The Sabbath; Not just for the religious!



When I was a kid I spent part of one Sunday afternoon at the home of my friend, Buddy. Buddy had never invited me over on a Sunday, and that afternoon I learned why. It was the Sabbath and his parents “honored” the Sabbath. They honored by sitting quietly in their living, reading their Bibles. Buddy and I sat on the floor and were not allowed to play, or even to talk. It was so quiet I could hear the echo of their clock ticking, a sound that forever reminds me of being extremely bored. I lasted less than 30 minutes, and forever after that when I hear the words “honor the Sabbath,” I yawn.

50 years later I have a very different idea of the Sabbath, the topic of last week’s sermon.

Here are some of my random thoughts on Sabbath.

The Sabbath does not have to be Sunday, especially if, like me, you are someone who has to work on the Sabbath. It can be any day of the week set aside for re-creating your soul. It may or may not involve worship, so don’t assume if you are going to keep the Sabbath, you need to do it on a Sunday.

Sabbath keeping is not just for Christians and Jews. Anyone can enjoy a Sabbath. (After all, college professors get a Sabbatical, which has nothing to do with their faith.) It is a time to recharge, a time to slow down, a time for re-creation.

Marva Dawn reminds us that Sabbath activities should be intentional. It is not a day we just let happen, but a day we plan for things to happen–unless of course your plan is to let things happen! But if your life is like mine, “letting things happen” means putting yourself at the disposal of the latest emergency.

Ideas for your Sabbath

  1. Turn off your phone
  2. Stay off social media
  3. Enjoy nature; take a walk, or a drive. Go to the lake or river or the shore.
  4. Indulge in relaxing hobbies. Play golf, if that relaxes you (it does not relax me!) Build a model, work in your garden, take pieces of wood and make something of it, learn something you have always wanted to learn, play music, listen to music.
  5. Read. Think. Go to a movie. Cook an elaborate meal, just for the heck of it, and take time to eat it.
  6. Go out for coffee with friends. Go out for coffee alone.
  7. Spend time with your dog.
  8. Make love. (Jewish rabbis were kind of expected to make love to their wives on Friday nights.)
  9. Just sit.


Walter Brueggemann makes the case that the Sabbath is a resistance activity. The world expects us to produce, to buy, to consume. Work, work, work, build a little house and die. But for Brueggemann (and this was the major theme of my sermon) the Sabbath is our way of saying we have value even when we are doing nothing.


Books on the Sabbath

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Bruggemann

 Quotes: “Thus I have come to think that the fourth commandment on sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intent and conduct that defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses … along with anxiety and violence.”


“In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both 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.”


“The way of mammon (capital, wealth) is the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness without any Sabbath. Jesus taught his disciples that they could not have it both ways.”


“I have come to think that the moment of giving the bread of Eucharist as gift is the quintessential center of the notion of Sabbath rest in Christian tradition. It is gift! We receive in gratitude. Imagine having a sacrament named “thanks”! We are on the receiving end, without accomplishment, achievement, or qualification. It is a gift, and we are grateful! That moment of gift is a peaceable alternative that many who are “weary and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care” receive gladly. The offer of free gift, faithful to Judaism, might let us learn enough to halt the dramatic anti-neighborliness to which our society is madly and uncritically committed.”



“The Sabbath rest of God is the acknowledgment that God and God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production and so dispatched, as we used to say, as “hands” in the service of a command economy. Rather they are subjects situated in an economy of neighborliness. All of that is implicit in the reality and exhibit of divine rest.”


“That divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.”


“We used to sing the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.” But 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.”


“But Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our “rest time.”


“Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms. Whereas Israelites are always tempted to acquisitiveness, Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgment that what is needed is given and need not be seized.”


“we may consider the sabbath as an alternative to the endless demands of economic reality, more specifically the demands of market ideology that depend, as Adam Smith had already seen, on the generation of needs and desires that will leave us endlessly “rest-less,” inadequate, unfulfilled, and in pursuit of that which may satiate desire.”


Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting,  by Marva Dawn

“A great benefit of Sabbath keeping is that we learn to let God take care of us — not by becoming passive and lazy, but in the freedom of giving up our feeble attempts to be God in our own lives.”


“One of the greatest gifts for my life as one who serves God is observing the Sabbath. Celebrating a holy day and living in God’s rhythm for six days of work and one of rest is the best way I know to learn the sense of our call – the way in which God’s Kingdom reclaims us, revitalizes us, and renews us so that it can reign through us. Before we can engage in the practice of our call, we need to be captured afresh by grace, carried by it, and cared for.”


“We definitely do not conform to our culture if we choose not to be dominated by possessions or by the anxiety to acquire more of them, but decide instead to give away much of what we have and use what we have been given as good stewards who desire to enjoy the things of God for the purposes of God.”

“If we lived more simply most of the time, our feasts would be distinctive events. As it is, since most Americans have all kinds of special things to eat every day, for many the only way to make Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts uncommon is by eating more. It would be good if we could restore the concept of feasting not as something to regret (don’t we all have to lose a few pounds after the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s season?), but as a delight.”


As they say in Fiddler on the Roof, “Good Sabbath!”

About tmrichmond3

I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.
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