Summit Presbyterian Church
April 22, 2012
Commandments for a Hot Planet (II - Sabbath)
If we were to take a poll and ask what is the most attractive commandment, what commandment would you most enjoy keeping, which one do you think is the kindest and gentlest, I suspect most people would say remember the sabbath. The other commandments may be good for us and our neighbors, and in keeping them there is great reward, but they don't seem as pleasurable. Imagine truly resting from 6 days of work -- paid or unpaid work, factory work or keeping house, desk work or working in the dirt. No punching in, no dealing with the public, no shopping, no laundry, no cooking, no committee meetings, no driving. Imagine just resting -- talking with friends and family, taking a walk, reading a mystery, hanging out with the kids, eating food prepared beforehand -- one day every week after six days of work. (I feel like I'm getting pornographic) And worship, of course, for the commandment is to keep the day holy. Worship, but not writing the sermon, rehearsing the choir or making coffee -that would have to be set up the day before. Imagine -- all the people resting on one day.
But, as much as we may dream of keeping the sabbath, very few Christians do, even in a modified form. There are many reasons for this stretching back to the early church -- although our forbears would be shocked at how far we've come from a day of rest. (Jesus, by the way, did keep the sabbath -- he just argued, like any good rabbi - on the exceptions that were to be made). It's easiest to keep the sabbath when everyone's doing it -- and we don't live in such a world. Many Americans don't worship the God of the ten commandments, and even strict sabbath-keepers among us observe it on different days. There's no universal shut-down. People are called into work on Sundays and Saturdays. Orthodox Jews and others may find ways to schedule around that -- but it's hard to do on a large scale. But it's not just our jobs or the secular world which makes it hard to keep the sabbath. Depending on how you define work, sabbath keeping may also rule out fun stuff that we and our kids would like to do, such as going to the movies or an amusement park. Keeping the sabbath also demands a lot of organization.
And there's another reason. Many of us feel guilty when we're not working. There's so much to do! Not just the work we do at our paid jobs, although many folks do some paid work 7 days a week. But also the work that we do to help our families, to keep our house, to support good causes, to get our degrees and to keep the church going. A full day of rest doesn't feel ethical -- let alone practical. Could God really be commanding us to rest for a whole day? Shouldn't we be serving others instead, fighting for justice, or at least plowing through our to-do list?
But if we look carefully at this commandment, we see that God is commanding the Sabbath as a way to do justice, and care for others. For God commands a day of rest for everyone: not just the landowner, but the slave. Not just the Israelites, but the resident aliens among them -- who may have no religious scruples about working, but who need a day of rest as much as anyone else. Even the animals get to keep the sabbath -- donkeys and oxs get to be donkeys and oxs, rather than plows or pack animals. On this day, all are at rest. No one is exploited for the sake of another. The sabbath isn't primarily about taking care of ourselves, or storing up energy; it's a day to reflect the divine image, the image in which all human beings were equally created. It's a day to reflect the divine which created for six days, declared it good, and then rested.
And as the planet gets hotter, resting has an even deeper ethical dimension. For most of the "work" we do requires not just our energy, but energy from deep within the earth: oil, gas, coal. To work we turn on lights, drive, cook, power up computers, get factories humming, transport stuff. The 24-hour, seven-day a week production and shopping cycle of our world spews a lot of greenhouse gas into the air: threatening our eco-systems, and the plants and animals in them. Endangering the poor of the world, who face more droughts and floods and less food. Robbing our children and grandchildren of the riches we know if creation if we don't change our ways. A day of rest is one way to slow this down.
I can't in this sermon, give practical advice on practicing the sabbath. I'm a terrible model and I don't have kids or other complicating factors. But I can say this: don't feel guilty about resting. Don't feel guilty about taking a break from work for low-carbon sabbath time such as nap-taking or reading, walking or talking with a friend face to face. Sabbath keeping is not just about you -- or me. It's about restoring creation as well as our selves, it's about inching the world towards justice and peace, it's about reflecting the divine image. We may not be able to observe the sabbath together, as a gathered, rested community outside of worship. And of course all sabbath keeping has exceptions -- the Bible has lists of them. But on this warming planet, a rest from getting and spending, from using and producing, is a holy calling.
And as this planet heats up, the sabbath commandment reminds us there's another group that needs to rest, to rest in peace, eternally. And those are the dead from ancient times. I'm not talking about our human ancestors, but about the dead dinosaurs and ancient plants and animals that now fuel our world. You may not realize this -- I didn't until I was about 45 - but coal and oil and gas are the remains of plants and animals who lived millions of years ago. Coal and oil isn't just black stuff in the rock family, We're digging up the dead when we mine fossil fuels. That was OK for a while -- I believe such fuels were a gift to be used - but no longer. We've got to move toward the abundant energy of the sun and the wind, the waves and the heat from within the earth if we're to be good stewards. We need to let those ancient dinosaurs rest in peace.
So how do we remember the sabbath on a hot planet? We worship the God who rested after creating the world and declaring it good. We rest from our labor, and from our intense burning of fossil fuels, and make sure that all other people have a chance to rest, too. We seek to reflect the divine image: an image in which we are all people are created equally in the image of God, and all equally deserving of the abundant energy, food and beauty in God's creation.