GOD RESTED: SHOULN'T YOU?
Genesis 2:1-3 August 7,2016
Dr. Matthew Sleeth, former emergency room physician, and author of 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. remembers, as do many of us, when Sunday was a real day off.
a time when you couldn't buy gas, furniture, cars, or almost anything else on Sunday.
For almost 2,000 years, Western culture stopped -- primarily on Sunday -- for about 24 hours. Even when I was a child, you couldn't buy gasoline, you couldn't buy milk. The drugstores weren't open. The only thing that was open was a hospital. Even in dairy farming country, we would milk cows, but we wouldn't bring in hay.
But somewhere in the last half of the twentieth century, things changed. Today we live in a society that snarls at rest, that sees not working as time wasted. Somewhere in the past few decades, a day off became more about catching up, running errands, and planning for the next week than about actually enjoying the day. How many of these do you do when you take a day off? Grocery shopping, Banking, Cleaning, Laundry, Wash the Car, Catch up on work, mow the lawn, fix that leaky faucet, Plan the next week? We have so much to do, and so little time. And besides, idle hands are the devil's workshop: that's what my mamma always said. So on we go, cell phones and tablets constantly within reach, always busy, always doing something.
Is it any wonder stress is a major killer in our culture? A study reported in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that people who worked in excess of 60 hours a week, but fewer than 70 hours, increased their risk of developing coronary heart disease by 63 percent compared to those who worked lighter schedules.5 Those who worked over 80 hours a week increased their risk by 94 percent. Other research links long hours on the job to increased depression, anxiety, and insomnia, as well as weight gain and higher divorce rates. A Japanese study of 238 clerical workers published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that employees who put in more than 60 hours a week had 15 times the rate of depression one to three years later, compared to their coworkers on more moderate schedules. A Kansas State University study of more than 12,000 participants also found increased depression among those who worked 50 or more hours weekly.
The increase may be due, in part, to skewed eating and sleeping habits. When workers spend so much time in the office, they may not have time to cook at home and so grab meals on the go. Plus, those who work long hours tend to skip exercise. Also, excess working typically is a stressful endeavor, and it's perhaps no coincidence that the US simultaneously is the most overworked nation in the world, and the most anxious. A study by the World Health Organization found that nearly one-third of Americans suffer anxiety symptoms at some point in their lives. More than eight in 10 Americans say that excessive workloads on their jobs are causing them inordinate stress.
The bottom line, according to these and many other studies, is that working too much generally isn't good for body or mind, or productivity. According to a summary report and accompanying charts in The Economist, "…the greater the number of hours worked per year, the greater the likelihood of premature death and poor quality of life. Additionally, studies show that overtime hours are less productive than regular hours.
And no, the answer is not to retire; at least not to the TV and rocking chair. Studies have found that those who worked under 30 hours a week actually had higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels than those who worked between 31-60 hours. Perhaps staying at home puts one too close to the fridge, the snack cupboard, and the easy chair.
But there is good news. God has given us the answer to overwork, stress, and anxiety. It's so simple it . it seems impossible. God's answer to our world of work and stress is Sabbath. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the. seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Sabbath, the word comes from a Hebrew root meaning rest. Rest: ease or inactivity after exertion; relief from anything tiring or distressing.
John Wesley probably worked harder than just about anyone in this room. But he insisted that his followers, and his preachers, take a Sabbath, a day off. “That the solemn observation of one day in seven as a day of holy rest, and holy work, is the indispensable duty of all those to whom God has revealed his holy Sabbath”
We know this. But, somehow the idea of a day or rest gets lost in the clutter of our calendar until it becomes just one more item on our “bucket list:” that list of things we want to do before we die. Aha!
That may well be the root of the problem. We are afraid of death, we are afraid of squandering the little time we have on this earth, and so we stretch out our waking moments and fill them with things we feel we must do. We hold on to our precious seconds of life like a miser holds on to a dollar .But all of us will die: we will leave behind dirty dishes and unfinished projects. We will never get it all done; there will always be something left for others to do; or to leave undone. “I'll rest in the grave” we say: and, indeed, death is another definition of rest. Rest and the passage of time constantly remind us of our own mortality. And so we struggle on:
Gathering rosebuds, while we may,
for Time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
We remember that the writer of Proverbs asks:
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man.
And yet, we read that God rested. God, the omnipotent, omnipresent, creator of all things rested.
2 On the seventh day God ended His work which He had done. And He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [Genesis 2:2 NLV]
God took a day off! Wow! What a concept. I can't help but wonder what God does on a day off. Does God bake cookies? I doubt it. Does God mow the lawn? Not likely. Does God fix a leaky gutter or plan next week's calendar? I don't think so. In fact, I haven''t a clue what God does on a day off, but that's not what's important. What's important is that God took a day off. And that God commands us to take a day off. In fact, it was so important, that those who didn't take a Sabbath could be executed.
14 “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. [Ex. 31:14-15 NIV] I doubt this happened often, but it did at least once.
“32 While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 31. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death.” [Numbers 15:31, 35-36]
That's how seriously God takes the idea of Sabbath. Yet, the reality is that Sabbath is not for God,
Sabbath is for humanity. Sabbath is a gift from God to us. For God understands what we do not; God knows we need one day out of seven to rest; one day of seven to recharge; one day of seven to recuperate from our work; one day in seven to just be.
I must confess: there was a time in my ministry when I would have had to preface this sermon with: “This is a do as I say, not as I do sermon.” I was pastoring, serving as a hospital, fire, and police chaplain, a firefighter and an EMT. I also served on the county anti-poverty agency, the “smoke-free 2000 committee in the schools, a camp counselor...you get the idea. Then one day a colleague asked me: “When was your last day off?”
I couldn't remember. “I'm too busy to take a day off” I said, “too many people depend on me.”
“Oh,” my colleague responded, “You're stronger and more important than God?”
“Of course not” I answered, “What kind of question is that?”
He then gave me one of the best pieces of advice I ever received: “God took a day off. Shouldn't you?
Celebrate your day off with this feast, the feast our God has prepared for us in the face of a hostile world. The feast provided by God for God's people. Come. Celebrate. Rest. AMEN.