Occasionally, writing this column takes some very unexpected twists and turns. My original thought for today was to begin with last weekend’s inductees into the NFL Hall of Fame. A statue is made of each inductee’s head. It will sit in the Hall of Fame for people to “ooo” and “ahhh” over for decades to come.
These little statuettes reminded me of the golden calf worshipped by the Israelites after their Exodus from the grip of Egypt’s Pharaoh. I had wanted to rant about idols and how they differ from icons. (My righteous indignation can become too predictable – read “boring” – at times.)
As I wrestled with my writing dilemma, I was reading a new book that caught me up short. The book is by Walter Brueggemann, a longtime Old Testament professor. His book? “Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to the Culture of Now.”
He has some refreshing insights about that pivotal period in Jewish history when the Israelites were at loose ends after escaping the pharaoh, who drove them to produce for his benefit. In the desert, they needed some direction for ordering their lives as persons and as a community. So, the story goes, Moses climbed Mount Sinai and returned with what we know as the Ten Commandments. As these community-making commandments are proclaimed, the people hear God’s voice speak 10 times.
The first three effectively tell them, “Pharaoh said he was your god. But he is no longer your god. I am your God and you will have no others. You want freedom from Pharaoh’s oppression. I will give you that freedom, but my price is that you worship me and me alone.”
They couldn’t yet really count the cost of that freedom, but they followed along. What they discovered is that God’s exclusive “contract” with them was very different from Pharaoh’s demand for their allegiance. God’s price came in the six commandments that spoke clearly about how they are to treat their neighbors.
Honor/respect your parents, no murder, no adultery, no stealing from your neighbor, no lying about your neighbor, no coveting of your neighbor’s property (wife included). In a nutshell, these were the ground rules God set for playing nice with your family and your neighbors, not to mention with God.
These commandments are so often held rigidly by people or tossed on a sentimental pile of clichés we speak but pay little honest attention to. Our personal and social anxieties are currently so profound that these extreme reactions to the commandments are nearly predictable. But remember that God spoke a 10th time. We know it as the fourth commandment, the one about keeping a Sabbath time, a rest time. It’s almost like God is saying, “Now as you remember who your God is, take a long breath. It will help you see our loyalty to each other is acted out in the ways you treat your neighbors with respect.”
Take regular time to rest from your relentless schedules of producing for your families, then consuming products with your families, to remember God wants so much more for you than production and consumption. Take regular rest time to see your family members as real people, not producers and consumers.
Let the new awareness of personhood you see in your family through Sabbath be projected into how you see your neighbors and how you treat your neighbors.
There is so much more in the genius of Sabbath, my friends, than we might never know if we don’t stop long enough to rest – and see in brand new ways.