One of my classes last semester experimented with practicing Christian disciplines as a way to better communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We split into groups and our final project was to create a one-hour evangelistic presentation about our project and how it illuminates salvation in Jesus. My group chose the discipline of keeping the Sabbath. Tonight we had the opportunity to present our project again for a Lectureship crowd in a sort of "coffeehouse" setting. After we shared about our own experiences of Sabbath, I got to wrap it up. I thought I'd share the final speech with all of you out there in Blogland (especially you, Mom - I vote you "Most likely to make it to the end of this rather lengthy post!"):
"We’ve told you some about the experiences we’ve had with Sabbath. We’ve mentioned how Sabbath gives work meaning without making it the meaning of our lives. I don’t think that you need further convincing about the need for a period of rest – just feeling the tension in your back and shoulders and thinking about your lengthy to-do list is probably plenty.
"What we’re speaking about is vastly different from the kind of rest you might read about in a self-help book or O magazine. There’s more to this than fragrant bubble baths or a steamy mug of chamomile tea. Quite frankly, Sabbath is more about self-sacrifice than self-service; it’s more about recognizing my humble state than getting something that I deserve. Sabbath, in some ways, is a form of death to self. It is essentially self-denying.
"Dying to self: it sounds harsh, even masochistic. But our central claim as Christians is that this is actually Good News! Our hope is anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that event has dramatically transformed our world, in a way that we can’t totally fathom or express! In the practice of Sabbath, we’ve caught a little glimpse of what his death and resurrection means – this isn’t all of the story, but it provides some insight into what we mean when we say that Jesus saves us in this counter-intuitive way. We want to share that tiny glimmer of insight with you.
"Our society tells us that our worth as human beings is measured by the things that we do, by what we produce. And so, we rush around, we fill our schedules, we manage our time. When we consider how our day's been, we often enumerate the items we’ve checked off our to-do lists (or cringe over things left undone). We boast about our accomplishments to anyone who will listen at our high school reunions, special receptions,... or lectureships. Quite frankly, we’re led to believe that we are nothing more than the things we do, the job we hold down, and the prestige we acquire.
"In the death of Jesus, we hear a dramatically different message about human life. Dying is the exact opposite of productivity, and yet it is through dying that Jesus brings salvation to the entire universe. Instead of exalting himself, Jesus submitted to death and trusted God to do the exalting. We believe that God did indeed exalt his humble servant – to the highest place as Lord over all creation!
"When we turn our lives over to Jesus, we identify ourselves with his way of life, his death, and his resurrection. We have tasted a morsel of his kingdom, and we await the fullness of his reign in the world. We have also learned that it is not easy – it is a major shift to orient life around such radical hopes, and letting go of controlling life is always difficult. But we’re here to tell you that we think it might just be the best story to live by that a person can find in this world.
"Imagine what the world might be like with a Master like Jesus! Suddenly we’re able to honestly acknowledge our smallness in the universe, yet with a sense of hope instead of despair. After all, God thought enough of our smallness to take on human flesh himself. Instead of working our fingers to the bone in vain, we find joy in recognizing that we are a part of creation and not the Creator. We realize that we're receivers of life instead of feeling the need to make a life for ourselves. The poor, the sick, the outcast – all these are no longer pushed to the margins of society, but become those who are blessed. Those who rule the world in tyranny find their power to oppress stripped from them, and their captives find freedom. People stop merely seeking to get what is best for themselves and start caring about the welfare of others. God, who once felt so distant and out of reach, now lives in close communion with us. What an appealing alternative to the empty busy-ness of the life we see in our Mad World!
"Well, it’s clear to see that this new kingdom hasn’t completely emerged yet. Even the church, which is supposed to be a community that reflects the reign of God, continues to experience hardship, division, sin, and failure. Yet in participating together in the death and resurrection of Jesus, even in small things like keeping Sabbath, we think we’ve caught a glimpse of a hope that's worth holding onto, whatever the cost. And if you’re interested in talking to us about it, we’d love to continue the conversation. For now, we invite you to join us in a few minutes of silence, rest, Sabbath. Thanks for lending us some of your time."