Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sabbath-Keeping (Stream of Consciousness)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Hebrews 4:9,10 (NIV)

When Adventism began they were all farmers. The Hasidim in Brooklyn, New York, all are self-employed and all shut their businesses down on their Sabbath Day. When ancient Israel was founded the entire nation could decide to shut down on the Seventh day. They could decide if they wanted to let the farm rest one day a week. Now only those who own their own business have the leisure of opening their business or not on the seventh day. Of course, some think it vitally important to avoid working on the Sabbath even if it means that you work below your potential or, in drastic cases, don't work at all because all the jobs you are qualified for require you to work on the Sabbath.

I once shared the Adventist obsession with avoiding working on the Seventh day at any cost with a Reformed Jewish woman and she said that the Jewish parent is greatly concerned for providing for their family. If the need arose to work on the Seventh day they would do so. After all, how can you tell your child that there's no bread on the table because daddy refused to work on Saturday and now we have to grin and bear it?

What if Sabbath keeping were more than 24 hours of no work, no play and no--you fill in the blanks? What if it was the spirit of the Sabbath that you were in need of and not the letter of the 24-hour Sabbath day? What did Jesus mean when he said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath? Did he mean if you need to work occasionally on the Sabbath in order to provide for your family or for yourself, that you could and it would still be alright with him? Or does he insist that you trust him and go through whatever you have to go through so you don't work on the Sabbath day? In a vague way, thinking that you will fall out of grace with Jesus because you occasionally work on Saturday or Friday night in order to keep your job and your livelihood sounds like legalism to me. Insisting that you must refrain from gainful employment on the Sabbath sounds like righteousness by works to me. And you know, that's the ugliest abomination of all--to think that by doing or not doing something you are saved or not saved.

What of opera singers or musicians or politicians who have significant or important events or meetings on the Sabbath day, are they sabbath breakers or are they good professionals by doing what they studied and sacrificed for all their life, even if it's on the occasional Sabbath? I recall that Faith Esham sang in operas on the Sabbath day and that Herbert Blomstedt conducted symphonies on the Sabbath day though he never rehearsed during the Sabbath Day. Were they blessed for it or was it Adventism on the edge?

But what about gasoline station owners or attendants. Can you imagine if every gas station owner or employee took up strict Sabbath keeping? What would happen in a crisis where you had no gas but had to fill up in order to get to the hospital or to deal with some other emergency? You couldn't very well tell that person, "you should have filled up before the Sabbath when the gas stations were open."

What about ministers, don't they break the Sabbath by working at being ministers on the Sabbath day instead of staying at home with their families and preaching to them? You know there's a lot of minister's kids who leave the church or were never really in it when most thought they were just because they were in church on Sabbath morning. Occasionally a minister and his family should take a holiday from the rigors of church on Saturday and spend a day in nature getting in touch with each other and with God.

What did the writer of Hebrews mean by saying that we should enter God's Sabbath rest and cease from our own work? For some people the effort put into keeping the Sabbath entails more work than not keeping it so fanatically or literally. Did the writer mean a literal 24 hour rest or was he referring to a spiritual rest that transcends time and space? Can you rest even while driving at 70 miles an hour on a Sabbath day getting to and from church events with all the stress and risks involved in that mad dash to get to church on time for the first minutes of Sabbath School? The best place to spend the Sabbath, again, might be with your loved ones or close friends instead of in the complexities of a structured and rigid religious environment.

Can you break the Sabbath even while you're sitting in church trying not to think about the sexy Adventist in the seat in front of you? Do you move your seat and keep on moving it till you run out of sexy Adventists or out of seats at a given moment? As someone said long ago, "Adventists are the best temptation of all." Not that one invites temptation, but then again, one cannot be totally oblivious to the best that one's local church has to offer, if only visually speaking. What does one do on the Sabbath day in that case with so much eye candy on display in their Sabbath best? One grins and bears it and hopes for a better day, or for a church with plainer people and not as sexy.

Can anyone really say that s(he) has kept the Sabbath? The very thought of 24 four sacred hours spent in total connection to God sounds like an ideal that is beyond our own power to achieve. By connecting to the source of infinite power it is then not an ideal, but a reality. But how does one know that the connection has been made and that one has, in fact, truly kept the Sabbath day in all its purity and devotion? One can refrain from thinking non-Sabbath thoughts as best as one can, or doing non-Sabbath things, i.e., shopping and working out at the gym, but does that constitute true Sabbath keeping? Some may think their efforts amount to Sabbath keeping when, in fact, they are nothing more than formalistic or legalistic exercises that occur but one day a week. Would it not be more spiritually fulfilling to observe the spiritual nature of the Sabbath all week long and all day long, as often as one was able to take a moment for religious reflection?

If the Sabbath is more than just a 24-hour phenomenon, if it is an Endless Sabbath, a virtual Sabbath that has its power supply in the actual seventh day, but that, nevertheless, comes in and out of your waking consciousness as many times as you have need of the spiritual nourishment that true Sabbath-keeping provides, then it could truly be said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.

Someone told me once of a neighbor who was so concerned that he'd not keep the Sabbath holy that once he got home from church and had a light meal, he'd go to sleep so as not to provide opportunity for breaking the Sabbath. Of course, one smiles, because in going to bed for the purpose of the not breaking the Sabbath, he was, in fact, breaking the Sabbath. But at least the man's heart was in the right place. Or was it?

Then there are different styles or intensities of Sabbath keeping. Years ago I heard a friend say that when he moved from the Northeast to California he didn't feel comfortable with his Adventist relatives on Sabbath afternoon activities. They'd invite him to go on a yacht and enjoy the water in the San Francisco bay. He would routinely opt to stay home or look for churches with Sabbath afternoon programming instead of joining his Adventist relatives in their preferred Sabbath afternoon activities. The poor have no such problems as they don't have yachts, or oftentimes even a car to get them to church and have to rely on public transportation or their own two feet. Being poor solves a host of problems while creating others.

After I've read my bible and sung a Sabbath vesper hymn on Friday night and washed the few dishes I dirtied in preparing dinner for one, and feeding Callisto, my retriever, I then look for the least offensive DVD I can watch. I was surprised that last Friday night, I enjoyed and lived to tell the tale of watching Pedro Almodovar's Volver with Penelope Cruz. It was a family-oriented movie, but of course, not for every family. But for my family of one, and of course, Callisto never complains as to what I watch, it felt just right for my progressive Adventist Sabbath. I even got a timer to turn on the TV and the DVD player during the Sabbath so I wouldn't have to break that old Judaic injunction about not turning on the light.

Happy Sabbath, however you keep, or try to keep, the holy Seventh day.

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