March 3, 201
Yesterday, I got in my car and drove away. I drove away from my home where Mason, our dog Rags, and our cat Bela and I live. I drove out of town and way out into the country. I drove roads I’d never been on before, and truth is, I can’t tell you the counties I ended up in. The tank was full, so I kept driving.
There were no words, no music… no sounds but the tires on the road and the wind against the glass. And although I had to pay attention to signs, signals, my own place on the road and other drivers, I intentionally set out on a mindless moment of rest.
There were times that busy thoughts tried to demand my attention, but I allowed myself to try and ignore them. I know that for some of us, rest has to be forced sometimes. Sometimes we have to make ourselves not think or work or not be doing something.
Even when we plan to free our minds with meditation and silence, if you’re like me, you find yourself cheating when thoughts invade the moment and one leads to another that leads to another… then your moment of rest has become a moment of action, even if it’s only in your head.
I know there are several folks here who come to church each Sunday because you need a moment of respite from your busy world. For some, this is all you’ll get till you come back next Sunday. But even so, while you’re here, you’re struggling to not think about what’s next, what else is on the task list, what has to be done and how you are going to fit it all in.
Growing up in a very “expressively literal” church, we blamed everything on the devil or at least a spirit or a demon. We didn’t acknowledge illness or disease; we called it a spirit of infirmity. When someone was struggling financially we called it a spirit of poverty. When someone was battling addiction or depression, we’d lay hands on them and start casting out demons of depression and the stronghold spirit of addiction.
I don’t know how many times on Sunday morning I’d hear the preacher say, “Don’t let the devil steal your blessing this morning by distracting you from what God is saying to you here today.” Just between you and me, the devil should’ve had an endorsement deal with the Cracker Barrel, ‘cause that’s where my mind went during many a Sunday morning sermon.
But what I’m talking about this morning are those thoughts that become worries, the kind that prevent you from finding a place or a moment to rest. The kind that will creep in even while we’re talking about it right now.
I think everyone here knows I’m a singer. I used to do it professionally. It paid my bills and fed my family.
I grew up loving music. There was always a lot of music in our home. My family, immediate and extended, sang all the time… at home, in the car, at family reunions, at church. Music just brought us so much joy.
And that’s why we felt so fortunate and blessed when we found ourselves with the opportunity to make it our livelihood, our job. Who wouldn’t want to turn a happy hobby into a career?
But doing a thing for the fun of it is a lot different than doing it because you have to.
It’s sorta like the difference between living in paradise and working in it. Although you may not be doing it, someone is making that bed and cooking those meals and guarding that beach. Vacationing and vocationing are not the same thing. Vacationing is sleeping in and seeing the sights. Vocationing is setting an alarm and fighting traffic.
It’s the same when the thing that brings you happiness suddenly brings demands.
The difference in singing for fun and singing for food is you have to sing whether you feel like it or not. The difference in singing for the joy of it and making music for paying customers is that sloppy phrases and unclean cutoffs are no longer acceptable. Being slightly off-pitch is no longer acceptable. Dragging or rushing the tempo is not permissible, even if you are moved by the “spirit.”
In the recording studio, a good producer is listening for every little detail, and is always making judgement calls on when to allow artistic expression, especially those emotional and spiritual moments of expression, whether they make it to the final piece.
And something we often forget… often forget, sometimes it’s not the sound that is most important, it’s the silence, it’s the rest.
Some of you may be familiar with John Ruskin. He was a thinker, writer and art critic way back during the Victorian Era (mostly mid-late 1800s). He wrestled with his faith and religion like many of us do - certainly as I do - but he often found God in places most people didn’t think to look, or are probably too busy to look.
One of my favorite thoughts by John Ruskin is about music, but not just about musical notes, but about the rests.
“There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by "rests," and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune.
God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts, and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator.
How does the musician read the rest? See him beat the time with unvarying count, and catch up the next note true and steady, as if no breaking place had come between.
Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the "rests."
They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on [God] Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.”
I grapple with Ruskin’s theology of being God’s victim, and truth is, so did he. But the point here is the rest.
The rest is important. In a song it’s as important as the note. Without it the timing is off, the song is out of rhythm… the singer has no place to breathe, the musician no place to pause.
The rest allows us to prepare for the next note, the next phrase, the next line. It bridges this part of the song with the part that follows.
That rest is the Sabbath. However brief it is, and that depends on the tempo, the time signature, the score… but as surely as the musical note is the work, the rest is the Sabbath. And you can’t have a proper song without the rests.
You can’t have your best life without the rests. (I will admit to you that I cried when I wrote that.) You can’t be as healthy as you could, as patient as you should, as mindful as you would without that rest.
I talked with a friend not long ago who told me he’s afraid to rest. He’s afraid to pause. He’s hesitant to stop doing because doing allows him to avoid some of the hard thoughts that often find their way to the surface when he’s not forced to think about something else.
He was right. Doing and not resting allows us distract ourselves from the things that press us, but avoiding rest because it allows us to ignore important things can sometimes lead to crisis or emergencies that could’ve been avoided if rest had brought them to our attention.
It’s just another reason that rest, the pause, is vital and important.
In today’s scripture from the First Testament book of Exodus, we jump right into the middle of the Ten Commandments. I’m sure everyone here is familiar with these, where they came from, who “wrote” them.
As with everything else in the world of Christian theology, there is some disagreement on exactly who said them, who wrote them down, and even the number of commandments.
Depending on if you prefer the Exodus list that we’ve pulled from today, or the account from Deuteronomy, you could come to any number of different conclusions. And Lord knows we Christians are good at picking a side, staking a flag in it, making a denomination of out it, and fighting like hell to defend it.
After escaping from Egypt, Moses and the children of Israel had been camped out at Mount Horeb for only a few days when God spoke to Moses to meet on the mountain to receive these laws. Again, there is some disagreement on whether God spoke these directly to the people, or if Moses delivered them. What most scholars do agree on is that God wrote them down.
You shall have no other gods…
You shall not make any graven images…
You shall not take God’s name in vain…
Honor your parents…
You shall not kill…
You shall not commit adultery…
You shall not steal…
You shall not bear false witness…
You shall not covet…
And right in the middle of all that is, “remember the Sabbath…” remember to rest.
It’s telling that God’s command to rest is as important as God’s command to not kill or steal or lie. And if you rank them in the order that God spoke them, it is even more important.
There is more about the Sabbath than we’ll be able to chat about today… how it is intended to not only be a time of rest for us humans, but also for nature… so maybe we’ll have a chance to have that conversation sometime down the road. It’s important, so hopefully so.
Now, we can get pretty dogmatic about things. Like I mentioned just a minute ago, we Christians, especially the more Evangelical version of us, are good at picking a thing and building a sin around it. Some of our brothers and sisters in the more dogmatic faiths… mostly brothers… will look for any good reason to send otherwise good people to hell.
Jesus had to deal with groups like that himself. They’d made keeping the Sabbath a law that you could be punished for, for not observing. And like any good piece of legislation, over the years, by the time Jesus came on the scene, the laws regarding keeping the Sabbath were out of control.
There were literally hundreds of things that the law said you could not do on the Sabbath. Field work was not permitted, to the point that spitting on the ground was against the law because it disturbed the soil. Wearing certain shoes was against the law because they could be too heavy and cause an unnecessary burden. Walking through grass was not allowed because it could bend the grass which would be considered threshing, which was against the law on the Sabbath. If your house caught on fire you couldn’t even carry your clothes out of the house, but you could put on as many layers as possible and wear them out of the house… which sorta contradicts the heavy shoes thing.
This is the backdrop of one of my favorite Jesus stories. In Matthew, Mark and Luke there are varying descriptions of the Sabbath day that Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field, grabbed some grain and ate it. The ever-watchful Pharisees pounced like a good fundamentalist and made the charge of blasphemy against them.
I like to imagine what it all looked like… these pious men spelling it all out to Jesus, of all people. He stands there listening to their charge, and when they finish he explains to them that the idea of the Sabbath was never about creating a burden, but making room for rest.
Just like so many other things the religious elite form into a weapon or a thing to wield power over people and populations, the fundamentalists - the Pharisees took something that God had always intended to be good and for our benefit, and turned it into something to be dreaded and feared instead.
And Jesus was having none of it. I love it when he said to them, “You people have missed it altogether. You think it is your job to protect this thing that God instituted. You think you were made for this day, that you were made for the Sabbath. But that is not the case. As a matter of fact, it’s the complete opposite, the Sabbath was made for you.
God’s ‘Sabbath law’ is for our benefit, for our health, for our happiness, for our wellbeing. You have made it a chore.”
Of course, as you probably know, it happened again when that religious rebel Jesus apparently just couldn’t help himself. It was on another Sabbath that he broke the law when he healed a man. And not unlike some legalists like to view things today, abiding by the law in that day was often more important than showing compassion.
But Jesus, and this is why he will be my example instead of the religious leaders who have chosen rules over love… Jesus recognized that the burdensome law these religious leaders created was not only causing harm to everyone, especially the most vulnerable, it was replacing the very Spirit and heart of the God who simply wanted creation to rest.
To God, and to Jesus, the Sabbath has always and only been about rest.
And I have to say, especially since I’ve pretty much jumped the shark already today, I think it is beautiful and lovely that God mentions the immigrant in this passage.
Exodus 20: 8-11 CEB
9 … the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
I know how hard it is to rest. But I also know how important it is. So did Jesus… and so does God. That is why the Lord blessed rest and made it holy.
So even in our busyness and running hard to keep it all together and multiple jobs and classes and obligations and volunteering and chores and tasks, and even in our intentional time with God, we are encouraged to find a place, to let peace settle in and rest in it.
Because according to what we know now, doing that is doing a holy thing.
May you rest in peace.
Exodus 20: 8-11 CEB
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.