"Seeking Sabbath Time": Sermon for Epiphany 5B

"Seeking Sabbath Time": Sermon for Epiphany 5B

    Feb 08, 2015

    Passage:Mark 1:29-39

    Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

    Series: Epiphany

    Category: Peace

    Keywords: anxiety, stress, sabbath, manifest


    It is hard today to find what has been called the "work-life balance." Trying to keep work and family time separate in the growing, fast-paced, technology driven world is almost impossible. The Bible gives us the idea of "Sabbath"--rest from our daily toil--as something we should remember and "keep holy." But sometimes even that seems difficult in the modern world. In today's gospel message, Jesus models a concept of "Sabbath time" that may have lessons for us all in this modern, fast-paced world.


    In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

    Last week during one of our Spiritual Renewal classes, we got into a great discussion about some of the ways things "used to be."

    You know what I'm talking about. We all have those moments when we look back wistfully to a time when things seemed "better," or at least "easier" in our lives.

    As the conversation flowed quite fluidly, we talked about memories of times when our weekly grind was not so constant.

    Several members of the group recalled earlier decades in their lives when they couldn't have gone to work on Sundays if they tried. Their businesses were closed, as were all businesses on Sundays. In many places, this fact of life was even back up by the state with what were known as "blue laws." In many states, stores and businesses were not allowed to conduct any commerce on Sundays.

    As a result, in an earlier era, the rhythm of life required a day off from work.

    I know this is how I grew up in small Texas towns. Back in the 1970s, hardly any businesses were open on Sunday in the little communities of my childhood, except for perhaps the Dairy Queen--and it opened only at noon.

    I do recall that once a month we would drive over to the next town after church, because they had a cafeteria. But it was always a long wait because the church folks from that town often got to the line before we did.

    But that was now decades ago. Today, almost every store opens seven days a week. Few restaurants are closed on Sundays. Movie theatres, service companies, and even many professionals have Sunday hours. I have the hardest time adapting to this change--not because I'm a curmudgeon or because I have some artificial, "Pollyanna" view like: "gee, wasn't it always better in the past?!?" No, I just have a hard time adapting because I grew up with that rhythm of life. I think there's part of who I am that's always subconsciously looking for life to slow down a bit.

    One of the most common areas of humor in my marriage has gone something like this:

    Jill: "Hey Robert, why don't you call such and such place to see if they have that thing you needed ."

    Me: "But Jill, it's Sunday. They aren't going to be open on Sunday!"

    Jill (laughing, lovingly): "This isn't 1975. Give them a call and try!"

    Of course, I call....They are open...They are always open....

    Of course, part of reality is that our world is much more complex than just the question of whether or not this store or that business will be open on a Sunday. What really crowds our busy lives is the fact that the division between work and home has blurred in our society. What used to be called the "Work-Life Balance" has now been declared officially dead by several critics who study these things.[1]

    The idea of the balancing work and leisure as part of our everyday living has been an anthropological concept for more than a hundred years. Trying to find the right balance between work and family life is always a struggle, but even more so with the growing influx of technology in our culture. As one article about this topic points out, if you checked your work email during this past Thanksgiving or Christmas, "you're likely aware that at most companies there is an unspoken expectation that employees tend to emails at all hours."[2]

    Of course, we could blame the culture for this change. We could say: "All of this is the fault of technology, businesses, and the economy." But the truth is, we also thrive on feeling needed. It's hard to let an email sit unread. It's difficult to know that someone wants our attention, and we just ignore it. We generally like to get things done!

    But there's a cost. That cost can be our relationships, our health, and our commitments to be what God intends for us to be. When we put all of our focus on the singular activities of our work and on the things others are asking of us, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. This situation can lead to unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety in our lives.

    How can we deal with this situation? How can we try to address the epidemic levels of stress and anxiety and worry in our lives?

    One approach might be to attempt to recreate a time that has past. We can try hard to make Sundays a day of rest and worship. In the Bible, we have the concept of Sabbath--meaning "rest from exertion"--which is a tradition handed down from the ten commandments. What's really interesting about this concept is that there are two places where the ten commandments are described--in Exodus and in Deuteronomy. Each one gives a slightly different reason for why we should "keep the Sabbath."

    In Exodus, we are told "Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy...For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it" (Exodus 20:8-11). On the other hand, Deuteronomy says, "Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, . . . Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day" (Deut. 5:12-15).   So together, these two summarize the entirety of the Hebrew scriptures. The story of creation and the story of exodus are central to the Hebrew people and their knowledge of God. God created the world and said it was good. God freed his people and said they were good. The Lord is a God of holiness and a God of justice. We should remember God's holiness and God's justice with Sabbath--with rest.[3]

    So, of course, as Christians I think we should strive for a day of rest and worship in our weekly lives. There's simply one major problem with this whole idea of setting aside Sunday as our Sabbath--it might be unrealistic! As much as we may try to slow down our lives--even for one day--the world continues to zoom around us whether we like it or not. Those emails are still in our inbox. The kids' soccer game is still scheduled for this particular time, and we don't have a say in that. The project is due tomorrow, and we still have fourteen hours of work to get done in the next seventeen hours. Maybe not every day is like this. But this day sure is!

    I think that keeping Sabbath in its traditional sense these days is not always possible. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating giving up our Sunday "Lord's Day" celebration. But, the way one writer put it is that contemporary Christians can also be flexible and embrace a concept of "Sabbath time."[4]

    Sabbath time can be any day and any time. As Dorothy Bass claims, "Sabbath keeping is not about taking a day off, but about being recalled to our knowledge of, and gratitude for, God's activity in creating the world, giving liberty to captives, and overcoming the powers of death."[5]

    In today's Gospel reading from Mark, we heard that Jesus understood this concept of Sabbath time. Now, of course, as a faithful Jewish rabbi, Jesus practiced keeping the Sabbath. But in addition, today we heard that he also took time, when he needed to, to "be recalled to his knowledge and gratitude of God." He had to move out of the chaos and hectic activity of his regular life and find Sabbath time in its midst.

    We hear that Jesus is in Capernaum with his apostles. He's healing Simon's mother-in-law from a fever. Then in the evening, throngs of people are brought to Jesus. He heals them of their sickness. He casts out demons. He's in the middle of quite a flurry of activity. He has to be pretty exhausted.

    But we then hear that very early the next morning--so early that it's still dark--Jesus gets up and slips away on his own. He goes out to a deserted place, away from the chaos. He gets away from this hectic, everyday grind of those who are seeking his attention. And Jesus prays. Jesus reconnects with the God of creation. Jesus finds the strength and wholeness and energy promised by the prophet Isaiah: "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31).

    When Simon and the companions finally find Jesus, they tell him, "Everyone is searching for you." But Jesus simply answers: "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." In other words, Jesus did not head back to the chaos. After he was centered by his Sabbath time, he got back to doing exactly what God had meant for him to do.

    The question for us in this season after the Epiphany, is how do we make God manifest in our lives in the midst of our chaos? How do we follow this example and take Sabbath time, and then use it to not return to the chaos?

    What Sabbath time looks like is different for each of us. But it is about being purposeful in taking time each day—or even each hour—to be recalled to God’s presence. Sabbath time for some of us might mean finding time each day for silent prayer. Sabbath time for some us might mean taking regular walks in nature and giving gratitude to the one who created the very earth upon which we tread. For some of us, Sabbath time will be about listening deeply to the stories our parents tell us about our family history, or our children tell us about today's new game on the playground and treasuring these things in our hearts.

    Whatever it looks like for each of us, however, Sabbath time should include the concept of rest from our worries, and recalling our gratitude for God’s presence in creation.

    So even though our work-life balance may never be completely settled, we should recall that God is manifest in our very being. We must always remember that God is our loving creator and redeemer. And even though we may feel anxiety and chaos in our lives, we also need to recall that we have opportunities to step back and do as Christ did in the midst of chaos.


    [1]Ron Friedman, "Work-life balance is dead," CNN Online, at

    [2] Ibid.

    [3] Dorothy C. Bass, "Keeping Sabbath," in Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, 2nd. Ed., Dorothy C. Bass, ed. (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2010), 79.

    [4] Ibid.. 

    [5] Ibid.