Giving Sabbath (Second Sunday after Pentecost)

Sermons on YouTube…

Everybody is exhausted on the day after Yard Sale!  Although it’s a great event, and we do a lot of good for our community, and we want to do it every year, it’s an enormous event.  And it’s exhausting on many levels.  It’s physically exhausting for many of us, who have had to move stuff around all week.  It’s emotionally exhausting for many of us who have been working to plan and organize everything for months.  It’s even been mentally exhausting just reading in the bulletin every week about all the things that need to be done to make it all happen.

We need to take a break!  And so it seems fitting that the first reading today is the commandment to take a break!  Often, when people have been involved in massive undertakings like Yard Sale – or graduation parties or some other big event in your life – it’s at those moments when we’re most receptive to listening to this commandment that frankly, most of us usually ignore.

Sometimes, we ignore the commandment to take a break because, well, there’s still so much to do.  Even after Yard Sale, there’s still some follow-up that needs to be done, and besides, there are other projects we have to get on with now that Yard Sale is over.

Sometimes, we ignore the commandment to take a break because we know there are others more tired than we are.  And so, because I’m tough and can do a little more, I figure I’ll take a break later when things are quieter (whenever that may be…!)

And sometimes, we ignore the commandment to take a break because we’ve been working so hard for so long that we just don’t know what to do with ourselves if we stop our work. (This is why many folks I’ve known have “flunked” retirement!)  And part of the problem is that we’ve misunderstood “taking a break” as “do nothing”, instead of doing something else that recharges and re-energizes your soul… (this is one of the things that Rabbi Jacob used to emphasize when he spoke to our Confirmation class about sabbath…)

Taking a break is important for you.  And that’s one reason why this commandment which we so often ignore is important.  But there’s more to it than that.  This commandment isn’t just about “taking” sabbath for ourselves.

A couple of years ago, when I was out at my “skiboondoggle” continuing ed event, one of the professors that presented to us was an Old Testament professor who had spent a lot of his time studying sabbath.  And one of the important points he made to us was that sabbath wasn’t simply about “taking” sabbath for yourself, but about “giving sabbath” to others.

In particular, he pointed to today’s reading from Deuteronomy and noted that it doesn’t just say “you shall not do any work.”  Instead, it goes on to say, not “you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.”

That is, you (as the head of the household) are not to take a break by passing your work and your loads on to others.  Not to your kids.  Not to your slaves.  Not to your non-Jewish neighbors, even if they don’t care about this sabbath thing anyway.  Not even to your animals!  Sabbath is not just about you taking a break, but about you giving sabbath to others as well.

Sabbath is, therefore, not simply something you take but something you give.  You give rest.  You give a break.  You give others the opportunity for relief.

And this is actually key to properly understanding some of the sabbath disputes that Jesus is often involved in in the Gospel readings.  Never – not once – does Jesus say sabbath is unimportant or doesn’t need to be observed.  But Jesus observes sabbath not simply by taking sabbath, but by giving sabbath.  And so in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives sabbath to his disciples by giving them relief from their hunger; and he gives sabbath to a man in the synagogue by giving him relief from his disease. 

Now it’s important to note that Jesus was not alone in understanding that sabbath should be given not just taken.  And often, his adversaries simply believed that you could justify being a work-a-holic if you always used “I’m giving sabbath” as your excuse to keep “working.”

But it’s also the case, as Jesus kept pointing out, that if you simply understand “sabbath” as taking a break for yourself, you can become centered on yourself and your own needs, while ignoring the part of the commandment to give sabbath rest to others.

Taking a break is important – and necessary – for all of us.  But often, and perhaps paradoxically, taking a break can also be a way of giving a break to others.  And often, that can happen when taking a break actually gives a break to others by:

  • Being an example – by showing others that it’s OK to stop and take a break … (one of the examples of “good bosses” is when they show employees it’s OK to take a vacation by taking a vacation themselves…!)
  • Not asking others to do stuff – even when you know stuff needs to be done – when you know others need a break; often, taking a break from sending “reminder emails” just for a day or so, is also a way of giving a break to others…
  • Giving others space to focus on things other than the immediate tasks or crises at hand – sometimes, making “small talk”, or even just posting birthday party pictures, is important because in taking a break from dwelling on work and politics and the chaos in the world, you also give others the space to explore life-giving and relaxing parts of their lives …

So, whether it’s the day after Yard Sale or just a regular week in your life, practice taking a break.  But don’t just take a break.  Be aware of how, in taking a break, you can also give a break to others.  Consider what it means to share your break with others who need it.  And be a catalyst for others to be open to rest in the peace and love that God asks us always to share.