This past week was the 26th Festival of Homiletics in Washington, D.C., “Preaching and Politics.” An appropriate place and theme for times such as these, but for many who came, a needed time of rest, rejuvenation, and renewal. There are a myriad of motivations that bring participants to the Festival — inspiration, a chance to attend worship services that they haven’t planned, some good preaching, to be preached to, continuing education, a reunion with friends and colleagues. A sabbath from the weekly work of the parish, pastoral care, and preparing to preach.
And indeed, much needed rest. The kind of rest that lies behind the Gospel controversies and the text from Deuteronomy for this coming Sunday. Because Sabbath rest is more than a nap. Sabbath rest is life-oriented and life-giving. Or, at least, that’s in part what God had in mind. God rests at the end of creation so that creation can continue. The Sabbath is created for life. And God rests for the sake of life.
Not for a break. Not for some time out or time off. Not for a job well done. Not just to recoup. Not for the completion of a week worthy of reward. But rest is needed, rest is essential, because it anticipates action for the sake of life once again. When the Sabbath is for the sake of life, then it means getting back in there and figuring out where life needs to happen. And that, Dear Working Preachers, requires some significant Sabbath siesta.
Called for in these debates about Sabbath-keeping is just what difference the Sabbath makes in your life — and not just your personal, individual, autonomous life, but how Sabbath-keeping creates a Sabbath perspective. A Sabbath perspective sees that observing the Sabbath is not optional. We keep the Sabbath so as to look around and ask who needs rest? Who is in need of life when no one else seems to notice? We keep the Sabbath to be reminded that without it, it becomes too easy to give up on fighting for those for whom life has been taken away. We keep the Sabbath for the sake of resilience and ongoing resistance, to fight the righteous fight.
It’s hard work these days to be vigilant in bringing about resurrection. It’s hard work these days to be to heedful to those whose lives need restoration and healing and wholeness. And it is hard work these days to persist in acting with love and life in mind when day after day the face of hate and fear tries to gain the upper hand.
As mass shootings continue with no gun legislation in sight? As children are taken from their parents and lost? As black lives and queer lives and women’s lives continue to be determined and decided as less than? It seems clear that a Sabbath perspective is barely in the peripheral vision of those in charge of supposedly sustaining life.
We need a re-commitment to a Sabbath life, a Sabbath perspective. Not just reasons to take a long weekend or plan that long overdue vacation. A Sabbath perspective that reorients us to enter into Monday and a new week looking for ways in which we might renew and restore the lives of others. Keeping the Sabbath, you see, is not just about your rest, but that of those all around you.
In the aftermath of the shooting in Sante Fe, Texas, David Frum in The Atlantic writes… “This carelessness and disregard is taking lives and breaking families. The first step toward correcting a social wrong is opening people’s eyes to see that wrong. America has now tallied still more victims and broken the hearts of still more mourners. It’s a horrible price to pay for a moral reckoning and awakening — but the history of the nation promises that while the awakening may often come tragically slow, it does come in time, with all the power of justice delayed but not denied.”1
We need a Sabbath awakening. We need to be told again and again that the Sabbath is not just for our personal well-being but for the abundant life of the other. A sermon that offers a view of Sabbath observance that simply encourages increased worship attendance and minimal activities on Sunday is at best a truncated view of the Sabbath, and at worst a misinterpretation of God’s commandment.
If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t get to overlook those whose lives are being threatened on a daily basis. If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t get to pass over how the lives of others are being stripped of their worth and dignity. If you keep the Sabbath, you don’t have qualifiers or quantifiers for who deserves abundant life. As Otis Moss III said at the Festival of Homiletics, “Before healing, Jesus never asked if someone has a preexisting condition”
To remain tireless, relentless, and persistent in our pursuit of life for all necessitates the Sabbath. Observe the Sabbath, Dear Working Preachers, so that life is indeed holy for all.
- David Frum, “It’s the Guns,” Politics, The Atlantic, May 18, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/its-the-guns/560771/.