Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Observing Sabbath

October 6, 2015
St Mary’s Episcopal School for Girls
Memphis, TN 

I have been invited here today to tell you about my recent decision to observe a weekly Sabbath Day. For the last eight weeks, I have set aside Wednesday as a day to be with God. It is a day for me to pray, and listen for God’s responses, to be outside in the woods or down by the Mississippi River, where nature can embrace me and reassure me that I am part of something big and beautiful.
I do not make calls or text on my Sabbath Day. I do not read emails or get involved in any way with the internet. I write in my journal, and visit people: friends and family. I play with my dog and cat. I lie on the couch and listen to music. I rest. I rest because I am free to do so. I am not a slave forced to work beyond my human capacity. It is not God’s desire that I be available to try and meet the needs of others 24-7. I am free and liberated to enjoy my life.
In the book of Genesis, the second chapter, we read: “God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it …”
Then in the book of Exodus, we read God’s commandments. “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath Day to the Lord, your God…”
When I was a child growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, Sunday was different, a day set apart from other days. Businesses were closed. If your car ran out of gas on Sunday, it would be the next day before you could fill the tank, unless you had an extra can of gas in your garage. Gas station owners were not working. They were home with their families.
We did our shopping on Saturday. The grocery stories and department stores were closed on Sunday. There was no internet then, and there was no such thing as a computer with ads and invitations to spend money online. Only a few families had televisions and those who had televisions did not watch them on Sunday because there was very little programming on Sunday.
We went to church on Sunday morning and on Sunday evening. Sunday was set apart, a different sort of day.
Even though Sunday, back then, was different than the other days of the week, our Sunday tradition was not necessarily a genuine Sabbath observance. To observe the Sabbath Day is to rest in our relationship with God and to intentionally let God do any work that needs to be done.  Our Orthodox friends know so much more about this practice than I do. Observing a Sabbath Day, for me, is a way to express my trust in God. To really stop working, doing, being constantly available and buzzing about for an entire day is to exercise my faith in God. It is as if I am saying, “I am going to rest now, trusting that God is in control of my day, my life, this world and all creation.”
I am sixty-three years old now and I have lived many years without seriously considering observing a weekly Sabbath Day. I am a person of faith. My relationship with God is important to me. I spend time each morning in scripture reading and prayer. But it is new for me to choose to observe a Sabbath Day.
This new practice began because I was sick this past spring. I had severe fatigue and headaches that were a big problem for me. My doctor ran lots of tests and nothing could be found to diagnose and treat what was causing me to feel so badly. So I made some changes in my life and one of those changes has been to observe a Sabbath Day. I am better. I believe I needed a weekly day to live in faith that God could do whatever needs to be done while I rest. The practice of Sabbath observance has been good for my body, my mind and my soul. I feel restored and renewed.
This is what I have learned: Observing Sabbath is not for God; it is something that benefits me. I get to know God better by giving a day to God. Knowing God better has opened my eyes to see and helped my ears to hear that I am loved. I am free to believe that God wants only the best for me. It is not God’s desire that I work, work, work, work. It’s not necessary for any of us to remain on duty and working every day of the week.
Being busy all the time has kept me from seeing the natural beauty of the world around me. Being always available to the phone and computer has prevented me from recognizing how much I love my friends, family and pets. It is so pleasant to turn off the technology and to sit on the couch and read a good book just for the pleasure of reading and imagining. To observe the Sabbath Day is to allow ourselves one of God’s best gifts, a chance to enjoy being alive and being loved.
It’s not easy to set a day apart. It takes planning. I have to tell my friends and family that I will not be available on Wednesday. (I observe my Sabbath Day on Wednesday because I so often work on Sundays, preaching and teaching.)  I have to think ahead and take care of matters before Wednesday gets here. It is a new habit for me and I am learning how to make it fit into my life.
I have learned that I am hungry for silence and solitude. The more I get to be alone with God, the more I want to be alone with God.
By observing a Sabbath Day, I have exposed myself to the possibility of change. I can change myself, let go of anything false, any mask I have felt I needed to wear in order to meet the world’s approval. God is the one who created me, so I am just fine in God’s eye. It is refreshing to spend time with the One who gave this life to me as a gift to enjoy. I don’t have to defend myself or compare myself to others.
By putting my friendship with God first as a focus for one day a week, I have become happier and more hopeful. I am less worried, not so anxious. I am physically stronger. My soul is restored by being with God. It costs me nothing. It is free because I am free.