Time and Sabbath

Time and Sabbath – a service for daylight saving
Pilgrim Uniting Church 9.30am, October 1, 2017

One cannot talk about time in a Judeo-Christian faith context without placing Sabbath and Jubilee at the centre of consideration.

I accepted the invitation to help with this Daylight Saving Service not because I have clarity about the central Biblical tenet of Sabbath, but because I continue to struggle with the whole idea!

I always have.

As a young Christian in my teenage years, I thought Sabbath meant that I didn’t do anything but attend church on Sunday. So, outside of this, I moped about the house, totally bored. And when I needed to train on Sunday morning to continue to play basketball at the highest level, I became totally conflicted, repressing my sense of guilt for breaking the fourth commandment.

Eventually, I gave up the struggle, deciding that the idea of Sabbath as rest might have been sustainable in an agrarian economy, but was unachievable in the modern world.

By the time I was an innovative science teacher, I didn’t give it a thought when I ran into inexplicable tiredness on weekends, this was the onset of serious depression.

That was the time when a host of Baby Boomer humanistic corrective bandaids began to appear. Self-help books, all manner of workshops and retreats, the emergence of Buddhist techniques, and the massive uptake of anti-depressants. Some Ministers moved into social work or psychological counselling. The Centre Of Personal Encounter (COPE) was established in Hutt Street, later to evolve into Relationships Australia.

COPE, I think had a truly prophetic name – all these movements were trying to help us cope with a new age – new freedoms, mass communication, global exploitation, mass transport, population explosion, pollution, immigration and explosion of knowledge – challenging, and continuing to challenge, every culture.

I threw myself into humanistic education and established Health Education at the suburban High School where I was teaching. Rev Dr Malcolm McArthur had the role of shaping all the non-traditional emerging curricula in the Education Department – Religious Education, Health Education, Social Studies, Driver Education and so on.

The churches lost their battle with popular culture. Leisure, shopping and sport became the new Sabbath activities. But family time continued to be valued.

Church attendance, which had been associated with a traditional notion of Sabbath, inevitably declined. For some churches, the threat to remain sustainable, became all consuming. Church makeovers with new noticeboards in the hope of renewal, demonstrated a complete lack of understanding and engagement with the deep and rapid shift of our cultural context.

Many churches, holding strong dichotomies like sacred and secular, became reactive to these cultural movements: self-interested, attempting to pump up their profiles – all the while, the many saw past these attempts at regaining popularity and control – and all the while the churches generally not understanding that God loves and is active in the world. They thought God-things only happened within the church!

A contemporary Jeremiah might say that God was and is abandoning the Church, much like the ancient Jeremiah prophesied that God would destroy the Jewish Temple with ISIS-like invaders from Babylon, and the people would go into exile.

A modern Jeremiah might rather say that the institutional church is self-destructing.

‘Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’, said Jesus.

I suggest this might be our starting point for re-imagining Sabbath.

Secondly, I suggest that in re-imagining Sabbath, we might affirm we are not created for ‘work’. The Exodus story of freedom from oppression might be our teacher. The parallels to today are stunning!

We might begin to re- imagine Sabbath by confessing that from 5 to 65, we are obsessed with ‘work’, creating our identities, and consuming us. Clearly, the evidence is in that the increasing demands of elite taskmasters for ‘efficiencies’ is repressive, and all the anti-depressives in the world won’t change that! The research shows that over 70% of the workforce only show up for ‘work’ in order to get a pay cheque. It’s not working!!!

Thirdly, in re-imagining, we might place at the centre of our understanding, a cyclical understanding of time in which Sabbath is understood as disengagement from our anxieties and pressures and engagement with ‘being’.

Fourthly, Sabbath cannot exist in a scarcity culture – a culture we ourselves often construct to prove something to ourselves – but in a culture of abundance and generosity. Sabbath and not ‘work’ is meant to create our identity.

Sabbath was made for man, says Jesus, so that we might delight in an abundant life.

In the end, Sabbath might actually be about abundance – abundant generosity, abundant hospitality, abundant trust, abundant faith, abundant love. The fruit of such Sabbath might be gratitude, bursting with praise for the life the Creator has gifted, humility to know our honoured place in the scheme of things, meekness, empowering our determination for human equality, compassion for those whose circumstances are grim, and, above all, joy for the abundant life God wills.

Sabbath may well be about keeping on returning to refresh those deep and practical dynamics that provide abundant life.