Clergy Letter September 17

Sabbath in September?

It’s the middle of August, I’m sitting at my kitchen table and outside it’s raining. In fact that’s an understatement- it’s absolutely pouring- sheets of cold, driving rain! Not really holiday weather….

However… whatever the weather, August always feels a bit different; even when it’s raining, even when we are still working, even when our days are uncomfortably filled with children who are not at school.

There’s just a gentle slowing down of the frenetic pace that surrounds so much of modern life. There are few evening meetings, clubs stop, children need less ferrying around. More people seem to be out picnicking, enjoying themselves, the roads are less busy at 8.30am: nobody is in quite so much of a rush.

I hope August has been a good time of rest for you. Maybe not a complete rest- but a slowing down. I hope you have had time to sit in a garden, enjoying its full-blown beauty, its full-summer scents. I hope you might have enjoyed a long, warm evening with friends, sipping a glass of wine. I hope you have eaten an ice cream in a beautiful location. I hope you might have had time to read a book or two, to have a bit of holiday. I hope you have eaten some delicious strawberries, some ripe, flavourful tomatoes. I hope you have had time to spend time with and enjoy the people you love.

Above all, I hope you feel rested.

August has hopefully given you at least a glimpse of Sabbath rest.  You may remember that keeping the Sabbath is one of the commandments, and this is because true Sabbath rest helps us to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around us. It helps us to step back, to re-orientate. As we rest, as we slow down, we sort out what really matters. We step off the relentless treadmill of life that tells us to work harder, to achieve more, to prove ourselves. We are restored, in body, mind and spirit. We can refocus our lives on God and his mission, on thankfulness for his provision. We remember that God is God- he’s in control. Sabbath is all about dramatic restoration and renewal. That’s why it’s a commandment.

And you thought you were just having a holiday…

The challenge is always how we carry the Sabbath experience on into the rest of the week- or in this case, into busy September. When the relentless pace of life starts up again, the routines, the business.

Can we let the restoration, the renewal of Sabbath change and shape us?

Can we learn lessons from August’s gentler pace about true productivity?

The story is told of two woodsmen. One woodsman challenged the other woodsman to an all-day wood-chopping contest. The challenger worked hard all day long, pausing only for a brief lunch. On the other hand, the challengee took several breaks during the course of the day and also took a leisurely lunch.

At sunset, the end came to the all-day wood chopping contest and the challenger was surprised (and annoyed) to find out that the challengee had cut more wood than he had! So, the challenger said, “You cut more wood than I did, even though I worked longer.”

To which the challengee responded, “What you did not realize is that I was sharpening my axe, every time I sat down to rest.”

Maybe what we have been doing during August is, hypothetically, sharpening our axes. Maybe we have been enjoying Sabbath rest, and this will give us what we need to live more wisely through September. We have re-orientated to a truer direction.

Jesus identified himself as Lord of the Sabbath (Mark: 2: 27-28). This restoration, this renewal, this re-orientating around the things that really matter: it is of fundamental importance. We have rested, and sharpened our axes. We have caught a glimpse of Sabbath rest, and it provided us with a window to God. Let’s encourage one another not to forget it- to live through September as Sabbath people.