September 5, 2013

The Ethics of Ceasing

“More water?”

As I slid my glass toward the table’s edge, for a refill from “Julie,” I was reminded of the many subtle ways persons serve us in a given week. With this sabbath series still on my mind, I began thinking about what it might look like to take a once-a-week break from being served by others, in any form. Recently, one of our members shared with me a simple sabbath practice of her own: no shopping on the Lord’s Day. It is not a showy thing; she only brought it up because of our recent sermons. That discipline put me in mind of a wise saint in a previous congregation who chose not to eat out at restaurants on Saturdays. Somehow, both seem fitting as sabbath practices: a day, once a week, not to be waited on by others; a day to allow others to rest from working for me.

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.

Notice how in the Exodus tradition, the commandment to rest is not merely a privatized prohibition. There is a wide social implication with resting. Children, slaves (ubiquitous in antiquity), domestic animals, and even those “outsiders” that hang around the community – they all get a weekly break. All should sabbath. Keeping the rest day holy is personal, yes, but not a private affair.

Now, I know what you are thinking. “Even if I stop going to Applebees after worship, or to Aldi’s on a Saturday sabbath, that won’t stop the entire county from eating out or shopping on those days.” So true. Drinks will still be poured and groceries still bagged, even on “holy” days. It is a reminder that we no longer enjoy (are cursed with?) the cultural scaffolding to hoist up sabbath rest days. We disciples now have to find a path for holy rest despite the fact that we live, work, and play in a 24/7, always-on world.

Even so, the commandment remains before us.

So I challenge you to experiment with taking a sabbath from being served, a day a week, in whatever form seems appropriate to your weekly living. Restaurants and grocery stores are but two of many possibilities. It is not a judgment upon those who do the serving. The focus of our renewed discipline should be inward, not outward. It is, rather, a step toward creating new space for reflection upon our needs vs. wants, upon the bounty of the Trinity’s provision for our lives and for the world (as opposed to living out of the anxiety of scarcity), and upon those persons with whom we interact in our daily living. Sabbath grants us permission to perceive them as “neighbor” (Jesus’ word) and not merely “server.”

If nothing else, at least witness to God’s bountiful grace by leaving a ridiculously large tip.