I hit that on my truck just a few days ago. When I bought the truck, it had 5 miles on it. Here’s the kicker. I bought the truck in June of last year. Nine months, 20,000 miles. I do a lot of driving.
Most of it for work. I drive to out of town hospitals, I drive for meetings, I drive for retreats, I drive to Macon at least once a week. And after a while, it all adds up. During all those miles, I find myself often spending time in prayer, sometimes through singing. Lately, I’ve been addicted to Cat Stevens’ rendition of that classic hymn: Morning Has Broken. There’s a line in it that stood out to me. It’s one of those times that you hear a familiar word differently, in a way that you can never unhear.
In a latter verse, the hymn says, “Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning, born of the one light Eden saw play. Praise with elation, praise every morning, God’s recreation of the new day.”
God’s recreation. There’s a double meaning there. In the morning, with the light playing over Eden, God recreates, literally plays. But, God also re-creates. The word recreation, so common to us especially because of how many of us are involved with the Recreation Department, is literally the word re-create.
To play is to re-create, to be reborn and renewed. Recreation is re-creation.
And to be re-created is one way of thinking about the sabbath.
Let’s hear our scripture for today. It’s from Deuteronomy’s version of the Ten Commandments, so it will sound very similar to when I preached the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments two weeks ago. But there’s one major difference. Listen and see if you can spot it.
Did you catch the difference?
Both versions of the fourth commandment give a rationale for why God commands the sabbath. In Exodus, it’s because God rested on the seventh day of creation. In Deuteronomy, it’s because God delivered the people out of slavery in Egypt.
There, in Egypt, they heard over and over again, “build more bricks!” With the crack of the whip from their Egyptian overlords, the people made bricks out of straw and mud. Day after day, without ceasing, with only enough time to sleep before going back to do it again. Pharaoh needed more storehouses. Popular legend says that the Israelites built the pyramids. Perhaps, but Exodus says they were building something far less grand: storehouses for all the riches Pharaoh was accumulating.
Anyone who’s worked with concrete or mortar knows this must have been back-breaking work. Then to do it seven days a week. Then to do it all year long. Then, consider that the Egyptians had not developed the wheel. It puzzles scholars still to this day how they moved the bricks, once built, without use of wheelbarrows or carts or anything else that goes about on a wheel.
Build more bricks! The Israelites lived in an on-demand workforce, where they were to work at the pleasure of the pharaoh as much as he wanted, whenever he wanted, doing exactly what he wanted. There was no freedom, definitely no time for recreation.
This is what God saved the people from when rescuing them from Egypt; God saved them from being an on-demand workforce.
On-demand is a buzzword today. We hear of it much through our televisions, where programming is on-demand. My children have no concept of having to wait for 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning to watch their favorite cartoon, like most of us had to do. For them, whatever cartoon they want to watch, whatever episode, is available through Netflix, Hulu, or Disney Plus, whenever they want it. It’s on-demand.
But on-demand extends beyond our various screens. Some employers have gone to an on-demand workforce. In warehouses in this country, workers are called in by an app on their phone on an as-needed basis. As the warehouse receives more orders, it automatically pushes notifications out to workers that they’re needed and required to report to work. When the warehouse has fewer orders, it pushes out fewer notifications. From a logistics stand-point, it’s a brilliant system that efficiently manages personnel expenses.
It’s just like a Lyft or Uber driver: the worker gets a notice when they’re needed and only when they’re needed. But with one crucial difference: the Lyft or Uber driver can turn off their availability in the app when they need downtime, or when they don’t have childcare available, or when they need to run errants. The on-demand warehouse worker cannot. She or he is always on, always to be available for work.
So while brilliant from a logistical standpoint, this on-demand workforce is tyranny to the worker. They never know when they’ll be needed. They have no regular schedule around which to build their lives. They have no flexibility to schedule appointments because, if they say no when called in to work, they risk losing hours or losing their job. Those workers who report more often get notified first when the warehouse sends out notices. And so workers must report, if they want to make money to provide for their families and secure their positions.
For these on-demand workers experiencing this tyranny of being always on, the push notification to their phones might as well say, “build more bricks!”
They work for the company as much as it wants, whenever it wants, doing exactly as it wants. There’s no freedom, no time for recreation.
This ought not sound unfamiliar to us. How many nights last week did you go to bed thinking about something related to work or an obligation you hold? How many evenings did you spend time looking at your email, responding to text messages, or making phone calls related to work or obligations? How many times this month have you shrugged your shoulders and said, “oh well, that’s just how it goes,” when some obligation pops up that you must attend even though you already had plans to do something for you?
For most of us, even those of us who are retired but still sit on boards and hold property and other interests, there’s always one more email to return, one more call to make, one more project to complete, one more todo to check, one more thing, just one more. Always one more.
Always one more.
It’s exhausting isn’t it?
We live in an on-demand world. And that increasingly means that anytime, anywhere, someone can make a demand of us because we must always be on.
Our obligations and workplaces demand as much as they want, whenever they want, doing exactly as they want. There’s no freedom, no time for recreation. We, too, live as an on-demand people.
In Deuteronomy, providing that freedom, that time for recreation, is exactly why God established the Sabbath as the fourth commandment. Consider that this is the first commandment where action is required of the people. The first three are simply dispositions toward God. The latter six tell the people important things like not to murder, not to lie, not to commit adultery. But in between, the first thing God commands humans to do, is practice sabbath.
But let’s be clear about something. Sabbath isn’t something we do for God. It’s not like giving of our offering or giving time here at the church volunteering. It’s not an obligation we should feel. Instead, Sabbath is like how we methodists talk about grace: it’s a free gift of God to us. It’s a gift of time, a gift of freedom.
We don’t do sabbath for God. Sabbath is God’s gift to us.
A gift that offers us freedom from an on-demand lifestyle.
In Egypt, the people were only valued for what they could produce; in this case, bricks. They had no other value. They were not valued for being human beings, images of God; they were not valued as people of “sacred worth,” as the United Methodist Church says all humans are. They were simply brick producers; that’s it.
When we succumb to an on-demand lifestyle with our work and obligations, we come to value ourselves as merely brick producers. We gradually learn to only be valued for what we can produce and achieve. Work creeps in to every facet of life because we tell ourselves, even subconsciously, that we must always be on because that’s where we find our value: in production and accomplishment; in being needed and responding to those needs.
The problem with our work-focused lives, with lives lived in a work/work rhythm instead of sabbath’s work/rest rhythm, is not “simply an issue of too many hours being claimed by work. Rather, it is a lack of any theoretical limits to working time…[which] means that any time in a person’s life is increasingly liable to the claims of work, suggesting that human life is for the sake of work, rather than work existing for the sake of human life and flourishing.”
So says a sociologist who studies this new phenomenon of the on-demand workforce. Life is for the sake of work, rather than work existing for human life and flourishing.
That describes life for too many of us. In your life, do you live for work? Does on-demand work, where work may impinge on just about anytime of your day and night, characterize your life?
God created sabbath to save us from being captive to our work; to save us from being on-demand. That’s why Deuteronomy’s rationale for sabbath is being saved from Egypt. We are literally saved from having to live for work. But too many of us don’t live life that way. We do live for work.
Sabbath says that we were not created to build more bricks; to be machines of production and achievement. We were created to enjoy life by enjoying God forever! We were created out of God’s abundant joy. Psalm 8 says that we were created just a “little lower than God.” We are images of God, we are a reflection of God, and we were created for joy in God.
Sabbath reminds us of who we are and whose we are. Who are we? We are images of God. Whose are we? Beloved children of God.
Work is in pursuit of living out God’s purposes for our lives. Work is not the purpose for our lives. I say that even as one who feels called to my line of work. We talk about calling, about finding your passion and living that out through work. And that’s good and has it’s place. But work should not define our identities, our sense of self, our value as humans. I am not a pastor. Being a pastor does not define my sense of self. I am Ted, beloved child of God, image of God. If I stopped being a pastor, I would still be Ted.
We were created for joy. But the week’s demands of obligations, responsibilities, tasks, running around children and parents, keeping up with all the ways people put pressures on us, keeping up with all the bricks we must build, all of that wears us down. It draws us away from how we were created. It leaves us in need of being re-created.
And that is why we opened with that verse from the hymn “morning has broken.” God established the sabbath as a gift to us for recreation, literally so we could be re-created after the week has worn us down.
What does that look like lived out in our daily lives? In our times that we set aside to practice sabbath?
Your comment cards have been super helpful, both from Sunday school and from the services. And one of the things I note in many of your responses is a desire to use the sabbath for spiritual activities like reading your bible, praying, and the like. Those are well and good and I hope that you have a daily habit of that.
But unlike many things, sabbath is not a call to greater spiritual discipline. Practice your disciplines, spend a little time in prayer and worship, but spend the rest of your sabbath time playing, having fun, rejoicing.
Because sabbath is a time for recreation! It’s a time literally for fun. It’s a time to delight in things! That’s why last week we talked about sitting around a relative’s home on Sunday afternoons, whiling away the hours: drinking a favorite drink, maybe playing checkers or chess or some yard game, or just talking and laughing. God knew that we would need these mini re-creations to stay in tune with how we were created; with who we are and whose we are.
And so sabbath is about recreation! For when we recreate, when we play, when we engage in things that bring us joy, things in which we delight, we are indeed being spiritual because we are doing what God made us to do! We are giving ourselves to God to be re-created.
Here’s the standard, then, for activities on the sabbath. When you think of something you might want to do on the Sabbath, consider whether or not it fills you up or drains you. After you are done with the activity, do you feel refreshed and renewed or do you feel like you need rest? If it’s refreshed and renewed, go for it! If it would require you to rest afterwards, don’t do it! Leave it for another day.
The classic example is yard work. For some of us, that’s a filling activity, one that might leave us physically tired but renewed and rejuvenated in our hearts and souls. For others, like me, it’s a tiresome and tedious task that I abhor. So I won’t work in the yard on the sabbath, but you might!
Whatever it is, find things that you delight in, that you love, that fill you up and do those during your sabbath time. In doing so, you’re living into God’s standards for the sabbath, you’re being spiritual, you’re doing exactly what God commands.
Take time to recreate. That’s a purpose of sabbath. For in doing so, we are re-created, made afresh in God’s image; an image that says to us we were created for more than obligations, demands, and responsibilities; we were created for joy, for peace, for love.
Stop living an on-demand lifestyle. Rest easy into the lifestyle of joy, peace, and love that God intended. Practice sabbath and be re-created.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.
Instead of the response card, please complete the survey below to help with Ted’s doctoral research project: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfwRYsaoUNfXe46zGClPIHRkuS-wE1b8hNYjrZEiaPBfqy5wg/viewform