Rest means trust Dave Rogalsky July 16, 2017
Scriptures: Exodus 16:12-30; Leviticus 25:1-43; Isaiah 1:10-20; Luke 4:16-30
Theme/Goal/Aim: Sabbath/Rest has deep ideas about trust in God, as well as justice for the whole community.
Summertime, time to rest. God wants us to rest! There are several reasons given in the Bible for Sabbath, the Hebrew word for rest. We looked at a number last week - God rested; God set the day apart; we need rest as part of the creation; others too need rest so we need to rest so that they can rest; the day/time is a remembrance of God’s love for us in sending Jesus and raising him from the dead, and a remembrance of the call for us to love God, self, others, and the creation. But the whole idea of rest has more to teach us. I hinted at the justice elements to rest last Sunday. We’ll explore that more this Sunday, and the whole concept of “Rest as trust.”
The passage from Leviticus that we read earlier contains an amazing concept. As the Jewish people moved into the land out of their wilderness wanderings and slowly became landed people rather than nomads, they somehow grasped the idea that the land did not belong to them. The land belonged to God who could apportion it to people as God chose. The land is always God’s. I think that our aboriginal neighbours would agree.
When God granted the land to someone it belonged to them and their family to take care of and use. They could develop it, sell it, rent it out, use it. But in the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee, it returned to the family to whom God had first given it. This identified God as the owner since it was God’s will for the land which was the most important – not some later purchase or ownership.
This year of Jubilee was the big celebration. It was the Sabbath of Sabbaths following seven other Sabbath years. Every seventh year was a time to leave the land fallow to rejuvenate. People were to take a year off from all but the basics. They were not to plant but were to eat from what they had stored up and from what the land bore on its own. This idea was already there in the book of Exodus in the wilderness wanderings. When God sent manna the people were to only gather enough for a day at a time. If they gathered more it decayed in the night. Except for what they gathered on the sixth day. They could gather twice as much as they needed, store half, and enjoy it on the seventh day. (See Exodus 16:12-30). God provided for the people not only food but rest.
In the land, God promised to care for the people in the seventh year, and again in the fiftieth since that would have meant two years of no planting, only harvesting what grew of itself, eating up stored food.
This idea of Sabbath days, years and Jubilees, brings out a number of very important practices for God’s people:
First is this idea that the land belongs to God. We are only the managers, the stewards. In perpetuity the land belongs not to the people who lay claim to it but to God. This challenges how settlers have treated the first peoples here in the Americas and elsewhere. The land belongs to God, to be used by those who are in the land, all of the people who are in the land, and fairly.
Sometimes people fell on hard times. Perhaps it was poor management. Maybe it was circumstances – sickness, poor harvests, floods, weather, war. But they were destitute and sold the land to have money to live. Perhaps they were so hard up that they sold themselves and their families into slavery. But in the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee, they were set free, and they got their land back. It did not belong forever to the ones who bought it. It belonged to God, and God had a reset in the system so that poor people would not always remain poor.
I wonder what this would mean in our society where some families carry on their wealth from generation to generation while others suffer in poverty from generation to generation.
And I wonder what this would mean to our indigenous neighbours. What would a reset do for them? What if we went back to the beginning between native and settler relationships?
Sabbath and Jubilee are all about trust in God. The Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset, and not from sunrise to sunrise. The day begins at sunset and human beings go to sleep, trusting in God to care for everything through the night. In the morning, with the day half over, we join God in what God is already doing. When we take a whole day off we trust that God will carry us through the week. When the Jews would take a whole year off, or two years when the Jubilee came, they trusted that God would care for them. When we care for ourselves, taking time to rest daily, weekly, yearly and beyond, we are expressing trust that God is taking care of us and that we don’t need to frantically care for ourselves. Even the animals take rests! So can we.
What does a concept like Jubilee say to “sovereign nations?” Sovereign nation is the concept of a people or a sovereign “owning” a land. We see this in places like Europe where there are slogans of “France for the French,” “Germany for the Germans,” or “Britain for the British,” in the face of newcomers, some of whom have been there for generations and are unable to become citizens. We see this when Iraq claimed Kuwait as a rebellious province and on and on. Sovereign nations have the right to defend themselves – if the soldier whom Omar Kadar killed had instead killed Kadar, then Kadar would simply have been a casualty of war. The American soldier would not have been guilty of anything. The sovereign nation of the US could kill, while the terrorist Taliban child soldier was charged with murder. Is not this planet the only home which any of us has, which all of us have? This of course also applies to pollution and resources use of any kind. Sabbath and Jubilee have far reaching influences.
But was it ever practiced? There is evidence that it was practiced in post-exilic Judah. In their attempts to fulfill the whole law, Jews probably attempted to practice this. And one of the key proofs for this is Jesus himself.
When Jesus read the scripture which was from Isaiah he read about “the year of the Lord’s favour.” This was the Jubilee. In reading this, and then declaring that he had come to fulfill this scripture, Jesus was declaring a Jubilee. His ministry was a kind of Jubilee where the rich were criticized for not giving to the poor, where the imprisoned – whether by social rules or by actual imprisonment in a debtor’s prison – would be set free. Those oppressed by religious and political, clan and cultural rules would be freed to live with joy and equality in the new kingdom of God.
One of my pet peeves are articles in Maclean’s Magazine which contradict each other. Over and over Maclean’s touts Canada as a wonderful place of good jobs, good wages, holidays, leaves to care for ailing family members, maternity leave and even paternity leave. But then another article will complain that we don’t have the same productivity as places like the US or Japan or China. Here’s the thing, those countries don’t have the very things I listed and so their citizens work more hours and produce more, but at what cost to themelves? Trusting in God’s provision when we do what we can, and that we rest as we need is the teaching of Sabbath and Jubilee. And this was why the crowd turned on Jesus. With his examples of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, and of Naaman the Syrian, and their dependence on God, he pointed at his listeners not really practicing “the year of the Lord’s favour” and the dependence on God that came with it. They were enraged and tried to kill him!
God calls on us to live a human sized life. We are not God. We cannot make the future completely sure or risk free. We need to live both now, and for the future. But there is a tendency among humans to want complete assurance about the future – thus the critique of productivity – “we’ll be left behind by other nations if we don’t work like there’s no tomorrow!” This is the same criticism that is leveled against countries like Sweden and Denmark who practice fair wages, fair time off, and shared responsibility for the citizens by all, including corporations and the wealthy. And there are all kinds of studies that show if people earn enough to be able to afford some time off they actually produce more for their employers than if they are constantly tired from overwork.
We too could face criticism if we begin to say things like “take a rest. How much is enough? What do you need? What are your priorities in life – things or people? Where is there time to focus on God?” Of course we need to do so gently, kindly, in measured ways. Advice giving and criticism tend not to get good results, but walking with people in their lives does. As does being examples
God created rest and gives it as a gift. Receive it with joy!