Think back in your memory to those lazy Sunday afternoons of your childhood.
Maybe you remember hanging out with family, a meal at a grandparent’s house perhaps. Maybe you remember being a child, running carefree around the house and trying desperately to sit still while your aunt prayed for far too long.
Maybe you remember the smells of your mother cooking or the dishes that were always present on the table. Maybe you recall sitting on the porch, drinking sweet tea, whiling away the hours.
Maybe you’ve never had a Sunday afternoon like that but, surely, we can all think of meals like that with family. Times where we gather, prepare a meal together, feast, and then relax for a while afterwards. Time seems to stand still in those moments, the world floats by and nothing matters except being together, for that time.
We all have those regular times at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe we’d include the Fourth of July and Easter, too. But it used to be that families had more times like that. Many families used to have every Sunday afternoon just like that.
Whatever happened to those times?
The answer is easy: the demands of life grew on us all and we simply do not have time anymore to be lazy. We have no time to waste, whiling away the hours at a relative’s house. We cannot give up several hours on a Sunday for that, after already giving up a few hours to come to church. The demands of life are simply too much.
Let’s hear our scripture for this morning. Actually, it’s two scriptures, but they’re linked. Psalm 127 and then Psalm 128
Scripture: Psalms 127 and 128
Why do we work?
There are lots of reasons, lots of ways to answer that question, but what’s the first answer that pops to mind?
For some, it might be calling, a sense of divine purpose to the work you do. For others, it might be joy, getting to do what you love. Maybe you’re retired and that’s the reason you choose the obligations you do, out of joy.
But for the vast majority of Americans and probably the vast majority of us, we work to provide for our families.
And that doesn’t just apply to those of my age and station in life who are working to build a family. It applies to those older who are putting children through college, or those who are working to provide for their parents because of the care their parents now need. It applies to those who are still working, even though they could retire, to ensure they leave wealth behind for their children and their children’s children. And it applies to the new couples who are childless but dreaming of children, working to save money to have children.
We work to provide for our families, to build our families, to build our houses.
Psalm 127 doesn’t just speak to building actual dwellings, although that’s certainly important. We purchase homes to have a place to live, a sanctuary and shelter for those we love. We labor to pay off that house, to maintain that house, to expand and update that house. We love our houses and labor for them. We do it for our families.
But the word house in Psalm 127 also speaks to building a family itself. Think of the times the Old Testament refers to the House of Jacob, the House of David. We could rightly say today, in our midst, the House of Goshorn, the house of Harrell, or the House of Butler. We work to build our houses, our families, to provide for them, whether we’re providing for the generation behind, before, or just saving to be able to do so one day.
These two Psalms inextricably link family and work. In both, families are a joy, something to celebrate. “Happy is the man who has his quiver full of [the sons of his youth].” “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children will be like olive shoots around your table, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD.” Both Psalms, even though they speak exclusively from the male perspective, speak to this reality: family is a joy, family is a gift, family is a blessing.
And both open with words about work, noting how we work to build our families, our houses.
But these Psalms don’t just have nice things to say. They make clear that, where God is feared and the family walks in God’s ways, the building up of the Houses of Frerking, Cadwell, Eason, and Barnett, is a joy. Those families are blessed, for it is God who is building up our houses, not ourselves.
But where God is not present, where God is not feared and his ways not walked, all our labor is in vain. It will come to nothing. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.” I couldn’t help but hear my inner 80’s rock voice, one that’s often heard in my soul. Van Halen sings, “working so hard to make it easy,” in their song, “Right Now.” We try so hard to work to make life easy for our houses, but it’s all for naught if God is not in it.
The Psalms link obedience to God’s ways to blessings for our families. Of course, we know it’s not quite that simple. Sometimes disaster hits the most faithful families and sometimes the least faithful have it easy. There are exceptions and the why of that is for another sermon.
But the reality is that it is God who builds our houses, if we will keep God’s ways, live life in the way God has ordained. God protects our houses, like the guard keeping watch over the city. It is God, if we will let God.
We work so hard to make it easy for our houses. We work so hard to provide for our houses. We work so hard to protect our families. And here in our scripture we find a stark, hard truth: it’s all for naught if we’re not respectful of God, if we don’t walk in God’s ways, if we aren’t obedient to God’s ordaining of our time.
Which begs the question of what that means? What does it look like to have God be respected, walk in God’s ways? What does it mean to live life in obedience to how God has ordained our time?
Let’s go back to those lazy Sunday afternoons; to the family feasts around tables, to those times in your memory, whether holidays or Sundays, when you could while away the hours, feast together, and simply enjoy life together. Those lazy family times are the best.
And maybe, just maybe, they’re not lazy after all.
No, those family meals and hours whiled away were working in their own way: to remind us of what’s really important, to restore us after a week had worn us down, to invest in our families to build those deep and meaningful relationships. The lazy Sunday afternoon isn’t lazy at all; it’s investment in our families.
We work so hard to have money to provide for our families but what they really need is time; quality time, time built in to be a family. Work, whether our job or obligations we undertake, often takes away from our family time. The demands cut in to our time such that, even if we’re on vacation or we’re supposed to be at home just relaxing with our family, the phone dings, another email or text message needing a response, or our minds are consumed with problems, cares, and concerns, at work that need our attention when we return. We’re never really off; not like on those porches, or sitting around the family table, or standing in the kitchen chatting while preparing the feast.
God has ordained our time, “six days you shall do all your work but the seventh shall be a day of rest, set aside for the LORD,” to paraphrase the fourth commandment. Sabbath is how our time is ordained; sabbath time that calls not for rest just in the sense of ceasing work. Sabbath is also a time of investing in what really matters.
Throughout the law and the prophets in the Old Testament, the basis for walking in God’s ways and showing respect comes through in two ways: loving God and keeping the sabbath. For the whole law hinges on sabbath keeping. If we say to God that we don’t need that rest, we don’t need that time, we’re saying that we know better than God, that we can actually be God, a theme we explored last week.
But in not keeping sabbath, we’re also saying to God that we know best how to build our houses, provide for our families. That money and acquisitions are enough to offer that provision; we don’t need to build regular quality time in to invest in our families. We hear “unless the LORD builds the house” and decide it doesn’t apply to us.
Sabbath practice is about investing in what really matters. Turns out those Sunday afternoons gathered as a family were doing something very important; were working in their own special, God-ordained way. They were investing in our families as we gave of our best to each other. They were providing space for the extended family to engage in child-rearing and elder care. They were creating space to be reminded of what really matters in this life; that family matters far more than our jobs and obligations; that what we do for our family will be remembered across generations, while what we do for our jobs and obligations will be quickly forgotten.
Those Sunday afternoons had a magic to them. A magic we can reclaim when we choose to engage in sabbath practice. A magic we can reclaim if we reinstitute our found for the first time those lazy Sunday afternoons.
Sabbath causes investment in what really matters. Sabbath is the way God builds our houses.
It might still sound impractical, so let’s consider how much time we’re talking about giving up during the week for sabbath practice, where we practice both ceasing from work and being together as a family.
There are 168 hours in a week. Taking 24 of those is 14% of the week. Just 14%. But let’s drill down further. Let’s say you come to Sunday School and then decide, as a family, you’re going to gather together on Sunday afternoons from after church until 4pm. You’ll feast together, you’ll while away the hours together after the meal, the kids will run around and play, and no work, nor conversation about work, nor checking of phones, is allowed. You’ll drink wine, whisky maybe if you’re like me, and just enjoy each other’s company. We’re talking about, at most, eight hours of time to do church and a family lazy Sunday afternoon. Eight hours is 5% of the hours in a week. If we think only of waking hours, say 16 hours a day, eight hours out of the week is 7% of our time.
So to come to church and then spend the afternoon whiling away the hours, feasting with family, doing the important work of investment, in other words practicing sabbath, requires only 5% of the hours in a week; a mere 7% of our waking hours during the week.
These are low percentages that will yield a guaranteed return on investment. Sabbath is a small ask if we really sit down and consider it.
A small ask that pays a huge dividend.
And dividend is the right word here. The time we spend investing in our families, free of the distractions of work, coupled with time we spend investing in ourselves through self-care during the sabbath, free again of the distractions of work, is time invested in our families, in ourselves, in our futures.
It’s time invested in God’s economy of time. It’s an investment in obedience to God’s ways.
It’s an investment.
Then, as God builds the House of Jessup, Bundick, Eaton, Snyder, and Wright, we will discover blessings, joys, release from stress and worry, and a better sense of what really matters in this life.
So make the investment: practice sabbath, especially together as a family. Hopefully you’ve already made a plan as a family about how you’ll practice sabbath. That was the challenge last week and the question for this week’s response card in your bulletin and online. If you haven’t made a plan, here’s an easy way: always have lunch together at a relative’s house after church on Sunday and then spend a few hours just hanging around afterwards. Treat Sunday like it’s a mini Thanksgiving day. That will be your sabbath.
Don’t have family in town? Or don’t have family you can be with on a regular basis? I’m sure you have friends or an adopted family in town that you could be with. Sunday’s don’t fit your schedule? Make it Saturday afternoon, Friday evening; there are a million excuses not to practice sabbath, but if you make the commitment to find a way, God will show you how. For sabbath practice is living into Psalm 128: fearing God and walking in God’s ways.
We as a church could make this a regular habit, a staple of who we are as a people. We could be a countercultural example that we don’t need to be busy to prove something to someone, we don’t need to constantly work to provide for our families; what we need is obedience to God’s economy, to God’s timing, to sabbath.
To take time to invest in our families through God’s ways. To admit that unless God builds our families, we labor in vain.
Make a plan to have regular time, like Sunday afternoons, to invest in your family, to allow God to build the house of your family.
“Unless the LORD builds the house,” the House of Adler, Arnold, Bearden, Bond, Brewer, Broome, Burch, Burton, Cheek, Coffee, Coleman, Connell, Crummey, Dahlstrom, Estes, Evans, Flanagan, Glass, Green, Griffis, Haley, Hall, Hardin, Hardy, Helms, Johnson, Kelly, Law, Long, Manning, Matos, Miller, Morrison, Peacock, Pittman, Rogers, Stuckey, Studstill, Tanner, Veal, Walker, West, Williams, Williamson, Yawn; “Unless the LORD builds the house,” we, ourselves, labor in vain, “eating the bread of anxious toil,” and rising early for no purpose.
“Happy is” the house “who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”
Take the challenge. Make the investment. Regain the lazy Sunday afternoon, for it’s not lazy after all. No, it’s the best investment we can make. Practice sabbath.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.
If you weren’t at church to fill out a response card, respond to this sermon and help Ted with his doctoral project: https://forms.gle/ChZsCs677h3Cp15ZA