for the remainder of their lives to re-find a place here on earth, having been out of this world.

The rest of us may need a little reminding from time to time of the magnificence of God’s creation, and a reminder of where we came from.   On Trinity Sunday, this reading from Genesis should give us pause to wonder about this God whose likeness we bear.   If God’s image is imprinted on my very being it makes sense that I correspondingly reflect some of God’s joy, God’s love, and God’s intentions for this earth.   Debie Thomas poses this thought in an essay [1]on this passage, going on to say “I am his and so He is mine.” What better way to reflect God’s glory, than to waste some time with God. We call that Sabbath.

The only thing in the whole creation story that God has declared holy, is the Sabbath. Sabbath means to cease, to rest. Eugene Peterson, with his gift for language and ability to illuminate words, says that the Sabbath means:   Stop. Quit. Cool it. In other words, knock it off for a day.

We should be startled and humbled (as put by Debie Thomas) that God rested. How can God need rest, when God is God! Certainly God does not need anything. But God chooses to rest from labor so that God can enjoy this marvelous creation. How we can we refuse to do the same? It really must be the best way to reflect joy, love, and good intentions or otherwise why would God have done it? Not only that, God has commanded us to rest on the Sabbath.   It is number four on God’s Top Ten list of rules. (remember: they are commandments, not suggestions!) From Exodus 20: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do your rest. 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 town. 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 made it holy.”

We are so accustomed to the notion of a work week and a weekend, that we can’t comprehend how radical a notion was a day of rest in ancient times. As Tracey Rich points out in “The Nature of Shabbat”[2] a weekly day of rest was unknown in ancient civilizations. Leisure was for the wealthy and everybody else worked until they dropped.

If God’s work can be set aside for a day, are we so important that we can’t set aside a day to rest, reflect, and remember?   Many people, those who don’t actually observe it, think of Sabbath as a day of enforced prayer within unreasonable constraints. Some of you may have grown up in homes where Sunday was a time when play was prohibited. But really Sabbath is about freedom. Slaves did not get days off. Our Hebrew ancestors worked 400 years in Egypt without a day off. People then become equipment, work units; and humanity is defaced. Eugene Peterson says that “The moment we begin to see others in terms of what they can do rather than who they are, we mutilate humanity and violate community.” [3]   Free people choose when to work and when to rest.  People who remember where they came from and who created them choose the work-rest rhythm built into the very nature of the universe.

Karoshi is a Japanese term for sudden death by overwork. It is becoming an epidemic and by many metrics, the Japanese are among the most exhausted and unhappy people on earth.   A recent measurement found that a Japanese worker has approximately two hours overtime a day on average. They are literally working themselves to death.   But how many Americans actually “unplug” for a day?

I bet we all know teens who go to bed with cell phones, IPADs, and laptops switched on…and are waking up thru the night to answer and respond to a constant stream of connectedness. That connectedness to the world can foster a lack of connection to a sacred source that must be apprehended in reflection, rest, and God forbid—solitude.  Correspondingly, we are taught that time is money and needs to be measured out in ways that are productive.   Our workday instincts and habits do not just shut off. We need to consciously decide that we will spend sabbath in ways that we do not need to justify, make productive, or useful by the standards of our culture.   Sabbath-keeping is not rocket science.  Sabbath is a day for praying and playing…for both Jews and Christians alike. Jews and Christians share this God who set aside a day for rest.

As I observe the plain people who enjoy recreation in the state park near my house, it seems to me that they get this praying and playing rhythm right. Sunday mornings are for church, held in home meetings, but the afternoon is for relaxing with family and friends. Go to Kings Gap State Park on any Sunday and you will see the buggies heading up the mountain. Groups of Amish and Mennonites are at Pine Grove playing volleyball, walking in woods or wading in the streams. Picnic suppers are laid out and children run around in bare feet while their parents sit in shady circles talking and resting.

The world does not especially value either of those activities—praying and playing.   But even in this battered world of ours, it is God’s will that we take a day of rest. This is not a day of doing, but a day of being. It is not a day to get something done. Rather it is a day to watch and see what God has done.

We quit talking and start listening. And maybe in the process of listening, we come to appreciate this beautiful world and its creator. One day a week to remember who we are and what is important does not seem like so very much. But done week after week, it makes for a lifetime lived close to our source of life.

Sabbath-keeping is a spiritual discipline and a chief means of practicing our faith. For Jews it is their most important ritual. The Puritans used to say that good Sabbaths make good Christians.   According to Dorothy Bass, they meant that regular, disciplined attention to the spiritual life was the foundation of faithfulness.[4] For them a day off was not a waste of time.  The Puritans could hardly be accused of being a bunch of free-living hedonists…but they took a day off.  Sabbath observed re-defines human time into “sacred time” that makes space for God.

Wasting time with God is never a waste. In a frenzied world that never shuts off, never puts the cell phone down, never stops tweeting…God invites us to cool it. One day a week to celebrate who we are and whose we are, where we came from and where we’re going.   Faithfully observed and faithfully lived, Sabbath can make a difference in every day of our lives. Let’s waste a day with God…lucky for us, God has the day off too!

[1] “The Best of All Beginnings”, posted 9 June 2014 on “The Journey with Jesus” blog site of Dan Clendenin

[2] Copyright 5756-5771 (1995-2011)

[3] Peterson, Working the Angles, Eerdmans, 1987, 71.

[4] Bass, Practicing Our Faith, Jossey-Bass, 1997, 88.