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"Rest"

Genesis 2:1-3

2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 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. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

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God made us to rest in God’s presence. I know that might sound strange, since we’re taught that rest is really something you have to earn, and even if taking it easy for a bit is justified, you’re only supposed to do that so you can “recharge” for whatever work you need to do tomorrow. But in the Bible, never ending toil is a curse, while heaven is a wedding banquet, a feast where people lounge around eating good food, drinking good wine, and singing together. Our purpose as humans, as our Reformed friends like to say, is to glorify and enjoy God forever.

That’s where we’re going and that’s where we come from, too. Back in the beginning, God works for six days, forming and filling, making a beautiful, fruitful creation. I was always taught that the culmination of that story is humanity, that we’re the crown jewel of everything God made. But that’s not quite right. People do have a special place in the world as God’s image bearers, but the culmination, the climax, the end where all creation is headed is the Sabbath. The creation story begins in God’s presence and ends with everything God made resting in God’s presence. The world (including people) finds it’s meaning in the seventh day, where everything rests in God’s presence, and it’s all very good just because God made it.

And that’s why, for thousands of years, God’s people have kept a day of rest, set aside for worship, Jews on Saturdays to mark the seventh day of the week, and Christians on Sundays to mark the beginning of a new creation. The Sabbath is a day where as a community we rest so that we can remember that God made the world and God keeps it spinning, not us. Sabbath is a reminder that God calls all of creation “good,” not because the rocks have proved how good they are at being rocks or because the birds worked hard enough at being birds, or because you proved or earned anything either. Creation is good because it exists, and God loves you just because you’re here. So the Sabbath is a day just to be here, to enjoy creation, to rest in God’s presence. So we rest to remember the future, to practice now the kind of life God wants for us forever.

But from where we sit now, that’s something we have to choose to practice. Because we’ve got a lot going on. Talking about the Sabbath reminds me of the story of Mary and Martha, where Jesus comes to their house and Martha is busy running around doing all of the tasks you have to do when you have guests, which are in themselves good, but Mary sits at Jesus’ feet. Martha gets annoyed and asks Mary to help, which I think most of us would find to be a pretty reasonable request, but Jesus says, “No, Mary has chosen the better portion.” There is no better portion than resting in God’s presence.

But, then again, as soon as I say that, I recognize that it doesn’t always seem that way from where we sit. Isn’t Martha right? You can’t show hospitality if no one cooks the meal! We know from our own lives that if we don’t work, we don’t eat. We’ve got bills to pay, bosses to make happy, creditors coming to collect. Many people, old and young, have to work extra just to make ends meet, so that young people are using their “free time” to drive for Uber while folks in their 80s are getting jobs at Walmart so they can afford their pills. I think in our world most of us feel like Martha a lot the time. Ok, Mary got the better portion, but how can I even think about Sabbath when life puts so much pressure on me to scrounge for basic necessities (or calling anyone who’s not doing that “lazy”)?

Is rest really possible? Is it something we even hold as a good? These are spiritual issues, as well as material. They speak to who we think God is and what it means to be human. How many of you have heard that work gives people “dignity?” Your meaning and your purpose in life are found in your ability to produce something. You have dignity insofar as you earn it, and in our world that also means making money off of it. Rather than a good creation of a God who loves you, we turn people into “human resources.” But if we get our dignity from our ability to make money, what does that mean for people who aren’t “productive?” What does that mean for people with disabilities? What does that mean for those of you who are retired? What does that mean for children? My mom teaches third grade and I discovered that many of the students in her school take anti-anxiety medication specifically for the state standardized tests: in more and more precise and totalizing ways, kids are learning that their worth is derived from their performance and it is crushing them.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with working hard or even enjoying your work. It’s possible to do good work and to be proud of that. But when we teach each other that it is our work that makes us good, that gives us meaning, we put productivity in God’s place, saying that we can make purpose for our lives. And if that’s the case, I’ll never be able to rest. I’ll only have meaning insofar as I earn it, I’ll only have purpose insofar as I’m constantly producing it for myself, and there’s always someone else hungry to take my meaning and my purpose if my energy flags. Work can be good but just as often its vanity, a chasing after the wind. My friends, that’s not just economics, that’s theology; that’s a god without grace sacrificing us at the hands of the bosses as his priests.

For millennia people of faith have practiced rest to remember that that’s not the God we find in Scripture. When God takes on flesh, the people accuse him of being a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus lounges around with sinners and says to all of us, “Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus wants us to learn how to rest, and we rest because God keeps the world spinning, not us; God has called us good and we don’t have to earn it. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Whatever work we do we do in freedom, not to secure what God already gives.

Now this kind of rest that Sabbath offers isn’t just about recharging for the next week or doing a little “self-care” so that you’re less likely to snap on Monday. I do hope you’ll consider you’re own life and see if there’s not a day or a few hours in the week that you can set aside to rest and pray. But Sabbath goes beyond that. Remember, the Sabbath is law, something that the community does together, to become the kind of community where people can find rest, and in our world, that might be something we have to struggle for. I’m reminded of the labor unions who organized for the 40 hour work week early in the 20th Century. There were Christians and Jews among them, and they were struggling for Sabbath because they recognized that the kind of work being done in the factories exhausted people in unprecedented ways and so if people were going to find rest, more than one day a week was necessary.

But even in the midst of struggle, even when it seems like that kind of society is impossible, maybe the church can be a place of rest for the weary. We can be a space of rest telling people that they don’t have to earn their place here; we can accept everyone as they are not because they’re good or whole or perfect but just because they’re here. Friend of Ephesus John Thornton recently wrote a piece about youth ministry where he argues If the church has anything to offer…it is to be a people that embodies a different logic than that of work and competition. We have to offer [youth] a place to be bored with each other. We have to take them and their lives seriously enough to treat them not merely as investments but as people to whom we owe care…I want to let them know that they are not alone in their anxieties, and that they are not to blame for the forces that constrict and trouble their lives.” Just before that he quotes Pope Francis, who says that “Sometimes, I speak of the Church as if it were a field hospital. It’s true: there are many, many wounded! So many people need their wounds healed! This is the mission of the Church: to heal the wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good.”

So many people are wounded by our toil, the work itself and the constant message that we are deficient and always needing to prove ourselves. But God made the world and called it good. You bear God’s image no matter how many hours you’ve worked, what rank you attained, how much money you made. You are beloved just because you’re here. Take the time to remember it, and for the sake of those who like Martha just can’t, let’s be a community who speaks that truth, that our chief end is to love and glorify God, who already loves and delights in us. Amen.

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