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What Is Sabbath?

August 19, 2016


When it came to August and as I neared my one year anniversary as Pastor of Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies (where has the time gone?!) I realized that I still had unused vacation time left. We had Denise’s youngest son, Christoper here with two of his friends for about ten days. In between some meetings that I had to attend and, of course, worship, I was able to take some time off to hike with the boys and also spend some time with Denise when they were off on their own adventures. This week, with the house empty (until Saturday evening when we will host two fellow staff members of Colorado Presbyterian Pilgrimage who will be here for training), we decided to get some hiking in. In between rainstorms and full parking lots in Rocky, we were able to take some really good hikes and do our walk to Lake Estes and back to the Condo.

On Wednesday, we decided to hike from the Fern Lake Trail Head to Fern Lake. It was a 7-8 mile round trip hike which included an approximately 1,400 foot elevation gain (from 8,165 feet above sea level to 9,540 feet!). The map we have said it was a moderate hike. The website, said it was strenuous. As we slid down the trail (very rocky and slippery, especially when you are tired after a long hike up) we both agreed that the website was more accurate! I took the picture of the sign at the top while we were making our ascent. Shortcutting Prohibited! Really? Well, if you looked at the winding trail with all of its switchbacks you would wonder WHY anyone would want to take a treacherous shortcut!

We didn’t take any shortcuts on our hike and we felt every step on the way up and down. After a year of living here, we have discovered that we are actually getting into shape and the hikes aren’t as strenuous as they were when we first arrived (Bierstadt Lake from the Bear Lake overflow parking lot, our first hike, nearly did us in… Pastor, didn’t you know there was an easier way to get to Bierstadt?). However, hiking at altitude is not easy and you don’t just get off of the plane and hike up 1,400 feet in elevation on the first day. There are no shortcuts as we have discovered. Consistent hiking and getting conditioned to the altitude and the terrain take time.

However, the rewards of hard work are quite good! We made it to Fern Lake and saw some amazing sights. These photos below is just a sampling of the beauty that awaited us when we reached our destination.


Okay Padre, so what does this story have to do with Sabbath and the Gospel reading for this Sunday? Good question! Actually, it has a lot to do with Sabbath and the Gospel. If you remember, I said that upon nearing the end of my first year of ministry here in Estes Park, I still had vacation on the books to be taken.

In the military, we could carry over sixty days of leave (vacation) from one fiscal year to the next. As the operations tempo increased, that number was raised and allowances were made. As one who had over sixty days of leave “on the books” when it came time to retire, I can tell you first-hand that having those days unused and on the books doesn’t always represent a good thing. Leave or vacation is meant to be taken… it is meant to offer you time to refresh yourself spiritually and physically.

The pace has been fast here in Estes Park between worship, counseling, visitation, community activities, funerals, hospital visits, continuing education, and all the meetings that come with a very vibrant and active church. The time has absolutely flown and we have enjoyed every minute of it! Yet, as the time went along, my body and my spirit would nudge me every now and then. Michael, slow down… you need to refresh and renew. You need Sabbath time!

The church has been absolutely wonderful about helping me to guard my time and make sure that I am able to spiritually refresh so that I can be the shepherd this flock needs. They are always asking what hikes we have managed to take and love the pictures that I use for the bulletins on Sunday (along with a little description of the Visio Divina or Sacred Seeing lessons in the descriptions). Yet they also know that in order to be a more effective Padre and Christ-Follower, I need to take time to “be still and know” so to speak.

For twenty-one years I worked full-time in an environment where being swamped and busy 26 hours a day, eight days a week was actually admired and rewarded. When the burn-out hit, it hit me hard. It was NOT a healthy use of time or a balance of any kind.

The lesson Jesus teaches in the Gospel reading for Sunday speaks to this. When Jesus healed the woman on the Sabbath, the religious elite were infuriated! Luke 13:14 says: “But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.'”

Seriously guys? Jesus brings healing to one of your flock (had you been ignoring her on the periphery as some commentators have wondered?) and you gripe about “work” on the sabbath?! Jesus replied in Luke 13:15-16: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”

In Mark 2:27, Jesus responds to another complaint about Jesus violating the sabbath with these words: ““The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…” In Jesus’ day, the sabbath, which was originally a gift from God (Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.”) was meant as a time for humankind to relax and be with God. It was meant as a balance to a crazy life. Yet the religious elite had turned it into an abomination! They had regulated the very breath out of it! Sabbath had become a burden with all of the what you can and can’t do (Did you know that according to some teachings to open the refrigerator was okay, but the light switch trip had to be taped over so the light wouldn’t go on when you opened the door because that was work?).

Jesus healed a woman whom the authorities had likely ignored for years! Instead of rejoicing that one who had been crippled for eighteen years was now whole, they griped about “work on the sabbath”! Really?!

So, as I look at it and reflect, I wonder myself about how we have messed up what Sabbath is supposed to be all about. With our worship of overworking, do we dishonor God by saying that time with God isn’t as important as punching the clock? I remember hearing someone say years ago that “wasting time with God” is important. Gee, as I look at it now, is it wasting time? I believe that spending time with God is incredibly important and I would even say vital to our spiritual/emotional/physical well-being! I have experienced work situations where I have been told that my prayer life is not a part of punching the clock! But didn’t God call us to take time to be still in God’s presence?

We will be attending a course through Columbia Theological Seminary’s “Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation” program in October. The course is entitled, “Practicing Sabbath”. Practicing Sabbath… slowing down and being still in God’s presence… You know, I have learned more about doing that in the past year in the Rocky Mountains than I have in years! It’s not about punching a clock… it’s not about grinding yourself into a spiritual/physical/emotional pulp! It’s about balance.

Remember the sign from the hike? Shortcutting Prohibited! Can we shortcut our time with God? Can we turn a wonderful opportunity for sabbath into a rule-infested, legalistic disease? That is what the religious authorities had done in Jesus’ day. That is why he called them out after they condemned him for healing on the sabbath.

Dear reader, is your life out of balance? Are you shortcutting or short-changing yourself and your time with God? If sabbath is about one hour on Sunday morning (or whatever day your tradition sets aside for worship) you are short-changing God and yourself! I encourage you, no I beg you, take time to be still in God’s presence. If you are blessed to live in a place like Estes Park where the Rocky Mountain National Park is in your back yard like we are, it can be easier to do. But even if you aren’t, you are in the midst of God’s wondrous creation and God is calling you to be still and know!

What is Sabbath? It is time spent with God… it is what under-girds everything else we do in our lives. There are no shortcuts! Will you join me in taking time to refresh and renew so that we can serve the Lord with renewed strength and energy?

One Comment
  1. A timely word for me, Michael in a season where recovery, rest and Sabbath have become a top priority. I look forward to hearing more about its impact on your life as you share here. Bless you, friend.

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