Sabbath as Creation Care

In my last devotional on the Sabbath we looked at how the Sabbath could be a counter-cultural gift to our society if we seek to create a rhythm where we practice these four things for a whole day weekly…

 

CEASE: The unhealthy and destructive habits we have become dependent on.

REST: In God’s love and learn to depend on him instead.

EMBRACE: Counter-cultural Biblical values for our lives.

FEAST: On his goodness and all the gifts he has blessed us with.

 

But the Sabbath doesn’t just bless humans. It was always intended to be further reaching than that. In his book ‘Subversive Sabbath,’ Swoboda says:

 

“Sabbath had far-reaching implications beyond humans to all nonhuman creation. Sabbath is, at its core, an ecological principle.”

 

We read in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 (both times that Moses explained the ten commandments to the Israelites) that even the animals were to rest on the Sabbath, and then when we read about the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:2) and how even the land they were being given was to observe the Sabbath – one year of rest in every seven.

 

There’s a really challenging quote from Norman Wirzba, he uses some long words but I think it’s so relevant to our society today because I think he pinpoints one of the main reasons we are struggling to steward God’s creation well, he says:

 

“If we are to recover a Sabbath sensibility for our time, we will first need to learn how to rest and how to become grateful people. To do this we will need to face head-on the anthropocentric ethos that sits at the heart of Western culture and religion. Anthropocentrism says that humanity is the goal of all life, and that all of creation exists to serve people’s fairly narrow interests. Sabbath teaching, as it is expressed in scripture, shows that anthropocentrism is precisely the temptation we must overcome.”

 

At the centre of sin is I, and this age-old temptation to put ourselves at the centre of everything we do is as strong as ever, and as complicit a factor in our destruction and misuse of God’s creation as any other. But, its hard, from every side I have people, adverts, social media and other influences telling me how I am the most important and that I should put me first – often at the expense of others and the environment.

 

This is where the Sabbath comes in.

 

If we fully begin practicing the Sabbath we will naturally also start caring for creation. Matthew Sleeth who writes about caring for creation and who goes through the Bible explaining why this is so important says that of all the different areas he has changed and put things into practice:

 

“I believe that remembering the Sabbath is perhaps the single most important factor in our family’s coming together to pursue a less materialistic, more spiritual life of conservation and stewardship.”

 

Using the 4 areas I used last time I’ll explain why this is:

 

CEASE:

 

In his book “From Nature to Creation” Wirzba says:

 

“To move into Sabbath rest, we are instructed to begin by stopping our activity, if only because so much of what we do amounts to a denial or denigration of God’s love and beauty at work in the world.”

 

Sabbath calls us to let go of control and CEASE our activity. We have to stop regularly and remind ourselves that it is in God we trust, not ourselves – and he can do so much more than we can, and in such better ways than the ones we think up.

 

But on a very practical level, if we cease buying, travelling, working, and striving in so many ways, for one day a week – our consumption of the world’s resources will immediately be curbed by one 7th in those areas.

 

REST:

 

The second area of the Sabbath is resting. So, we cease but then we actively engage in restful things instead – we’ll go into what kind of things this means in a future session. But the commandment wasn’t just for us – it calls us to allow the land and creatures to REST also. Brueggemann says:

 

“According to Deut 5:14, on the Sabbath day, working animals, slaves, and immigrants (those without assured rights) are all “as you,” that is, all entitled to rest. The Sabbath is a day of social equalization for those who on all other days are quite unequal.”

 

In Sutton we are often quite disconnected from the land that we depend on and so this can be hard to figure out. But if we start simply, with what we consume and how we pollute, if we rest from those things on this day we will literally be helping to give the earth a breather.

 

EMBRACE:

 

Sabbath also has an element of intentionality, it doesn’t happen by accident. As we step back from the world and its values one day a week we create time for growing closer to God and his values. When we rest in Him, we allow His Spirit to produce in us the fruit of God’s Kingdom.

 

The Sabbath isn’t just about our physical rest but also our spiritual reorientation and renewal that puts God at the centre and allows him undisputed time to show us His love for us and for the whole of creation. To do this we have to proactively seek to put things in place that help us to embrace God and his values over the world and its values.

 

Ultimately, the God of the Sabbath is a God of love – for all of his creation, human and otherwise. If we take time to stop, rest in him and embrace what is important to him, we will grow in our love and care for creation.

 

FEAST:

 

Each day, once he had created, God admired what had been created; after six days he pronounced his work to be “very good.” Part of celebrating the Sabbath involves giving thanks for what we have created or produced during the working week. But this also includes appreciating and giving thanks for what God has created.

 

One reason we fail to care for creation is that we don’t appreciate it. We’re not grateful for God’s gifts in creation because we don’t pause long enough to notice them. And so, Sabbath practices are required in order to slow down and allow ourselves to feast on God as he reveals himself through creation, music, art, food and other aesthetic gifts. Sabbath calls us to stop seeing creation through the eyes of consumerism and its usefulness, and instead, to simply feast on creation’s beauty.

 

I’ll leave you with another quote from Wirzba (from his book Living the Sabbath) to reflect on:

 

“Sabbath rhythms are vital to the maintenance of all life. Humans are the unique species in that we have presumed to step outside of these created rhythms by working or shopping around the clock so that we can exalt ourselves. For the sake of our own health and the health of the creation, we need to implement creative ways to recover these rhythms.”

 

And that’s what we’ll begin looking at next week.