A Season of Rest Dave Rogalsky July 9 2017
Scriptures: Psalm 145:8-14; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, add Genesis 2:1-3, Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Theme: To look at our lives in this season of rest and wonder how we can live lives of rest.
Summertime, and the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush, little baby, don't you cry
One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing
And you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky
But till that morning, there ain't nothin' can harm you
With daddy and mammy standin' by
(Songwriters: Du Bose Heyward / George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin
Summertime (Live (1958/Chicago – Ella Fiztgerald)) lyrics © T-Series, Songs Music Publishing)
Ahh, summer time. Canadian’s time to rest. A leader in a bi-national – Canadian/USA – publishing house owned that, living as he did in Virginia, he had not understood why Canadian churches did not buy summer quarter (June – August) Sunday School curriculum. He didn’t understand until he lived in Saskatoon for a few years. “The summer is so short!” he said, “Of course you don’t want to be sitting in church!”
Summertime, time to rest. And God wants us to rest! There are several reasons given in the Bible for Sabbath, the Hebrew word for rest. What reasons would we add? Which practices? Give up our phones?
Genesis chapter 1 is one of the stories of creation. There are several others, including the one that begins in chapter 2. But the first story flows over into chapter 2 with the passage we just read. God created for six days, a mighty work of creation, speaking all that there is into being. And then on the seventh day God rested, God took a Sabbath.
This taking a rest is very much like the creation stories which the Jews would have heard while they were in exile in Babylon. The gods there had very human needs and desires, much like the Greek and Roman gods many of us studied in mythology in school. The Babylonian gods fought, squabbled, killed each other, played favourites, had affairs, were lazy – that`s why they created humans – and got tired. But I think that you’ll already see that the creation in Genesis 1 is different. God didn’t create so that God wouldn’t have to work. God created because God wanted beings who could relate to God. God wanted beings “in God’s own image” to be co-creators with God.
So God, knowing what God’s creation was like, what it, what we, were capable of, also created rest. As I think about the living creation – plants, animals, us – it would seem that everything takes some kind of rest. Even plants in tropical climates often take a rest, dropping their leaves in a drought, and growing new ones when the rains come. Rest is part of being in the creation.
We need rest. Many doctors are speaking of an epidemic of sleep deprivation in our society. With the advent of economical artificial lights we can drive the night away, working, playing, doing and relating long after natural light from the sun has faded. We can work 24/7 now. But we still need rest.
The Bible gives several reasons for rest. The first one is in this first passage. We rest because God rested. We rest because in resting God set this day apart from all other days – that’s the meaning of holy, set apart as special. In a very real sense, God created rest on the seventh day. We “set it apart,” make it holy, worship God by taking the time.
The Bible is clear that this rest is for everyone. In many cultures men, or men with property, get time off. No one else does. But that is not the Bible’s teaching. In Exodus 20, the passage about the Ten Commandments, we read:
8 Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)
Everyone is to get a day off – even the livestock! There are hints of justice here.
But there are other reasons given in the Bible too. In the book of Deuteronomy’s retelling of the Ten Commandments we hear this:
12 Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (NRSV)
“Remember that you were a slave . . . and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand . . . therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” The Sabbath day became a memorial of God’s actions on Israel’s behalf in the past. Every time they had a Sabbath day, a day of rest, they would remember that God had freed them from slavery. This was to influence how they related to God, how they cared for themselves, and how they cared for others, including the non-human creation. This was a call to justice so that all slaves would be free, that all people would have enough.
The early church began as a Jewish group who believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. They kept the Sabbath. We see references to this in passages like Acts 16:11-14 (NRSV). Luke wrote:
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
Even though Paul could find no synagogue in Philippi, he figured there must be a group of Jews gathering to pray on the Sabbath. Jewish Christians continued this practice. Non-Jewish Christians also practiced the Sabbath. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, includes himself in the “we” who went looking for a place to pray on the Sabbath.
But in time there was a shift away from the Jewish Sabbath – the seventh day of the week – to the first day of the week. In the book of the Revelation of John we find the prophet on the Island of Patmos. And he writes:
10 I was in the spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, "Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." Revelation 1:10-11 (NRSV)
This was the day on which Jesus was raised from the dead. The day of rest became the day when they remembered that Jesus had been raised from the dead, proving him to be the Messiah, God among us, and giving us hope for the future. The memory of the Exodus was replaced by the memory of the Resurrection. A Jewish celebration was replaced by a universal celebration of life in and from Jesus who was God among us.
So rest has a variety of reasons: 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.
So far we’ve focussed on the call to take a day of rest. But in the passage we read from Matthew Jesus promises us to give us rest in a more general and pervasive way. Listen again:
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)
How many of us have felt like this in life, and perhaps do so today – weary, carrying heavy burdens, yoked and unable to get free, feeling out of control. This would describe large parts of our society. Remembering the wheel on which hamsters and pet rats run, we call life a “rat race,” all running but never getting anywhere, never getting ahead. Jesus invites us all, every human being, to come to him to learn. Notice it’s not just about learning to rest but to learn from him. Could it be priorities that need to be learned? The balance between having and doing on one hand, and being on the other? Could it be the balance between loving ourselves and loving others, serving ourselves and our real needs and the needs of others – having proper boundaries? Could it be building up the courage to be able to ask for what we need, so that we have something to give to others? I don’t think that we are called on to “love others, as we love ourselves” is a coincidence. We cannot love others, unless we love ourselves. And we will not love others beyond how we love ourselves.
And each of us needs rest. We cannot live without it. In a congregation years ago I had a lovely saint of a church member who became very depressed. Family asked me to visit and when I did I found this usually vibrant and joyful person to be morose and discouraged. We talked and it turned out she wasn’t sleeping well. When I asked why she was awake, expecting worries and cares, instead she talked about pain – abdominal pain – that was keeping her awake. I suggested that she talk to her doctor and the doctor diagnosed a bowel disorder that was treatable. Soon she was sleeping again, and she regained her hopeful ways. Sleep is very important. Rest from work, from cares, from busyness, or from tension, is necessary for us to function well, to be God’s people here on earth.
So I suggest to you and to all, come to Jesus with a simple prayer: Teach me, teach me so that I can have your rest for my soul. The word for soul here is psuche – it literally means breath. It means our whole being and not just some disembodied part of our being. Jesus wants us to have rest in our whole being. He wants to teach us how to live so that we have this rest. So we pray, “Teach me so that I can have rest in my life, so that I can live and love, serve and celebrate, so that I can be your person.”