In the third week of our Slow Church series where we have been looking at the McDonaldization of our society and how the church can live in opposition to our culture of mass production and speed. Today we look at work and Sabbath.
Q: what was your first paying job? Think about that and what it taught you about work.
My first job was during elementary school when I “inherited” a paper route from my brother. It was a small circular that was delivered 2 twice a month. And for all the trouble I took to roll, rubber band, and bag the papers I got rained on, snowed on and chased and bitten by all the neighborhood dogs. I learned many things from this experience; how to open a savings account, how nice it was to be allowed to wander around the neighborhood and why my brother “gave” me his paper route. It just wasn’t very fun! Thankfully, I went on to find much “funnier” jobs over my career – swim instructor, camp counselor, wrangler, rec team member, and the like. I will admit I have never worked in a grocery store, McDonalds or in retail. But like most Americans, I have had plenty of jobs; part-time jobs, full-time jobs, national service jobs, volunteer jobs, been underpaid, been paid a fair wage; had jobs I loved and some I did not, and left most on good terms, but a few I didn’t.
Work fits into our conversation about slow church in a few ways. First because we, humans spend so much of our lives working and for most Americans what we do (our work) is intimately tied to who we say we are. In many ways our modern existence is related to our vocational choices. This creates unique challenges for those who work in paid and unpaid fields that are not valued by capitalism, for those who can’t find or keep work. We live in a culture that overworks and burns us out with deadlines and demands for productivity with little room for error. Even when we love our jobs, they can be hard to leave behind on the weekends, vacations and retirement. So the church (and the Sabbath) are critical corrections to what Studs Terkel calls the Monday- Friday kind of dying the world offers. And for our children and youth, school is their job. And let me tell you, most studies say it is more stressful for them than it is for us. In this culture of speed, our children are more anxious, less active, more detached, busier, more scheduled and more rushed than any generation before them. All the more reason to love on them when they come to church!
In another great book, In Praise of Slowness, there is a chapter in raising unhurried children. This is not easy. Our culture of speed tricks our children into wanting to grow up NOW and our lifestyles and diets actually speeds up their human development so in many very real ways, childhood is getting shorter. But we have great opportunities as the church to be safe places for children and families, to help young people slow down. To provide purpose, service, mission and Sabbath to all people. And we can provide each other rest! This is one of the main goals of our youth group – we provide a place of rest in the middle of a busy, overscheduled week.
The slow church approach to work reminds us that work isn’t a curse placed on humans for disobeying God. In the creation stories God creates the universe, which honestly sounds like a lot of work to me. And God said it was good. Work is good and work done to God’s glory is good. And then God rested. And that is good also. The slow church approach to work is built on the realization that we humans, are not in control of the universe, but rather acknowledges “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (Ps 24:1). We are a part of God’s household and the rules of God’s house are different than the worlds. God’s economy is not based on scarcity but abundance, not on accumulation but livelihood and not on death but life (p125). Good work is that which can be seen as in cooperation with God.
Good work is good for the community and good for the one doing it. In Gifts of the Dark Wood, which we read last Lent, we explored the temptation to do the wrong good thing. That finding our place in the world goes beyond our vocation to finding our calling. One important task of slow churches is taking the time to help people discern their gifts, develop those gifts and apply them in the cooperative work of God, be it at home, in church, in community, in a job, in retirement or as a volunteer (p134). And collectively we become a part of the reconciling work of God in the world.
I’m proud of how this church does that. Our church is a clearinghouse of good works on this corner of Olympia. People tell me how glad they are that we takes stances that we believe align us with God’s call for justice, that we engage in compassionate care for the poor and those without homes, that we are a safe place for all our neighbors, that we open our building to so many groups and we do it even when others speak harshly against us, even when it is hard. From the music, to teaching our children, to visiting the sick, to serving on committees to baking communion bread, to our gun violence prevention task force, there is something for everyone to do here. We want you to use your gifts to glorify God in this place.
Slow churches also help each other explore work as worship. The prophets also teach us very clearly that the Sabbath is about worship and sabbath activities should focus on God and neighbor. Walter Brueggermann writes, “Worship that does not lead to neighborly compassion and justice is cannot be faithful worship.” The Sabbath promises restoration, peace and joy.
This leads us to a call to be champions of work-related justice. Supporting this idea is Judith Shulevitz who writes in her book The Sabbath World, that the Sabbath builds community and “promotes social solidarity.” Issues around living wages, pay equity, and human trafficking are important human rights issues and we are called to speak up for worker’s rights.
And how we view work impacts how we view the Sabbath and visa versa.
For me, it seemed like all the God stuff happened on the first 6 days and then then God threw out the closed sign and laid in the hammock on the 7th day.Even Genesis 2:1-4 reads, “2 The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. 2 On the sixth day God completed all the work that God had done, and on the seventh day God rested. 3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. 4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.”
Maybe this is why we don’t take the Sabbath so loosely. It is in fact the one commandment we don’t mind regularly breaking.
The first time we see the word Sabbath in the bible is in the Exodus 16 reading. In Chad Myers book on Sabbath Economics, there are 3 great economic and ecological lessons God teaches us through the Sabbath and they are all counter-cultural.
First is the lesson of enough. God tells the people to gather only as much as they need for one day. It says that all had just enough. Compare that to our modern quest for abundance, hoarding of resources and consumer driven lifestyles.
Secondly, this passage teaches us the value or redistribution. There was no stock piling of manna. In fact, that which wasn’t eaten went bad. We see in Acts that the early church adopted a model of distribution that eliminated human need within the community. It says, “no one was in need”. This is the radical idea that God gives us much so that we can share it with others.
Lastly, the Sabbath is about faith and discipline. The Sabbath is about trust. That God will provide. That the world will survive without human interruption. Later in the scriptures, the Sabbath day is extended to the Sabbath year (every 7th year) and then the year of Jubilee (the 50th year).
In what has been called Jesus’ inauguration speech, in Luke 4, Jesus reads from the scroll the words of Isaiah 6, which refer to the Jubilee year, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus then says he is the fulfillment/embodiment of these scriptures. In this declaration, Christ becomes the Sabbath, the one in whom we rest.
Here are the words of the commandment from Exodus 20, “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 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. 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.
We often assume that humanity is the pinnacle of creation but humans are not, it is the Sabbath that is the final act of creation. The Sabbath is the first thing God declares holy. After six days of creation, what did the universe still need? Menuha! (menu-ha).
Menuha is the Hebrew word for rest, but it is better translated as joyous repose, tranquility, or delight. God didn’t rest in the sense of taking a nap or chilling out; instead, God celebrated and delighted in his creation. (It’s like after you work all day in the yard or garden and then we sit on the deck with a glass of ice tea and bask in the accomplishment of something well done.)
So the Sabbath is more than just a lack of activity. It is about harmony, joy, celebration and delight. Dan Allender, in his book Sabbath, explores the idea of Menuha as seen in play.
What a great imagine, Sabbath as a play date with God, as a time when we come together as children of God. We live in a serious, busy world. And we need more PLAY. In the days when schools are cutting recess and PE, when it gets harder and harder for us to get to the gym…here come this idea of play. One of the things I love best about my job is that I get to play (with our children and youth and all of you). Our children know what we need to be reminded of because right down stairs right now is a bunch of Godly Play going on – cooking, reading, finger painting, sand castle and block building, all the while wondering and looking for God in their lives.
I know some weeks getting up and getting to church probably feels like work for some of us and some Sundays you need to be on the Sound or in the mountains with God. I get that. But when we are here, how do we incorporate all that the Sabbath is. God created and made the Sabbath holy so that we might experience rest, delight and joy. So if that is what Sundays are for and then maybe churches should look and feel more like. That this should be a place to rest from the world, to seek healing and restoration, but also a place to experience joy, where there is delight and happiness and smiles and a feeling of community that draws us back.
This is what God wants for each of us. May we make it so.