I preached this sermon at St. Lydia's the week of June 5, after returning home from a five week sabbatical.
A few summers after I graduated from Divinity School
my friends and I decided we should have a reunion.
Kelly suggested that we all meet up at her family’s lake house.
Kelly’s from rural Illinois, and this is apparently the thing that lots of people do in the summers there.
They drive up to Wisconsin, “to the lake.”
It's a whole thing. There are cheese curds involved too.
So, the first day at the lake house,
we all got in our swimming suits,
filled a cooler with beer, and got on a pontoon boat.
We motored out into the middle of the lake, and then, we just…
Kelly got out a magazine and read it from behind her sunglasses.
Elizabeth floated in an inner tube with her eyes closed.
And we just…lounged.
In my family, vacation meant getting on an airplane
and flying somewhere we had never been with lots of museums.
It involved tours through historic houses
and bus rides through historic neighborhoods
and three cities in six days as we raced to soak up as much culture as possible.
There was no lounging.
There were no coolers filled with beer.
There were no pontoon boats.
I looked at Kelly.
“So, we’re just supposed to…sit here?”
“Yup,” she said.
Later that afternoon we put on flip flops and went to the Dairy Queen
to get the blizzard of the month.
Then we made dinner.
The next day, we did it all over again.
It’s my opinion that resting takes…talent.
Or at least, practice.
I certainly didn’t learn how to lounge around in my family.
As an adult it’s been an acquired skill, developed over years,
despite my lack of natural talent.
But now, especially after a five week sabbatical, I really like resting.
I’ve been joking that I’m now a sabbativangelist.
I think everyone should take a sabbatical.
Because mine was fundamentally life-changing. Really.
The idea of rest is woven through the bible.
The Hebrew word for rest is shabath,
which is related to the words “sabbath” and “sabbatical,”
and means, “to cease, desist, to rest.”
Basically, just, stop doing stuff.
Just stop it!
And right away in the Bible, God thinks that resting is SUCH a good idea
that God rests herself.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
Genesis 2: 2-3
What do we see here?
That rest as an integral part of the creative process.
God makes something, and then God rests.
And there’s a proportion to it as well —
six to one.
Work for six days, rest on the seventh.
If resting is something God needs,
then it’s probably something we need to.
And God makes that pretty clear
by WRITING IT ON A STONE TABLET SO WE WON’T FORGET.
That’s right — resting is the fourth commandment.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
And look at that:
it’s not just the head of the household
or the wealthy businessman who is supposed to rest.
The kids, the servants.
The rich people and the poor people.
The livestock and the guests who aren’t even of the Jewish faith!
Everyone needs to rest on the seventh day, because God did
and also, a few chapters later the texts gives another reason.
So that the workers will be “refreshed.”
This Hebrew word “refreshed” is related to the word “breathe in.”
The workers must rest. They must have a chance to inhale.
After all that exhaling. To pause. And inhale.
The workers in the field deserve that.
And so we begin to see that rest is an issue of justice.
Rest should not just be for the privileged or the wealthy.
Rest, it turns out, it also an environmental issue.
But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard.
These laws given in Leviticus are there to protect the land.
God’s creation, God’s land, is so much a part of God
that it needs rest just like God did.
This thought is so far from our current practices around farming…
It makes me wish that Christians in this country looked a little farther in Leviticus
to see what more it has to offer than prohibitions on homosexuality.
But that’s another sermon.
Who else needs rest? Jesus!
Jesus needed it, and so did his disciples.
And he made sure that they got it.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
With all of this emphasis on resting in the bible,
its kind of surprising that resting — that stopping doing stuff —
is so…hard for us so much for the time.
You’d think it would be easy. I mean, who wants to work constantly?
But we, as a culture, are strangely resistant to rest,
often measuring our status by how busy we are.
Business, it turns out is a great way
to keep from looking too hard at your life.
If you just keep busy — you’ll have too much going on
to notice how sad you’re feeling,
or how lonely you sometimes are.
You won’t have time to think about what your past held,
or your fears for the future.
“Busyness,” as my friend Tim Kreider wrote,
“serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.”
My favorite passage about resting is Psalm 127,
which seems somehow written just for me.
It makes me wonder if our tendencies
to over-schedule ourselves into oblivion are not actually so modern,
but haven’t changed that much over 2,000 years.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved.
Eating the bread of anxious toil.
Sometimes it feels like that’s the only food I get.
I shovel my food into my mouth in front of a computer working
or as I watch some show on Netflix at night.
Why do I rise early and go to bed late, working all day,
when often, what lies between
are hours that are filled, but yet empty?
“A hedge against emptiness.”
So, here’s what I did on sabbatical.
I went to Asheville, North Caroline, a beautiful small city in the mountains.
I ate my food with no computer in front of me.
I sat out on a porch in the morning and drank my tea and looked up at the trees.
I read. A lot.
I wrote too.
A hiked through the woods on my own.
I took riding lessons on a horse named Angel
who was well aware that I had no idea what I was doing
and refused to move much of the time.
I felt tired after those lessons.
I was learning something entirely new!
And so I rested.
I did what my body wanted to do.
And I couldn’t have done any of that with out Real Time Off.
It doesn’t work to try and force yourself to rest.
It just takes time.
Coming home, I noticed that everything feels different.
Like the camera had been zoomed WAY out and focused,
and I can see the whole picture, more clearly.
I feel happy and energetic.
When you're learning to sing,
your teacher shows you how to engage your entire body.
To breath with your diaphragm and sing from way down, from your core,
not just from the neck up.
Before this sabbatical, I often felt like I was just pushing through,
singing from my neck.
I was living from the neck up.
But after? I feel like I’m living my life from way down, from my diaphragm.
With my whole body.
We’ve been learning about the fruit of the Spirit these last few weeks
at St. Lydia’s while I was away.
There’s nine of them, listed in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
The fruit of sprit are
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I think it’s really hard to live those out when we don’t have rest.
When we don’t have that seventh day to find refreshment — to inhale.
We can fake it,
but the Fruit of the Spirit come from way down.
From your diaphragm. From your core.
So I wonder: what happens when we rob people of rest?
What happens when we take away the God-ordained day of sabbath,
or the weekend,
or the eight hour day workers organized and fought to receive?
I can tell you what happens.
People who don’t have rest
stand the risk of losing everything I was privileged to gain on my sabbatical:
creativity and resiliency, perspective and clarity,
access to new experiences and education, to wondering and reading.
To rob people of rest is to rob them of their humanity.
I felt SO lucky to have those five weeks.
It’s an opportunity a lot of people never have.
Returning home, I feel convicted that everyone should have access to real rest.
And in many countries, people do.
The United States is the only developed country in the world
without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday.
By law, every country in the European Union
has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.
My understanding is that includes everyone in the workforce,
not just salaried employees.
Forbes reports that “almost 1-in-4 Americans
do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays,
trailing far behind most of the rest of the world’s rich nations.”
Why is our country, among so many others,
so resistant to days off?
Perhaps we fear that with too much time on their hands,
workers will organize.
Single mothers working two jobs,
Nurses pulling doubles at the ICU,
Fast food employees who have a delivery job as well,
they have all been robbed of rest.
If they had more time, we just might have a revolution on our hands.
Rest is a human right.
And if we don’t think of it that way, we should begin to do so.
On the seventh day, God rested.
God breathed across the face of the deep
and brought out of the formless void
a world teeming with life and activity.
And when God had made something so beautiful,
exhaled the world into being,
And breathed in.
We don’t always see it,
But there’s so much that happens on the inhale.
Stop. Rest. Refresh.
And breath in.
Here I am on the top of Sam Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is what rested looks like!