September 1, 2013 Sermon: “How to Find More Hours in the Day (Sabbath)”

September 1, 2013

“How to Find More Hours in the Day”

The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray

Exodus 20:8-11

8 Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

10 But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.

11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.


This is how I view time – it is like one of those super stretchy trash bags that you can cram so full of things that it almost breaks.  It is not that I say yes to every opportunity that comes along; it is that I like every minute to count for something.

Can I put clothes in the washer while feeding a child a bottle – yes I can.  Can I answer emails while cooking while emptying the dishwasher – I can do that too.

By multitasking I can fit even more stuff in.

I measure the value of my day (and my own value) by how many things I crossed off my list and how much I do, but the list is never really finished, there is always something more that could be done.

There are moments where I think that if there were just more hours in the day, my problems would be solved.


And I keep at it, like this, day after day, until one day I am so tired that all I can do is lay on the couch and watch terrifically terrible television like “Sharknado” (it was the only thing “good” on, I promise).


In 1991, there was a surprise best-seller “The Overworked American” by economist Juliet Schor, in which she reported that work hours and stress are up and sleep and family time are down for all classes of employed Americans.  She writes that even as men and women are working full-time and parenting, or adding overtime and second shifts, all are bombarded by messages that urge them to spend more (and then, by necessity, work more),  to keep their homes cleaner (standards keep rising), and to improve themselves as lovers, investors, parents, or athletes.  And to make all this possible, stores stay open all night long, and entertainment options are available 24/7.”


This frantic pace – is that what we were made for, to rush through our lives, barely paying attention?


My husband shared with me a story that he had heard on the radio (I don’t know why he thought I would want to hear this story) about a woman who was so focused on other things, just getting to the next thing, getting to work, that she accidently left her infant in the car sleeping for hours.  And the baby died.  A heart-breaking story, absolutely – and it hit me hard because I thought that is not out of the realm of possibility on any given busy day for me – to forget to do something so vitally important because I was going too fast.


There was a study done at Princeton Theological Seminary which they told the test subjects, seminary students, was about the parable of the Good Samaritan where Jesus is being drilled by an expert in the law about what it means to love your neighbor – and Jesus replies by telling this story of a man who is robbed and beaten, and he is deliberately passed by by two religious people before an outsider stops and helps him.  So in this study they performed personality tests on each of the students and then sent them to another part of campus to speak about either the parable of the good Samaritan or their future careers as pastors at a seminar.  And then they were also split into three groups: one group was told that they had to hurry because the seminar they were speaking at had already started, one group was told they were on time but needed to get there, and one group was told they have plenty of time but should go over to the building anyway.  In an alley along the way the researchers placed a man in obvious distress. Some students stopped and others did not.  After the results were analyzed, there was only one variable could be used to predict whether someone would stop to help the man and it wasn’t their personality, and it wasn’t whether they were thinking about the story of the good Samaritan.  It was how much time they felt they had, how hurried they felt.  And the researchers concluded that as the speed of our lives increases, noticing human suffering becomes a luxury.  But it isn’t a luxury.


And I long for something different – to hear God say, “Rest.”  And believe it or not, He does.  He always has.  From the first moments of the world, resting, stopping, Sabbath, was built into the fabric of creation.


Lynne Baab who has written a book on Sabbath keeping (which the Wednesday women’s Bible study will be reading) talks about how she went to a Mothers of Preschoolers meeting to talk about the Sabbath and the response she got from the moms was: “I didn’t know I was allowed to rest.”  And she writes, “What is going on in our culture, in our world, that a mother with young children believes she is supposed to be active and productive every minute?  Why is it scary to think about stopping or slowing down all this relentless activity?”


We find the instruction to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, keep it set apart and special, we find that instruction in both versions of the Ten Commandments – in Exodus and Deuteronomy – but each version gives us a different reason.


The Exodus version tells us to remember the Sabbath because God himself rested.  God is not a workaholic; creation is not a place of endless production, anxiety, or ambition.


One man, Wayne, an ad agency writer in his mid-thirties, does nothing related to his work on his Sabbath day, Sunday.  He says that he has found that when he does a little work for his job on the Sabbath, just to get ahead on his work week, it doesn’t help.  He feels harried and chronically behind.  He says that it makes sense.  Gods knows him better than he knows himself.  It’s like changing the oil in the car according to the manufacturer’s specs, your car just works better.


Mike Yaconelli in his book “Messy Spirituality” writes that “Rest is the ultimate humiliation because in order to rest, we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God’s work does not depend on us.”


The world can get along without us.  The Sabbath releases us from the myth that we can be finished.  Another writer on the Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes, “If we refuse to rest until we are finished, we will never rest until we die.  Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it liberates us from the need to be finished.”


The version of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy reminds us that we keep the Sabbath because we are free people.  We can rest because, in Christ, we are no longer slaves to anything – resting honors the one who has set us free.


Dorothy Bass writes, “Slaves cannot skip a day of work, but free people can.  Not all free people choose to do so, however; some of us remain glued to our computers and washing machines every day of the week.  To keep Sabbath is to exercise one’s freedom, to declare oneself to be neither a tool to be employed – an employee – nor a beast to burdened.  To keep Sabbath is also to remember one’s freedom and to recall the One from whom that freedom came, the One from whom it still comes.”


Theologian Karl Barth wrote, “A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.”   For much of our time we do not have a lot of freedom to determine our activity, or limit what we have to do.  School starts at a certain time five days a week.  Work starts and ends, and then often keeps going into the evening hours.  Some tasks, some errands, must get done.  Children need to be fed and clothed and bathed and changed.  Elderly parents need time and attention.  Parents drag kids from the grocery store to the bank to the gas station, often times against their will.


But one day a week, we can be free.  Free to “taste and see that the Lord is God,” free to let children be children, free to play and pray.


What does that look like for you and me in practical terms?


What do we do and what do we cease from doing, and when and for how long?


Lynne Baab writes that whenever she is talking to a group about the Sabbath and asks the question – what do you need to cease from doing, the most common answer is rushing around and being busy all the time, and the second most common is multitasking, always trying to do more than one thing at one time.


Just an aside, I’ve mentioned a lot about busy-ness, but there are those in our midst and our society who are underemployed or unemployed, or ill, or of advancing years, who find that their lives are not busy, but they are still burdened by anxiety, by fears about the future, by loneliness, by a feeling of frustrating un-usefulness, and the Sabbath is there for those folks as well.  It is a time to remember that you are loved completely apart from what you do or don’t do.


Let’s take the questions of when and how long – and the answer is, whatever works best for you and your family.  Most adherents to Sabbath keeping swear that you need a full 24 hours, but it is up to you when you start – after work on Friday, Saturday morning, Sunday morning.


Some people cannot do 24 hours without something they feel like they have to do.


So they modify it to an afternoon, a morning, a series of evenings.


David Goetz, author of Death by Suburb writes about he and his wife have altered their own lives by keeping sections of the day holy, set apart, such as evenings from six to nine.


He writes, “Before [ ], I got home from work at six, set up my lap top on the dining room table, and downloaded email while the kids were still finishing their meal.  My daughter, Kira, kept complaining that she had to ask me a question three or four times before I’d finally acknowledge her by growling, ‘What do you want?’ . . . Instead, we cut out all television on school nights, and we isolated a family night, when we made a craft or went out to eat or played a game.”


What do we cease from doing? We cease from whatever is work for us at the time.  Perhaps it is what we get paid to do.  Or maybe it is the laundry.  Cooking might be work for one person (so you pull a meal out of the freezer), or that might be a Sabbath joy with all the family joining in.  Cleaning the toilet is probably work.  Maybe gardening is work to you; that would be fun for me.


Sabbath is a day without a to- do list so if you are trying to figure out if something is permissible, if it can go on a to-do, it is no good.  Perhaps you decide that whatever makes you feel peaceful is what is allowed on the Sabbath.


Cease from multitasking – perhaps there are things you can’t avoid on the Sabbath like a soccer game.  Decide to just drive there and home again, no extra errands along the way, no checking your phone during the game.  Engage in one thing at a time.


Cease from using technology; step away from media.  Cease from shopping and consuming – by being convinced by advertisements that if we only bought more we would have a happy life like the people smiling back at us from the commercial.


Wayne Muller writes, “Sabbath is a time to stop, to refrain from being seduced by our desires.  To stop working, stop making money, stop spending money.  See what you have. Look around.  Listen to your life.  Do you really need more than this?  Spend a day with your family.  Instead of buying a new coffee maker, make coffee in the old one and sit with your spouse on the couch, hang out – do what they do in the ad without paying for it.  Just stop.  That is, after all, what they are selling in the picture: people who have stopped.  You cannot buy stopped.  You simply have to stop.”


Cease from competing.  Cease from talking.  Cease from worrying about all the things the normally occupy our thoughts during the week.  And that means stopping engaging in the activities that make us worry (paying bills, watching the news, making to-do lists).  One author suggests that we cease from criticizing our bodies on the Sabbath.


Whatever enslaves us most, envy, competitiveness, perfectionism, greed, anxiety, that is what we cease from.


What do we do on the Sabbath?  Useless things like taking a long walk, spending time with friends and family, playing a game, reading a book for fun, taking a nap, breathing, listening, paying attention, worshipping.  Worshipping with a community has been part of the practice from the start.


A good description of what Sabbath is all about comes from Eugene Peterson.  He writes, “The two biblical reasons for Sabbath-keeping develop into parallel Sabbath activities of playing and praying.  The Exodus reason directs us to the contemplation of God, which becomes prayer.  The Deuteronomy reason directs us to social leisure, which becomes play.  The poet W.H Auden was alarmed that we are losing two of our most precious qualities, the ability to laugh heartily and the ability to pray, and he pleaded on behalf of a sane world for better prayer and better play.”


Barbara Brown Taylor writes how when she was asked to speak at a church gathering the host asked her, “Tell us what is saving your life right now,” and she thought it was such a good question that she continues to ask it of others and of herself.

She writes, “Observing the Sabbath is saving my life right now.  For the first time in my life, I can rest without leaving home.  With sundown on the Sabbath, I stop seeing the dust balls, the bills, and the laundry.  They are still there, but they lose their power over me.  One day of the week I live as if all my work were done.  I live as if the kingdom has come, and when I do, the kingdom comes, for one day at least.”


This isn’t going to be easy.  The Sabbath won’t come up and embrace us – we have to embrace the Sabbath.  And that might mean structuring our lives a little differently during the rest of the week to make it happen.


So the title of the sermon this week, “How to find more hours in the day,” is a bit of mislead.  Technically if you observe the Sabbath you have fewer hours in a week to do stuff.  But I have a feeling that keeping the Sabbath might just change how all those other hours feel as well.