Lenten Devotional – Feb 26, 2023

Sunday, February 26, 2023
Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again by Ruth Haley Barton
Lenten devotional by Lori Duncan

“Sabbath is a means of grace, a practice that creates channels for God to impart something of God’s self so we can then be a conduit of God’s nature to the world.”
“This is the very definition of faith – to say yes when we have no idea how it’s all going to work out, but we know it’s what we need to do. It is that deep interior yes that will carry us into and through all the knotty issues Sabbath raises until we emerge with a Sabbath practice that works. . . . In this process, we learn for ourselves that yes, indeed, the Sabbath is the most precious present humankind has received from the treasure house of God.”
I don’t know one committed Christian who does not take seriously the idea of working hard, in a variety of capacities, to serve God and facilitate growing God’s kingdom. But I do know scads of Christians who don’t know how to cease from working and really, deeply rest. As good Protestants we affirm salvation by faith, not by works, yet if are courageous enough to take an honest look, the way we tend to live betrays an unrecognized belief that, really, God is best pleased with hard and unrelenting work. (I think the Protestant Work Ethic and our cultural emphasis on individualism contribute to this.)

Ruth Haley Barton is one of the voices calling for a recapturing of God’s gift of sabbath, to embrace God’s rhythm of work and rest that helps transform us into people who better reflect God into the world. Her position is that sabbath is a gift given by God to humanity, one of the means of grace by which God saves the world (held, of course, within the saving work of Jesus Christ). She is not dogmatic about the “when’s” and the “how’s” of sabbath; she is clear that sabbath-keeping is not easy and requires the making of tough decisions. But she is also unwavering in her belief that, unless we enter by faith into practicing sabbath, we are saying, “No,” to one of God’s most precious gifts to humankind, and that our inability to rest indicates that we are slaves to something, somewhere. She doesn’t say this to bring shame – never! – but to help draw our attention to the resounding invitation from God to enter God’s own life-giving freedom and rhythm of being.

God says work is good. And God gives rest as a gift and consecrates it as holy. Both are necessary for healthy Christian lives that will rightly express God’s kingdom into the world. As we explore the astonishing gift of sabbath this Lent, can we—will we—by faith, move toward trusting and following God by making decisions to incorporate rest and cease from work in our own lives?

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: We find ourselves conflicted—we want to work hard in our lives, but we also want to say Yes to your invitation to rest, to consistently cease from our work so you can restore our souls. Forgive us where we have embraced unhealthy rhythms, and give us ears to hear and eyes to see the eternal value of the incredible gift you give us in sabbath. Amen.

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