Monday, January 25, 2010

Jesus and Genesis: The Blest Rest

A sermon preached on January 24, 2010:
Scripture Readings:
Genesis 2:1-3
John 5:1-19

An old man retired, and he didn’t know how to do it, and he began to get on his wife’s nerves. One morning she asked him, “What are you going to do today?” And he said, “Nothing!” And she said, “You did that yesterday.” And he said, “Yeah, but I’m not finished.”

I think it is important for us to understand what it means to rest; to truly rest. I don’t think I understand it very well.

I know how to be lazy, I know how to procrastinate royally, I know how to avoid doing what I am afraid to do, but none of that has anything to do with rest. In fact, those things (laziness, procrastination, and fear) all destroy true rest.

I want to understand the blessing and beauty of rest; and the most important thing to understand about rest is that it is a gift from God. But we can also never understand God as the giver of blessed and beautiful rest unless we understand that the giver of rest is also the giver of work. God is the giver of blessed and beautiful work.

Jesus says that he is a worker, and that his Father is a worker. The gospel of John really shows us that the Trinity is a worker: the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all working on great things all the time.

The spiritual authorities of Jesus’ time had made the Sabbath day for resting into a day that was, in many ways, hard, and confining, and mean-spirited. When Jesus healed the invalid on the Sabbath, he said it was because that was the kind of work that needed to be done on the day that celebrated rest. “My Father is always at his work, to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 5:17) I believe Jesus was saying that, for him and his Father, healing was the perfect kind of work for a day of rest.

It is also Jesus’ way of saying that he and his Father never rest; but this is true only if rest is not the opposite of work. I believe that rest is not the opposite of work. Rest is the holiest work of all.

Rest is the highest form of work but, as C.S. Lewis says, “The highest does not stand without the lowest.” The highest work does not stand without the lowest work.

I believe that Jesus was saying that he and his Father were bringing the blessing and beauty of rest to the invalid when they did their work of healing. In some holy way rest is holy work.

Genesis shows us the time of creation from way that God sees time. One of the things that Christians in earlier days learned from this was to say that the universe we live in is not a seven days’ creation, but a six days’ creation; the creation of time and place.

And then they would add that the six days’ creation, where we do our daily living, is not complete without the seventh day, which is not a day like other days. The seventh day is the day of grace, the day of rest, the everlasting day.

We can see this in the first two chapters of Genesis. In the first chapter, at the start of the universe, we are told that “the earth was formless and empty” (without form and void) (Genesis 1:2)

The six days show God changing what was formless and empty by giving it form and fullness. The first three days show God giving the universe organization and structure. The second set of three days shows God filling the universe with things that move, and work, and have jobs to do; and with things that live, and move, and breathe, and breed.

In the six days’ creation, God gives structure to time, and energy, and matter. Then he puts time, and energy, and matter to use; in suns, and stars, and globes of rock spinning in space; and planetary habitats for things like birds and fish and creatures like us who are made in God’s image. That is the six days’ creation: the creation of time, and form, and fullness, where we all live.

But there is a seventh day that has no borders of time. There are no sunsets or sunrises on that day; such as there are on other days.

That is the timeless day; of grace, and rest, and healing, and completion, and blessing, and holiness. It is not a day at all. It is eternity. And God wants to include eternity in the equation of our daily lives.

The first thing the Bible shows us about God is that God is a worker, and he sees that his work is good. His work is holy. (Genesis 1:10, 18, 21, 25, 31)

In the six days’ creation God did the kind of work that we can understand. Most of our work involves time, and place, and energy, and stuff. In this way we do work like God’s work; and we often see that it is good. A set of books that balance, a healthy herd, an engine that hums (even at a roar), those amber waves of grain, a song that is sung, bread baking, a quilt that brings oohs and ahhs (from those who know the work that goes into a quilt), a garden bearing its fruit and flowers, a flight well flown, some music or a game well played, a paper turned in on time, a house that is cleaner and more orderly than mine: this is all good work. This is creation work, and it is very good.

This is the work of time, and form, and fullness. It is the work that we can understand. In fact it is holy.

God knows this work is holy. Even a child knows it. Maybe not a teenager (I’m sorry). But a young child knows it. A young child will push a vacuum cleaner, and pound nails with a hammer, because their parents do it. A child will want to put wheels under something and try to make it go. A child will want to paint the house, and rake the leaves. A child knows that work is holy, that work is awesome, in the real sense of the word.

God works; and we are made in the image of God. God the Son, and God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit work; and they all work together, and they all work on the same things.

They all do what they see each other doing. Jesus said, “Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

And so there is a partnership within the mystery of the Trinity. And we are made in that image, to be God’s partners.

Partnership is worked into us as part of our creation. We work because we are partners with God. God the Son gives us power to be the children of God, in his image. (John 1:12) In our own work we give structure to our time, and energy, and the stuff of our lives. We give our world form and fullness through our work.

Sometimes we see chaos and crisis, and we see the tremendous needs of people in the world, and we roll up our sleeves to do that work, or else we support the work that others do, to restore the form and the fullness of human life to those people in need. We want to do for others, to the best of our ability, what Jesus did for the invalid. And we often see that this is good.

All of a sudden I have gotten to the other kind of work: the seventh day kind of work. This is the highest kind of work, and it is the hardest to understand. It is the work of rest. It is the work of enjoying the blessing and beauty of rest; or the work of bringing that rest to others.

We must know that the work of bringing rest to others is the work of Jesus, and he makes us partners in that work in the world. Bringing rest to others is what Jesus has done for us in the gospel (in the good news), so that we may rest in him, so that something everlasting begins in our lives now. The birth and life of Jesus, and his cross and resurrection are the work of rest and eternity given to us in our world of time.

There is a verse in the Book of Psalms that says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) This is the heart of the message that Jesus gave the invalid in his healing. His very ability to pick up his mat and carry it on the Sabbath (when, ordinarily, he shouldn’t be carrying anything at all) must have brought the man the kind of rest that comes from plunging into a great wonder. The command for him to carry his mat was Jesus’ command for him to stop his old life of sorrowing, and worrying, and envying others, and to enjoy his new life and strength. The sad thing is that it wasn’t long before the authorities scared him, and took away his joy, and made a tattle-tale out of him.

The Genesis word for rest, the kind of rest that God enjoyed, simply means “stop”. Stop! Stop!

The number seven in the Bible (as in the seven days) represents perfection and completion. Six is the number of imperfection. Six is the number of incompleteness. The six days’ creation means that the world in which we keep track of time (and organize, and fill with things and activities) is incomplete unless we know how to stop and enjoy the life God gives us. Stop!

Even though the day for stopping exists outside of time, God blessed that day. God made the day for stopping holy. If we are going to be partners with God, in the holiness of work, we have to know that work is not holy or blessed unless we know how to stop. God wants us to learn how to stop in time, so that we can have a taste of something everlasting.

To bless something and to see the holiness of a person or a thing, or a time, or a place, or a relationship, or the very holiness of creation, you must be able to stop. You have to let it be what it is, and simply enjoy it.

You can never fully bless and make holy your husband, or your wife, or your family, or your home, or your work, or even your playtime, unless you know how to stop and enjoy it. The greatest gift you can give to those you love is the gift of stopping, for their sake, and simply enjoying them. It is the greatest gift you can give to those who love you; to stop for them.

There is something timeless and eternal in that stopping. That is the real value in life. If you can stop, what you receive and what you give, in that stopping and resting, can never be taken away from you, because there is something eternal in it. It is blessed and holy.

Creation is God’s gift to himself. He knows how to enjoy it. In the six days’ creation, where we live, God never seems to stop. In the seventh day, the day outside of time, even God is at rest. Our ability to work as God’s partners in creation is God’s gift to us, and we often don’t know how to enjoy it, unless we let God teach us how to stop. “Be still, and know that I am God.”

God wants a family of people who can gather together, as we are now, as brothers and sisters, to stop and be still with him.
I’m going to stop now.

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