SABBATH REST + JUSTICE (The Heartbeat of God) // Sara Wolbrecht // June 21, 2015 // Mark 2:23-3:6
If you would, please, close your eyes and get comfortable in your seat. I invite you to find your heartbeat. Maybe by putting your fingers to your wrist or your throat and to feel that rhythm of your pulse. Just breathe deeply and feel that heartbeat of yours for a moment.
You can keep your fingers there while I ask you a few questions – you can just shout out answers. At what times does our heart beat the slowest? When we’re sleeping, resting. What are occasions that cause our heart to beat very quickly? Fear, anger, exercise, excursion, and stress. Anxiety.
Central to the life of God is a rhythm of rest. The word Sabbath names this rest. For, is Sabbath a word that you use often or ever in your life? Sabbath means to cease, to stop. Jesus demonstrates this rhythm – we observe him taking time to withdraw from the crowds, to be alone, to be with friends. To cease, to stop.
Our text from Mark’s gospel today centers on a squabble between Jesus and the Pharisees (again!) this time about what the Sabbath is for. Those Pharisees, making a stink about things again, that Jesus, pushing everyone’s expectations and assumptions about God, once again.
The squabble centers around two scenes that we’ll read through, one regarding Jesus’ disciples pulling off grains of wheat to eat on the Sabbath, the second about Jesus in the synagogue healing someone on the Sabbath. Let’s step into these scenes and imagine them unfolding, and then we’ll figure out what’s going on and why this is so scandalous, and why this matters for us and our heartbeats…
Mark 2:23 – 3:6 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. Jesus looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
We’re going to make two big points out of this – that again, will lead back to our heartbeat. Are you ready? The first bubbles out of this bold statement Jesus makes: “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 The Pharisees are making a stink about following the rules, the Sabbath laws about what can and cannot be done on the Sabbath (we’ll get into some of those laws specific in a minute), and Jesus says: Really? You guys, you are missing the point – God made the Sabbath as something good for people! It is gift! It’s not about being a slave to the Sabbath. Not about following the rules!
Sabbath is a gift. Sabbath is one of those themes that is woven throughout the bible. And is a central piece of God’s people. Sabbath, this gift was in place at the beginning of everything. If you open up your Bible and turn to the very first pages. You find the book of Genesis. The first verse of Genesis begins with the creation story. If you are familiar with that creation account, God creates the world in how many days? Seven. Seven day narrative around the creation of all things. On which day did God create people? Day six. And it says this about day six:
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27
Pause and notice with me how God created man and woman in God’s image. Imago Dei is the Latin for this. The image of God. For us, we think of a photograph, a mirror reflecting the likeness of someone. But no photos or mirrors around at that time. A better, more accurate word would be imprint of God or impression. God leaving his handprint on us when he fashioned us. (Add an image of a fingerprint or handprint behind/with the text). This smooshing of God’s hand in us where God squeezed us into form. This indentation remains on us that can only be filled by the hand of God. And there is a lot that has been said about the “God shaped hole in all of us” – nothing else can fill that hole. Which I think captures a spiritual reality we live in. That there’s this certain longing and restlessness we feel that only God can address. And in some ways, this narrative about our creation informs that- points us toward the source of why we carry that longing. We are made in the image of God and so we have this longing for God. There are these fingerprints on us, from God, we have been lovingly formed by our creator, and that marks us as belonging to God.
So that’s day 6. Then, what happened on the next day? On day seven? Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3
People are made with the imprint of God on day 6, then their/our first day of existence, waking up in this new world is a day of rest. Notice: that’s where be start. Rest with God. Rest with the one in whose image we have been made. Sabbath. To cease, to stop. A gift given at the creation of all things.
God also made people to be fruitful and multiply and to tend to all the animals of the land, and the land itself – God made us to work hard! But God made us to rest, too – that’s where we start.
Yet. We live in a culture that says: work harder and work longer. Never stop striving. You must prove yourself through what you can do. As we’ve discussed before, (Use existing image of: the three great lies) are: I am what I have, I am what I do, I am what others say about me. These are the great lies. We get pulled into them all the time. And underneath them is the relentless work ethic.
But guess what? We will not be our best selves if we are working ourselves too hard. If we work and work, we actually won’t get as much done. Not to mention the amount of stress and crankiness we’ll carry, if we don’t have room for Sabbath, for resting with the one in whose image we are made – we are actually less productive. And guess what? Science even supports this. I have said before: I love when scientific research supports the life of Jesus! For instance, the various studies that have pointed out this: Research that examines the relationship between hours worked and productivity found that employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and falls off a cliff after 55 hours—so much so that someone who puts in 70 hours produces nothing more with those extra 15 hours.
Stop working. Cease. Because God created us that way AND because that extra time working is not actually producing more. I love that!
So besides creation, how do we see Sabbath lived out in the bible? There is so much we could point to, Old Testament, New Testament, And for now, we will say this: for the Jewish people, practicing Sabbath which for them was a weekly day they took to cease, to stop, there were the certain laws they followed, this was an act of identity – they stood out among their pagan surroundings, they were recognizable, standing out from the culture, as holding the image of God on them. Just as God rested on the seventh day, so they rested. Their weekly practice of doing nothing on Sabbath gave their bodies and their spirits that renewal, the refreshment, that re-membering of who they are. And from that place of rest, they were better able to work!
For us today, we don’t uphold the same Sabbath laws, and even what once was – in the 1960s everything was closed on Sundays – that’s not our reality anymore – not even Thanksgiving Day is a holy day anymore. Even our wider culture doesn’t have the same rhythm that was once followed. But what is clear, is that we as God’s people, for the sake of ourselves and the world, we need to find a rhythm of Sabbath rest.
Central to the life of God is a rhythm of Sabbath. So – what is Sabbath and how does it look in our lives today?
Sabbath rest does not mean just taking a nap – sorry about that. Though it definitely can include a nap! Sabbath: to cease striving. To rest with the one in whose image you are made. I want to lead us through what I hope will be a practical reflection in helping us identity Sabbath practices and take some steps to put those in place. You with me? We begin by asking what: What are the places, practices, and people who renew you and remind you of that imprint of God on you?
This is a question that only you can answer – and the answer keeps changing as our lives change. This looks very different now than when I was in college, or when I was newly married and had no children. What is this in your life in this season? Here are some practices that I know are Sabbath practices for friends: Swimming. Painting. Video games. Cooking. Baking. Reading. Reading the bible. Meditating. Praying. Running and exercise. Relaxing with friends. Hiking. Playing music. Gardening. Mowing the lawn. Maybe there’s a place that restores you – a walk or hike you do near your home. A place you vacation regularly. A particular friend’s home. Your favorite coffee shop or pub.
That is the WHAT question we all need to answer (a lot of things can fall into there) – and there is also the WHEN question. I want to suggest, again for practicality, that there are four rhythms to consider. What does Sabbath look like: Daily. Weekly. Monthly. Yearly.
(I encourage you to make notes as we go through this – engage in prayerful and intention reflection, make this a fruitful time for you – because we believe that we are wired for this stuff! But we must make the time and space for it. Here is some time for us to dream and listen together about Sabbath – naming things we are doing, things we can do).
First, let’s talk about daily rhythms of Sabbath – daily can be hard, especially if you have a job, and/or kids, and/or relationships. Daily Sabbath is the five minutes of stillness you find (or more, obviously) – seriously, it is using the few minutes of privacy in the bathroom strategically – to listen to a podcast, to read a daily bible verse, reading the gospel of Mark, to pray Help/Thanks/Wow. Or to do it in the few moments before you get out of bed, or at the end of the day, or during your lunch. I have friend who has a daily alarm on her phone that goes off at lunchtime that says: BE STILL! And she’ll stop, cease, she’ll pray, or practice gratitude, or step outside into the sunlight or just close her eyes, straighten her back and breathe. What alarm/reminder, might YOU set? (We say “daily” knowing that if we aim to do it everyday, we’ll get it most days. Grace).
Weekly – Sabbath is ceasing. What regular day or half-day or two hours can be something that you set aside for connecting with God each week? For rest and renewal? For remembering the imprint on you. When can you unplug from everything and be free from all the stuff coming at you? I find that it’s not a regular time each week, but I find some window of time on my days off. To run. To have a coffee or wine date with a friend or with Jason. To play with my kids with my phone far away from me. What are the weekly touchstone moments that draw you back to God, to joy, to remembering who you are?
Monthly/Quarterly – something more significant. Maybe a hike. Getting out to see a movie. Playing on a team, sport. Serving, engaging in the community in some way.
Annually – big service trip. Regular vacation to the family cabin or the lake you always camped at growing up, or Hawaii or Mt Rainier, Holden Village absolutely formed me growing up. The annual kick-off to summer fire pit. The way you celebrate your birthday. What are those annual rhythms that, again, it’s not just that they’re fun, but they have a way of grounding you in God, in who you are, in a place where you cease and stop all the relentless stuff.
I do want this to be practical and helpful and make room for God to nudge us to place rhythms of Sabbath in our lives. We’re going to take a few minutes to sit, listen, make notes, put things on your calendar, set an alarm on your phone, make a note to look up reservations at your favorite restaurant/camp/retreat, a note to call a friend to get together for a weekly walk, all for the sake of identifying potential Sabbath practices for ourselves. If this is feeling overwhelming then just focus on one area – daily, weekly, etc. And start there. The band will provide some music, and then we’ll gather back up to talk about why this matters for our heartbeats, and to make our second and final point about what Sabbath means for us…
(Time for reflection)
Here’s why a rhythm of rest matters for us as God’s people. Put your hand back on your pulse. Sabbath brings our heartbeat back in time to how it is supposed to be. Free from the frenzied pulse of fear and anxiety and busyness that can push us. Sabbath aligns the beating of our hearts with the rhythm of God’s heart. That’s what happens when we spend time with the one in whose image we are made.
There’s another scientific study that proves that when lovers are physically close to one another their hearts AND their breathing sync up. Lovers’ hearts beat in time. Spending time with the God who calls us beloved syncs up the rhythm of our very selves to align with the heart of God.
Like the Jews, this practice of Sabbath is an act of identity for us. Pulling us back to that place of who we really are. It is also a bold, public statement about who we are. I.D.ing ourselves as God’s people, standing out from the workaholic culture around us as we draw boundaries around our time. To be people recognized as beating in time with God the creator.
This is why Jesus says: “The Sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” Sabbath is gift. Sabbath pulls us into a rhythm of life that is actually sustainable, and that actually leads us to a better life.
Jesus shows us this pattern for our lives. We move from rest to work to rest – like a pendulum (image) swinging. And it’s on us to know what rest is for us, and find that rhythm in small ways daily, weekly, back and forth. And to start our days and weeks from a place of rest – like how we were created to be – not to work and work, and collapse in a heap. But to proactively make time for rest before we head into a busy time. This often means that we make the hard call of cutting things out of our lives to make room for Sabbath. What might you need to cut back to make room for rest?
What we begin to find in ourselves is not only does our heartbeat find a relaxed, groovy, pace with God, but we actually find our compassion aligned with God, too. This is the second and final point for us. That when God’s pulse quickens with outrage or grief – ours does, too, because we are aligned with the one in whose image we are made.
Notice in our text what I mean by this, the quickening of Jesus’ heartbeat. It happens first as the Pharisees make a stink about the grains of wheat being gathered. But what I really want us to pay attention to is Jesus’ anger in the synagogue.
Let’s rehear that scene “…a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. (a little background: Sabbath law stated that healings on the Sabbath could only happen if it was a matter of life or death, which it was not in this man’s case). Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. Jesus looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Jesus looked around at them in anger. Why was he angry? It says: But they remained silent. This opportunity to speak and say: “Yes! The Sabbath is to do good and to save life!” But they remained silent. In that room full of people, it would be awkward and uncomfortable to speak out against what had always been. But they remained silent.
This week, nine people were shot in a bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and it has sent another shock wave through our country. Friends, this is heart-breaking. This is an act of racism. An act of terror. And I don’t know about you but I am angry and overwhelmed with sadness that this happened, that it happens, that a 21yo man could be moved by such blind hatred, that our brothers and sisters with darker skin can be victims of racism, that this is the country we live in. Yet with everything I feel, and even the things I find to post on Facebook, the question I keep coming up against is: what do we do? What do I do? And I fear that I am one of those people in the synagogue that cause Jesus anger and distress, that you could look at my life and say: But she remained silent. Friends, we cannot stay silent anymore.
In 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned as a participant in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, he wrote in longhand a letter which we now call “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was his response to a public statement of caution issued by eight white clergy of the South. Those pastors warned Dr. King to stop what he was doing and trust the systems that were in place. In that long, thoughtful letter, Dr. King said: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” - Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from A Birmingham Jail
Oh, how these words still ring true today, Lord, have mercy. The heart of God is stirred up by the appalling silence of God’s people. That’s what happens as Jesus is in the synagogue, his pulse quickens with anger to see the oppressive systems of the day unable to reach the painful need of this man with a shriveled hand. And for no one to speak up to change that system. This is what Sabbath is for, because this is who God is!
And so for us – as we become Sabbath people, people of rest, we also become God’s people of justice. And the awesome, difficult invitation we have is to let ourselves be moved by the things that move the heart of God. And act. We see ourselves, pulsing with the heartbeat of God yet it is our own hands and voices and actions that God will use to bridge the oppressive systems of our day, to begin the conversations that will unite people of all kinds, to look with humility and apology at our own words and actions and recognize and heal our own racisms and judgments, and to give us courage to stop the systems of white privilege even though many of us are the ones who have benefited for so long from them. Because we pulse with the heartbeat of God, the one in whose image we are made.
I wish I had an easy, prescriptive solution – that I could tell you an easy next step for all of this. But I can’t. I stare into the abyss of all of this and simply cry: Come, Lord Jesus! But I do think it starts with being God’s Sabbath people, aligning ourselves with the heart of God, and recognizing the moments that break God’s heart and doing something about it.
Here, also are a few keys values to hold in this conversation: speaking up starts with listen, pay attention, humility, seek out conversation, recognize the small moments where you can speak up with your friends, with your family (like not letting the racist joke go without saying something). Use the political power and responsibility we have – write our senators, vote. Read articles, make gracious commentary on social media, pray. Engage in the conversation – and get to know those who are hurting in the conversation.
These texts that we looked at today, as well as the ones we’ve read so far in Mark’s gospel reveal the heartbeat of God, but you may have noticed that for those who oppose Jesus, this became the final straw. The text ends with this: Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Mark 3:6
The Pharisees and Herodians were enemies, and yet this one agenda united them: to kill Jesus. Because those whose hearts beat in time with our creator God, those ones are trouble. This caused trouble for Jesus – trouble to the point of death. This caused trouble for Martin Luther King, Jr., trouble to the point of death. Friends, we will face trouble when we step into this life with our God, when we become people of Sabbath rest and justice. Because Sabbath rest and justice goes up against the oppressive systems of our world – the workaholic pressures, the lies of what success is, and yes, the long-standing structures of power and manipulation that have divided people, oppressed people, abused and killed people for thousands of years.
But it is worth it. For everyone deserves full access to human rights and freedom. Everyone also deserves full access to the Kingdom and love of God – for our black and brown friends, for the LGBTQ community, for people of every kind. There is room at the table for them – and we need to work to hold that place for them.
We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men and women willing to be coworkers with God…We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity. - Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from A Birmingham Jail
Now is the time, indeed – for our hearts to beat with God’s and be God’s people of Sabbath rest and justice. Amen.