You Are Not God

Based on Exodus 20:8-10 and Matthew 11:25-30

Available here, for those of you who prefer sermons spoken and lived.

Ok, folks, I know we’ve been standing up and sitting down all morning, but everyone get up. Stand up, come on!

Ok, now, stay standing if you took a long weekend – at least three days – of vacation this year.

Now, stay standing if you took at least a full week of vacation.

Now, stay standing if you took at least two weeks of vacation.

Stay standing if you used up all your vacation days last year.

Give these guys a round of applause!

Ok, you can sit down now. Thanks for playing along.

As a society, we take way too little time for vacation. They are physically and psychologically good for us. Vacations have been proven to improve our sleep patterns – which improve our diet patterns and weight management. Vacations improve our mental health. They improve creativity when we actually are at work. They cut down the risk of heart attack by 30% in men and 50% in women. Depending on the study, that’s at least twice as effective as cutting out saturated fat in your diet. Americans, in general, only use half of their vacation days in any given year.

Not that it’s completely our fault. The average employee only gets 10 days of vacation each year, anyway. Actually, the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t require employers to provide paid vacation time. This is especially true, as many of you know, for manula laborers, and part-time workers, or who are self-employed as farmers or work in small businesses who are struggling to make ends meet. I’m not accusing anybody, just naming the system.

Now, we all know we work more than they do in France. C’est la vie. But, did you know that we now work a lot more than our parents did? More, on average, than we did even just a decade ago?

We need rest. Without time to rest – like, actually rest, not “but I sleep six hours every night” rest, we get caught up in the swirling of everything else around us, forgetting who we are in the midst of the rush.

It’s gotten so obvious that even credit card companies are cashing in on this phenomenon. Have you seen the Mastercard commercial?

Now, it’s obvious that Mastercard is playing into this phenomenon in order get us to spend more money. I don’t promote that at all. But still, like that adorable little boy says, “that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard”

We need to rest. Actual rest.

Now, I know for many of us, vacation is a luxury. Even days off are a luxury. When 42% of Americans didn’t take a vacation day last year, it’s not because we don’t want to. We can’t afford to. We’re afraid of getting replaced. We’re afraid of what our work pile will look like when we get back. And anyway, the more we work, the more we earn, which means the more we can afford the things in our lives. The more we accomplish, the higher we fly, the greater a chance for that promotion, which will let us get more, like that boat the neighbors got. But then boat’s a little money pit, so we have to work a little more, to earn a little more, so we can upgrade that thing. And hey, wouldn’t this be nice to add to it? Or that? We define ourselves by what we have – our house, our cars, our stuff – until we don’t know what we’d do without most of it. And then, we eventually end up where many of you are, where we want to think about downsizing, and where did all this stuff come from? Or suddenly, your kids are grown and graduating, and you have no idea what happened.

We need to rest. Actual rest.

The thing is, rest is also spiritually good for us. In church-speak, we call it Sabbath.

Sabbath is one of the ten commandments. The ten commandments are interesting, in that the first three focus on God – there is one God, no other Gods before, don’t say God’s name in vein – and the last six are about you – don’t murder, steal, commit adultery – things we do – or rather, shouldn’t do – here on earth. The Sabbath, though, is in the middle. It’s the bridge between the two groups. It’s about honoring God, but it’s also about how we should act here on earth. It looks back on the first three commandments, to the God who rests. The God who created everything, and said “mmm, that’s good” and stopped. The Sabbath, in some ways, is a way to remind ourselves that the world won’t end if we stop. The world didn’t end when God rested. Why should we keep going as if we’re more important? In a world obsessed with control, Sabbath declares that you’re not. Sabbath is a counter-cultural way of declaring I am not God.

It sounds so obvious. Of course I’m not God. Of course you’re not God. God is God. But…where does our need for control fall into that? Have we scheduled ourselves so that we’re ensuring what will happen in our lives? Do we allow for the movement of the Holy Spirit? Do we leave space open in our lives to allow God to reach us? Or are we so beholden to what we do that, unless God fits into our calendars, God is out of luck? Or We’re out of luck? Who’s out of luck? Everyone, probably.

I get it. There are days when i feel incredibly lucky to be a pastor, to have a flexible job that allows me to meet with people, plan for the future of the church, pray, and actively look for the ways that God is working with, around, and in spite of us. It’s a good gig. But then I get caught up in the way that my calendar should be full, the ways that I can answer the question “what’d you do today?,” the ways that numbers matter to the larger world, and start carrying that into my job, too – who’s here, who’s not, who visited me, who I visited, and start carrying my worth in my busy-ness.

Our worth isn’t in what you do. It’s in who you are.

You are God’s child.

And that makes all the difference.

Now, when we talk about Sabbath, we often think of “back then.” We think of that no longer-present, disciplinary faith that meant Sundays after church became a day of restraint. A day with no cards or movies, and no chance to even buy a gallon of milk if you needed it. I’ve heard stories of old debates about whether farmers could harvest on Sundays before anticipated rain. I’ve experienced the lasting effect of “blue Laws,” which are still present in some forms in Boston. By Sabbath becoming about more “thou shalt nots,” we don’t tend to remember the reason behind it, except that maybe God doesn’t want us to watch TV.

But our worth isn’t in what we don’t do, either. It’s not about actions. Just like Sabbath’s about who you are, it’s also about who you aren’t.

You are not God.

And that, also, makes all the difference.

The point of Sabbath – any kind of Sabbath – an hour, a day, a week of vacation – is God’s call to remind us that our identity is not wrapped up in what we do, what we earn, what we buy, but in who – and whose – we are. We are God’s children. Not God. We don’t have to control everything. In fact, we can’t control everything. But we can be cared for by God, loved by God, no matter who we are.

We hear Jesus today telling all who are exhausted, all who have worked too hard, are worn too thin, who don’t know where to turn, to turn to Jesus. That the “heavy yoke” of the world will be turned into an easier one. How?

The law of distribution. The explanation part of the Sabbath commandment tells us that not only should we not work on the Sabbath, but neither should our children, our servants, our animals, or our immigrants. Nobody. And so we all help each other.

Now, God was speaking to a certain people at a certain time, and some of those Jews were pretty well off, which is where the servants thing comes in. But don’t think that doesn’t pertain to us, too. God is calling that, for those of us with any sort of power, those of us who have any chance to better the lives of those who are overworked just trying to make it, deserve rest, too. Because who are they? God’s children. The answer is always God’s children.

The Sabbath, ultimately, is about taking a break from the rat-race of our lives, to remember who we are and whose we are. To remember that our worth isn’t bound up in what we’ve got, or what we do, but who we’re loved by. To be humble enough to declare we’re not God, and to be loving enough to recognize that we’re all God’s children.

Now, in our time, in our place, the Sabbath isn’t likely to look like it did 50 years ago. In your life, Sabbath might look different. It might look like shutting off your phone on a Saturday and actually focusing on the people who are around you, rather than remotely waiting for the “ping” from work. It might look like going for a walk and looking for God’s movement in the trees, because sometimes it’s hard to remember to pray or think about God outside of church. It might look like getting together with friends on a porch, talking about life, and faith, with a cup of coffee and without an agenda. You’re all smart people. I bet we can come up with some things.

As a society, practicing Sabbath is hard. Stores aren’t going to close down, because they don’t run by God’s laws. What they do and what they earn is what defines them. But the peole who work there are still God’s children. So maybe practicing Sabbath looks like, making brown-bag thanksgiving suppers for people who still have to work retail on Thanksgiving. Maybe it looks like taking your neighbor kids for a while so the mom can reconnect with herself and stop losing her mind. You’re all smart people. I bet we can come up with some things.

Honestly, I think that, on some level, we’re afraid of Sabbath. It sounds like a luxury tha we’ll laugh off, but I really think we’ve valued overwork in our country because we’re afraid to just stop. Unplug. Get to know yourself as you are and not what you do. Just let go. We’re really bad at letting go.

Unstructured time is dangerous. Being “busy,” “Doing” things, keeps the monsters at bay, gives us the opportunity to stay in control. We rarely just sit. We don’t let ourselves think deeply. And sometimes, that deep thinking opens our heart in ways that we just can’t control or plan. B avoiding time alone, we can avoid the cracks in our life – but those cracks are ultimately where the light gets in.

I must confess. I totally get that. I’m uncomfortable with stillness. I like to-do lists. I know what to do with to-do lists.

And yet, it’s in the stillness—in the quiet, unstructured space—that I am healed and made resilient to handle the bustling of my daily life.

I have one last confession to make: I started planning this sermon as an excuse to defend my and David’s upcoming 12-day vacation. Not that I needed to. I think I needed to defend it to myself more than anybody else. And when I need to defend something, I get all heady and theological and try to prove how God’s on my side. Yup, I’m just like everybody else.

But Sabbath is more than just a need for time off. You need time off for Sabbath, yes, but Sabbath is more than just time off. Sabbath is about taking the time to connect with God and connect with each other. Sabbath is about freeing ourselves from the anxieties around us and giving that yoke to God, because God created us and loves us and tells us we’re already loved. That even if that time off, that time with an un-busy mind means we stir up those harder things, God will still love us.

So if I can conjure up the courage, I just may try it this summer.

I encourage you to, as well.

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