Are We Living to Work, or Working to Live?

Sunday, June 30, 2024
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Exodus 20:8-11, 23:10-13

 

Do you remember “The Great Resignation” of 2020-21?

As the demands of work skyrocketed in the midst of pandemic and the need to rapidly adapt the way we work, people started to think about what they were doing with their lives, how their work was affecting their relationships, and whether it is all worth it. I have one friend who she and her family picked up everything and moved to Kentucky and bought an RV Park. Maybe you or a family member were part of that movement, too? There were also people who started practicing something called Quiet Quitting.

These folks weren’t quitting their jobs, but they started setting firmer boundaries for their work. Rather than pressing on into the evening hours to finish everything on their to-do lists or take on that extra project their boss asked them to do, they left work at 5pm and didn’t work through the weekend. Maybe this sounds irresponsible to those of us who are prone to be on the Type A side of things, but what does never-ending work get us in the long run anyway?

What has happened for some in the last few years is a reassessment of the role work plays in our lives. Rather than living to work, people are working to live.

Yet the balance between work and rest goes beyond those who collect a paycheck. And it goes beyond just not working one day a week. At the heart of rest, is Sabbath. A time God marked in the design from the very beginning for all creation to rest in what God provides. For people of faith, Sabbath is a way we set priorities for our lives, how we align our lives with the rhythms of God. Dedicating regular time of rest with God helps us see creation and its relationship to God more clearly. Sabbath not only reprioritizes work, but with it, God reorders the very purpose of life. God didn’t just create the world and then rest. Rather, God created rest to be part of the created order. We can try to separate it from how we live our lives, but Sabbath establishes a way of living that helps order everything else.

Scripture mentions Sabbath 171 times, the vast majority of those references remind God’s people of the command to honor it and provides guidance on what that honor looks like.

Why so many times?

Because we’re not the first to forget about this life-giving, God-honoring way of living. The Israelites forgot about it in exile. They turned their backs on it when they felt most secure – forgetting that their security is in the Lord. In Jesus’ day, the religious authorities turned it into a rigid requirement that stole the joy of resting in God as a regular part of their week. Jesus’ response to them was, “Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.” In other words, Sabbath is God’s gift best experienced when it is a regular part of our lives.

 

We live in a broader culture that celebrates excess, rewards workaholism, and commodifies human worth based on what one can produce. The consequences of these values have given us poorer physical health, fractured relationships, and higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide compared to other developed countries. We tend to exploit the resources of the land by pushing its resources to its limits in order to squeeze more profits out of it. One of the least liked catchphrases of the last decade or so has been, “We must do more with less.” What if we just did less? If we are the most Christian nation in the developed world, why don’t our values around work always reflect it?

In the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis 2 says, “Six days God created, and on the seventh God rested.” The point is not whether God created everything in seven 24-hour days, the point is that in creating, God set a portion of time apart from work to be in relationship with God’s very good creation. Our response to being God’s good creation is honoring our relationship with God by regularly setting time apart to savor this relationship, and align our lives with the rhythm of God’s.

For centuries Christians have set aside Sundays as Sabbath. Over the years, we’ve come to think of an hour of communal worship as keeping the Sabbath. Don’t get me wrong, gathering with other Christians for worship is foundational to honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy, but God has a much broader and lifegiving vision for Sabbath keeping. Theologian Marva Dawn invites us to practice Sabbath in four life-giving ways: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, and Feasting.

Sabbath involves ceasing work, and ceasing mistaking our accomplishments for our identity, ceasing our trying to be God one day a week and focusing on God being God. Ceasing our possessiveness and materialism, ceasing meaninglessness and boredom. Many of us lament that blue laws have disappeared and now about the only thing you can’t buy on Sundays in Minnesota is a car. We have access to every conceivable thing with the tap of our screens. And our screens so often serve as a poor antidote to boredom. We’ve been used to the broader culture supporting and even enforcing Sabbath by closing stores and public spaces. Perhaps this change could help us reframe Sabbath as a spiritual practice of ceasing, rather than a civic one. A practice that calls us into deeper relationship with God, as we choose to refrain from consuming what is ever available.

Sabbath offers us a chance on a regular basis to embrace some things we otherwise might not consider. When we are intentional about setting Sabbath aside, we embrace the stewardship of the greatest and most finite gift we have – time. No matter who we are there is only 168 hours in any given week. How we steward that time is an indication of our priorities and faithfulness. Martin Luther often said the busier he was in a week, the more time he took to commune with God through prayer and Scripture. How much more fulfilling might our days and weeks be, if we embraced our call to steward our time as well as we consider the stewardship of our finances and possessions? Ensuring that time is not just for work makes room for friendships and family relationships. Sabbath allows for the joy of feasting on food and friendships, on beauty and worship, on savoring our connection to nature, all as part of the regular rhythms of our lives.

I’ve come to a point in my life where Sabbath doesn’t always happen on Sunday. And some weeks, it is not a whole day, but smaller pieces of several days. Rather than be prescriptive about when it happens, I think God is more concerned for us that it happens. That we take up this God-given gift and use it on a regular basis. That we turn to God and trust regularly that God provides and that we remember this gift and keep it holy.

God speaks of Sabbath throughout Scripture as rest for all people, rich and poor, servants and elites, all animals and even rest for the land – for Earth itself. When we consider the breadth of God’s intent for sabbath, we can see new depths of God’s care for us and for all creation. When we separate ourselves from the rest of creation, when we believe that everything – even our time – only belongs to us, we lose sight of the beautiful gift God has given us from the very beginning. Sabbath is the radical, grace-filled reaction to our 24/7, on-demand world. It reorients our lives toward holy and wholistic living. When we make Sabbath a part of our lives, it moves us more deeply into God’s rhythm of life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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