There was a moment where Dana and I had one of those kitchen table conversations. I was about to go and become a pastor, leaving my position at Mercer. That meant on Sundays and sometimes Wednesdays, I would drive from Macon to Milledgeville to do church. And doing church on Sunday meant driving to three different churches, one of which was almost an hour from the other two. We would leave Macon at 8:30 a.m. to lead the first church and get home about 4:30 p.m. having finished with the third church.
Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would be in Atlanta attending seminary at Emory. So, four days a week, I was leaving town to be gone most if not all of the day. That left Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays, to somehow write sermons, attend to church work, visit with church members, study for the fifteen hours of classes I was taking, and complete all the required assignments for my classes. And somewhere in there, be a husband, be a father, and sleep.
That all seemed like too much. Then, we considered that Dana was also working full time as a teacher while I did all these things, so when, we wondered, would we find time to do things like chores or hang out with friends or even get away for a few days? I was signing up for three years of this schedule. It felt like perhaps it would be too much.
I was getting ready to go and do. And to go and do for the Kingdom of God. For God’s glory! All the things I wanted to do, all the things I needed to do, all the things I felt called to do, were all good things.
But all those good things were, perhaps, too much. How would we manage it all?
Go and do is Jesus’s command to a lawyer who stands up to test him in front of a crowd. To go and do is radical; it completely upends this lawyer’s expectations. And to go and do is the command to us today, but perhaps not in the way we would imagine.
Let’s hear our scripture for this morning. It comes from the gospel of Luke. And let’s stand for the gospel reading:
Go and do.
Three words. Three simple words, in fact. They’re some of the first words we learn to read as children. So it sounds simple enough. Go and do.
That’s how some translations put Jesus’s words to this lawyer. He asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. For him, eternal life meant the blessings of being a part of the chosen people of God; the tripartite promises made to Abraham. He’s trying to test Jesus. Just like any good lawyer, he already knows the answer to the question he’s asked. Lawyers in this context mean legal scholars of the Torah. So this lawyer is testing Jesus’s knowledge of the Torah.
They have a back and forth conversation that goes as the lawyer would expect, with them agreeing on the right answer: to love God, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is how you inherit eternal life, or the promises of God to the people of God. These two commandments contains the whole law. All of this is pro forma. And in legal speak, it’s stare decisis: there’s great precedent for understanding the law, the entire Torah, the first five books of the law, as summed up by love God and love your neighbor.
There’s no question on their agreement. In legal and philosophical speak, this is a priori knowledge. Rabbis have theologically reasoned this for generations. But even then, it’s also ontological. It relates to their being; the core of who they are, the basis of their theological foundation. There’s a rich history here to thinking of the law in this way. And if you’re into legal scholarship, study of the Torah, or metaphysical philosophy, which, nerd that I am, I enjoy all of these things, this would be a fascinating conversation.
The conversation to this point has gone exactly as the lawyer would expect it to go, with Jesus passing his test, except that Jesus then says to this whip-smart lawyer:
Go and do.
Jesus’s comment is radical.
It doesn’t sound radical to us. We go and do all the time. We have many things to do. Many good things. When I’m busy, I think of the snowman character from the movie Frozen named Olaf, when he says, “all good things! All good things!” I’m totally taking his commentary out of context, but that’s what runs through my head when I’m rushing around with a million things to do. I hear my inner Olaf say, “all good things, all good things,” because in some ways I relate strongly to that animated snowman.
We have, many of us, jobs. Those keep us very busy. For some of us, like me currently, it’s exceptionally busy at the present moment. But in our jobs as Olaf would say, we’re doing all good things.
We have, all of us, families. Those keep us very busy, too, especially if we’re caring for children, grandchildren, parents, or elderly relatives. Showing good care, providing for our families, is essential in life; as Olaf would say, all good things.
We have, many of us, commitments. Perhaps we serve on boards, perhaps we give of our time to nonprofits, some of you are giving hours to Macon Outreach and to our garden, some of you put in many hours on committees or otherwise volunteering with this church. These are all good things.
We have, all of us, homes and properties to take care of. At a basic level, there are dishes to be done, laundry to do, yard work that beckons, and of course there are those small projects at our houses we keep meaning to get to but never quite find the time to do. These are all good things.
We have all of us, many good things to go and do. We are doers.
And we’re radically different from this lawyer. He comes probably from the tradition of the pharisees. That tradition thinks radically different from the way we do. Consider this quote from an ancient commentary that was special to the pharisees, “‘Study of the law is of higher rank than practicing it.’” Study is better than practicing. Learning about the law is greater than doing the law.
That’s what the pharisees believe. It’s almost certainly what this lawyer believes. No wonder Jesus comes off as radical to this lawyer.
He commands the lawyer to go and do, rather than to go and learn. The lawyer expects Jesus to congratulate him on his knowledge, to perhaps admit that this lawyer is his equal at least, if not his superior, in understanding the law. The lawyer expects that he has demonstrated having reached the heights, even perhaps the pinnacle, of religion because of his right understanding.
But no, Jesus says, go and do.
It’s radical for the lawyer, but we don’t have his problem, we think. We go and do. If we’re candid this morning, we probably go and do too much.
So what does this passage, commanding doing of the law as of equal importance to knowing the law, mean for us today?
That was the issue Dana and I faced years ago when we sat around our kitchen table. How would we go and do these things that were set before us, that I felt God was calling us to do, and yet still be a family, still take care of each other, not sacrifice the basics and most important things in our lives? Would we just plow through, holding on, hoping for the best?
For us, the answer was sabbath practice.
We’d just heard a sermon on sabbath at church, back when we were attending at Martha Bowman. Sabbath practice, as Jay Harris had described, isn’t about coming to church on Sundays and sabbath isn’t a stand-in word for Sunday. Sabbath practice means taking a purposeful break from work and obligation. Not just to break, although taking time away is good, but to be reminded that we are God’s children first, that we are defined by God and not defined by what we do, the titles we hold, or how much we accomplish.
On the seventh day of creation, God rested. God doesn’t need the rest, but God set the example: six days of work, one day of rest. That day is to be given over to doing the things that are of primary importance to our lives: time with family, time taking care of ourselves, time to just enjoy each other’s company, time to enjoy our homes, time to enjoy the things God has made us to enjoy, time to enjoy life with God.
It sounds like a luxury for our society that values doing so highly. Consider how often you’ve heard or been part of this greeting: “hi, how are you?” “Good! Busy!” We value being busy. Sometimes, we like to brag about how busy we are or like to make sure others know how busy we are because we equate being busy with being important. We feel a sense of self-importance because of all the things we’re doing, all the titles we hold, all the boards we sit on, all the volunteer hours we give.
While, with the snowman Olaf, we might say these are all good things, the problem is being busy and keeping up with all the demands on our lives means that we’re focused on ourselves, rather than on loving God and on loving our neighbor. We’re focused on ourselves by perhaps being self-consumed, proud of how busy we are and how much we produce, but at a minimum we’re focused on ourselves because it’s all we can do just to keep up with the demands on our time, the schedules of our family, the needs of those we care for, and the obligations we have. If we’re honest this morning, we must admit that this is being too busy; that just trying to keep up, sometimes managing, other times not, is too much.
And it takes away from the things that really matter to us: our families, taking care of each other, and loving God.
We need sabbath practice in order to rescue ourselves from being too busy, so that we focus primarily on God rather than on ourselves.
The lawyer of this text would have been familiar with this commandment to practice sabbath; the fourth commandment of the famous ten from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The Ten Commandments open with love of God and the first three describe how we are to love God. The Ten Commandments then end with love of neighbor, with the final six describing how to love our neighbor. Not only can Genesis through Deuteronomy be summed up by the twin greatest commandments to love God and love our neighbor, but the Ten Commandments themselves can be summed up that way and are structured that way.
But note, I only made mention of nine commandments just then, with the first three commanding the love of God and the final six commanding the love of neighbor. Sabbath, the fourth commandment, is known as the hinge commandment because it teaches both the love of God and the love of neighbor. In fact, it is the only commandment that relates to both. We love God, discover how God loves us and make primary in our lives the love of God by taking a break from work. We need that rest; God designed us for that rest. Resting frees us to love God. Then, when we are focused on God and God’s love first, we’re equipped to go out and love our neighbor. The Ten Commandments hinge on sabbath because the commandments swing from love of God to love of neighbor in this fourth commandment.
That’s what my family has discovered in our sabbath practice. All those years ago, we decided that on Saturdays, we would do no work. The kids don’t attend to school work, Dana leaves things to do for her job behind, and I do not attend to church work. There have been reasons for exceptions along the way; the occasional Saturday funeral, for example, but almost always, Saturday is sabbath. The kids don’t call it that, though; they call it family home day. Even though many Saturdays we take day trips to places, they still call it family home day because they know that we’re all home, we’re all together, and we’re all giving each other our undivided attention, even if just for that one day.
In doing so, we experience the love of God through each other. We experience release from the way work and demands and obligations can hold us captive. And then, we are better able to go and love our neighbor.
And that’s just the thing about sabbath practice. In the end, I’m not doing anything less than I would be doing without sabbath practice. I still attend to all my duties, all my work gets done, God always provides the time and the energy to do what’s in front of me. Not long ago, I was pastoring my former church, serving as chair of the board of the local chamber of commerce, completing my doctorate, and serving on a few other community boards. People would ask me how I managed to do it all. My answer was sabbath.
And yet, sabbath is not the biblical prescription to greater productivity. In fact, to use sabbath as a tool to greater productivity is to abuse sabbath. While greater productivity may be a consequence, the point of sabbath is to remind us that we do not exist for work. We do not exist to be productive. We were not made by God to produce. We were made in God’s image to reflect that image back to God and out to the world through loving God and loving our neighbor. And that’s the primary purpose of sabbath: to teach the love of God and love of neighbor by forcing us to take a weekly break from work and obligation; otherwise, we come to think of ourselves, and even define ourselves, by what we accomplish, by the titles we hold, by how busy we are, by how much we do.
When that happens, the things that get sacrificed are quality time with family, time serving others, time spent alone with God, and church attendance. They’re the easiest things to sacrifice, even though we know them to be so essential. This is why we need sabbath; we need our lives to hinge upon that practice so that we don’t lose sight of the basics: love God, love neighbor.
Even with our decade of practice, I stand before you as one who still needs the weekly reminder that I was not created for work; I was created to love God and love my neighbor. I need the weekly reminder that my primary concerns in life are not my job nor my obligations but my relationship with Jesus Christ and my relationships with my wife and children. And somehow, in practicing sabbath, through the grace of God all work gets done, all obligations are met. It just requires trusting God, which is hard. It’s like we’ve been saying about simplicity: focus on the mission, be authentic, and trust God with the rest. Sabbath is a form of practicing simplicity.
As a family, our lives hinge on sabbath practice. Our lives swing from Saturday to Saturday.
The fourth commandment, the sabbath commandment, is the hinge commandment that frees us to, and teaches us to, love God and love our neighbor.
God has designed our lives to be worked as God worked: six days of work, one day of sabbath rest. When we practice sabbath, our lives come to hinge on that purposeful rest, because we discover that it’s sabbath, above all the other things we could do or add to our lives, that actually best equips us to do what God has called on all of us to do: love God, love our neighbor.
Embedded in this conversation between Jesus and the lawyer is the call to sabbath. The lawyer was so busy trying to love God through learning about God that he neglected to love his neighbor. The key for him to go and do is sabbath, for it’s the hinge between loving God and loving neighbor.
And embedded for us today is perhaps the opposite. We are so busy doing, often doing things to love our neighbors, that we neglect to love God by giving God our lives, indeed, our time. The key for us is to go and do sabbath, for it’s the hinge between loving our neighbor and loving God.
A whole day might sound like too much. It may be too much to begin. So here’s the challenge this morning: carve out some time, together as a family. Find a block of hours every week that will be set aside to cease work and to engage in the things that bring you joy. Try this out as an experiment for six weeks and then see what difference it has made.
We’re tempted by a world that calls us to increased productivity, to save time so that we can do more and be more things to more people. But ultimately, at our core as disciples, we want to love God and love our neighbor. We feel that deep in our bones. The key to living the life we desire, the life we feel called to live, is to practice sabbath.
For sabbath is the hinge upon which our lives should swing. We want to go and do. We’re even called by God to go and do. And most of the time, the things we want to go and do are, as Olaf would say, all good things!
But all that we do, even for our neighbors, should first be grounded in our love of God. So, before we go and do, let us first practice sabbath.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.