Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Looking Forward

I was glad when they say to me: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ ” (Ps 122:1)
I remember in my first job, someone asks the question: “So do you look forward to the weekend?” One said that he is looking forward to spending time with his family. Another said that he wanted to finish a personal project. Others simply appreciate the coming of a needed rest from work. Humourously, one engineer said: “Weekend? Oh No. It means: ‘Monday is coming!” Many of us certainly appreciate the weekend because it is a break from a week of work. Yet, for some, a week is simply a temporal respite from the stress and challenges of work. Like my funny colleague, weekends simply mean the coming of the dreaded Monday instead of anticipating optimistically a Saturday.

Do you look forward to weekends? Do you thank God it’s Friday or dread them because of the coming of Moody Monday? What does weekends mean for us? Is Sunday another day of trying to get ahead of others in terms of competitive advantage? Or is it another day to do a different kind of work? The Old Testament reminds the Israelites to take the Sabbath seriously; ‘ Six days you shall labor and do all your work,’ (Exodus 20:9). The longest commandment out of the Ten, appears to be the fifth commandment to keep the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath is considered mandatory to the Jewish people. An ancient legend tells us about the encounter of the children of Israel with God.
My children, if you are willing to accept the Torah (the law) and observe its mitzvoth (precepts), I will grant you a most precious gift.

Eagerly, the children asked: ‘What is this precious gift?

God replied; ‘The world that is to come.

The children: ‘Tell us more about this world that is to come.’

God said: ‘I have already given you the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a taste of the world-to-come.’ “
(adapted from Alfred Kolatch’s “The Jewish Book of Why”, NY: Penguin Compass, 2003, p154)

The Sabbath is a gift of the world that is to come. What an amazing thought. Although this is considered a legend, it does provide another angle to see what the Sabbath means. Sometimes we may see the Sabbath as another time to simply take a break. For the busy executive, it can be a needed rest from stress built up in the office. It can be a temporary pause from a crazy world of high expectations and competition. For many Jews, it means a time to enjoy the gift of looking-forward to that eternal rest in God. Many Christians take Sunday as their form of Sabbath, yet I know of many who see Sabbath as another day of accomplishing and doing work, albeit a different kind of work. David is a busy king heavily engaged with the political and national needs of the nation of Israel. The psalms describe many of his ups and downs of life expressed to God. Ps 122 starts off with an optimistic look toward the entering into the house of the Lord. He said: “I was glad.”

I know of people who do not look forward to church. Some shun church because they feel the church is a place of hypocrites. Others avoid church claiming that it is full of middle class or elite people merely wanting to gather in a rich-people-environment. Some go to church expecting to be pampered with an entertaining sermon or to be cuddled with nice songs during the worship service. Let me suggest that we do not confuse Church Sunday services with keeping the Sabbath rest. The Sabbath is an opportunity to glimpse the future. It begins in the heart. It fills the mind with expectations not of people but of God. It anticipates the reading of the Word of God and the contemplation of the kingdom together with the people of God.

Barbara Brown Taylor, a well-known Episcopal preacher even describes the Sabbath as a day in which we learn to say: “No!”
• Say ‘No’ to a culture of accumulating ‘more’ things by keeping ‘less’ stuff through giving away;
• Say ‘no’ to a world infatuated with ‘more-is-good;’
• Say ‘no’ to work at least one day a week;

Sabbath rest is a time to deny ourselves the pressures of getting ahead or accumulating stuff. Instead it is a time to allow us the pleasures of slowing down and giving up the work mindset we face each week. It is a time to learn to say to one another: “Enough. We have enough.” Like going to a buffet meal, rather than topping up our plate with loads of food, and then struggling to finish it all, we should not pile up our week with loads of work that we cannot joyfully finish. Remember that the Israelites who tried to look for manna on the seventh day found nothing? The sixth day they had double the normal amount of manna. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth said:
A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.
How true it is. We need to observe a day of rest each week, every week. For in doing so, we not only say no to the pressures of the office at least a day a week. We practice saying yes to the simple pleasures of life. We look forward to a future of a time with our heavenly Father, by reminding ourselves that we are not of this world. True. Sabbath time is a time to practice the enjoyment of God and what he has provided us. It is a time to look forward like David to a house of God. Yes, the house of God may be filled with people we may like or dislike. It can also be a place that we dread because certain persons irritate us. Let us not be troubled. Recognize we are often not angels ourselves. The house of God is not simply a gathering of people. It is a community of God’s people looking forward to meeting God. Eugene Peterson’s title of a book says it very well. We need to come together with an attitude of “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.” We need to desire more of David’s heartbeat for God by saying:

I am glad when they said unto me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.

Personally, one thing I do on Sabbath Day each week is to turn OFF the computer. I encourage you to do the same at least for one 24-hour cycle each week.

What should we do when someone gives us a wrapped present on a Sunday? Like little children, eagerly open it up! Keep the Sabbath and to keep it holy to the LORD.


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