On a Sunday Morning in 1969, I was attending church at the First Baptist Church in Portland, Or. This was a large church, which at the time had over 1000 members and staff of six ministers. The First Baptist Church is an old church built back in 1894 in a Romanesque Revival style. It is in downtown Portland near the downtown branch of the Multnomah County library. First
Just as the church service was going to begin, I stood outside the main entrance. I saw four young men walking by dressed in attire that would be a mix of John the Baptist and Wild Bill Cody. They were hippies. I invited them to join me to attend church.
We walked inside and went upstairs to the curved balcony. The sanctuary was full. I spotted some empty pews over to the side. We walked across the balcony and everyone stared. One of the men had a string of bells attached to his belt which jangled as he walked. The church broadcasted its service on a local radio station and the jingling of the bells was picked up by the microphones hanging from the ceiling and the sound of the bells rang out over the Portland radio airwaves.
After the service, I talked briefly with the men outside the church. I remember no one talked to us, rather they shunned us. I felt, however, that I had done a good work of evangelism. The church was always encouraging us to invite others to attend worship. I did and then I discovered that I had done something subversive.
Whoever thought that attending a church would be a subversive action? During the third century CE, early believers of Jesus, people known as followers of way who later became known as Christians, worshipped in secret, some in catacombs (underground graves) in Rome and elsewhere due to the fear of persecution. During the reign of Diocletian ( 300 CE ) Modern historians estimate that during this period, known as the Diocletian or Great Persecution and extending several years beyond the reign of Diocletian, as many as 3,000−3,500 Christians were executed under the authority of Imperial edicts .List of Christians martyred during the reign of Diocletian …https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › List_of_Christians_martyred_during_the_re…
The writers of the Hebrew Canon (Old Testament) wanted to institute the idea of a day of rest, a “sabbath “where one would refrain from work. Old Testament scholar and writer Walter Brueggemann in his book “Sabbath As Resistance: Saying No to The Culture of Now “writes:
“The celebration of Sabbath is an act of resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. Such an act of resistance requires enormous intentionality and communal reinforcement amid the barrage of seductive pressures from the insatiable insistences of the market, with its intrusion into every aspect of our life from the family to the national market. In our anxious society, to cite a case in point, one of the great “seductions of Pharaoh “is the fact that “soccer practice “invades the rest day. “P. XiV
You may have experienced this yourself in your family or known of other families where this blurring of boundaries and conflicted interest emerge.
Contrary to those effects generated by the “Blue Laws “where states would not sell alcohol on Sunday, or would only sell liquor after a certain time, the Sabbath rest becomes a strong counter-narrative to our current culture. Sabbath keeping is not about supporting the prevailing materialistic consumption society. Rather than anxiety, there is calm, rather than coercion there is freedom, rather than exclusion there is inclusion.
So, what would Sabbath keeping look like for our liberal religious community? We strive to be people motivated by love. Our actions seek to support the uniqueness of every human being and the inter-connected web of all creation.
Brueggemann again observes:
“Moses understands, as do the prophets after him, that being in the land poses for Israel a conflict between two economic systems, each of which views the land differently. On the one hand, the land is regarded as property and possession to be bought and sold and traded and used. On the other hand, in a context of covenant, the land is a birthright and an inheritance, one’s own land as a subset of the larger inheritance of the whole people of God. If the land is possession, then the proper way of life is to acquire more. If the land is inheritance, then the proper way of life is to enhance the neighborhood and the extended family so that all members may enjoy the good produce of the land. “P. 38
Sabbath as enhancing the quality of life for the extended family and for the neighborhood could manifest itself in measures such as concern for proper stewardship of the earth, extending charity to those who are hungry, homeless, to work for a more just economic system where there is not such a massive canyon between those who have and those who don’t have anything.
Here observing the day of rest does not become a list of things that you can’t do, rather it becomes an invitation of things that you can explore, try and do in order that you can become more fully human and known.
Several of you from our community and from other faith communities have been involved in the work of the Interfaith Welcoming Coalition on Immigration.
According to a recent article:
A network of local churches that make up the Interfaith Welcome Coalition are helping shelter the influx of migrants traveling through San Antonio.
We spoke with a woman from Honduras who used to make and sell her own tortillas.
We’re not revealing her identity to protect her safety.
She says business was going well, when the street gangs began taking notice.
She says the gangs began extorting her, eventually threatening her and her teenage daughter.
They left in the middle of the night a little more than a month ago to escape the violence.
“Almost everyone that we’ve talked to and has stayed with us they have been targets,” said John Garland, the pastor for San Antonio Mennonite Church.
Garland says the details vary, but nearly every migrant’s story features extreme violence.
“It’s watching people being brutally murdered it’s watching family members taken from them it’s experiencing attempted assassinations,” said Garland.
Garland says a large network of churches have opened hospitality homes to help shelter asylum seekers.
“It’s good for the families to stay together in a safe place in a quiet place,” said Garland.
Sabbath is a big no to both the worship and the pursuit of commodity. Instead Sabbath gives a responding yes to the neighborly reality of the beloved kingdom of God.
Walter Brueggemann observes:
“We used to sing the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy “. Perhaps, we should be singing “Take Time to Be Human. “Or finally “Take Time. “Sabbath is taking time… time to be holy, time to be human. “P. 87
Years ago, when I invited those young men to attend the worship service with me, I saw first hand how they were treated as “the other. “Living in the blessing of the Sabbath requires that we do not see those who are different from us as “the other,” rather we see and experience them as our neighbors and part of our community.
The beloved community of God, however known, requires nothing less of us.
May we be moved to become keepers of the Sabbath and cultivators of grace now and always.
May it be so.