Pr. Ben Adams
June 2, 2018
Remember the Sabbath and Keep It Revolutionary
My planner, my beloved planner, is doing this thing it often does, and it’s becoming so chock-full of events, meetings, and to-do’s that I’m at a point where I am having trouble scheduling my sabbath time. After saying that out loud, I must acknowledge that it is somewhat ridiculous that I even have to schedule my sabbath time, but that’s just where I am at this point.
Now I’m not saying this so that I can wear my busyness like a badge of honor or show off like “Ooo… look how full my planner is, I must be important!” No, I am telling you this as a cautionary tale and reminding myself that I need to say no more often because saying no is a radical act of resistance these days.
But what is sabbath anyway? Is it sleep? Is it retail-therapy? Is it nature? Is it a good book? Is it a Netflix binge until our eyes are bloodshot and we look over at the clock and its says 3am?
There are definitely moments in my life where I am not at work, but the way I am spending my time, it’s not sabbath. There are also moments where I think I am doing sabbath, but I end up feeling less rested and rooted than when I began. I think in our overscheduled, overworked, and overstimulated society what we often run to for sabbath looks more like an escape from this world rather than true actual sabbath.
So let’s take a moment and think about the difference between escapism and sabbath. I tend to relate the difference between escapism and sabbath like I think about the difference between happiness and joy. One of my good friends from college is now a Jesuit and he says this, “Joy is the root of my vocation. Joy, more than the ups and downs of fleeting everyday happiness, is what plants my feet in God's love. Happiness can be artificial, man-made, like a sugar high. A cup of coffee can make me happy. A grilled cheese sandwich can make me happy. Joy, however, is deeper. It comes from God. Joy has a deep-rootedness that isn't shaken by the ups and downs and stress of life. It is a gift. It is an outward expression of love. It is knowing you are living your life exactly as you should be. Joy is how I experience God's love. As a Jesuit, I hope my joy can be a small reflection of God's joy and delight for each of us.”
There is something about sabbath, then, that invites us to go deeper and experience joy, whereas escapism only invites us up and away to experience temporary relief, or fleeting happiness. Sabbath goes deep and plants our feet in God’s love. Escapism’s happiness can be blown away by even the smallest of life’s storms.
So what does this mean for us? Does this mean that we should cancel our Netflix subscriptions right when we get home today? No. Sometimes we need an escape. The violence and pain in the world, the 24-hour news cycle, the President’s tweets, are all things that we need to be able to remove ourselves from and escape to another place.
But I just think we need to be clear that escaping will only last as long as the dopamine hit to the brain. The minute we come back to earth it’s gone. And that’s why we need real sabbath. Sabbath that allows us to move with the rhythm of life, the ups and downs, the winds that blow, and through it all still have joy.
It’s probably a pretty effective political strategy to relentlessly pound the nation with such bad news that we eventually resign ourselves to not wanting to be a part of the political process anymore. That way people in power can keep all of the control to themselves. But I think that’s why Audre Lorde said that, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Sabbath is a revolutionary thing, not a selfish thing. In our Gospel today Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for humankind.” Therefore we show our gratefulness for all God has made when we honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. In doing so we experience the resiliency of the power of God, a resiliency that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”
But if there is something that our scriptures today can also teach us it is that the sabbath will and must sometimes be broken. When Jesus defends his disciples plucking of wheat because they are hungry on the sabbath, or when he heals the man with the withered hand on the sabbath, Jesus is defiantly breaking the rigorous sabbath day codes, but by breaking the sabbath we are not necessarily dishonoring the sabbath or making it unholy. No, to the contrary, Jesus is showing us that sometimes in order to honor the sabbath day and keep it holy we must have our hearts softened by the grace of God so we can show compassion when it is necessary, lend a hand when it is necessary, and even, when God’s plans don’t fit our regularly scheduled sabbath, like with Samuel, who was woken from sleep, but says to God, "Speak, for your servant is listening.”
At the South Loop Campus Ministry, we are doing something quite new for us. We are taking a sabbath from serving our weekly Sunday night South Loop Community Table meal. We will be off for the months of June and July and we did not make this decision lightly. Pastor Rich of the Inclusive Collective Campus Ministry at UIC and myself were both feeling a sense of fatigue and we sensed that God was telling us that we may be on a path towards burnout if we were to continue at the year-round weekly pace we were on. The signs to us were clear, our energy was lower, we were shorter with people due to empathy fatigue, and we just weren’t thinking or acting as boldly and creatively as we could to make the South Loop Community Table more than a meal, but a community.
So we wanted to make sure we were hearing God correctly so we scheduled some community listening sessions with our students and with the guests of our meal who experience homelessness. To our surprise, the majority were in favor of taking a summer sabbatical. They felt like there was some tension within the community that might be released if we took a break, also that we would all look forward to coming back together in August, not to mention this would give us our first chance in two years to take a step back and reflect on how we currently operate and how we could be even better.
There is no doubt a need to feed hungry people and build community in the South Loop amongst our students and neighbors experiencing homelessness, but God wants us to listen also to our own needs for sabbath, and we truly feel like this sabbatical is what God is calling us to do now, and we as God’s servants are listening.
I hope that through our own story of the South Loop Community Table taking a summer sabbatical you will feel liberated to explore where you might also need a sabbatical in your own life. It’s about hearing the voice of God in our lives and sometimes that voice is calling to us to tend to the most neglected person we know. Ourselves.
So remember the sabbath and keep it holy. In doing so you will experience deep joy not just the fleeting happiness of escaping with your favorite series. And if you feel any guilt or reluctance to take the time to care for yourself I want you to say to yourself, especially in these political times, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Sabbath is made for humankind, not the other way around. Sometimes that sabbath will need to be broken, but in doing so you are showing even more honor for the sabbath by listening to the needs around you and keeping your time of rest and rootedness holy. Sabbath is what we need, God even commanded it, so take your sabbath and know that in doing so, you are living your life exactly as you should be. Amen.