Monday, September 03, 2012

Labor Day Homily: Sabbath Spirituality

Sabbath Spirituality: Labor Day Communion Homily

Including selections From Walter Brueggemann Mandate to Difference: an invitation to the contemporary church

Hear this, O Church, for our spirit, and hear this O People, for the health of our lives:

When the Hebrew people were slaves to Pharoah, they were slaves to production, to brick making quotas, and had no days to stop work. “Any like any driven production system, the quotas keep increasing. Every success generated more rigorous demands.” The Sinai commandments were an alternative to the Pharoah commandments. Unlike the Egyptian gods, YHWH is a God of restfulness. YHWH is a God of blessing, capable of assigning life and well-being to every aspect of creation. When the Creator arrived on the scene (Genesis 1:1) the already extant chaotic matter of “Tohuwabohu” was distinctively unblessed and incapable of life. God blesses three times in Genesis 1: all that is non-human, the human, and the Sabbath.

“Then God rested. God was weary. This is not the God of the catechism that never rests. Such a God is never depleted, never spent, never needs a day off, because such a God is not intimately and intrinsically linked to needy creation. And then of course it is only a small step to be made in the direction of the Promethean God of classical theology who never rests…But not this God. This God rests. This God so rests that Israel in its poetic imagination can entertain the thought of YHWH’s dormancy…God rests because the world will work, because the tasks of creation have been delegated, and because creation, blessed as it is, knows the will and the energy of the Creator and does not need constant attention. God rests, because God engages in self-care, and because God has complete confidence in the sustaining energy of creation.

God not only rests, but God is “nepheshed” (the usual noun nephesh for self or soul is used as a verb in Exodus, so soul in action is to be deepened, enhanced, renewed via rest) is refreshed. In rest you get your soul back. When the tabernacle, that holy space that moved with the people on their journey, is set up, it is finished, however temporary it might be, just as the Sabbath day is a day of being finished, even though we know we will begin again, but we will only be able to do so because we have finished, we have Sabbathed.

“It is finished. It is constituted. Holy zone where God dwells. Holy time where nephesh sets down. Holy space and holy time, holy life devoted to the presence of God and healing, and a vision of God’s glory come among us—full of grace and truth—God’s glory which we are to practice and enjoy. This space is unlike any other space. This time is unlike any other time. This life is unlike any other life. It is this space and this time and this life that stands as the wellness center of Creation. There is no substitute, no reasonable facsimile, no adequate tradeoff or compensation. An act of restful restoration engages the character of the Creator….It is the truth of our lives that we are made for restful restoration.

The Creator promises and guarantees abundance, and Sabbath is the day we luxuriate in that abundance as a gift which we do not need to perform or possess or acquire or achieve…because it is a Gift. But of course we violate the Sabbath, the God-given naphshism. I propose we violate Sabbath and deplete and diminish our naphshism because we do not believe in, do not trust, do not count on God’s abundance. We do not think that Creation is abundant, and we do not trust the guarantee of the Creator. The outcome of such distrust, I propose, is a devouring anxiety…just as Sabbath is a total antidote to anxiety.

When we do not trust in guaranteed abundance, we must supply the deficiencies out of our own limited resources. We scramble to move from our sense of scarcity to an abundance that we imagine that we ourselves can supply, all the while frantically anxious that we won’t quite make it: not enough to be loved, not enough to be well liked, not enough to advance, not enough to secure my family, not enough members, not enough dollars, not enough published articles, not enough new clothes, new cars, new homes, not enough bombs, not enough stocks and bonds, not enough freedom, not enough purity, not enough of our kind of people.

It is necessary (we think) to erode the holy time of Sabbath for the sake of productivity, given our sense of scarcity grounded in distrust. “

In the story of the gift of manna from heaven in the wilderness desert, the people do not trust God’s abundance. They are to gather what they need enough for their homes, so some gathered this amount and others gathered a different amount. Usually they are to eat each day what they gather because the leftover manna will spoil; therefore they have to trust that there will be manna each day; except on the day before Sabbath there will be enough manna in the field that it can be gathered on that day to also cover Sabbath so no one needs to go gather it on the Sabbath. Some people did not trust that there would be new Manna given the next day, and the manna leftover spoiled. “They gathered in their anxiety, but the anxiety was a contradiction of God’s abundance. A surplus of anything gathered in anxiety will contradict God’s abundance.”

But what is a true and deeper Sabbath? What is the kind of restfulness and restoration that is reflective of God’s Creation Sabbath character? There is, Brueggemann says quoting the writer Mark Slouka, an approved leisure, promoted by the advertising and marketplace gods,” that is required to be organized, expensive and socially chic. The kind of “idleness” that is disapproved is the kind that promotes free pondering, considering options, self-reflection, developing an inner life. Such “idleness” is an elemental requirement in a democratic society so that free citizens can indeed exercise free political reflection. The absence of “idleness” of Sabbath is a deep pathology in our society.” Against this he cites Jesus’ admonition to consider the lilies of the field, contrasting anxiety with God’s abundance, and with the story of the loaves and fishes.

“This alternative offer of restoration (this Sabbath), alternative to coerciveness, does remarkable things to folks: it makes art possible, poetry, music, narrative;  it makes neighbor visible, neighbor in need, neighbor in joy, neighbor in solidarity; it makes the self coherent, not divided in frantic, productive ways; it recognizes God, lover of our ourselves, central to the human project, not pushed aside in idolatrous pursuit of control; it enables us not to worship other god and to violate the first three commandments; and it makes it possible to love neighbor and not to covet neighbor’s self. “

What causes church leaders in particular to violate Sabbath and to be coerced, as sometimes it is not taking the form of pursuit of commodities; perhaps instead it is not being good enough for the first child or only child, the ones who flock to ministry, raised in homes with demanding expectations, hard to be good enough and that requires 24/7 effort; or overcoming low-level background of education, of demonstrating competence, which becomes a 24/7 effort to be smart enough; or the need to be loved and liked enough which is a 24/7 effort; or the belief that we are God’s only hands and feet and just one more effort will bring the kingdom closer, and since we have 24/7 available for that we must use it all. Pharoah takes many forms.

“The power of healing and saving and liberating goes on in our restfulness. Imagine as the Sabbath was an alternative community, an alternative reality, to Pharoah, that the church, and its leaders, could be an alternative community to the god of productivity, of acquisition.” A Genesis church. An Exodus Church.

We see this in the people who we serve, and serve with, our neighbors so in need, and we see it in our own lives. We hope then to bring rest into people’s lives, as I often say about our food justice days and events, it is to “make their lives a little easier” because when that happens Sabbath can happen, rest and restoration, can happen a little easier, and they can become more centered and creative and giving; we hope to bring more silence into our lives and theirs, silence that is deep restorative re-focusing, surfacing the traumas and stresses that are masked by addictions that just add to the stress and trauma; in rest we take ownership of our selves again, we are re-souled, because we will experience ourselves then connected to God and to community, and that kind of connection makes real to us the kind of abundance that is the truth of our lives, instead of the scarcity falsehoods that the fear-mongerers and the need-mongerers are trying, and succeeding, to sell us.
Our year ahead will be to surface Sabbath and find ways to create spaces for it in the lives of all around us, among us, within us. Communion, in sharing the plate and cup, as we express in our common liturgy each week, is an act of embodying this reality of Abundance, and a promise to share the Sabbath with others, especially those we do not know, those who are different from us, those whom trigger our anxiety. The Welcome Table is, every time we gather around it during the day and week, a kind of tabernacle, moveable, holy in the moment, wholly in the moment 

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