From the Rector
Proper 4: Keep the Sabbath

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a study out of UCLA, which was designed to observe the “typical life” of American families in the 21st century. For four years, a team of anthropologists followed 32 volunteer middle-class families around their “natural habitat”-videotaping their activities, tracking their movements, documenting their behavior at home and work, and testing their stress levels. The results were, as the lead author of the study put it, “disheartening.”
Families who had invested in yards and outdoor spaces rarely went outside (50 of the 64 parents spent no time outside in the course of the week). Most of the families relied heavily on convenience foods, and even then, rarely ate dinner together, although they claimed to place high value on time together and family meals. 3 out of every 4 garages couldn’t hold cars, because they were too stuffed with other possessions that the families rarely ever used. Though many of them owned backyards, leisure time was rarely spent outdoors, but instead almost entirely in front of the television or computer. On the whole they spent so much time working, collecting, buying and “getting ahead” that they had almost no time to enjoy the fruit of their labor, to stop striving, to rest.

I believe the most flagrantly violated of the Ten Commandments are not the ones about stealing or honoring our parents or committing adultery. It’s the command to observe the Sabbath. Most folks I speak with casually dismiss it as an unrealistic, antiquated rule from the Old Testament that we don’t need to bother with anymore, or else we mistakenly assume that “Sabbath” means the hour we spend at church on Sunday. We consider ourselves good people, and we’re committed to at least trying to love other people, but we’re far too busy to take a day of rest.

I’m not sure that any of us really want to turn into workaholics, but the pull toward that sort of lifestyle is strong. I know I have been feeling a bit more tired than normal recently, a bit more ragged, and it doesn’t take more than about a second to diagnose one of the main problems: disobedience to God’s command to holy rest. I want to be as productive, as impactful, as good and faithful as I possibly can as rector of this church, and that requires (I tell myself) relentless dedication to all the tasks and responsibilities of such a role. But the truth is that not only is this counter-productive (scientists are clear about the benefits of rest on the quality of our body’s functioning), but when I act like this, I am actually moving further away from a good and faithful life, because I am neglecting to live according to one of the principles God has given for health and wholeness.
Life feels like a spinning top sometimes, and we’re all just whirling around and around, commenting to each other about how “crazy busy” we are. Well, I invite you to jump off the top, at least one day a week. Because when Jesus said that he came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t describing the lives of those families in the UCLA study.

Jesus says that people were not created for the Sabbath, but Sabbath for humankind (Mark 2:27-28). God knows we need it, which is why God commanded it! If this is new, feel free to start small. Take a moment and plan about one evening you will shut down your computer or turn off your cell phone, one appointment you will refuse to make, one obligation or opportunity you will forgo. Then think about a way you will embrace rest: a walk with your spouse or a friend, a game played with your child, a time you will choose to sit-not playing with your phone, not sitting in front of the television-but simply contemplating the blessing and abundance of God.
I’ll be praying for you, and I hope you’ll pray for me, too: that we might all rest with God, and find our lives blessed and refreshed.
See you soon.