Worships this month will spend a little bit of time this month looking at aspects of stewardship in our lives. That topic is often divided up into three traditional categories: talent, time, treasure. Today I am offering a few thoughts about time, an issue that often feels complicated, fraught with frustration, and not in our control.
We live in a culture that insists on using time ‘constructively’—appointments, schedules, work, activities, endless to-do lists. Ours is the culture that gave the world the notion that ‘time is money.’ This is not a very biblical idea.
Labor is, of course, recognized as an aspect of human life throughout the Bible. In Genesis we’re told that Adam and Eve tended the garden. They are later told to ‘till and keep’ the earth. There’s no indication that we’re meant to simply sit back and do nothing. Likewise, there’s no indication that we’re meant to dedicate all of our time to labor and accumulation of wealth.
This becomes clear in the commandments given to the Israelites on Sinai. All are to rest, to tend to the well-being of our spirits and all in our communities. To take restorative days and hours. The original covenant makes it clear that the welfare of the planet and all upon it depends upon taking time dedicated simply to wholeness and well-being in our relationships to each other and to the Divine. In a meaningful way. A freely given and taken way, available to all.
One clear implication of this is that we need to build a world where ‘free’ time, time away from productivity, is available for all. Because right now, vast swathes of folks don’t experience any sabbath time at all. On the one end, some folks are chained to their work in the name of corporate advancement, chasing more money, satisfying employers (or facing destitution). On the other end of, folks paid ridiculously low wages for often-vital work need to shuttle themselves between two or three jobs in order to keep themselves (and their families) housed and fed.
But the sabbath commandment envisions a society where all can rest, can take a pause in life without facing punitive consequences, can take time for health and wholeness. As people from a faith tradition that values the notion of sabbath, we need to consider how best to practice sabbath for ourselves and how to make true sabbath available for all people. In terms of policy, for example, we can support and promote truly living wages, paid vacations for all, health care for all, perhaps even basic minimum income. As people of faith we can work toward making it possible for all to observe sabbath.
Everyone needs spiritual rest and restoration. Not just vacation and amusement. That is actually probably one of the most fundamental, and most forgotten, elements of a god-aligned understanding of time.
Human wrestling with how best to use time…how best to observe sabbath…how best to live with the time given us persists throughout scripture. It’s pretty clear, for example, that Jesus was not a big fan of strict interpretations of the sabbath commandment, though his own followers often later forgot that.
Jesus’ earliest followers also faced a new idea regarding how best to use their time: they believed that the end of the world as we know it was coming soon; Jesus would be returning to establish a new order very shortly. That raised all kinds of questions about what to do: was there any point in working, even? Should they try to enjoy themselves while they could? Should they focus on repentance and preparedness? Should they just go about with their usual lives?
Questions similar to these are common among us, I think. On the most practical level we know that any day could bring dramatic shifts to life. Perhaps even death. Or we might feel we are approaching the end of our natural days. Or we might be aware of the growing peril of nuclear catastrophe or climate collapse. The question of the earliest Christians remains: how best to live?
The writer of Colossians touches upon this: Pray. Conduct our lives wisely. Make ways for the word of Christ (the word of grace and healing and peace) to be heard in the world. “Make the most of the time” says the NRSV in Colossians 4: 5. Another translation says to “seize the opportunity.” I am personally fond of a translation that declares we should “redeem the time” we are in. Together, as a community bearing witness as resurrection people, in this time (in any time) we are called to
- welcoming, extending hospitality to others
- making way for the good news:
- Freedom for the captive
- Release from oppression
All of this is wrapped up in claiming each day as a moment for the sacred entering the world and our lives. All of this is part of conducting ourselves wisely and generously. All of this requires taking time for restoration and renewal, rather than busy-ness. The life of which Paul speaks in Colossians is an ongoing and permanent practice of sabbath.
That is what the days we are in ask of us. An ongoing practice of true sabbath, as individuals and, more importantly as a community. May it be so.
-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk
Scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; Colossians 4:2-6