Rest: Part 2

sabbath2

Everyone is still asleep. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is spinning slow and soft on the turntable. My stomach is wishing it was later in the morning so I could begin fixing breakfast. Only coffee for now. Anxiety for tomorrow’s fantasy baseball draft with friends is in the forefront of my thoughts (Trout? Altuve? Goldschmidt?). Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poem, “The Objective” has swirled in my head since I woke up.

Chapter One of Subversive Sabbath is titled “Sabbath and Time.” Each chapter is broken into parts a few pages long. I will list those sections and provide some quotes from each – I did more underlining in this book than I can ever remembering doing before – and then give some reflections on what I have read in this chapter.

Remembering Sabbath

“We have come to know Jesus only as the Lord of the harvest, forgetting he is Lord of the Sabbath as well. Sabbath forgetfulness is driven, so often, in the name of doing stuff for God rather than being with God.”

“Sabbath is assumed to be the sign of a shrinking church. So time poverty and burnout have become the signs that the minority church remains serious about God in a world  that has rejected him.”

“The result of our Sabbath amnesia is that we have become perhaps the most emotionally exhausted, psychologically overworked, spiritually malnourished people in history.”

Made to Rest

“Adam and Eve’s first full day of existence was a day of rest, not work.”

“Their (Adam and Eve) first knowledge of God and the world God had made was that rest was not an afterthought – rest was of first importance.”

“Sabbath reminds us that our time was never our time in the first place.”

“Sabbath is that kind of complete reorientation of our lives towards the hope and redemption of Christ’s work.”

The First “Holy”

“Sabbath is a moment of eternal glory momentarily breaking into our finite, present world.”

“Interestingly, the only thing God deems as qadosh, or ‘holy,’ in the creation story is the Sabbath day.”

The First “Not Good”

“The Sabbath is a celebration, a day of rejoicing over the goodness of what has been made and who made it.”

“Relational needs are not a by-product of the fall. Likewise the need for rest, or Sabbath, is not an aftertaste of human sinfulness, unlike our chronic inability to receive rest.”

The First “Rest”

“What is the culmination of creation? In Genesis 2:2-3, there are three sentences of seven Hebrew words each, and the middle word of each sentence is the word for the seventh day. this textual feature is used to state that the seventh day is the goal of creation. The climax of creation is not humanity, as we have so arrogantly assumed. Rather, the day of rest is the climax, when creation all comes together and lives at peace and harmony with one another.”

“Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are not what we do…”

“A Sabbath day is not merely stopping our work; it is also stopping our thinking and scheming about work.”

The Taste of Sabbath

“Sabbath does not always pay off the way we wish it would. Resting is costly.”

“Years ago, Harvard  theologian Harvey Cox argued that the death of God in our culture was related in some way to the fact that we no longer celebrate, or integrate festivity, in our culture. That is, our celebration deficit is part of our loss of God in culture. And when festivity and play ended, argued Cox, culture and community begin to erode at their very core.”

“What was intended by God to be a celebration reflecting on his goodness and the goodness of his creation has been, once again, replaced by the devil’s false forms of celebration: drunkenness, loss of self-control, and debauchery.”

“Sabbath is about delighting in God for his sake and the sake of the world.”

I finished this first chapter about a week ago and have not really been able to move on in my thoughts.  There are two reasons. The first is so much of the teaching was familiar like a song you have never heard before but has been around forever. You know it regardless. Maybe that is because my soul was hearing what it has been needing to hear for forty some odd years.

But also, there are a lot of new ideas. New to me, at least. The idea that the Sabbath was the culmination of creation was an entirely new thought to me. Also, I had never noticed that it was the only part of creation called “holy.” I don’t care who you are and what you believe about all this, that is worth thinking long and hard about.

My wife and I had a discussion the other day about the religiosity of sports in the lives of people all around us. We love sports. Especially baseball. But we feel like sports has become the de facto religion in our community. It is seen as the thing you do not say “no” to, whereas corporate worship and community are optional. Sports is Lord. There is no use really denying this.

As we were talking about it, Bethany asked me “Why, though?” and I could not answer her. It offers community for those who may not have it? Significance, too? Also, just like church it keeps the kids out trouble and busy? But I could not find an answer, so that question hung like a mist in my mind for a few days. But then I read on in this chapter and when I got to the section on celebration, it dawned on me. This may be part of it, that need to celebrate we were created for, may be part of the answer as to why sports has become so religious in our culture.

The one quote I cannot get over though is that, “Sabbath is a weekly reminder that we are not what we do.” This week I got to talk about Justification with my ninth graders. And one of the things I wanted to make sure they knew was that one day they will be tempted to value themselves based on their vocation and what they do and how much money they make. The gospel changes that. And Sabbath is a weekly reminder of this reality.

Bethany is now stirring in the kitchen as a foretaste of the meal we will enjoy with friends tonight in our home. The Clarinet Concerto has ended, the record flipped over to the one for the Bassoon. My kids are watching cartoons. And the last lines of that poem by Berry cannot be gotten rid of –

having never know where they were going/having never known where they came from

Rest: Part 1

subversive

My wife sleeps nearby. My kids too. I’ve risen before the sun with Hugo and Springsteen. When I poured my coffee a full moon lit the kitchen well enough, no other light was needed. Now the sun hides that mirror and day arrives. Eponine has just told Marius she does not want money for the address. The Boss sings, “I work all day out in the hot sun.”

When I started my new positions as teacher and pastor back in August, for the first time in my life I began to observe a day of rest. No work for 24 hours. This resolve came from reading Eugene Peterson. I pretty much swore to myself if I ever went back to ministry, I would observe a day of rest every week. No work for 24 hours. And since August, I have only failed to do this once. Maybe twice. And even then it was Sunday School prep for which I at one time was not paid. But still, it was work. I felt the pressure of teaching…preaching really to 100 men and women in my Sunday School class. That day showed me the rest was worth more to my teaching than my preparation. The next week showed me this even more when I did rest.

That lesson seemed to be more effective and powerful showing me that I am not in control and my smarts are not the end all be all.

You may have noticed that I have been using the word “rest” and not “Sabbath.” I just noticed that too. There are probably two reasons for this choice of words – my history and a new book I’m reading

When I was a youth pastor in Greenwood, Mississippi, I was enjoying what could only be called a successful ministry in a small PCA church. The lead pastor encouraged me to get ordained with the full approbation of the Elders. I had not been all that interested  because a previous pastor I worked with at another church had encouraged ordination so as to reap the tax benefits. That turned me off to ordination for a time but the encouragement of these men with whom I served softened my heart. So I studied and wrote my papers.

It has now been over 10 years since I sought ordination so the process is a bit hazy. I know all the papers I had to write were accepted and were seen as very well done. I was examined in committees and that went well. But before ordination can happen, you have to preach and then be examined on the floor of a presbytery meeting. This examination consists of being asked theological questions, which I answered without any problem. All was going perfectly till they asked me if I had any exceptions to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Now there are two things you need to know about this whole process. First, there are differing opinions within the PCA on whether you should be able to take exception to any part of the WCF. Some Presbyteries will allow you to take an exception on certain issues. Some Presbyteries will allow none. Second, you need to know this was one of those presbyteries that allowed no exceptions.

I let them know that I did take exception to the Confession’s teaching on the Sabbath. I did not believe that the Sabbath laws of the Mosaic Covenant were still in force. That did not go well. That whole event is a blur but I can remember a few things. One is an old man pointing at me and calling me an “antinomian” meaning that I am anti-law. The word heresy might have been used. A few men shaking their heads in disapproval. Anger. I had done my homework and was able to quote stalwarts throughout Presbyterian history and leaders within our denomination. All for nothing. My ordination was indefinitely tabled.

Since I was not a Sabbatarian in confession, I had no hope of being ordained in that presbytery. I not only felt defeated, I was angry. And my anger grew as I learned that I only needed to say that I was wrong in my conviction. My practice did not matter. Actually, I was told by one pastor that I only needed to rescind my exception and I could keep my private conviction. Knowing most other presbyteries would not have even blinked did not help.

Needless to say, I not only soured on Sabbatarians, I soured on Presbyterians. I soon left and went back to my Baptist roots.

Earlier this week, I listened to an interview of A.J. Swoboda about his new book, Subversive Sabbath. Before the interview was over I had ordered the book.

Why?

How did I get from drowning in the floor of that Presbytery meeting to swimming further out into what feels increasingly like refreshing pools of teaching on Sabbath rest? Swoboda points to it in that interview and his book which I have just begun. Taking a Sabbath is God’s gift of rest. Rest we were made for. Rest that reminds me that I am not God. And neither is the world with all its demands.

I would like to resume this blog with a few posts as I read through this book. My hope is that I will find rest and those of you still interested in reading this nearly abandoned space will find some hope in rest also.

Springsteen just sang, “The way the winds rush through the trees.” Marius is waiting. The sun waits along with the day. My kids stir in the next room waiting for breakfast. And I have already felt the pull of work and how hard it is to say, “no, not today.”