Monday, February 20, 2017

ABIDING IN GOD'S SABBATH REST, A THEOLOGY OF REST


As ordained clergy, transgender scholar and activist engaged in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I find that a Sabbath-rest, that is, intentional and sacred resting, is crucial to my well-being and sustainability.  Recently, while waiting for a flight out of Atlanta, GA after a Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle retreat focused on rest and appreciation, I posted on facebook the following statement, “Waiting on a plane in Atlanta, GA, I am reminded that the work we do as a matter of social justice is necessary and noble, it also requires that each of us gets the rest needed.” Working on the message for today I was reminded of the amazing work done by each of us to make the gospel of Jesus Christ real in our life and in the lives of those around us.  That we are engaged in an intense struggle of moral consequence against profound and blatant injustice.  A time when truth and facts, as reported by various credible media outlets, have been sequestered for the sake of political gain and racism and extreme affirmations of racial identity. Divisive and caustic rhetoric and lies seem to be the order of the day with the lives of people in the balance. Considering the work, we do amidst this unfortunate state of affairs the question is, “Do we rest or When do we rest?” The challenges and issues of our day are real and must be confronted for as James Baldwin writes “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”   Yet to rest, to take time out is necessary so that we might face those things referred to by Baldwin, to fight the good fight of faith.  I suggest that Jesus was the foundation of Baldwin’s words and his work, as he, that is Baldwin, was a man who answered the call of God early in his life.  If Jesus, the dynamic, rebellious rabbi and messiah of the disinherited, is foundational to the thought of James Baldwin then engaging Jesus regarding a Sabbath-rest would be fruitful to gaining a different understanding of rest. 
The life of Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to the call of God’s will, at times, characterizes the one with the courage to follow God’s call to confront the misery and injustice of this life as a rebel, revolutionary, a law breaker.  Considering the misery, the people suffered, Jesus was constantly inundated with multitudes of people who needed healing and feeding. In Mark 6:30-32, having just dealt with the beheading of John the Baptist, the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus modeled physical rest as he falls asleep in a boat with the disciples during a raging storm. Even when others frantically wanted His help, Jesus was willing to take a nap. He knew when His body needed physical rest and was unapologetic about taking it. Jesus also advocated for the Sabbath-Rest in Mark 2:27 “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” And in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Based on the scriptures I imagine the life and ministry of Jesus to be intense and at times somewhat insane, with little time to rest.  Rest was a cherished time, almost a selfish time set aside, a time when he could recharge for the daunting task of ministry ahead as prescribed by God in Genesis 2:3.  For Jesus, I would suggest that the Sabbath-rest is a means to (1) glorify God, (2) trust in God (3) to re-focus, re-imagine (4) sustainability (5) restoration (6) peace within and (7) transformation.  Each one of the elements of a Sabbath-rest, as expressed in the experience of Jesus, has implications towards the confrontation of evil, injustice and our salvation.
 If we are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus a Sabbath-rest must be embraced as a central part of life in community.  At the retreat, I remember a film featuring Rev. Kanyere Eaton, Pastor of Fellowship Covenant Church New York City giving a keynote address at the lives of Commitment Breakfast sponsored by Auburn Seminary, a Presbyterian Seminary in New York City. She had a lot to say about rest but the words that touched my heart were, “God is not glorified in your exhaustion.”
Her point was that God’s commands us to rest. In fact, if we do not rest, taking care of the body, mind and soul we are not honoring or glorifying God. Simply put, a healthy body, mind and soul glorifies God and makes for a productive and dynamic life.  (Wow!)  Per 2014 study at Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.  Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure and stroke. In a society, which traditionally has valued work over rest, reminiscent of Calvinism and the protestant work ethic, to rest, received as a holy act ordained of God, is somewhat counterintuitive. Rest would seem to be a logical and necessary part of life yet, despite God’s command and considerations of health risk rest in many circles is frowned upon.
Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist of the 20th Century, considered a saint by Albert Camus, wrote in her book “Gravity and Grace” a posthumous 1952 collection of Weil’s enduring ideas, culled from her notebooks by Gustave Thibon, the farmer whom she entrusted with her writings before her untimely death “Attention is the rarest form of generosity Simone Weil’s statement compels the following questions, “Do we give attention to our mind, body, and soul?” “Do I rest, relax, take time out for myself?  Is this time carved out, intentional? Should I protect my time of rest as sacred, holy without compromise? These are important question to ask ourselves if we are to successfully and sustainably confront the injustice prevalent in our society today. Remember, Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.  Buddha