SCRIPTURE – Exodus 31:12-17 – Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
Death by Suburb sermon series
6 – Sabbath: You’re Doing a Timeout!
Sept. 18, 2011
What was your parents’ preferred method of punishment? Don’t act like you don’t remember! When you acted up, when you got out of line, how did your parents choose to administer justice? For some it was a good ol’ fashioned spanking. Like the cartoon where the father is about to spank his son and says, “Son, doing this hurts me more than it hurts you.” To which the son replies, “Then let’s spare us both the pain and call it off.”
For others, their punishment was a lecture or grounding. A particularly effective one used against me was no dessert. Leigh still does that from time to time. But nothing would strike fear in my heart like my grandfather’s yardstick. If one of us grandchildren would get out of line, he would simply say, “I’m going to get the yardstick.” Now, that usually was enough to make us cool our jets, but if we continued to goof off, he’d stand up, walk slowly over to the closet, open the door, and pull out the aforementioned instrument of torture. I know it was only a yardstick, but to us little kids it must have looked at least three feet long! He would walk slowly back over to his chair and lay the yardstick across his lap, and peace would once again reign in the kingdom. Now I have to tell you that in a million years my grandfather would have never hit one of us; the point was he never needed to.
Today, corporal punishment is usually frowned upon, so the chosen method of discipline has become the timeout. Had such a thing existed when I was a kid I probably would have spent more time in timeout than in timein. Leigh and I used the timeout quite effectively with our older daughter Sydney, but our younger daughter Molly didn’t quite get the concept. When we said, “If you don’t behave, you’re going to do a timeout!” she would say, “Okay!” and run to her timeout chair. Maybe we should have bought a yardstick.
As we continue our Plastic Jesus sermon series today, we’re going to look at the value of a timeout in the midst of our hectic lives. In spiritual suburbia, you are valued if you stay busy, productive, on the go. Who has time to take a break? But I wonder what we’re missing if we don’t allow ourselves to slow down.
Why is the timeout as discipline so effective? Here’s the philosophy behind it. To make our children stop their destructive or unruly behavior, we take them out of their comfortable area and put them in an isolated place that forces them to slow down, be quiet, stop their activity, and reflect on how they are behaving. The goal is, of course, transformation, a change in behavior.
Now, what if I made this invitation to you? In order to help you put a halt to some of the unruliness in life, I would like to invite you to take a break from your daily routine, to find a quiet spot in your house or neighborhood, to turn off all your electronic devices and means of communication, and simply slow down, be still, and reflect on the life God has given you to live. How does a short time away from the demands of life sound? Folks, we need a timeout.
The Bible has a word for taking a timeout: it’s called the Sabbath. A Sabbath is simply a block of time, usually a 24-hour period, which is set aside for the purpose of rest and relationship-building with God. We tend to think of Sabbath as a thoroughly Jewish word. After all, Jews place an emphasis on their Sabbath or Shabbat, which lasts from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It’s woven into the fabric of their faith. But Christians, with the help of chaotic culture, have lost their grip on the meaning and significance of Sabbath.
Of course, the idea of Sabbath originated in the beginning of the Bible at creation, where after six days of work God rested to enjoy what God had made. This time of rest was so important that it made God’s Top Ten List, the Ten Commandments, which instructed the Israelites to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. One day of the week is to be set aside for rest and worship, to allow our land, our workers, and our bodies to recover from the previous six days and rejuvenate for the week ahead.
But in our world today, that sounds like crazy talk! While the Christian Sabbath day of Sunday used to be protected as sacred by Blue Laws and family traditions, our culture has encroached upon that time so egregiously that it’s unrealistic to think we’ll ever regain Sunday as a holy day on a societal level. We can place the blame wherever we want, but the fact is unless you work at Chick-Fila Sunday sabbaths are gone and so is any culturally protected time to take a break from the demands of our life.
But instead of only pointing the finger, we can also point the thumb, because those of us living in spiritual suburbia have contributed to the downfall of the Sabbath. As I’ve said before, in suburbia we are results-oriented. Our worth is often determined by our productivity, and this spills over into our spirituality. If we’re going to use our valuable time to be spiritual, we want results. This causes us to find ways to move faster and be more efficient. There is a pride to our busyness, and it’s not the good kind of pride. The demands on us seem too great and the time we have to meet them in seems too short. How often do we say, “I don’t have enough time!” or “I wish there was more time in the day”?
Which makes taking a Sabbath seem strange and impractical. There’s so much to be done! Who can afford to take a day off from being productive? Who has time to just stop and reflect? We see Sabbath-taking, not as holiness, but as laziness. We see resting as a sign of weakness, not a divine prerogative. We can’t afford to take a day off; that would just make the other six that much more chaotic.
So we ignore the Sabbath. It doesn’t fit into our understanding of suburban spirituality. We love the other six days, because that’s where we can pursue spiritual progress and accomplishment. We are do-something Christians. And those rare times we do take some form of Sabbath from life, we expect results. The schedule-oriented approach to taking the Sabbath is that doing so will make me more efficient and blessed the other six days.
Here’s the truth, as I see it. We’re not too busy, too important, or too needed to take a rest. We’re too scared. Too scared to relinquish that bit of control we think we have. Too scared that the world can’t go on without us, or even worse, that it can. Too scared that if we “waste” that time, we’ll never get it back.
And yet, what are the dangers of not doing a timeout? What are the consequences of not resting on regular basis? I think we’re living them every day. The United States leads the world in a number of health-related categories, most of them not good. We are more economically successful, have the fastest pace of life, and have the highest rate of heart attacks and obesity. The unreflective life has its costs.
We claim to be so locked into our schedule that we often feel there isn’t a way out of it. We’ve been conditioned to believe that whatever we do isn’t enough, that there’s always more to be done, and that time is our most valuable commodity. We spent all kinds of money on time-saving devices to help us make our life more efficient, managed, and controlled, but then we use the time saved to do more instead of just being.
And yet, that understanding is a fallacy, because we do have power to change our schedules if it’s important enough. Take a funeral, for example. I’m amazed at how drastically people will rearrange their schedules when someone close to them dies. Meetings that used to seem so important are canceled, trips that were top priority get postponed, money that was considered necessary gets spent on airline tickets or flowers.
If we are so willing to let death rearrange our schedule, why are we not willing to give the same power to God? God has asked us to give one day, a day where we rest, enjoy life, and worship God, but we devalue the Sabbath by treating it the same as the other six.
I know the counterarguments are already forming in your mind because they are forming in mine, as well. I really struggle with this one. If you’re like me, you would make the argument that you take your Sabbath in week-long chunks called “vacations.” But are vacations really restful and full of worship? How often do we feel like we need a vacation from our vacations? In most cases a vacation is not equal to a Sabbath. A true Sabbath is not an amenity of the economically privileged. A true Sabbath can be measured by the question, “Could a person in poverty experience this?”
The fact of the matter is that the Sabbath is not going to elbow its way into our lives. We have to make room for it. Maybe taking a whole day isn’t realistic. I know one family that takes a Sabbath from sports and activities for one season a year, and uses that time to be together as a family. Maybe there are Sabbath moments to be found in each day, time to turn off the TV or computer, time for rest, reflection, and worship. A Sabbath cannot only be measured in time; it can also be measured in distance from anything that stands between us and a closer relationship with God.
In our spiritual suburban existence, we have been conditioned to be busy and productive. In order to experience God more deeply and fully, we have to fight that tendency. Abraham Heschel wrote, “Six days of the week we seek to dominate the world; on the seventh day, we try to dominate the self.” In other words, don’t just do something, stand there! Take a timeout from life and remind yourself that you are not in control. You’ll have six other days to try keep up with an overbooked schedule. But if we give that one day to God, who knows how God will transform the other six?