Updated: Jan 31
Sermon for Sunday, January 29
The Rev. Megan Collins
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Do you remember early in the pandemic, when everything shut down and most of us were at home a lot? (Except of course for those of you who were essential workers, and we are still so grateful to you). But for those of us who were not essential, we were home. All the busyness and the appointments and schedules came to this sudden halt, almost overnight. It was such a strange time and a really hard time too in a lot of ways. Some people got really sick. Families were trying to balance work and kids all at the same time. Some adults were isolated on their own. But there was one good thing that came of it.
We were forced to slow down.
We still tried to fill our time with all kinds of things. We baked lots of bread. We Zoomed one another. We took five walks a day. We watched strange TV shows like Tiger King. Dave and I got so bored one night we live-streamed our dog, sleeping, to everyone we knew. She wasn’t even doing anything. She was just sleeping. But even with all of these activities, life moved slower. Somewhere along the way, we relearned how to rest. It took the whole world coming to a standstill for us to rest.
Then we made big promises that we would take that lesson with us. We would remember, even as things opened up and we were grateful to get back to normal, what we had learned. We would adjust our priorities. We wouldn’t get so busy and we would not let our schedules get so full of things that didn’t really matter. We would make time for the important things and people but we would stay off the constant treadmill of activity and noise and traffic and media. Then we came out of our homes and we promptly forgot. Now things are as busy as they ever have been, maybe more so as it feels like we are trying to make up for lost time.
We are exhausted.
We have forgotten, again, to rest.
Today we are going to talk about rest. The Bible has so much to say about rest as a critical function of who we are, and it starts in the very beginning.
Genesis tells us two stories about God’s creative work in the beginnings of our world. In one of these creation stories it describes everything that God has done, that there was nothing and then there was everything, and then it says this:
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 (Genesis 2:2-3).
After everything God has done, God rests. So for those of you who heard we were talking about rest, and thought “I’m too busy to rest,” if the God of the heavens and earth can rest, surely you can too. Go back a few verses and it says this:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).
Not only did God rest, but you are made in the image of God. Which means,
You were created to rest.
The need to rest is in your bones. I’m not talking about being lazy. You weren’t created for a six day Netflix binge (as fun as this might be). You were created for the kind of intentional rest that comes after a time of purposeful work. Your body was made for seasons of work and seasons of rest, right from the beginning. When you keep pushing and keep going and find yourself exhausted, it’s because you are denying the very way you were made.
But sometimes people don’t have a choice.
After the creation story, we start to learn about the formation of God’s people. They end up held as slaves in Egypt, where they are worked ruthlessly, day and night. They cry out to God and God frees them from bondage. If you are doing the Bible in a year with us, you will have read a lot of these stories over the past couple of weeks. Then as soon as God’s people are freed from bondage, they are free to rest. God immediately gives them the gift of the sabbath day, and then reminds them of it, over and over and over again.
“Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; (Exodus 16:23)
For six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest (Exodus 23:12)
For six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; (exodus 31:12-17)
For six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in ploughing time and in harvest time you shall rest. (exodus 34:21)
For six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; (exodus 35:1-3)
Over and over again in Exodus, the people of God are reminded. God takes rest so seriously that the penalty of working on the sabbath in some passages is death. They have been freed from slavery to return to the rhythm for which they were created. Once they were forced to work, day in and day out. Now they are free to follow their work with rest.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15).
They were freed to rest.
You are free to rest.
But maybe you don’t feel like you can. Maybe you not so much free, as trapped.
Here's a hard truth. For some of you, this is by your own choosing. God has offered you freedom but you have chosen the bondage of busyness. The idols of busyness and success and wealth are so tempting. But they are also a lie. You have been told you can get up too early and stay up too late, to move faster, to keep pushing, to never stop hustling. You have been told that you are limitless. This lie keeps you in the bondage of a culture that wants what it can take from you instead of wanting what is best for you, the balance that God created from the beginning with a time for work, and a time for rest.
Some of you are choosing to stay trapped. But that’s not everyone. Others are enslaved against their will by unjust systems. They may have to work relentlessly because they aren’t paid enough to live. They may be caught in systems that were built on injustice. The world is still so broken. And God is not done yet. Until everyone has the ability to rest, we do what we can together to continue fighting for the way God intended things to be.
As an example, there’s a ministry called the Nap Ministry that’s doing some of that work now. It was started especially for black women to reclaim their space as made in the image of God, as people who too were created for and deserve rest. A part of the program does involve an actual nap, but it’s much more than sleeping as the rest opens up conversations on the inequitable opportunities for people of color and the deficit of rest as a result. Rest then becomes a resistance to the way things are, and creates hope for the way things could be.
This is especially important to remember for those of you in leadership. Look back at the passages we just talked about:
Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed (Exodus 23:12).
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do (Deuteronomy 5:13-14).
The slavery language in the Bible is troubling for us, and something that deserves its own conversation. But for our conversation today, time after time, when the Bible teaches about rest, it immediately follows it with teaching about our responsibility to make space for others to rest. In other words, if you are in charge of other people, their rest is your responsibility. If the people in your home or your workplace aren’t getting to rest because of you, it’s time to make changes in your life. Because if one of us can’t really rest, then none of us can.
Sabbath rest is about fighting for the move of bondage to freedom, the freedom we should all have to live as people of God, to honor the natural rhythm of work and rest God has created us for. When we have this freedom in Jesus, it takes us even further than one sabbath day into incorporating rest into everyday. Let’s think about that a little more.
The sabbath in Jesus’ time was strictly enforced by the religious leaders, so much so that it became more about the law than about the freedom God has given to us. Even Jesus got in trouble on the sabbath. He came across a woman who needed healing, and so he healed her. The religious leaders get upset with him for doing work on the sabbath. Listen to what he says back:
But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day? (Luke 13:15-16)
In a way that only we as sinful people could do, we took the gift of rest God has given and twisted it into an obligation, a rule that could be broken. This problem continued into the early church. In the letter to the Colossians, it says
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Colossians 2:16-17).
Resting in Jesus is more than enforcing a sabbath day. It’s about more than just working or not working. It’s the rest you can have when you can sit in God’s presence and know that, at least for a moment, you can lay it all down. You can stop moving, stop producing, stop working and simply be. That because of who Jesus is, you are enough, just as you are. So you can rest. Frederick Buechner describes it like this:
“The room is quiet. You're not feeling tired enough to sleep or energetic enough to go out. For the moment there is nowhere else you'd rather go, no one else you'd rather be. You feel at home in your body. You feel at peace in your mind. For no particular reason, you let the palms of your hands come together and close your eyes. Sometimes it is only when you happen to taste a crumb of it that you dimly realize what it is that you're so hungry for you can hardly bear it.”
You may have forgotten what it is like to rest, but you were made for it. Deep down, your body remembers, and you are longing for it. But it’s so counter cultural, that you’ll have to fight to rest. Jesus sure did. Jesus’ work was never done. There was never a time when his to-do list was empty, or the demands on his day weren’t urgent. But he still took time to rest, even if he had to hide from the people around him. (Some of you young parents know exactly what that is like).
During busy seasons in his ministry, he would take a break from the crowds and the people and go up on a mountain or to a deserted place. One time he went into a house and tried to hide from everyone. When he had to make big decisions he would go off on his own to rest and pray before continuing on in his work. Even just before his arrest, he goes off on his own while the disciples sleep, not because he isn’t sleepy but because it isn't the sleep he needs, he needs to rest in the presence of God.
It’s not always easy to find the time, or the space. But rest is worth fighting for.
You were made for a balance of meaningful work and intentional rest.
You were created to step away from the busyness and be still with God.
You were made for freedom from the bondage of this broken world that has lied to you, and told you that you are only worth what you produce.
You are made in the image of God.