This Sunday will mark our last group discussion on Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance. I have thoroughly enjoyed our journey together through this book – particularly the insightful conversations we have had together on Sunday mornings the last couple of months.
After I finished Brueggemann’s last chapter on the Sabbath and the Tenth Commandment this morning, I thought I would write a final blog entry on my impressions of our conversation with the book.
I felt like we allowed a lot of our anxieties (our individual and societal anxieties) into the conversation. We were able to be honest about how we are often restless – whether that’s sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings, in front of a laptop at work on a Friday morning (like me right now), or lying awake at night.
We were able to be real when talking about what Sabbath rest is resisting – it’s resisting our felt need to be constantly productive or consuming. It’s resisting our desire to multitask. It’s resisting our envy of what others have and we want.
Brueggemann’s book makes us uncomfortable at times. I felt this way again in the final chapter as he spoke of the ways that people have sought to exploit others in their pursuit of “more.” This happens at more than just an individual or corporate level – it happens through policies and actions of establishments such as government and religion. It happened in the time of Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. It happened in the time of Jesus. It happens today, and we play a part in it.
Conversations about this are deeply uncomfortable today. Verbally, one of two things usually happens during those conversations – we either fall silent or we explode. I believe this is another symptom of the anxiety-fueled restlessness Brueggemann talks about. So how do we move beyond our paralysis or destructiveness to have constructive conversations about these uncomfortable topics?
We love God, we love our neighbors, and we love ourselves. We rest in the assurance that God has designed us for communion with the Triune God and with one another. And we work to respond to that love and that assurance – not our anxieties. We rely upon grace from God. And we both seek and provide grace in our conversations.
At the conclusion of his book, Brueggemann talks about the parallels between the first and tenth commandments. These can be summed up as avoiding idolatry and avoiding greed. They might further be summed up as loving God and loving neighbor.
When we cultivate a restful presence by observing Sabbath and by living with a Sabbath mindset all seven days of the week, we trust in God’s providence, and we trust in God’s desire for a community of neighborly love. We don’t feel the pursuit of “stuff” or “power” as a god controlling us, leading us to greedily take from one another. We feel the communion of our God who rests and is not anxious about the well-functioning of creation … the love of our God who created us for a community of neighborliness … and the grace of our God who lived with us, faced the forces of restlessness and anxiety, and defeated them.
That, my sisters and brothers, is something that gives us the freedom to take off the yoke of restlessness. And then we live lives of thanksgiving, in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. Amen.
The final group discussion of Sabbath as Resistance takes place this Sunday (Mar. 25) at 9:00 a.m. in the Hope Room of First Presbyterian Church – Salina. If you are, or have been, unavailable to join us for this discussion, I commend the book to you as one worthy of your time and reflection. It is available online through its publisher, Westminster John Knox Press, and through other book sellers.
If we’re thinking in terms of our work résumés, that word may be considered a good thing. When we can handle more tasks in a shorter amount of time, we are more productive.
As Walter Brueggemann argues in his book, Sabbath as Resistance, “production” (and “consumption”) don’t belong on our spiritual résumés. In fact, as I’ve been discussing with our high schoolers in our weekly Bible study, our spiritual résumés begin with accepting God’s grace, which causes gratitude to God, and enacts obedience to God’s will. When we put things on our spiritual résumés that don’t fit into those categories, we are entering a potentially-dangerous realm.
Bruggemann’s chapter “Resistance to Multitasking” speaks of our human tendency over the last three millennia to go through the motions of Sabbath restfulness all the while being restless over the commodities we produce and consume.
Brueggemann begins and ends this chapter by talking about “Mr. G” – a man who owned a grocery store in the town where he grew up. Mr. G would come to Sunday worship at Brueggemann’s church – which usually ended about a half hour later than another church in town. Mr. G would constantly check his watch during worship and then abruptly leave worship so he could get to his grocery store to secure the potential business of the other church’s parishioners.
Brueggemann claims that Mr. G follows in the footsteps of many Israelites spoken of by the prophets through the ages – people who may go through the motions of Sabbath restfulness, but are not actually trusting in God’s grace and providence, nor are they being grateful to God or being obedient to God’s covenant. Instead, they pursue productivity and commodity – often at the expense of being a good neighbor as God’s covenant requires, instead exploiting their neighbors in an effort to get ahead.
I invite you to read the scriptures suggested by Brueggemann – particularly Isaiah 1:12-17, Isaiah 58:1-14 (I recommend reading the whole chapter – not just the verses Brueggemann suggests), Matthew 6:24-25, and Amos 8:4-8. Here, you will hear God speaking through the prophets against our human tendency for Sabbath worship and rest to become mindless activities of people who have forgotten their identities as children of God and who have neglected God’s commandments to be neighborly.
Consider the following for our discussion:
I look forward to learning with you on Sunday morning (9:00 a.m. in the Hope Room)!
It's been a while since I've posted an update on our journey through the book Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann. I am grateful to Tina Ralston and Becky Cram for leading the study last week as I prepared to preach. I am not surprised by reports of another lively and enlivening discussion on Chapter 3, "Resistance to Coercion."
One of my key takeaways from Chapter 3 was the phrase "prosperity breeds amnesia" (p. 37). Brueggemann draws upon Moses' words in Deuteronomy, exhorting the covenant community not to forget their reliance upon God's providence and their obedience to the Sabbath commandment when they move into the Promised Land. Moses is worried that the covenant agreed upon while wandering 40 years in the desert may not seem as "necessary" when the community is established in the fertile land of Canaan.
Brueggemann draws this forward to the present, saying it is easy to forget our reliance upon God when we are in an affluent environment. We move from an environment of neighborliness, as mandated in the Ten Commandments, to one of competition, as we seek more safety and security and ____ (you fill in the blank).
One of the fruits of sabbath is "reimagining all social life away from coercion and competition to compassionate solidarity ... Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms" (45). Having Sabbath rest every seven days breaks the cycle of competition and pursuit of "more," and reminds us that we are God's people not because of what we have or what we do, but because of God's gift of covenant community - both at Sinai and through faith in Jesus Christ.
Our discussion will continue this Sunday morning (9:00 a.m. in the Hope Room) with Chapter 4, "Resistance to Exclusivism." Here, we will examine the transformation of the people of Israel from a disparate group to a covenant community through the Exodus and Sinai, and its changing "borders" of identity through its history recorded in the Old Testament scriptures.
Brueggemann argues for a trend from a more exclusive community bound by many rules for holiness, purity, and justice, to one that became more inclusive after returning from exile. He focuses especially on Isaiah 56, and the words of the prophet that indicate how the community returning from exile would be defined particularly by its obedience to keeping the Sabbath. He says, "Sabbath deconstructs the notion of being 'qualified' for membership" (56).
I invite you to review Chapter 4 (pp. 46-57) and, if you have time, to consider the study guide questions on pp. 111-116, as they will guide our conversation and prayers on Sunday morning. Also, if you participated in the "Responding" exercise from Chapter 3 (see p. 108), I welcome the opportunity to hear your thoughts on that exercise.
Grace and peace.
Last Sunday in worship, our children and I talked about Lent as a time similar to crossing the street. When we are about to cross a street, we (1) stop, (2) look, and (3) listen. That helps us to think about Lent, too - a time to slow down, look at ourselves and our communities, and listen to how God is speaking in our midst.
As I said in my post earlier this afternoon, it's been a busy week! But I've been more intentional about slowing down this afternoon. It's amazing what can happen when we do that.
As I looked at the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls in the hallway outside my office at FPC Salina, I had to share what I saw with you. This is so relevant to what we have been talking about in our discussion of Sabbath as Resistance. May we all slow down enough to look for the ways that God is speaking to us!
If you've been wondering why I haven't posted a blog this week yet, wonder no longer: I've been swamped with lots of stuff - all good stuff, but lots of it!
I've been determining my priorities "on the fly" most of the week, and the two worship services this Sunday, prepping for our summer youth trips, and prepping for our Guatemala mission trip have most often been receiving my attention. Other time has been spent trying to swim to the surface and get my head back above water.
The irony of this "busyness" is that Brueggemann's second chapter is titled "Resisting Anxiety." Sometimes I wonder if God is laughing at me. I take comfort in knowing that I can't possibly be the only person that feels this way.
I will be reviewing chapter 2 of Brueggemann's book this evening or tomorrow, and invite you to do the same prior to our discussion Sunday morning. Also, here's a primer for our discussion on this chapter through the Good Reads website.
I also encourage you to review the suggested activity at the end of Chapter 1 in the study guide so we can discuss this first on Sunday morning. I will be doing the same.
Finally, might we all discover grace for one another, and for ourselves, in the midst of "crazy" anxious times, remembering that our identities are not so much in what we can do as they are in whose we are:
"God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." (Ephesians 2:4-10).
Thanks be to God! I look forward to seeing you Sunday, and/or interacting with you here in the blogosphere. ~Pastor Keith