Sunday, September 24, 2023
God is…. I am
Exodus 20:8-11 & Mark 2:23-27
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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I love watching marching bands. It’s always amazing to me how they stay in sync with one another. While carrying their instruments, while marching, they’ve got to keep perfect rhythm in order to stay perfectly in sync with one another. On the flip side, it’s painfully obvious when they’re not in rhythm. One misstep or one off-beat can bring it all down. The video clip I’m about to show you is an extreme example, but here’s an example of what happens to a marching band when they are out of rhythm. 

Seven Tuba Pileup during halftime show

Pretty sure no one was hurt in this video and it happened a decade ago. When the rhythm of our lives is out of sync we too crash like those poor tuba players. This tends to happen when we don’t take time to rest from the rhythm of work. 

A 10-minute nap that turns into a three-hour one, getting sick because we are run down, or scrolling mindlessly for hours on our phones are all signs that we have crashed or we’re about to crash because we aren’t getting the rest we need. 

We are continuing on in our sermon series: “God is…I am.” Today we are going to explore what it means that God is the creator of rhythm, which includes rest so therefore I am (we are) created for rhythm, which includes rest.

When God created the world he did so with a rhythm.

When God created, God did so to a rhythm that included days of work that ended with a day of rest.

If God needs to rest then so do we. Which is why Sabbath is one of the 10 commandments that God gives to Israel and to us.

Of all of the 10 commandments, Sabbath is the commandment that we are okay with breaking. It is because we admire those who get things done. We praise productivity. We associate hard work with what we can accomplish. Both professionally and personally. We praise the coworker who puts in long hours. We praise the mom and dad who work full time yet still manage to coach their kid’s soccer team and volunteer at their kids’ schools, all while keeping the lawn looking manicured. Those of you who are retired have shared with me that you’re busier than ever because you finally have the time to volunteer, travel, and play – things you didn’t have time to do before retirement. But many of you retired folks have also told me how tired you are.

We weren’t created to go, go, go until we crash and burn.

That’s now how God wants us to live.

God gave the commandments to Israel as guides to help them grow into the people God has called them to be. The people they were created to be. The same can be said for us. 

It’s good to note that God gave the 10 commandments after Israel was freed from Egypt. If God had given them to Israel before they crossed the Red Sea, it would’ve come across as actions Israel needed to do to earn or prove themselves worthy of God’s gift of freedom.

But that’s not what happened. God gives them the 10 commandments after they’ve crossed the Red Sea. Israel didn’t have to prove they were worthy of God’s faithfulness. God chose to free them simply because God loved them – not because of anything they did. 

So it’s out of love that God frees them from Egypt and it’s out of love that God gives them the 10 commandments. The Commandments were given for the benefit of Israel. After generations of living as slaves they now have to get used to living as God’s people who are now free. The commandments were given as ways to help Israel live as children of God. 

We today aren’t adjusting to a new way of life after living a long life in slavery. But this doesn’t mean we don’t need help in the same way Israel did, in growing into the people of God. We will always need help with that! Otherwise, we become slaves to overflowing schedules that don’t leave room for rest or time with the God who loves us.

Another way to think of this is that the commandments are ways we are to respond to God’s love. That being said, the commandment of Sabbath is a way to respond to God’s love by pressing pause on the work that we do. By doing so this allows us to remember that we are not defined by what we do. We are defined by who God says we are. For the people of Israel this must’ve been a shock to their system. As slaves they were used to working non-stop, sometimes even to death. They were not used to having rest because they were never allowed to rest. Without rest and living under constant oppression Israel needed to be reminded that they were God’s people. God’s gift of rest gave them the space to do just that. 

Carol Bechtel, who teaches at Western Seminary and who will actually be with us this afternoon at 4 pm to talk about Sabbath, had a ritual with her kids before they left for school every day. As they walked out the door she would make the sign of the cross on their foreheads and say to them: “Remember who and whose you are.” Even though they’d roll their eyes and say “Ugh Mom,” this ritual reminded them and Carol as their mom, that they are beloved children of God.

We too need space in our lives to remember who we are and whose we are. When we lose the rhythm of Sabbath and rest we begin to define ourselves by what we do rather than who God says we are. 

Sabbath reorients us to Jesus Christ. This means we need to stop and rest. Carol Bechtel writes that Sabbath literally means “to stop.” Eugene Peterson writes we have to “stop our work to see God at work.” When we take the time to stop we see God at work not just in ourselves, but also in others.

Since Sabbath allows us to see God and what God is doing more clearly we see ourselves as God sees us, but we are also better able to see others as God sees them.

Note in our passage from Exodus, the Sabbath is not just for Israel, but strangers and animals as well. It is a gift from God to all: Master, servant, rich, poor, human, and animal. Not just for heads of households. The Sabbath is for everyone of every background because everyone needs a reminder of who they are in Jesus Christ. 

This is also why Jesus admonishes the Pharisees in our passage from Mark. The Pharisees criticized the disciples’ actions of plucking heads of wheat for food. But they weren’t trying to protect the holiness of the Sabbath, they were more interested in challenging Jesus. But Jesus says to them that Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. Jesus’s point wasn’t about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath, but more that the Sabbath is a gift to us from God. 

I have to be honest with you. I am terrible at taking a Sabbath. I don’t know if it’s because my parents were immigrants and their crazy work ethic is in my DNA. I honestly used to think if you’re not constantly running yourself into the ground or at least into a nervous breakdown you’re not doing enough. I realize that sounds ridiculous. While I’ve gotten a lot better, I’m still not great at incorporating Sabbath into the rhythm of my life.

Now you might be thinking: “But Pastor Kristine, there is laundry to be done, kids’ games to get to and pretty soon we’ll have to make time to rake up leaves!” It’s a struggle to find time to rest and take a Sabbath, but there are ways to be creative about it. 

The Bible study that our PW women did last year was all about Sabbath. For some it meant starting a Sabbath sundown on Friday night until noon on Saturday. Perhaps it means taking two afternoons or evenings during the week. It doesn’t have to be a full day, but there are ways to get good Sabbath time in our schedules.

In that time how are we getting the rest we need while also spending time with God? This time in worship definitely counts as a Sabbath. It could also be taking a short walk or hike while spending time in prayer. It could be sitting at a coffee shop reflecting on a passage of scripture. In that time of Sabbath it’s about doing whatever gives you rest and rejuvenation, but above all it’s time spent with God. I think sometimes we think about Sabbath as something fun to do, but not including time with God. It can be and should be a both/and not an either/or. 

I hope going forward we are better about keeping the Sabbath so that we are better connected with God. And when we are connected with God, we are better connected with ourselves and with others.

As followers of Jesus Christ we need to receive God’s gift of Sabbath rest. 

God modeled for us what it’s like to live life to a rhythm that includes rest – not just work. We are made for holy rhythms that include rest and time to connect with God.

That’s who we are because that is who God is.