Monday, 20 July 2015

“The Law that Liberates: the Ten Commandments Today”: (4) “For God’s sake, take care of yourself.” (Exodus 20: 1-2, 8-11)

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labour and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work ...

For many of us, ... possibly most of us, ... and this includes myself, ... when we hear these words, we react negatively to some of the extreme ways in which this command has been kept.  Whether the extremes are seen in
·         the ways in which Orthodox Jews or Seventh-Day Adventists observe Saturday, or
·         the ways in which some Christians used to observe Sunday;
many of us are much more aware of the ways in which this commandment can be used to restrict our lives than to enhance them.

There have been examples, both within Judaism and (more often, I’m afraid) within Christianity, of people who have made this commandment into a joyless burden.  Some people have tried to turn this commandment into one more religious hurdle over which people were taught they needed to jump to please a god who expected people to jump over religious hurdles.  This attitude was what Jesus protested against when he declared in Mark’s gospel that “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”  (Mark 2: 27, NRSV)

But even though Jesus made such a pronouncement, there have been many examples of Christians who have turned the observance of the Lord’s Day into an onerous burden, rather than as an occasion for joy.  

Some of you may have lived in places that had restrictive laws as to what you could and couldn’t do on a Sunday.  In many areas of the United States, these laws were rather aptly known as “Blue Laws”.  (And there are really very few people who were sad to see these laws go – including many people of Christian faith.)

Some of you when may remember, from when you were small, visiting a relative found in many extended families, a lady - often a maiden lady - known as “the religious auntie”.  Now, this lady was formidable.  She had strong views on just about everything, including which other denominations were within the pale and which were beyond the pale.  She led a fairly austere life, by choice, all week. 

But then, on Sundays (or Saturdays if she happened to be Seventh-Day Adventist) her regular weekday austerities seemed vaguely libertine by comparison.  And, if you were a child whose family was visiting this aunt, you knew that your afternoon would not be spent in play, but in sitting in your good clothing on a hard-backed chair, being seen but not heard.  Meanwhile, your aunt told the other adults about the deficiencies in her minister’s view of the doctrine of the Atonement. 

And, for this aunt, she felt that spending a Sunday afternoon in such a joyless way was the most appropriate way to keep the commandment about the sabbath.  As you can probably tell, I dare to disagree with this formidable maiden lady, strongly. 

It all links up with the opening words of the Ten Commandments, the words with which I’ve introduced each of these talks:

Then God spoke all these words:  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; ...

God identified Godself, as I said in the first talk, as the One Living God, the God who liberates slaves.  The people who received these commandments were a group of liberated slaves and their children.  Each generation was told to regard themselves as liberated slaves.

A quick question:  What do slaves do that defines them as slaves?

Answer:      They work ... all the time.

Another quick question:   How often do slaves get a day off from work?

Answer:      Hardly ever.

This weekly workless day was a sign of liberation.  Free people have the right to take a day off. 

Linking the weekly workless day with worshipping God was a recognition that God was the source of liberation. 

The Sabbath celebration for the Jews was a celebration of liberation.  That is why, even taking into account the abuses criticised by Jesus, there was (and is) normally a sense of joy and celebration in the Jewish Sabbath that was frequently absent from the austere Puritan Sabbath.

And what does this all say to us?

In our culture in recent decades, we have become a society of workaholics.  For many reasons, many people in our culture have forgotten what it is to enjoy leisure. 

The social scientists who said thirty years ago that people today would be have four day (or even three day) working weeks by now would be shocked to see the six day (and even seven day) working weeks that are becoming the norm in many occupations.  The reasons are many: ... economic, ... political, ... psychological, ... and others.  The average person in employment today is spending more time at their work, enjoying their work less, and accomplishing less.

As well, when people do have some leisure time, an increasing number of people appear just as rushed during their supposed “time off” as they do in their working days.

We have become a society of workaholics.

In the face of this reality, today’s commandment provides us with an alternative.   We are told:

You are more than your employment, much more.  God created you to live, not just to do a job.  Rest.  For God’s sake, take care of yourself.

And I did not use the previous sentence lightly. ... For God’s sake, take care of yourself. ... The instruction to rest is linked with our recognition of the God who liberates.  There is an real connection between our care of our own well-being and our relationship to God.  Taking care of our own need for rest and recreation (re-creation) is part of our worship of the God of liberation.  So, when I said “For God’s sake, take care of yourself,” I meant it so that our self-care was literally for the sake of God:  God who liberates us ... God who calls us to take care for our own well-being.

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labour and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work ...

Despite the joyless Sabbath of our Puritan ancestors, this is not just another pious task.  This is not an onerous burden.  This is not just some religious hurdle to jump over.  This is not just another barrier between the super-religious and the rest of us. 

Instead we have an invitation to enjoy leisure.  We have an invitation to see our lives as far more than our work. We are encouraged to see the leisure we enjoy as intimately related to the God who liberated a gang of slaves, moulded them into a nation of free people, and gave them a day off.

For God’s sake, take care of yourself.

In the first post in this series of articles, there is a general introduction to the series.

No comments:

Post a comment

Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.