25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 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.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
September 21, 2014
There was a time I thought I had found heaven on earth. I was certain it could be found in Montreat, North Carolina. For about 8 or 9 summers in a row during my youth and young adult years, I returned there again and again. Some of you know the place, a beautiful camp and conference center nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When I was there, God felt very close and it was in there that much of the discernment came which led me to ministry. With its mountains and lakes and misty rain each afternoon, it was easy to feel it must be a thin place.
Have you heard of “thin places”? They are spots around this world where it seems that the distance between heaven and earth must be very thin. Perhaps you have experienced your own thin place: a holy spot where God felt very close: on a mountaintop or by the ocean or in your own backyard. For me it was Montreat. Then, a few years ago, I was asked to return there to officiate a wedding. Yes! What excitement! I had not been there in years and I yearned for the moment when the place would overwhelm me with God’s presence again. I arrived, threw my bags into a room, and immediately headed out, ready for inspiration. The day was beautiful, with blue skies above and fall color on the leaves. I walked the trails, sat on benches, stopped to pray at the lake.
And I felt, nothing.
Oh sure, the day was pretty and the scenery splendid but it was not holy. It proved what theologian Abraham Heschel wrote, “We must not forget that it is not a thing [or a place] that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things [and places]”.
When we read the creation story in Genesis, we see this played out. Each day after God has created something: land and water, sky and moon, God says the same thing: “This is good.” The land is good and the gushing springs are good. The mountains and the lakes and the misty rain each afternoon, all of it is very good in God’s eyes.
But none of it is holy.
Remember the text: only one thing is worthy of being called holy and that is the seventh day, the Sabbath. Places and things have been created by God as gifts for us to enjoy and to care for. They are good. But they alone will not lead us to God. So, how can we experience the holy? How can we experience God? Only through time.
Later in the scriptures God will set aside certain people as holy and then, after that, even some places. But time is the first thing God hallows. Why? Because even our work is not complete until we rest from it. We read in Genesis that creation was not finished on that sixth day. It was only finished once the seventh day had come, a day in which what God did was rest. That special and set aside time of rest is what is holy and our work is not complete until that kind of rest has happened. This is not sleeping. It is being at peace and still and calm. It is the same word that David used when he described the Lord being his shepherd and leading him beside still waters—literally, “waters of rest.” This time is holy not because it is a breather from our work. It is holy because it is what gives meaning to all we do on the other six days. Without Sabbath rest time, we forget the purpose of any of the time we have.
Second, rest is what gives the soul a chance to be formed. As a medieval sage described it, “The world which was created in six days was a world without a soul. It was on the seventh day that the world was given a soul.” . That could only happen once the work was stopped and the Sabbath rest began.
In worship we have been focusing on getting our house in order, but, if we are striving to realign our priorities with those of God, then it is not a house we need to be worried about at all. It isn’t even our checkbook. At the heart of setting our priorities, it is our calendar that first requires our attention.
Most of us would rather a quick fix: give some money or return to our favorite place which has worked in the past, or even perform a couple of good deeds, all with the hope that we will immediately feel connected to God. But it is our time God desires above all else. Only in rest and stillness can we know him and only in keeping the ebb and flow of work then Sabbath, and Sabbath then work, can our souls grow strong. Other ways might be easier but they will not be effective.
I had wanted my place to be that quick fix. I had wanted the beauty of Montreat to do the trick but there is no trick. I had given little time for rest or for resting in the work of God. And that does not make for a strong soul no matter where you go.
How is your soul? Does it feel strong and at peace? Or does it feel tattered and frayed? If you are feeling more the second, there is no quick fix but there is a clear path. Our God is not a thing to be found in our things. God is Spirit and he waits to meet us in the time we give. How we spend our time will determine how well we know him.
I know what many of you are thinking: you are thinking, I don’t have the time! What a killing disease this is in our culture. We are convinced we have no time, yet we have the same 24 hours a day that everyone has always had. With our longer lives and greater conveniences you could even argue no one has had more time in the history of the world than we have! Yet we rush and we strive and we stretch it thin and all we have to show for it is disconnect and disarray. None of it feels complete.
We have got to give it a rest.
What has the striving and the stretching done for us? Even God rested to show us what our souls need. We may not think we have the time but if we do not set aside special time, Sabbath time, then none of the other time will give us purpose. What we have been given is holy and if we honor it, our lives become more holy too.
I cannot say what that rest will look like for you: an entire 24 hours straight is the pattern our ancestors found life-changing. But even if it cannot be that, it can be something. Perhaps it is 3 nights a week when the television is off, the calendar and renewing books and music are on. Perhaps it is taking 20 minutes each night before bed to rest in the goodness of God and keep lists of that goodness. Perhaps it is committing to worship each week so you can remember God’s place in the world and your own. Whatever it looks like, with consistency and time, God will meet you there.
So give it a rest. Rest from your work so that God can help complete it. Rest your soul so it can be renewed. Give it a rest so that God’s creation of you can become holy. Amen.