Week of 2/22/16 – A Different Kind of Sacred Rest: A Boots on the Ground Example

Many people think that sabbath, what we are more broadly calling sacred rest, is about naps or doing nothing. That can be a part of it, but I have come to believe it is about something more, especially in our culture of distraction. Sacred rest is about ceasing, but not just any kind of ceasing. It’s about making the conscious decision to cease working, cease striving, cease producing, cease consuming, cease from problem-solving and cease competing (trying to measure up). Once we choose to cease from these things we stop trying to make time and begin receiving it (we can’t make time anyhow–it is already made).

When we choose to see time as something to be received, we soon discover that rest and the ability to slow down is within reach. We begin pushing back against our tendency to want time to pass. We stop fiddling with our phones in line at the grocery store. We stop aimlessly flipping through magazines while we wait at the doctors office. Instead we recognize time as a gift that invites us to receive a few moments of inward and outward rest. We remember that rest isn’t only necessary, it is sacred, a holy gift given by our holy God. Sacred rest is for our good so we can live lives that are good. Then we will learn that sacred rest isn’t so much about entering into God’s presence as it is about God’s presence entering into us. Our eyes will slowly open to the soul-settling presence of God.

This is so much easier to write and talk about than to practice, I admit. But it doesn’t change the reality that only when we choose to cease working, striving, producing, consuming, problem-solving and competing can we recognize that God has always been with us through the presence of his Spirit, longing to bear witness to his work within us, and between us and others. In sacred rest our attention can be given to the people, places, things and experiences God has created and worked-out all around us, like our families, encounters with co-workers, conversations with neighbors, and in the life-shaping truths of the Scriptures and the soul-forming experience of prayer.

This past Sunday as we reflected on God’s activity in the creation narrative (Genesis), we saw that when God ceased creating, he created sacred rest. He did so in the ordinary earthiness of humanity and time. I believe this shows us that sacred rest can indeed be found in the ordinariness of life, in the grittiness of our every day comings-and-goings. The monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani (where I spent a week in January) illustrate this as they pause from work seven different times a day to pray the psalms and give God thanks and praise (what they call Liturgy of the Hours). Likewise, extended moments of sacred rest can be found in ways so ordinary that it may surprise us:

  • by turning off the radio while driving to work and spend that time silently talking with God, recognizing his presence
  • in the slow reading of a psalm during lunch and allowing it to shape your lunchtime prayer
  • by taking your fifteen minute break from work to sit quietly, undistracted by technology, to close your eyes and silently sit, pray or meditate on your favorite scripture
  • as you go about routine tasks, like grocery shopping, washing clothes, or putting away the dishes, you consciously choose a sense of gratitude and awareness for the reasons behind and for the task over the urge to be anxious or frustrated with the task
  • as you walk to class with the earphones out and thoughtfully recognize God’s artistry in creation, including the people you see hustling about from one class to the next.

As we’ve talked about before, sacred rest begins as an inner disposition, an inward act of defiance, and leads to a different way of being at any given moment. Here’s the key: these moments of sacred rest grow and mature into a Spirit-stirred longing to reorganize our lives and priorities to set aside an hour, morning, afternoon, evening or even entire day to unplug from all the technology and noise to spend quality time enjoying the gift of God-blessed friendship and family. We can practice a new way of receiving time and receiving the gift of sacred rest where God’s Holy Spirit begins to form within us a settled presence that allows us to be faithfully present with others. I believe God wants this for us.

I want to close by offering you a glimpse into a surprisingly ordinary rhythm of sacred rest. To do so I have to let one someone in our church family take it from here. Meet Allison Anderson (if you don’t know you’re missing out!). Listen to her witness of how God’s Spirit has helped her make the connection between sacred rest and her missional community (what we call Life Connection Groups):

I was thinking about this during our conversation around Sabbath as sacred rest and how it connects to our LCG. Try to follow this crazy train of thought. I didn’t want to join and LCG because I didn’t have time. I was too busy working, being mom, wife, etc. Eventually I committed for my husband. Now spending time with our LCG has become a scheduled “partial”sabbath, in the sense that it’s become peace-giving (despite all the kids we have in our LCG!). My family enjoys our weekly meal with friends, we focus on the Lord and share in his mission, and it gives me  friends to walk with as we learn for follow Jesus. Meeting with my LCG forces me to slow down. It’s 2 hours of sacred rest in the middle of my week!

This is how it has affected her vocation as an assistant principle of a middle school:

I talk to every kid like I’m the only light they will see that day. In many cases I’m afraid that is the case. I try to be more present with adults and never miss a chance to tell them where my “spunk,” as they call it, comes from. I literally ask the Lord for his armor every morning and realize as I drive home that he had me in his arms all day. I am more aware of his presence and calling on my life. There is no way I could do this kind of meaningful work without Him.

Sacred rest is an invitation to receive time differently and leads to a new way of being and a reorganized and reprioritized way of doing, just like we see in Allison’s story.

See you Sunday!

~ Fred

  1. How can you find extended moments of sacred rest and receive time differently?
  2. How can you reorganize your time to cultivate new rhythms of sacred rest?

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Week of 2/15/16 – Sabbath as Sacred Rest and Settled Presence: A Story

I have a short story for you at the end of this post. But first a recap.

Sunday we talked about Sabbath and its place in the story of God’s people. We worked through the story of the Exodus and how the new Pharaoh was compelled by his own anxiety to drive the Hebrew people into slave labor. The endless cycle of brick production to house Pharaoh’s number one commodity of grain defined their existence for 400 years. They were nothing more than a labor commodity.

But Yahweh listened to their cries, looked on their injustice and liberated them from the Egyptian empire’s oppressive systems.

A few months later after ten plagues and a miraculous walk across dry land through the Red Sea, the Hebrew people are free. Moses has spent time with God on the Mountain called Sinai where he has been given God’s Law for his people. They need a law because they’ve never experienced one.  Slavery created by the systems of anxiety, coercion and scarcity (fears of not having enough to go around) is all they’ve ever known. Now that they have salvation they need to know how to become a liberated society. They need to know how to be the people of the Most High God.

The “Ten Commandments” offer them a way of life that promotes the love of God and others. From the outset of these commands they are reminded of their liberation and salvation as God begins with, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.” This is important because God knows that affluence and the accumulation of wealth brought about by freedom easily leads to amnesia where they can forget who they are, to whom they belong and for what purpose they were liberated.

The first three commandments establish the basis of the covenant God made with Abraham. These commands are concerned with how the Hebrew people will remember and honor, and how they will relate to him as his covenant people.

The last six commandments establish the basis of neighborliness. They remind them that they are not autonomous people entitled to whatever they want. These commands are about creating a just and free society where the One who liberated them from Egypt is their God.

All of this is the context of the fourth commandment, the Sabbath command. Sabbath serves as the pivot point between life lived with God (the first three commands) and life lived with one another (the last six commands). Sabbath is, in part, God’s response to what he saw and heard when they were slaves in Egypt, and what he secured for them in their liberation. It is about the freedom to rest and be fully present with God, self and others. The command to observe Sabbath is God’s invitation to his people to enter into sacred rest—the same rest he enjoyed in the Creation story—and settled presence—neighborliness upheld by an all encompassing freedom from all the systems that once enslaved them and still has the potential of enslavement.

As a newly liberated people and free society, they will receive many laws establishing them as a nation, laws concerning economics, morality, legislative justice, business practices, etc. They will be free to create a life for themselves, to create work and establish systems that provide a way of self-sustainability. Goods will be produced, sold and consumed. They will become a nation.

But if they begin to think that in providing and consuming they must work harder and longer hours, they will create systems of anxiety based upon the subtle belief that they are the reason their fields yield crops, not God. If they forget that God is Lord and they are not, they will give themselves over to the endless cycle of production that will establish systems of anxiety, coercion and scarcity and create for themselves a new form of slavery. Neighbors, family members and animals will become labor commodities.

The Sabbath command breaks these cycles. It is a day (even a year in Ex. 23:10-12) assigned by God where his people must cease striving, cease working, cease controlling, cease providing, cease consuming, cease competing, cease possessing and instead, rest and simply be present as humans made in God’s image. The practice of Sabbath can become an act of inward defiance to all the impulses that create the systems capable of enslaving them. It can push back against humanity’s tendency toward anxiety, to coerce, and the fears of not having enough. Sacred rest invites us to press into God and frees us to be present with one another, including our neighbor–a settled presence.

IMG_9472In WCC, our missional communities (Life-Connections Groups) have embraced a simple practice that relates to the practice of Sabbath. One week out of a four week month we ask our missional communities to rest from bible study and the normal rhythms of their gathering, and prayerfully share in God’s mission together by choosing to be present in their neighborhoods or with those within proximity (co-workers, classmates, etc) in intentional communal ways. This practice serves as an invitation to pay closer attention to those living among us since we believe that God is somehow at work in every person’s life. He is always listening, looking and liberating because he loves all. This monthly rhythm of sharing in God’s mission leads us to discover practices of hospitality that compel us to make room in our lives for the other. It is one way we see work to cultivate neighborliness among us.

I am convinced that we lack neighborliness in our society because we live hurried, busy, anxious lives. We do not notice one another and struggle to see how God is working all around us because we are too be busy to be present with others. We barely have enough time to be present with ourselves, friends and family. Sadly, we have become an inhospitable society. But here is a story from one of our missional communities that offers a glimpse into how this rhythm of sharing in mission together, a practice inspired by an understanding of Sabbath, is necessary if we are to be present with God and others.

A while back our missional community decided to deliver cookies in the neighborhood. That particular week we had about 15 kids between all of our families. All of our neighbors were overwhelmed and overjoyed to see 15 kids running up  yelling, “We have cookies for you!”  We delivered to one neighbor that I’d never met. An elderly lady came to the door. She looked very perplexed as 15 kids handed her cookies. As the kids ran off to the next house, my wife and I stayed back to visit with her for a few minutes. We introduced ourselves and explained that all the people that came to her door are part of a community that meets at our house to discuss life and faith.  As she began to understand that we were there simply to meet her, give her cookies, and let her know we are next door if she ever needs anything, her eyes fill with tears. Come to find out she had cancer and was overwhelmed by a list of household projects she could no longer do. She was resigned to hiring a contractor. Our missional community was able to to come together and take care of simple tasks like cleaning the yard trash from her backyard and changing out sink faucets. We were given the gift of being being present with her and sharing in a small portion of life together while showing her Christ’s love.

After a long list of projects we all got busy and didn’t stay in touch. From time to time we saw her daughter walking around the neighborhood and shared casual hellos. Knowing that we were not present in our neighborhood as much as I wanted, I decided to google our neighbor’s name just to see what I could find before we set out to see her. Much to my surprise I found her obituary. She passed away a couple of months before. I have come to realize how essential living in intentional community with our neighbors really is and am convicted that if I am to do it, I must take the time to be present.

After our conversation this past Sunday we gave every one a hand-out encouraging all of us to take some time to reflect on the various pressures we face that keep us from practicing rhythms of rest and experiencing a settled presence. If you received one, please take the time to work through it. If you didn’t, click here to download it as well as listen to the message, “Sabbath in the Story of God’s People.”

If you are unable to do either and would like me to email it, send me a message at fred@williamsburgchristianchurch.org and I’ll get it to you.

See you Sunday!

Grace and peace,

Fred

Week of 2/7/16: God’s Yes, Our Amen & Sabbath

   

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. (2 Corinthians 1:20-22)

Sabbath Series GraphicThis Sunday we witnessed Paul tell the Corinthian churches that God’s answer to every promise he ever made is a passionate “Yes!” and because of Christ, His life, death, resurrection, ascension and fulfillment of every promise, we can boldly say with grateful hearts, “Amen!” or (“Aaaaaaaaaaaamen!).

After both gatherings a few of you came up to me and shared how you need this conversation series about Sabbath, finding rhythms of sacred rest and allowing God to form within you a more settled presence. We talked about moving away from days filled with hurry, stress, busyness and distraction where time with God, family, friends, and even self is minimal, and almost always agenda-driven. As I confessed to you all during the conversation, I share in this struggle. Big time.

Living in a culture of distraction easily forms us. Hurriedness, busyness, consumerism, affluency, anxiety and other outside agendas (not all bad or unhealthy) over time shape us from the inside-out. The result is a disoriented life driven by activity. Just think about the place phones have in our lives. Phones are no longer tools of communication. They are tools for multi-tasking where we have instant access to social media, banking, emails, the internet, capturing memories on the fly with our camera phone, recording videos, jotting down notes and so on. All of this can be done on a tool that fits in our pockets and purses. When we eat lunch it sits on the table. When we are at home it sits on the arm of our chair. While waiting in line we play with it. Pre-teens have phones (say what you will about that but its a fact).

During my sabbatical I purchased a “burner phone” with a different number accessible to only six people. At first I thought it was cool to say, “Here’s the number to my burner phone.” It felt so covert! Until I needed to use it. Its a flip phone. Texting is laborious. The quality of sound is mediocre (which is worse for me because of the hearing loss I’ve suffered due to many years of of late night gigs playing music in loud bars back in my younger years). But I’ve gotta tell you, it was freeing. I didn’t want to text because it was so aggravating. Talking on it wasn’t all that productive because I had to repeatedly say, “I’m sorry, can you say that again?” I couldn’t surf the web because that feature in a flip phone is pitiful (I’m technologically spoiled). All in all it was nice. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do and after time, I no longer wanted to do it. Imagine that. I’m currently contemplating going back to the flip phone.

Changing from an iPhone to a $19 flip phone helped release me from the system(s) I’ve created for myself (sad, right?). Smart phones aren’t inherently bad. They aren’t the problem, I am. I have allowed instant accessibility, a way of being nurtured by a culture of distraction, reformat my boundaries. Add to that to the daily rhythms of life involved in being a husband, a dad, a friend, a neighbor, a brother, a son, a pastor, and, well, my heart, mind and soul is formed more by hurriedness, busyness, anxiety and performance than anything else. I squeeze in times of prayer and sitting with the Scriptures. I wave hello to my neighbors and do not stop to talk. I sit with my son while the TV is on and during commercial breaks grab my iPhone instead of a few moments of meaningful conversation with him. I could go on. I imagine you could too.

As many of you shared Sunday, developing rhythms of sacred rest that can, through God’s Spirit, form within you a settled presence is hard to do. But we weren’t created to do it alone. We are created to experience it in community. It’s evident in the command of Sabbath:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. Exodus 20:8

Like we said, there is both a covenantal concern (God to humanity, humanity to God) and a social concern (neighbor to neighbor) to Sabbath. We will unpack this over the next few weeks. But no matter how we spin it, it is a way of being and doing that is to be experienced in community. We need each other if we are to resist the systems of anxiety, coercion, scarcity (fears of “not enough”), and exclusivism brought about by a culture of distraction in these United States.

More concretely, developing rhythms of sacred rest and settled presence is hard to do when you are tending to the responsibilities of home while loving and raising your three children. It is hard to do when your work schedule demands days out of town or more than forty-five hours per week. It is hard to do when you have your two kids involved in one sport a piece. It’s hard to do when you’re overwhelmed by loneliness. So where do we begin? Well, I think we must begin with re-examining how, why and to what we are saying, “Amen!” (to play on Paul’s words).

Each person I listened to Sunday, and so far this week, have told me in their own way that they do believe that God’s promises of peace, joy, patience, goodness, hope, love, rest and the like, are a resounding “Yes!” in Christ. It is saying “Amen!” that has become the problem. So let’s start there so we can live in the fullness of God’s Yes! to us in Christ Jesus. And I invite you to think about our weekly practice of Eucharist, and do so every day.

Each week as God’s beloved community we come to the table in the presence of Christ Jesus as our gracious Host. We share in the bread and wine as we remember God’s self-giving love revealed to us in the life and death of His Son. Each Sunday we are invited to come with the nagging questions chipping away at us all week long:

  • “Is there more to life than this?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Can God redeem my past?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Is it possible to find peace?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Does God still want me?” At the table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Will God welcome me?” At the table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Can I be forgiven for all I have done.” At the table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Can life can get any better than this?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Is there any hope in a world filled with hurt?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Am I more than the sum total of my motherhood, fatherhood, job performance, failures or bank account?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.
  • “Is who I am more than my illness, poverty, loneliness, hurts, hang-up or habits?” At this table we remember God’s “YES!” in Christ.

At this table all are welcomed in King Jesus. We have a seat because He has secured a place for us. We are invited to taste and see the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, as God’s tangible reminder that His answer to all of His promises are “Yes!” in Christ. And when we receive this bread and wine we join the apostle Paul and all the saints before us as we boldly respond with thankful hearts a resounding “Amen!”

So, as you contemplate Sabbath this week and during the Lenten season, begin with the Person of Jesus Christ because for us, Sabbath begins and ends with God’s “Yes!” to us in Christ. Amen.

See you this Sunday.

~ Fred


If you want to go deeper in understanding Sabbath I recommend the following readings and books, all of which will play some sort of role in this conversation series:

– In the Scriptures: Exodus 20-23 (note 20:4 & 23:12); Deuteronomy 5-6 (note 5:12-15); Isaiah 55-56 (note 56:4 & 6 and how it fits in the context); Psalm 73 (note 16-17, 21-28); Matthew 11:25-12:8; Mark 2:23-28.
– Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann
– The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh
– Living into Community by Christine Pohl
– Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr