Resting with Creation 

Sunday, June 11, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Leviticus 25:1-9


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

To begin today, I want to invite you to rest and just be for a moment. Everyone can do this. The youngest and oldest among us. Place your hands on your lap. Allow your shoulders to drop as you exhale your breath. Relax your body. Feel the seat beneath you. Close your eyes, if you wish. Just pause…cease from doing and just be…

As you take a deep breath in…Feel the breath enter your body and fill your lungs, as though you are breathing in God – the life giver. This is pneuma, ruach, wind, breath, Spirit. Feel the oxygen revitalizing each cell in your body. And breathe out slowly. Focus on your breath. In…and out…and in…and out. Pause…

Every Friday in my last year of seminary, retired Pastoral Care Prof. Bill Smith invited us in groups of 5 or 6 to sit in his office surrounded by old books, good coffee, and treats, to just be. He opened every session we had with a practice like this. It was the first time I really connected the dots between breath and God. And the more we practiced, the more meaningful and deeper I experienced God’s gift of rest. It was a spiritual practice I didn’t even know I needed at first, but soon came to crave by Friday each week.

Medical research has shown that regular instances of focused breathing is beneficial to our mental and physical health. Heart rates slow. Thinking becomes clearer. Emotions regulate. Energy increases. These short periods of time can serve as a micro-sabbath in an otherwise noisy and distracting world. But how often do we avail ourselves of such an accessible tool? If we’re honest, how often do we consider sabbath rest as the gift, and essential part of the rhythm of life God intended it to be?

Long before there were scientific research methods, ancient peoples figured this out by just doing it because they trusted there was something holy and divine about this rhythm of rest. They knew it was good for their body, mind, and spirit.

And not just for people, but for the whole earth: for the animals, the plants, and the land itself all need rest to be what God intends for it to be.

I learned a new word yesterday, during our Hiking Group. It’s the Norwegian word “friluftsliv”. It refers to the Scandinavian philosophy and practice of simple living in nature without destroying or disturbing it. It sounds a lot like living in holy rhythm with God’s creation. We can’t do this without being able to rest with creation.

You might find it an odd thing to have our Scripture reading come from Leviticus this morning. If you know anything about this book of Scripture, you know that Leviticus records the vast majority of the 613 laws in which ancient Israelites, and modern Jewish people today align their lives. At face value, the chapters of Leviticus can read like an endless litany of dos and don’ts, that may or may not seem relevant to our lives today. These laws are accompanied by threats for breaking the law, and occasional promises when the laws are kept. That’s how rules work, right?

Leviticus 25 calls for the land to rest for a sabbath year. It’s like God is calling for the earth itself to have a chance to breathe. Farmers know the benefit of letting the soil recover and the land to lay fallow for a season, or planting a cover crop, that requires little work and restores needed nutrients to the earth so that the field can bear fruit for generations to come.

We live in a time when most of us are less connected to the earth. So, what does it look like for us to participate in creation’s sabbath? It seems God’s expansive call for sabbath invite us to consider how our on-demand world, without regular rest leads to exhaustion and in many cases unjust systems where rest is a luxury, rather than a necessity for creation.

The sabbatical laws in Leviticus 25 remind us of the holy rhythms God has baked into creation. We’re familiar with the seven-day cycle of sabbath. Genesis begins with six days of creation, then the Lord rested on the seventh. The third commandment tells us, “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.” Deuteronomy’s account of the 10 commandments expands the sabbath law; “On the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God;” it says. “You shall not do work –  you, your wives, your sons and daughters, your male and female slaves, your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident aliens in your towns.” Notice that the exclusion of work includes everything and everyone! The way I see it, sabbath is a welcome disrupter in the not-so-healthy rhythms we humans are so good at participating in.

In God’s vision for sabbath, the animals rest, the land rests, those who work menial jobs and those who work the most revered jobs all rest. Even kids get rest from work and chores and school!

When everything is included, the sabbath can be rest from all kinds of things. What if sabbath provided rest from labels and divisions. What if sabbath were rest from hierarchy and judgment. What if we regularly practiced sabbath as a way to appreciate people and things in the world we didn’t understand?

Sabbath opens up space in our lives to set down work so we can consider how the rhythms of our lives impact the world. We may not have slaves in the same ways there were in ancient Israel, but what about the demands we place on the marketplace to always be open, on people to always be delivering, always be producing? When that is always the way it is, we get out of step with practicing grace and patience and compassion toward our neighbor, and we may participate in the depletion of creation, rather than working for its flourishing. When we pass on keeping the sabbath holy, we miss out on celebrating God’s goodness and dwelling in God’s grace as part of our rhythm.

I know it seems impossible with the way the world is these days. We know we can’t expect society to aid our sabbath today. Blue laws (if you even know what those are) are long gone. But one of the ways we can each reflect our faith in a gracious and generous God, is to tune our individual and communal lives to the rhythms of creation and sabbath. Set intentional boundaries in your week to consume less, to judge less, to use a day a week to step out of the rhythms of work and competition and production and into the rhythms of grace, to encourage rest for yourself, and for others. Imagine the power it might have on others to see us, Christians, set healthy boundaries about consumption and advocate for the care of everyone and everything, so that the whole creation is offered the gift of sabbath – not in a forced, legalism – but as a generous invitation to consider what taking a break from our 24/7 world could do for all of us.

God’s call for sabbath allows for us, who place our trust in the Lord, to keep the main thing the main thing – that our identity and value is not in what we produce but is found in our relationship to God and the rest of creation. God calls us to rest so that we remember God is the Lord of all creation, and we are not. When we rest in God, and this promise, we can set down judgment. We can set down labels we place on others and those we fear others place on us. Sabbath is God’s gift that renews our strength, restores relationships, and reconnects us to our relationship with all creation. Through this divine gift, God invites us to see the world through the eyes of our loving and generous God.  Amen.

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