Toilets are agents of chaos.
One day, years ago when we lived in Macon, we came home from walking to one of our favorite restaurants. Jack was young, maybe two, and we’d had a nice family time. I was feeling stressed from all that I had to do and so it was nice to get out, go for a walk, and just be with family.
As we opened the back door, arriving at home, we stepped into a puddle. I looked around and discovered half the downstairs of our house was flooded! I about lost it. Life was chaotic enough already:
I was stressed at work, for Mercer had gotten more demanding during the busy season of my job.
I was considering career change into becoming a pastor, something that was taxing my faith and making me anxious.
I was president of the downtown Macon neighborhood association, which had taken on new life because I also sat on the College Hill Commission, which was revitalizing the corridor between downtown and Mercer. Our neighborhood sat right in the middle of it, so I found myself shepherding grant programs, coordinating efforts, and responding to neighbor concerns.
I was on the SPRC at Martha Bowman, where we attended church, and we were in the midst of laying off staff. This was 2011 and the church was reeling, as many churches were, from the economic downturn. They’d also lost a significant portion of their worshipping attendance a few years prior and, with it, significant giving. That was no fun and felt like a burden.
And, to top it off, we were financially stressed. Most months, we had more expenses than we had income. I was too prideful to admit that I didn’t know what I was doing financially, so we hid our financial distress, putting on a show as if we had enough money and there was no problem.
Work, career change, volunteer leadership positions, and money all had me already stressed from the chaos I felt because of them. And then I walk into a flood. My first thought was how much it was going to cost us? We had no savings.
Toilets are agents of chaos. Or was it something else that caused the chaos in my life?
Let’s hear our scripture for this morning. It comes from the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus. Let’s hear what’s commonly called the fourth, or hinge, commandment, found in Exodus 20:8-11.
We all feel it in our lives from time to time. We all can relate to my introductory story about feeling as though there are too many things happening and not enough time for them all. Maybe we don’t feel it right now, but we can think back in our lives to times that felt chaotic.
And when those chaotic times come, we think to ourselves that this is just how life is. Toilets are agents of chaos. Schedules are agents of chaos. Children’s activities are agents of chaos. Obligations in town are agents of chaos. Keeping up with doctors and prescriptions and our health are agents of chaos. And life is, and will be for the foreseeable future, chaotic because that’s just how life is.
If you can relate to this, it begs a question of how to escape this chaotic way of life, if indeed it’s at all possible. Is there a means by which we can realize a regular rhythm to life; at least, more often than we do now. Is it possible to live into a way of life that is chaotic less often?
That was the question Dana and I finally asked ourselves as I approached career change. At the time, I was about to leave my job at Mercer and leave the SPRC at Martha Bowman and take an appointment. I would still be on the College Hill Commission, still be president of the downtown Macon neighborhood association, and we still had financial difficulties.
I would be adding to that driving once a week to Milledgeville from Macon to pastor three small churches, my first appointment. Sundays would mean leaving the house at 8:30 and not returning home until 4:30 in the afternoon, having driven 105 miles round trip. Then, twice a week, I would drive from Macon to Atlanta for school. And I knew that school would really put pressure on me.
Dana and I wondered when we would get family time in? When I would spend time being a father and a husband, with all the obligations I was about to take on? Something had to give.
The toilet was what called this to the surface. We couldn’t keep living in this chaotic way. But what to do about it?
I remember distinctly sitting in church and hearing a sermon about sabbath for the first time. Before that sermon, I thought sabbath was what you did Sunday mornings. In talking about Sabbath through Bible study last fall, I discovered many here think that way, too. Sabbath has come to be equated with going to church, but that wasn’t the original idea at all.
Note in Exodus that God commands the people, and the animals, to rest. Not just the land owners, not just the males, not just high ranking people, but everyone, from the immigrant in their midst to their slaves to their animals. Everyone should cease work and rest, for on the seventh day, God rested from creating the world.
In fact, the sabbath is the first of the Ten Commandments that gets mentioned in scripture. In Exodus 16, when God provides the manna in the wilderness, God commands the people to not collect manna on the seventh day, for it’s a holy day, set aside for rest.
Sabbath, at its core, isn’t about keeping worship. It’s about rest. Resting itself, in fact, is an act of worship, for in resting, we live into the way God has ordained life, giving God our respect and allegiance.
This might sound odd, for why would God command that we cease working? That we rest? The sermon I heard those many years ago didn’t really address the why. It just said that God commanded that we take time, a whole day in fact, to rest, to cease activity, to stop working.
And sitting at our dining room table, as we examined our chaotic lives and the added chaos that was coming from transitioning to being a pastor and student, Dana and I decided we would give it a try. It sounded totally impractical, but it was an act of faith: to trust God with our time, to trust that God would provide for our ability to get things done. And instead, to set aside a day for no work, for both of us to rest, and to just be a family together. In other words, to sabbath.
On the seventh day, God rested from creation. God created time itself. Before creation, there was no time. No sun to rise and fall, no movement of the earth around the sun, setting the seasons. That’s a hard concept to grasp, but God invented time itself.
And in resting on the seventh day, we see that God ordained how we are to spend our time: in a work/rest rhythm.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work…” so says God to Moses in the Ten Commandments. The God who invented time established, ordained, that we should live our lives in a work/rest rhythm. Perhaps, in our modern world, that takes on a different form than six days and a whole day; it could be half a day here and half a day there, it could be a few hours each day, it could be a whole day that’s not Saturday.
But the question is this: does your life have an intentional work/rest rhythm to it, whatever form that rhythm takes?
Another way of asking that question is this: do you intentionally set aside time when no work is allowed?
For that word intentional is key. Sabbath is different from falling on the couch at the end of a long day and turning on the TV. That’s time you stumble into or time you’re forced into by your obligations. The great rabbi Abraham Heschel, who wrote a book on the Sabbath, says that our intentional rest time should be what our time revolves around. Sabbath prepares us to undertake what’s ahead and what we long for as it approaches.
It’s through intentionally setting aside time, in sacrificing some of our time, that we truly live into sabbath practice.
That’s why, this Lent, we’re asking you to give up time. We usually give up things like sweets, alcohol, or other things of that nature. Here, the request is to give up your time for sabbath. A regular time, set aside, where no work is to be done. In doing so, we learn to live into the work/rest rhythm that God ordained for our time.
A work/rest rhythm that is different from our usual rhythms of work/work. Some of us work constantly, even some of us who are supposedly retired! The only times we don’t work are when we’re asleep or when we fall on the couch, exhausted at the end of the day. We take no time to delight in the things God has made us to delight in, one of the aspects of sabbath. We do not purposefully set aside time for self-care, for rest, which is why the sabbath was made.
It was a work/work rhythm that I lived into in my opening illustration. I was doing all the things. And barely keeping up. Life felt chaotic. It was too much. But I couldn’t give any of it up, I couldn’t say no, because that would be to admit that I wasn’t capable, that I wasn’t as good as I seemed. It would wound my ego.
Which is nothing less than pride. That’s what causes us, ultimately, to live into that chaotic work/work rhythm. We pridefully say we can do it. We pridefully decide we have something to prove to others. Consider that we celebrate supermoms, we celebrate people in our community who do all the things. I feel that praise sometimes when people realize that I’m a full-time pastor, full-time doctoral student, chair of the board of the chamber of commerce, and do a few other things as well. They think I’m amazing because I can do it all.
But I can’t do it all. None of us can. That’s why God established the work/rest rhythm to life. Work/rest rhythm creates order in our lives. Remember that God is a God of order, not chaos. The chaos comes when we live into a work/work rhythm, deciding that we’ll play god, because we’re clearly more capable than God is. God had to rest on the seventh day, but not us. No, we can do it all, be all things to all people, be supermom or superdad, be the big time community leader, amaze everyone at how capable we are.
We don’t need to rest. We can be god.
Pride is at the center of our busy, hurried, lifestyles. Pride is what often keeps us from living into sabbath practice. Pride was the sin of Adam and Eve. The serpent said they could be like God if they ate of the apple. Adam and Eve missed that they were already like God, for they were created in God’s image! They forgot who they were. Original sin was not eating of the apple so much as it was forgetting their true identity: images of God himself.
So it is for us. When we live into the work/work rhythm, we forget who we are. Sabbath reminds us of who we are: God’s children, created in God’s image, which means the sabbath was created for us. Jesus says in Mark that the sabbath was created for humans, not humans for the sabbath. We need rest, we need purposeful time to rest and delight in the things God has made us to delight in.
We need to live into the work/rest rhythm of life that God has ordained.
So here’s the challenge. Hopefully you were here Ash Wednesday and committed to give up some time. Now’s when the rubber meets the road. Look at your schedule. Sit down as a family. Find intentional time to rest. Purposefully set aside time. It might be a few hours. It might have to shift, depending on the week, but sit down, every Sunday, and etch out when you as a family will rest. And then decide, prayerfully before God, that the time you have set for sabbath is non-negotiable. It will be hugely tempting to give up that time when it arrives. It will be tempting because obligations will come, people will call or text, or you’ll feel behind on projects at work. Trust that God will provide the time. Trust that God knows what you need to get done and it will get done. Keep the sabbath time you’ve set aside.
That’s the challenge. A challenge you already accepted in that Wesleyan covenant prayer we’ve prayed twice now: on the first Sunday of the year and when we committed to our goals for the year. It says, “trust that God will give you your place and work,” and then says that we commit to “be employed for [God] or set aside for [God].” Then, we committed to give up time on Ash Wednesday. We have accepted this challenge and committed ourselves. Have you lived into it?
As you do, whether you have been already or you will begin sabbath practice now after hearing this sermon, I want to hear how you’re responding! I’m eager to hear about your experience. Text me, email me, call me, talk to me at church. Fill out the response card in your bulletin and leave it in the basket at the back on the way out the door.
Full disclosure, this series and the response card are part of my doctoral project, what takes the place of a dissertation. So I’m doubly eager to hear about it so I have something to report! When you complete the response card, you’ll be helping me with my project but, more importantly, you’ll be helping yourself move toward a sabbath practice.
Which is very important to me because I care about you and I care about how frazzled I see many of you, how much I hear from you that life is chaotic, how much I see how abundant life could be if only more of us would set aside time for sabbath. While this might be my project, my motivation is to help you know life and life abundant through practicing an intentional work/rest rhythm.
So this Lent, try it out as an experiment. Set aside time weekly for sabbath. Decide that you’ll do that every week through April 12, Easter. And then, when Easter comes, you can evaluate if it was worth it or not. Maybe you’ll come to a different conclusion than my family has, different from this sermon. But give it a chance.
Give it a chance by responding to this question, “what would you do with 24 hours if your only requirement was to experience the deepest joy you can?” That’s what Sabbath provides; that’s what Sabbath can do, when we rest into God’s work/rest rhythm for life.
See what God can do. We need not know constant and consistent chaos in our lives. God is a God of order. Experience how orderly life can be through keeping the sabbath.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.
If you were not present at church but would like to complete a response card, complete this online version: https://forms.gle/BueBwKUMaqnG1zbh8
Thank you for your help!