I hate a cluttered sink. When I do the dishes, I feel sooo good. But with my mom, it got a little crazy. It even made us late, a lot. I remember countless times sitting in the car, my dad impatiently waiting for my mom to come out. Her delay often made us late, which drove my dad nuts. What was she doing? My mom would start to walk out. But then she’d see one last dish to be washed. She just couldn’t leave it there. She had to do it. She just couldn’t let that last dish go.
And I get it. Dishes I can let go for a bit, but other stuff. That gets me in trouble. Some scheduled appointment approaches. I’m getting ready to head out the door. But then, I think, oh let me finish this last task. Let me reply to this e-mail before I leave. Then the I’m driving like crazy to make that appointment on time, usually not successfully. Why? I couldn’t let something go. I just had to do it.
Letting go can be so hard. And forget tasks. What about people? Has someone ever said a remark that bugs you. Then you find yourself turning it over again and again in your mind. What did that person mean? You know. The turning it over doesn’t help, but you can’t let it go. Or maybe you’re thinking of some meeting you dread or some challenging task that lies before you. You start worrying about it. You know. The worrying does nothing to help. But you just can’t let it go.
Do you know what I mean? When you don’t let go like that, it so messes up your life. You create stress you don’t need. You overload your life. But more than that, when you don’t let go, it often squeezes out the most important stuff in your life. What do I mean?
My dad, who was a pastor, couldn’t let go his work at the church growing up. He always had one more meeting to attend, one more person to visit. So, for many years, we, his kids, simply weren’t a big part of his life. And that has had painful impacts in his life and our lives to this day. When you don’t let go, it won’t just stress you out or make you late or overload your life. It will take away the things that really matter. It will even destroy your health. It will mess up the most significant relationships of your life. But still, it’s so hard to let go. How do you do it?
Here, God gives you the key. And since God knows how crucially important it is, God doesn’t just suggest it. God commands it. In these words, God shows you the way. Let’s hear what God has to say.
Why does God give us a commandment to rest? Sheesh, does anybody need a commandment to take a break? Well, it seems that we do.
Of all the commandments, God takes more time explaining this one than any other. God even gets super specific about what exactly no work means. No work, God says, means no one works. Not only do you not work, your servants don’t work, not even your animals. But why? Why does God get that detailed? God does it because God knew not only do we need a commandment to take a break. God knew. More than any other commandment, people would want to play fast and loose with this one. It sounds bizarre doesn’t it? God commands you to take a rest, to take a day off. So, why do you need a commandment to rest? Why does God think you’d be so likely to break it?
It’s because human beings get addicted to work, to productivity, to doing stuff. No, that’s not it exactly. They get addicted to how all that productivity makes them feel. Getting stuff done makes you feel useful, important, worthy even. Your worth even depends on what you do. And you start to buy into the illusion that if you stopped at all much less for 24 hours, then everything would come crashing down around you. So, instead of realizing you are created in the image of God, you start to think you are God.
So, God says. don’t slack. Do your work six days out of seven. But take one day out of every week to simply rest. Remember for that one day that it’s not all about you. Each week, you need one day where you realize you’re not God.
You need one day where you simply stop, where you let go. In fact, that’s what the word sabbath, shabbat literally means. It means stop. And you don’t stop because you’ve done everything. You don’t stop because you’ve completed your task list. You stop period. Whatever isn’t done can wait. Why? You’re not so important that one day of your stopping will bring all creation to a halt.
Heck, the Bible tells us that even God stopped, and creation didn’t come to a halt, even then. On the seventh day of creation, God rested. Yet, nothing disastrous happened. So, if even God can stop without everything stopping, we can do it too.
But something in people resists that. Even though you can know that this command is here. Even though you know it’s good for you. You still resist it. Why can’t we let things go for just one day a week? Why is it so hard to rest, to let things go?
Essentially, you make yourself too big and God too small. What do I mean? Sometimes, I run late to a meeting. And often, it’s not for any good reason. I run late because I think that last little thing I’m doing is sooo important. It’s not. In that case, not only am I making myself too big, I am also making other folks way too small, inconveniencing them with my self-importance.
Or maybe you can’t stop because you fear what would happen if you did. What would other people think? More crucially, what would you think about yourself? Do you have an internal voice that rises up to criticize you? Or maybe you have a voice of fear that warns you of the dire consequences of stopping. But do you see what lies behind both those things. You’ve become too big and God has become too small.
On Long Island where I used to live, many of the farmers that worked on the eastern end of the island had almost become legends in their own time. Maybe the most legendary farmer of all was a guy named John Wickham. John came from a family that had farmed on Long Island for over 350 years. His experiments with growing grapes had helped birth the huge wine industry that dominated the East End. But Wickham (a Presbyterian by the way) had a quaint practice. Every Sunday without fail, he shut down his huge farm stand. One day, a newspaper reporter friend of his named Steve Wick, asked him about it. He asked him, “John, why do you shut that farm stand? Thousands of people come to the East End on Sunday. Look at all the business you’re missing.” John just turned to Steve and said, “Steve, while you’re at it, which one of the other Ten Commandments do you want me to break?” Steve never asked him again.
One thing that I think helped Wickham keep that sabbath is every day he looked at his farm, his apple orchards, his other crops and he realized. Ultimately, he had very little to do with their success. Sure, he did his part, but without God that didn’t matter much at all. God gave the growth. God generated the fruit, not him. He realized. Ultimately, God is a lot bigger than I am. I can take the break. It’s going to be ok. And because he took a break, his workers and the land got a break too.
For when you make yourself too big, and God too small, when you don’t stop, it doesn’t just impact you, it impacts everything.
God brings up those years in slavery in this commandment for a very good reason. God is saying. You lived in a world where you couldn’t stop. Your masters made you work all the time. You know the injustice of that. You know the pain and the suffering it brought you. Don’t make the same mistake with those who work for you.
And yet, we live in a world today that has made that mistake. Nothing ever stops. Stores don’t close. The internet never shuts down. And it is killing us. It is forcing people to work and work without rest. It is even destroying the planet. And it is all happening because people can’t stop.
I’ve often said to people that if you want to know your priorities, just take a look at your calendars and check books. That word about calendars is not simply a way to monitor how much you’re doing. It’s also to monitor what you’re not. If you’re not taking a day to stop each week, to simply rest and play, then what does that say about your priorities? Does it say you don’t trust God enough to let go of your work and stop and trust God to take care what needs to get done. Does it say you’re more interested in pleasing others than pleasing God? What does it say that you and I find it so easy to constantly violate this explicit commandment of God?
And so, our life diminishes bit by bit. We become enslaved to the expectations of others. We become addicted to the myth that the world can’t go on without us. We become more disconnected from God and often from one another. We lose joy, peace, even health simply because we won’t stop, we won’t let go.
But if you leave here today with simply a new-found resolution to rest, you’ll mess yourself all up. You’ll try to figure out what rest really means and what it doesn’t, or if it has to be Sunday or if another day will do. Your rest will just become another form of work.
So how do you live into Sabbath? How do you free yourself from your obsessive reluctance to simply stop? You don’t. You let go and let God free you as only God can.
God doesn’t only end his words reminding them of their time in slavery. God ends his words here reminding them of how God delivered them from slavery. God is saying. This is who I am. I am the God who delivered you out of bondage to the greatest power of the age. Don’t you think I can take care of things while you take a day to rest?
But more than that, God is saying. Don’t you see what you mean to me. I did that for you. Your work doesn’t make you more valuable or lovable to me. I value you, I love you, no matter what you do. I loved you so much that I carried you out of slavery and into this new land.
And you and I have a deliverance more wondrous than even that. God has delivered you and I from the ultimate slavery, from even death itself. God has shown you, your true worth. God has shown you how utterly valuable you are and how it has nothing to do with what you do. God showed you that in Jesus. In Jesus, God gave up everything to give you everything. And, if God did that for you, you don’t need your work or achievements to give you value or worth. In Jesus, you already have it.
And as you let that love that gave everything for you live and grow in you, it will free you. Jesus will break the fear that prevents you from letting things go. He will free you of the delusion that thinks that you have to do it all. He will shatter the lie that anything beyond God’s approval, an approval you already have, truly matters. And as you let that reality rest in you, the easier those Sabbath days will come. You won’t feel the need to do one more thing, to cling to one last task. More and more you’ll hear the voice of Jesus within you calling you away, calling you to receive his gift of rest. And Sabbath will not become a burden or even a command. It will become a gift. It will become the gracious gift of a gracious God that this God always intended it to be.
In the name of the God who rested on the seventh day, in the name of the God who came to us as Lord of the Sabbath, and in the name of the God whose grace is sufficient for our every need. Amen.