Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sabbath: A School for the Desires

It occurs to me that Sabbath is a school for our desires, an expose and critique of the false desires that focus on idolatry and greed that have immense power for us. When we do not pause for Sabbath, these false desires take power over us. Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance

Like a searing diatribe of a Micah or James or Jesus, Walter Brueggemann's latest volume doesn't waste words or time getting to core of the biblical theme of the Fourth Commandment in Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of NOW. (2014) Yes, it's a short 88 pages.

needed: a sabbatical from multitasking 
A long time reader and admirer of his writing, I'm always appreciative of Brueggemann's facility in the Bible whole and the interconnections of the Decalogue.

My first question was answered fairly early on: God didn't need a Sabbath in Jesus' declaration in John 5:17  (there's no work stoppage with him or the Father). But, however you read this passage, it's clearly not about God actually needing a break, it's more about God taking a break, resting on the seventh day of creation, for our sake. The Sabbath was made and modeled by God for the purpose of humanity.   

Readers will find an excellent discussion of the Sabbath in the context of the Exodus, and Brueggeman's well-known juxtaposition of the Sinai covenant community versus the system of Pharaoh's Egypt. Israel is delivered from slavery, a place where the only thing that matters is the number and speed of commodities produced. Neighbor- and God- are reduced to a means of self-service.     

The Sinai covenant represents a deliverance from a system of both idolatry, covered by the first two Commandments, and greed, addressed in the last Commandment. The Sabbath, the Fourth Commandment, is thus the fulcrum on which the first and later Commandments turn. It both bridges our worship of one God and our living in a community of "neighborliness,"  facets of which are harmony, consideration for others, and shalom (peace with justice).     

The author shows that wherever the prophets of Israel do denounce the Sabbath, it was not Sabbath itself that was the issue, but rather, using it to justify idolatry, greed and injustice to neighbor. As a part of the biblical prophetic critique, multitasking is lambasted. Why? Multitasking in the prophets is about scheming to get what's not ours (coveting), all the while supposedly at worship.

We deceive ourselves if we think that the multitasking that infects every facet of our living doesn't also somehow greatly diminish our spiritual health and our loving God, neighbor, and self.  But that's what idolatry does. The Sabbath is intended to break the cycle of our own competing, coveting, and planning to get and do more and more and more. And more, in the end, can never be enough.  

The reader will find Brueggeman's insight into- and the range of- biblical texts to be impressive, the basis for a grand invitation to rest- and let that be enough. Preachers need to drink deeply of the message of this little volume. With the teaching of Sabbath comes the recognition that Christian clergy have been, as a rule, poor practitioners of true, life-giving Sabbath, often in the name of successful ministry, production of numbers-  and the more recent fixation on formulaic "fruitfulness."

If we do not Sabbath, then why would we expect the ones we serve to do the same? Or to care? Should we be surprised whenever we discover ourselves running on empty? 

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