In today’s gospel we hear one of the more frequently quoted passages of scripture:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:25)
This passage, points out Chad Martin - a self-described carpenter, dabbling farmer, and executive director of Chestnut Housing in Lancaster, PA – this passage follows a chapter in which Jesus spends much of his time teaching about how God becomes known to us “outside theological training and strict religiosity” and just before a scene in which Jesus comes in “conflict with religious leaders over rules for the sabbath.” (Christian Century, pg. 25, July 2023)
Martin goes on that part of God’s grace revealed in this passage comes in recognizing that “there is a difference between work-life balance and sabbath living,” and that the idea of work-life balance, “presumes work that is forever trying to consume more of one’s time and energy” and puts the focus on the quantity, rather than quality of work and rest in one’s life. It follows then, that sabbath living focuses not so much on the quantity of work and rest packed into one’s life, but the quality of the type of work and rest we undertake.
Martin himself in recent years left a high pressure, high stress job with ever longer days spent working in a regional non-profit in order to work half-time at a smaller non-profit while he works the other half-time as a carpenter-builder, as well as moving his family to a small farm where their weekly rhythms now include tending goats and chickens, rebuilding fences, trimming trees, and such. To anyone really listening to Martin’s story it should be clear that his decisions did not necessarily make his life less busy, but rather reoriented his days and tasks in a way that, for him, lined up more closely with God’s current calling to him.
I remember around 20 years ago, as I was heading to seminary, how I founded a music ministry called Faithful Folk. And I remember how the hours spent writing songs and in music rehearsals, as well as organizing a Board of Advisors and other volunteers to put on benefit events and develop music albums – these hours would mostly melt away – not in that never-ending-treadmill-feeling-never-getting-anywhere kind of way, but in that satisfying getting-things-done-while-being-joyfully-filled-kind-of-way.
Mind you, even while I loved that work that I was undertaking, I still had to learn to block out hours and days here and there where, when someone would ask if I was busy, I would say, “yes.” And what I was busy with was not being busy! You see, I began to learn (though I have forgotten this lesson more than once in the years since!) that not only did this pattern of life including days unplanned allow my body and heart and mind and soul needed sabbath time – the combination of days spent busy working in my classes and various internships and music ministry in combination with those unplanned times resulted in a fertile “balance” wherein more songs were written. And, I would discover, more and better sermons as well. And a deeper ability to show up well in the ministry tasks and family tasks that I was undertaking. My soul was fed, the ministries to which I was called were fed, and though Chad Martin would only write the article I have quoted above 23 years later, this was the sabbath living he would describe.
Theologian Frederick Beuchner, in contemplating vocation, or the work we will do in our lives, wrote that “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”
I think that as well-meaning humans we often see the world’s deep hunger and want to do everything we can to mitigate and change this – we rush in and then we all too often never stop rushing. We know instinctively in our gut that the hunger and brokenness of the world should not be allowed to stay that way – that the good and loving God who in Christ suffers with this world and died and rose so that new life could spring forth amidst this hunger and brokenness does not wish for things to stay in the broken state that they are. Yet along the way I think – be it because of our Puritan “your worth is only as big as your work” roots or other forms of human pride and sin (as the apostle Paul reminds us, we so often do that which we should not, and do not do that which we should) – along the way we forget that this same good and loving God who sends Christ to work a resurrection story amidst the deep hunger of this world – a resurrection story that includes us; we forget that God calls us to this work as a undertaking that should include discovering our deep gladness. God’s resurrection story is not just to work-over-for-good the sorrows and hunger of the world, but to invite our God-given gifts out of us in order to participate in this resurrection story for the world.
So, where does your deep gladness meet the hungering of the world? When have you felt most at balance – not necessarily because you had less to do, but because those things which you were doing were part of discovering God’s calling for how your time and talents might be employed in service to God – including in the building up of your own gladness as you were serving and living?
I am quite certain that although Chad Martin does not mention it in the article that I read, he still has days when work feels challenging and deflating, when things feel out of balance. This discussion of building sabbath-living is not a discussion of seeking perfection, but an ever-perfecting way of approaching our lives and calling as God’s people to labor in the vineyards of God’s world. This is a journey of discovery amidst the days when things will still sometimes be a total mess and complete chaos, be it in our student lives, our family lives, our work or retired and re-fired lives. Yet this labor of discovering the intersection of the world’s greatest needs with our greatest sources gladness is thankfully undertaken with Jesus by our side.
Jesus who is patient and kind, as well as persistent and insistent. “Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.” That sabbath rest may be in time apart and that sabbath rest may be in tuning your life to more closely be in alignment with God’s everlasting and eternal rhythms.
I’ll leave us today with a poem by Wendell Berry, another writer who invites his readers to rediscover God’s rhythms – be it in the natural world or in their work or in the way we approach our economies. Berry writes in “Timbered Choir,” his first book of sabbath poems:
Be thankful and repay
Growth with good work and care.
Work done in gratitude,
Kindly, and well, is prayer.
Good people. God’s people. May we discover and be discovered by God’s resurrecting acting through Christ that seeks to renew and change us and the world around us as we build the practices of sabbath living. And may our lives glorify God as we bring hearts and hands, talents and tongues to the worshipful work of our days. Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. Amen.