Choosing Sabbath: Re-creation

A sermon based on Genesis 2:1-4 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15 preached on July 20th, 2014. The 2nd sermon in a 5-part sermon series on Choosing Sabbath.

Sermon audio

My brother is a graphic designer at a small firm in Charlottesville, VA called the Journey Group. He’s been with them for 7 years now. Journey Group is an employee-owned firm established 10 years ago by a duo of creative guys. Their office is an old Victorian style house right off the downtown Mall and it’s full of creative energy!

Many of its employees work in the same, open room. They each having their own desk space and monster-sized Apple computers, but they’re able to talk back and forth as they work. There’s a Ping-Pong table downstairs, a full kitchen, and a workspace on the back patio. My brother listens to his favorite bands on Rdio at his desk while he works on projects. This is not your typical office space.

He just got back from New York City where he studied design at 2 other firms for a couple of days. It’s a part of a month-long employer-paid sabbatical. Since he’s 7 years into his time at Journey Group he was given a month away to do anything he wanted. Relax, learn, vacation, whatever. He’s doing a little bit of each.

There’s an advertising and marketing firm in Boulder, Colorado called Trada who have established a culture of play for their employees. On a regular basis, in the middle of their workday, they set up a racetrack in the basement with bales of hay on either side. They duct tape pillows around each others’ torsos, and strap on helmets, and race each other around a track on scooters, tricycles, and skateboards. The winner is awarded a huge 4-foot-high trophy.

Another company in Colorado has a full gym and basketball court for their employees to use anytime they want. And everyone breaks away from their desks every 50 minutes to have a 10 minute, office-wide, no-holds-barred Nerf dartgun fight.

Conventional wisdom says that Ping-Pong tables, Nerf dartguns, and scooter races are more suitable for college dormitories than for office workspaces, but more and more companies are beginning to realize the importance of play—in fact these business owners and CEO’s encourage their employees take time away from their workspace to goof off. They say that affording their employees the space and time to play is a catalyst for innovation. Play relieves tension, it staves off employee burn-out, and raises company morale. A company that plays attracts and keeps great employees, and promotes a culture of openness and acceptance.

It’s been proven that companies who provide recreation for their employees during the workday actually produce more content, higher quality content, and are more financially successful than companies who don’t.

Play is a serious thing. Rest and recreation, as it turns out, is a vital part of the rhythm of work. But this isn’t a new idea. It’s a very ancient one that some are just now rediscovering.

The commandment to rest is the moral center of the 10 Commandments. The 4th Commandment is the hinge between the first set of commandments that tell us how to worship God and the last set that tells us how to treat others. Sabbath rest is the linchpin that holds together right worship of God and right relationship with our neighbors. And in Deuteronomy, the 4th Commandment is focused not only on the importance of our own rest, but the importance of behaving in a way that allows our neighbors to get their rest too.

 Don’t do any work on the Sabbath,

Moses relays to the Israelites.

Not you, your sons and daughters, your male or female slaves, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant living with you—so that male and female servants can rest just like you.

See, the commandment to rest is not simply a personal practice. There’s an interpersonal dimension to it. Sabbath is strongly tied to how we treat others. If we make no room in our lives to practice Sabbath then we are just one more person contributing to the greater restlessness and anxiety of our neighbors and our culture.

In Deuteronomy, Sabbath is understood to be communal—when we practice rest, we afford time and space for all those around us to do the same. Choosing Sabbath has a note of hospitality to it. The choices we make affect our neighbors’ ability to rest and play.

Last week we talked about Sabbath as a way to unplug from the productivity machine. Pharaoh was so hungry for more that he exploited the Israelites—demanding unreasonable amounts of work from them.

Here in Deuteronomy, Moses ties Sabbath back to that awful time in their lives—reminding them 40 years later that they shouldn’t do to others what Pharaoh once did to them. The people of Israel know how exploitation feels, and the command to keep Sabbath means making sure they never inflict the kind of hardship upon others as Pharaoh once inflicted upon them.

Sabbath is God’s way of saying that our lives should be lived in balance—in balance with God and with our neighbors. And our choice to practice Sabbath not only means seeking our own rest but also ensuring that others rest too. Choosing Sabbath is a way for us to show hospitality and care to those among us who are all-too-often exploited and worked to death.

The chaos of Black Friday is too much for me. You won’t see me stepping out of my house on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I don’t get it, but many people love to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and go Christmas shopping.

Just 2 or 3 years ago, big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Kohl’s—many others—announced they would open up their doors on Thanksgiving evening. There’s no reason to wait til 3am on Friday any longer. Opening up on Thanksgiving evening answers the boredom and restlessness of extended families stuck in the same house with one another. It offers us a good excuse to get away from our annoying Aunt Selma.

But what about the ones who have to report to work on Thanksgiving Day, some said? Did anyone seem to care about their wellbeing?

Retail stores were closed only 3 days out of the year—on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas—the three sacred days out of 365. Now all the sudden this one day has been taken away from them.

Maybe this was inevitable. Perhaps these businesses are opening on Thanksgiving afternoon in response to consumer demand—they know that as long as their doors are open, we will come. But our desire to shop—that restlessness of our culture to always be on, affects our neighbors in very real ways. This is how the choices we make affect those around us: this is how our culture’s imbalance becomes the undoing of our neighbors. This is how our choices lead to the overwork, burnout, and exploitation of those who are forced by their greedy employers be on 24/7/almost 365.

Speaking from the experience of having worked 365 drugstore retail, that kind of work is destructive and death-dealing—it’s the very opposite of life-giving—the opposite of creation. There were a couple times when I went more than 3 weeks in a row without a day off. Retail culture knows nothing and cares nothing about Sabbath rest.

We may be way passed the tipping point where any of our individual choices could ever stop huge corporations like Wal-Mart or Kohl’s from ever rethinking their choice to open up on a Thanksgiving afternoon. We’re not that powerful. Sabbath isn’t something we can force upon people who don’t care to rest. But we can make the choice to practice Sabbath for ourselves and for those we are directly responsible for.

Choosing Sabbath is a way of living our lives that tells others a vitally important and still very relevant story—one that our culture has long forgotten: we are created by God not only for work, but also for rest; not only to produce but also to play; not to acquire more and more for tomorrow but to enjoy what we have right now.

See, there’s something wise and very practical about the ancient idea of Sabbath: Taking time to rest, play, and enjoy life changes how we approach work.

Practicing Sabbath is a way of giving equilibrium to our lives—of holding ourselves in right balance between work and rest and keeping ourselves in right relationship with our neighbors. And when we ignore Sabbath—when we don’t take the time to unplug and reconnect with ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, we become lesser versions of ourselves. Rest and play reset us, give our lives balance, set us in right rhythm. Recreation gives us the energy we need to return to our work refreshed and ready to create again.

Perhaps that’s why those companies who make time and space for their staff to play are as successful as they are. Play and rest are vital needs, and providing others time and space to do so honors their humanity and sets us in right relationship with them.

Practicing Sabbath is a way for us to stay in sync with all of God’s creation—to practice the same rhythm of work and rest that God practiced at the beginning of time. Choosing Sabbath is a way of life that continuously re-creates us in the image of our Creator.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen!


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