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.
In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get it to you.
See you Sunday!
Grace and peace,