upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

lost sabbath, lost soul

Last week I attended a gathering of United Methodist clergy. The one sentiment that I heard more than any other was a desire for real and authentic worship. In the midst of planning and leading worship for others, clergy often forget to seek out worship for ourselves. As I looked around at the hundreds of people gathered, I could see the need; it was very noticeable. What this did to me, though, was make me more aware of all of our lost sabbaths. It isn't just clergy who miss out on spending time with God.

Sabbath is foundational to our identity as individuals of faith and as a community of faith. God commanded that we set aside one day a week to spend in worship and reflection. It's become anathema in the United States to do this, though. I would even speculate that it's more rare for progressive Christians than for more evangelical or conversative Christians to set aside time to honor God, family, and self. I spend a good deal of my time worried about and praying for members of my church who work on Sundays and who don't set aside a special holy time/day for their Creator.

We all pay the price for not spending time in communion with the Holy One. Not for a second do I buy the excuse that we don't "have" the time to offer God. We find time for movies, hobbies, friends, reading the paper, paying bills, and going on vacations. No, it isn't that we don't have the time; it's that we don't honor the time. For some reason we've stopped valuing Sabbath. We deny ourselves the important time of gathering with others who are on similar paths of exploration. We keep from ourselves the quiet that is needed to soothe our souls. We restrict ourselves and contend that our time is spent better elsewhere than in song, prayer, quiet, and community. Because of these choices, we lose and God loses.

I wonder how alive and vibrant we all would be, especially progressive Christians, if we valued our Sabbath. I wonder what it would be like to belong to a whole community that set aside one day to sing, pray, and break bread together. Some friends of mine contend that the hour or so that they spend alone suffices as their Sabbath, but I am referring to something deeper, more communal, more rooted in our rich tradition of holy Sabbath. I look at how busy progressive Christians are and how involved in working for the commong good, and it seems clear to me that we are groaning for respite and for holy communion - with God and with others.

We have something to learn from our Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters who take Sabbath seriously. Progressive Christians can become so action-oriented and so outwardly-focused that we forget to nourish our souls and our communities. A year of so ago I was sitting at a table with people from diverse faith backgrounds. Eventually the topic landed on the length of our respective worshiping bodies. When someone noted that their worship was one hour - no more, no less - another person from a more conservative background asked, "What's the rush?" What is the rush? Why do we feel that we've done God a favor by setting aside one hour on a Sunday? That's not Sabbath. That's giving God the bare minimum appointment. We have a lot to learn about about Sabbath and how it restores our community and our soul and honors the God who made us.

My prayer is that we begin to take Sabbath seriously. In a world that assaults our senses with news of school shootings, war, famine, ecological devastation, and financial and energy pressures we need time that is set apart. We need a day a week to spend with family, in public and private prayer, with friends, and having fun. And, we need to do these things on a day set aside just for them - no chores, no work, and no email. I pray for us to remember the Sabbath and to keep it holy just as God instructed and just as we need. It's time to leave behind the lost Sabbath and our lost souls.

*I'm writing this post using capitalization because it is easier for some people to read. I don't like using capitalization very much, but I'll do the best I can.

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