Tuesday April 5, 2011
This is what the LORD said to me: “Go and stand at the gate of the people, through which the kings of Judah go in and out; stand also at all the other gates of Jerusalem. Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and all people of Judah and everyone living in Jerusalem who come through these gates. This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline. But if you are careful to obey me, declares the LORD, and bring no load through the gates of this city on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing any work on it, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this city with their officials. They and their officials will come riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by the men of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. People will come from the towns of Judah and the villages around Jerusalem, from the territory of Benjamin and the western foothills, from the hill country and the Negev, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings, incense and thank offerings to the house of the LORD. But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.’ “– Jeremiah 17: 19-27
A seminary colleague teaches a class on Christian spiritual formation. As an optional project, he challenges students to observe a 24-hour period of Sabbath each week for the entire semester – during those Sabbath rests, they will take a break from iPods, iPhones, iPads and PC’s, from TV and movies, from Facebook and Twitter. If you ask me, it sounds like a mini-vacation – a respite from many of the activities and demands that take up our time and control our lives.
But my colleague wasn’t simply promoting rest and relaxation. Just as Jeremiah wasn’t suggesting that the people of Jerusalem chill out by taking a day off. God’s instructions to the prophet were more rigorous: warn the people away from their work, from those burdens and addictions that lead them to falsely believe they have control over their waking moments. God was promoting a more basic need that they kept on forgetting – the need to remember who they were and whose they were – people of God who were ultimately dependent upon God.
“For the sake of your lives, take care that you do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your house or do any work…..keep the Sabbath holy…as I commanded your ancestors.” In other words, if you can do what your ancestors failed to do, if you can surrender your time and control to God, the city will be inhabited forever. If you can’t, God’s willing to take some drastic steps to remind you of the need to worship the Lord.
What would it look like for you to surrender your time so that you could keep the Sabbath holy on a regular basis? What type of rhythm can you build into your life to interrupt your normal routines and patterns of control?
My colleague asks his students to keep a journal during their semester of Sabbath keeping. He asks them to notice what they usually fail to see and hear when they are busy being in control of their lives. He asks them to consider the ways they normally exercise control – over their time; their money; their resources; their homes, their relationships; their academic work; their faith and prayer life — and what happens when they purposely interrupt that control and take time to really rest in God.
God is telling the people in Jeremiah’s world, and in ours, that Sabbath rest is an important rhythm for the human species. It’s a way to recharge our batteries. But it’s primarily about God. In this Advent season it’s about the One who is coming to make all things new, to bring us good news, to remind us that what we really need is willing dependence upon the One who created us, loves us, and redeems us.
Loving God, help us to listen as you speak into our lives. Help us to do what you would wish for us; to remember that we don’t need to work harder or try more. Help us surrender our obsession with autonomy, if only for a few moments, so that we can truly rest in your gracious gift of love and anticipate the coming of the One who tells us everything we need to know about ourselves and our future. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Christine Vogel is Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs at McCormick