Cease and Desist: Rest and Renew

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Genesis 1:26-2:4a

Today we read the end of the creation poem or hymn that opens our Bible. If you remember the entire Creation story you may have noticed there is a rhythm to the hymn.

As Dorothy Bass wrote in Receiving the Day (from our Summer book reading):

“The meter of this hymn is sure and steady, counting out time’s very first measures: a first day, a second day, a third day, a fourth day, a fifth day, a sixth day. On the beat, God creates; on the offbeat, God pauses to see that what has been created is good. [note that there is a pause in each day] (Then), after the last beat, at the end of the day on which God has created animals and human beings, the work is declared to be VERY good. Finally comes the seventh day, the Sabbath. Here there is no pause at all; all is pause, and all is goodness.” And on the seventh day God finished that 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, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation…. The work of creating is finished, and God has no regrets, no need to go on to design a still better world or a creature more wonderful than a man and woman….” 1

Exodus has an interesting commentary on the seventh day of creation.

Exodus 31:17 says, “… in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh day God rested, and was refreshed.” And was refreshed.

The word Sabbath, by the way, comes from a Hebrew word, shavat. Although it is frequently translated as “rest”, a more accurate translation of the word is ‘ceasing (from work)”… with the notion that on the seventh day God ceased and desisted from work. The command to observe the Sabbath is God’s cease and desist order to us!

As I have read the Creation story and thought about the idea of Sabbath, my question is simply this:
If God takes a Sabbath… if God is refreshed and renewed by the Sabbath…if it is built into the very fabric of creation…then what makes us think we do not need a Sabbath every now and then? Are we greater than God?

We, who live in the most workaholic culture in the world, dare not turn up our nose at this gift God wants to give us… the gift of rest and renewal.Why would anyone reject that gift?

Perhaps the way we in the church have interpreted the Sabbath has not been very helpful. We talked more about Sunday as something that restricted us rather than renewed us.

Barbara Brown Taylor put it this way: “for all practical purposes the commandment might as well have read, ‘Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it boring.”

She’s right. When I was growing up, practicing Sabbath didn’t sound like much fun. I was glad we weren’t strict in our family. Because the way I heard it, keeping the Sabbath sounded something like this:

Sabbath was a day to keep rules, refrain from anything fun… the only thing allowed was to go to church, read the scriptures. (No one ever told me that John Calvin occasionally enjoyed lawn bowling on Sundays.)If you were having fun, something was wrong. And society reinforced the Sabbath. Movie theatres and municipal swimming pools were closed on Sundays. Stores were closed. If you needed a cup of flour for a recipe for Sunday dinner, then you were out of luck unless your neighbor had one to spare. That’s the way it used to be.

Barbara Brown Taylor says, “When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the US in 1840, he wrote of the Christian Sabbath, ‘Not only have all ceased to work, but they appear to have ceased to exist.” 2

But over time (I don’t need to tell you) that this all changed. In my lifetime the blue laws that forced stores to be closed on Sunday were eliminated… completely—erasing all sense of Sabbath from our culture. Stores and malls opened, restaurants opened for Sunday worshippers, movies became a nice Sunday activity, and sports started filling in the schedule to include Sundays. This year, a couple of families told me that they almost couldn’t participate in worship on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday—there was a tournament! I couldn’t believe it.

Times have changed. And now our calendars are full 7 days a week. We have to squeeze in our worship between soccer games and recitals… Some people can’t come to worship because they have to work on Sundays in the malls and the theatres and the restaurants.

Thanks to the elimination of the Sabbath from our culture, we are now in charge—we are free to do as we please with OUR time (notice not God’s time, but ours)… We are free to work, shop, play, eat out, schedule meetings and work on weekends to our hearts content. We can schedule our children and family for the whole weekend.

So, let me ask you a couple of questions: How is that working for you? Do you feel rested?

It wasn’t working very well for Judith Shulevits. She wrote a very interesting article in the New York times some years ago. It was called, “Bring Back the Sabbath”.

She works for the Times. Judith was raised in a religious community, but like the average professional, secular, New Yorker, she resisted going to her synagogue and got away from her upbringing. She noticed over time, that when the weekend came… her mood would darken… she would turn sad. She says,

“By Saturday, I would be unresponsive and morose… My normal routine, which involved brunch with friends…, made me feel impossibly restless. I started spending Saturdays by myself. After a while I got lonely and did something that, as a teenager profoundly put off by her religious education, I could have never imagined wanting to do. I began dropping in on a nearby synagogue… Finally, I developed a theory for my condition… if formerly people suffered from the Sabbath (all those rules and regulations) I was now suffering from a lack thereof……”

Over time, she began to incorporate Sabbath rituals into her life. What she learned was this: Religious rituals are theatre. They are designed to convey to us a certain story about who we are without our even quite noticing that they are doing so. The story told by the Sabbath is that of creation: we rest because God rested on the seventh day. What leads from God to humankind is the notion of the imitatio Dei: the imitation of God. In other words, we rest in order to honor the divine in us, to remind ourselves that there is more to us than just what we do during the week.”

Let’s remember, Working 24/7 was not God’s idea, you know.

So can we at least agree that if we are stressed out and burned out, it is not God’s fault? That God designed the world in a different way? That God designed us (we who are made in God’s image) to operate in a different way? Can we at least agree that this is not the way God intended for us to live our lives?

So why is it so hard?

Tim Keller at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church – there in the heart of New York—the capital for workaholics—knows why. He says, in the modern situation it is very hard. People who have jobs are insecure… so they work hard to keep them. It used to be people at the top of the company would make 20 times more than the person at the bottom. Now it is 100-200 times more. So at the top, the executives are expected to work long hours to prove they are worth it… and at the bottom, people have to work harder as real wages have declined in order to make ends meet. Some have to work 2-3 jobs.

Technology makes it possible to work all the time.

And then there is the way we find meaning and value. It used to be we found meaning and value through the family and our relationships… work wasn’t so important… we are the first culture in history to define ourselves by our work…”
Not our relationships. Our work or career.

No wonder we are a burned out and stressed out people. What are we to do?

How about trying to find some real rest… a God centered rest? How about trying to find the kind of rest Augustine spoke of when he said, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in God”

How about developing some healthy disciplines or practices—We know everyone who wishes to stay physically healthy develops healthy habits and practices for the body… they create a schedule and a lifestyle. Some become obsessed.

How about doing the same for our souls? Why don’t we do the same for our souls?
What kind of practices, habits or disciplines do you think would be helpful for you to receive the gift of rest and renewal for your soul?

We will be exploring some of those ideas in the future worship services.But for today, let me suggest these personal disciplines that might help us receive the gift of Sabbath. They begin with some basic understandings.

As Tim Keller said, “ God wishes to free us from slavery… including our enslavement to the clock… and our enslavement to work. If you can’t rest…or take time off… you are a slave to your work… to your busyness, to other gods or idols in our culture (you know what they are for you and your family) … a slave to your own needs, your insecurity… your need for self salvation. You are a slave. “

The second thing Sabbath practice does for me is this: it teaches me to trust God. It reminds me that “I am not the one who keeps the world running… I am not the center of the universe… I am not God.” God is God.

And that is a good thing. It is a freeing thing for me. Which is why worship is important.

Tim Keller shared some practices that can help us recover our Sabbath.

They include:
-Taking more time for yourself
-Having someone hold you accountable for Sabbath time… that while there are seasons of over work (starting new business… tax season, etc…) Someone needs to stop you…
-Injecting some Sabbath time into your work… don’t overwork… set reasonable or fewer goals…
-Be a part of a community that brainstorm around the question, “How can we keep from letting work overwhelm us?” Maybe your small group or Sunday School class or group of friends at the church could tackle this one.

And then there is this one—my favorite: Balance your Sabbath time… among three things:

– your avocation- (fishing, gardening, etc…unlessit is work)—to enjoy God’s creation

– contemplation/worship: to contemplate who you are, who God is, to hear again the story of who you are… worship

– and some inactive time: (In the OT, not only people, but the land got a Sabbath year. The land rested… just to be)

Remember, if we break the Sabbath again and again over time… and if we end up burned out and bitter—don’t blame God!

For from the very beginning, Sabbath was meant to be a gift of God to us… indeed part of the rhythm of our lives… to be a regular practice where we cease and desist in order to refresh and renew our souls… to be freed from the demands of work and to be free for a life with others and with God— to rest in the one who made you, who loves you, and who desires that your life be filled with joy. A time to remember who you are and whose you are. Receive that gift, and you too will find rest and renewal for your soul. Amen.


1 P 46-47, Receiving the Day

2 P 127, An Altar in the World.


Leave a Reply