“Be careful to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you. 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 ox or donkey, any of your livestock, or the foreigner who lives within your gates, so that your male and female slaves may rest like you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Deuteronomy 5:12-14
We live in a system of coercion. Here’s what I mean.
If you are to pay your bills, you are forced to work more. If you are to keep up with the advances in technology you are “forced” to buy the latest gadget or be left behind. If you are to make more money you are forced to aim for success and climb the latter of your career, or get a second job and work more. If you are in management, you are tempted to lead by creating policies that “force” people to cooperate with your direction (or this is how you are managed at your work). If you are to fit in with others you are “forced” to wear what they wear. If you are to make the baseball team, you are forced to practice more and perform better.
These are the expectations our society upholds in various areas of our lives. In a social system like this everyone is coerced (forced, pushed or constrained) to produce more, work more, buy more, perform better. We live in such a system. We don’t know how to be or do life any way else, which is what in our system we have the rich and the poor, the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the significant and the insignificant, the successful and the unsuccessful. It is what it is.
But Sabbath understood as sacred rest and settled presence breaks this cycle caused coercion. Practicing Sabbath as sacred rest reminds us:
- You do not have to do more. You can rest and trust God.
- You do not have to sell more. You can rest and trust God.
- You do not have to control more. You can rest and trust God.
- You do not have to have my son in three different sports. You can rest and trust God.
- You do not have to be younger or more beautiful. You can rest and trust God.
Yahweh seems to have wanted the Israelites to know the same. Sabbath was one day where they could purposefully break the pattern of coercion that threatened to keep them from experiencing his shalom (peace). They should no longer seek to control outcomes or people because they were told by God that all are like you, equal—equal worth and equal value and deserving of equal rest.
The motivational part of this statement, of course, is different from the Exodus version. In Exodus they were reminded to observe Sabbath because the Creator rested on the seventh day. In the Deuteronomy version they are told to observe Sabbath based upon their experience with Pharaoh’s empire
“Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”
Remember Pharaoh? Remember his coercive system of forced labor where he controlled your lives? Remember your brick quotas? Remember that Yahweh delivered you? Therefore you can remember that even though Pharaoh thought he had a great deal of control and could manage outcomes, he could not. And if he couldn’t control others and manage outcomes then neither can you. In this invitation to anchor their practice of Sabbath in the memory of their freedom from slavery, they are reminded to not go back to that way of life of coercing, competing, constraining and forcing.
We must remember that the pattern of coercion and control has been broken in the person and work of Christ Jesus as Lord. You do not have to stay up at night wondering how to get ahead, how to outdo another, how to perform better, produce more, consume more.
You have been freed, liberated and emancipated from this way of thinking, doing and being in the world. Sabbath as sacred rest and settled presence becomes the practice that invites us to re-decide about coercion and the kinds of expectations we are living into. It also gives you a chance to re-decide about the expectations you are holding above others and our temptation to control or manage others. Like the Deuteronomy text tells us, everyone else is like you and just as you have been freed and liberated from systems of coercion, so too have they. Treat them as you would be treated and let them find rest. The free-time created by cultivating rhythms of sacred rest will give you the chance to do just that. I hope you will.
See you Sunday!