Maybe You Shouldn't Go to Church this Sunday

Have you ever wondered how “the sabbath” made it into God’s top ten? Seriously? Don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, covet your neighbor’s whatever, and rest. Rest? Can you guess which one of these is not like the other?  There are over 610 commandments in the Torah, and of those, the Divine narrows to a top ten list; within that list, there is the command to rest.   I know, I know - you’ve never heard it that way.  It’s common for most folks to think that to honor the Sabbath means to go to church (which, even as a pastor, seems a crazy interpretation that God would make one of the top ten instructions for all humanity to attend a Sunday morning service, but I digress). As with much of scripture, we enlightened-industrials got our hands on the ancient texts, and forced them into our framework, and by doing so, created a shallow understanding of sabbath - go to church.  

Sabbath has much more to do with “not working” than it does attending a religious service.  In fact, one of my favorite Old Testament theologians, Walter Brueggeman, says that “Sabbath...is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for the church gathering together to learn and worship, but I don’t regard Sunday attendance as a means to obey the command to honor the Sabbath. Sabbath is about growing in awareness as to who God is and who we are not.  According to God, the best way to keep this as our guiding focus in life is by halting all work and production to play, to rest, and to simply be.  The lie that the universe requires our productivity to keep going is an illusion that perpetuates the degradation of our very humanity.

We live in a culture addicted to busyness - it’s often disguised as things like work, volunteering, and youth sports - sabbath is the remedy to this addiction. It begins by finding value in abstaining from doing and accomplishing. Sabbath is counterintuitive to the values of our fast-paced world.  By committing to sabbath, we are made more human.  The addictive practices of culture stand in the way of being authentically human.

The spirit of the Sabbath invites us to live at a slower speed.   To intentionally slow down is a nonconformist attitude; it is rebellion to the status quo.  It is slowing down enough to both choose and think about our own values as opposed to blindly accepting the values our culture has scripted for us.

As a culture, we are afraid of being still. We avoid silence; we abhor boredom. If we aren’t busy, we are in front of a screen. Why are we so uncomfortable in our own skin?

Our commitment to busyness reveals our unwillingness to either deal with ourselves or inability to be content with who and where we are.  Busyness baits us with a better future (that is rarely realized) at the expense of the now. Busyness asks us to exchange deep relationships for an overpacked schedule ruled by extracurricular activities.  We trade deep, healthy and textured lives for schedules that cause families to live most of their waking hours away from each other running from one event to the next.  While I'm not saying that these types of activities are without value, I am saying is that for them to be valuable, they must be the result of healthy relationships and lives rather than confused pathways to significance.  

Busyness causes us to bypass the ordinary joys of today in the hopes that tomorrow will be something better.  Sabbath keeping creates a new set of lenses that assist us in seeing the beauty in the day-to-day moments.  Busyness demands we live under the illusion that you will wake up tomorrow morning, next year and the next decade with a "better" life.   The problem with living in tomorrow is that tomorrow is always tomorrow; it is never now.  A wise teacher once said, "Don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself."

So, sabbath.  Rest.  Maybe for you, that doesn’t mean going to a church building.  Maybe for you that is getting outside and playing or going on a bike ride.  Maybe it’s going on a long Sunday walk to enjoy the beauty of nature.  Maybe it is gathering together with friends and cooking together and drinking good ale and laughing and enjoying the image of God in all of your friends.  Maybe it is all of the above, but whatever it is take a whole day each week and just stop being productive. Simply be.  Have fun and play for the sake of fun.  Enjoy beauty for the sake of beauty.  Trust that the holy divine will keep the world going without you being productive every day of the week.  Practice Sabbath.  

 “Sabbath observance invites us to stop. It invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help. It invites us to delight in the world’s beauty and abundance.” - Wendell Berry

This post originally appeared in the Thursday, April 20, 2017 edition of the Knoxville Bulletin.