August 14, 2016 / The Heartbeat of God (Sabbath Rest) / Sara Wolbrecht / Mark 2:23-28
Friends, most of you know that Jason and I had some vacation time last week – we spent eight days in and near Missoula, Montana, where Jason grew up. Including two nights on Seeley Lake, where Jason’s family has a cabin. So we spent time making the best possible summer memories for ourselves and our kids. S’mores around the campfire, fishing, rafting, playing at the beach, throwing horseshoes. And also some time tubing and waterskiing on the boat. During which time even little Levi got a chance to drive the boat – and it was awesome. You may have seen this photo of Levi on social media.
Holy Hair, Batman! Just the best! We really had a wonderful time – and we even survived the road trip out and back – nearly 10 hours in the car each way with our kids. Good times.
While on vacation, I found myself establishing a few great rhythms in my day – yes, it included a local beer at 4pm most days, but I found myself intentionally shaping my mornings. I was up reading and journaling every morning, well before my kids got up. And I was out for a run or hike six of the eight days we were there. And these two practices – are so so good for my soul (for some people, I know this is not your jam, but it is mine). I also intentionally took a step back from my phone and being on social media and email, and I was like – Oh, this is what it’s like when my brain has time to just be. I had forgotten how good it is to not have a steady stream of stuff going into my brain. I had space for fresh ideas, to reflect on my life and the world. I found myself – I want to say it this way – I found my heart beating in rhythm with God.
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 the side of 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 a few questions – you can just shout out answers. At what times do our hearts beat the slowest? When we’re sleeping, resting. What are occasions that cause our heart to beat very quickly? Fear, anger, public speaking, exercise, exertion, and stress. Anxiety.
I want to make the argument, the point today that we need times when our heartbeat slows down, and times when it speeds up – and considering our physical health, this is absolutely true – we need rest and we need exercise. But we also need our heartbeats to align in slow and quick ways with the heartbeat of God. And today, specifically, we’re going to explore the necessity of our heartbeats finding rhythm with God in times of rest. Rest. I wonder: If you and I were to have a conversation right now about rest, about what rest looks like in your life – what would we talk about? How do you rest? I’m not just talking about taking a nap – it doesn’t necessarily mean that your actual heart-rate is slow – going for a run is rest for me. But what are the things that refuel you, that connect you?
Friends, we have talked about this – about rest – before at Salt House, and to talk about the rhythms of God, the FLOW of God as we are this summer, we must talk about rest again – and again and again, because rest is central to who we are designed to be, and it is always a battle to make it happen, because it’s absolutely counter-cultural to how we are told to live. As we begin this conversation, today – again – tune in to consider rest in your life – what would we talk about, what practices, rhythms do you have for rest – how do you rest? Hold that question with God as we go through this.
Now let’s dive in to what this all means. In the Christian story, the word for rest is the word Sabbath. Sabbath means = to cease, to stop. Notice that Sabbath is yes, resting, but it is more than that – it is the distinctness of stopping something, ceasing. To see what this looks like, it’s helpful – always – to look at Jesus’ examples. Jesus shows us the importance of working – of how he would work long days of teaching, healing, walking, talking – and yet Jesus demonstrates this rhythm, where he moves back and forth, from work, to rest throughout the gospels – like a pendulum swinging between work and rest. We observe him taking time to withdraw from the crowds, to be alone, to be with friends. To cease, to stop.
We also see times when Jesus spoke and taught about Sabbath. He lays it all out there and teaches about Sabbath. One of these moments in Jesus’ life that we’re going to look at today is from Mark’s gospel – we’ve read this text before. It’s a squabble between Jesus and the Pharisees about what the Sabbath is for.
The Pharisees are the super-religious guys, they are rule-makers and rule followers, who saw themselves as upholding God’s rules – and are usually portrayed as grumpy robed guys. And over and over again, Jesus bumps up against their expectations and assumptions about God, Jesus points to God not as the one to be fearfully held as a rule-enforcing deity, but a relational God, who cares more about people – and the transformation of the human heart and the redemption of our world – than about rules.
The squabble centers around Jesus’ disciples pulling off grains of wheat to eat on the Sabbath (which technically breaks the Sabbath law that no harvesting can happen on the Sabbath). Let’s imagine it unfolding, and then we’ll figure out what’s going on and why this matters for us and our heartbeats…
Mark 2:23 – 28One 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.”
Did you hear this last statement, this important 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 and Jesus is saying: You guys, you are missing the point – God made the Sabbath as something good for us! It is gift! It’s not about following the rules at all costs! But about experiencing the fullness of God, the rhythms of who we are.
Jesus is saying: Sabbath is made for us. To cease, is rooted in the core of how God has designed us.
Sabbath is one of those themes that is woven throughout the bible, including at the beginning of everything. When we open up our Bible and turn to the very first page, we find the book of Genesis. The first verses of Genesis begin with the creation story. If you are familiar with that creation account, God creates the world in how many days? Seven days. A 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.
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, the word “image” causes us to maybe 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 God’s handprint on us when he fashioned us. This smooshing of God’s hand in us where God squeezed us into form.
We are marked, defined by the fingerprints of God. We hold the imprint and image of God. That heartbeat of ours, at our best, the rhythm of God is one that we find when our hearts beat in tune with God, when we are in rhythm with this image of God that has marked us from the beginning.
So that’s day 6 of creation. Then, what’s fascinating, is what happens next. What happened on the next day? On day seven of the creation story? It says: 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
What did God do? God rested from his work. But notice what people do. 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. That’s where we start. Rest with God. Rest with the one in whose image we have been made. Sabbath happens first. To cease, to stop. A gift given at the creation of all things.
My friends, as we consider the rhythms of our lives (for you), is rest where we start? For most of us: probably not.
I had such a nice rhythm of rest while on vacation in Missoula last week. But now that I am home, and back in the grind, it has been so hard to maintain that rhythm. This past week, I have been overwhelmed by how hard it feels to make that time – and yet so aware of, and holding in tension, how my whole body and spirit and yes, my heart, long for a rhythm of rest. I love the idea of being up before my kids to read and exercise – but then it’s the morning. And my bed feels so good. My friends – do you now, do you ever, feel this tension? How hard it is to find Sabbath, and yet feeling so aware of how desperately we want it?
Let’s say a little bit more about what Sabbath does in us…. Sabbath, ceasing, holds a space for us to remember who we are, to reclaim the image we bear. For Jews throughout the Old Testament, for them to honor Sabbath was a visible statement of identity – people noticed how they lived differently, and it marked them as who they were. So it is for us. We remember who we are, and we have the discerning eye to call out how we may have been moving into territory that is not true to who we are. We’ve named this before – that in our culture there are three great lies we are told that try to define us: the three great lies are: I am what I have, I am what I do, I am what others say about me.
Sabbath holds the space to defiantly remind our hearts: I am not what I have, what I do, nor what others say about me. Instead, Sabbath holds the space for our hearts to beat in rest and rhythm, to slow down and remember that: we are Imago Dei. We are made in the image of God. When was the last time your heart beat in tune with that?
And as a supplementary, slight tangent – for those of us who do like to work hard and be productive, get this: making time for rest, actually makes us better workers, with better results. I have said before: I love when scientific research supports the life of Jesus! And science absolutely supports the value of rest. Work-life balance. For instance, various studies have pointed out that: 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.
Wow. Stop working. Cease. Because God created us that way AND because that extra time working is not actually producing more. I love that!
And so my friends – since we don’t have the Sabbath laws of Jesus’ day, and there is no clear prescription for how to Sabbath – what do we do, what does Sabbath actually look like in our lives? Let’s spend some time unpacking that.
Sabbath rest does not mean just taking a nap – sorry about that. Though it definitely can include a nap! Let’s start with what we know: Sabbath: to cease striving. To rest with the One in whose image we 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. I invite you to pull out your bulletin insert, where I’ve created some space to write a few reflections. 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? On your bulletin is simply says: WHAT is Sabbath for you at this time?
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 Sabbath 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. Puttering around the house with no agenda. Playing with children. Watching movies. Sailing. Journaling. Mowing the lawn. Being in worship. And for some, there’s a place that restores us – a walk or hike we do near our home. A place we 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) – but again – they are ways in which we cease striving and connect with the image of God. 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 intentional 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 (anyone?). Here’s the bottom line (I’ve said before): 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, to pray. 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 or commute. I have a 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).
And what about 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. To allow your heartbeat to align with God’s. 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 for me, 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 where you invite the whole neighborhood. 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. I will be first to confess that I have felt a bit paralyzed about making time for Sabbath in my life – feeling like there are so many things I need to put in place – too many, and so I do nothing. Which is why God has me preaching on this today – because *I* need to hear it.
My friends, with grace and hope, let’s each start with one thing. Even just one thing this week. One commitment to letting our hearts beat in rhythm with the God of the universe. The band will provide some music, and you are welcome to sing – or to sit in rest, or 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. And again – if this is feeling overwhelming then just focus on one thing. And start there.
And before we do anything, first, please put down everything, and once again find your heartbeat. On your throat, your wrist. Pay attention to that pulse. Let’s close our eyes, and pray.