Friday, August 31, 2012

Sabbath Series 1: Quantum Sabbath

Quantum physics is rocking the scientific world.  At first, people thought that quantum physics describes what happens on the subatomic level - how our world works in its teeny, tiniest parts.  The sheer exploration of electrons and protons was shocking enough, but in the past decade, physicists have been discovering “that quantum behavior persists on a macroscopic scale.”  
I don’t really understand most of what is going on in quantum physics, but there is one point that makes a lot of sense to me: entanglement.  This is when two or more objects are mysteriously tangled together.  According to our normal reasoning, they shouldn’t effect each other, but they do.  “Even when the entangled particles are far apart, they still behave as a single entity, leading to what Einstein famously called ‘spooky action at a distance.’”  Sometimes, things are connected even when it looks like they aren’t.  
This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to us when we’re talking about the super-microscopic level of what happens inside atoms.  Most of us don’t understand and don’t care about that.  But what physicists are discovering is that quantum physics are everywhere in our world - working even with larger objects.  There is “spooky action” all over the place.  Things are connected even when it looks like they aren’t.
Quantum behavior is counter-intuitive.  It “eludes visualization [in graphs and charts] and common sense.  It forces us to rethink how we look at the universe and accept a new and unfamiliar picture of our world.” (Vlatko Vedral, “Living in a Quantum World,” Scientific American, June 2011)

Social scientists are beginning to apply this quantum entanglement theory to family systems, organizations, and cultures.  Psychologists are applying entanglement theory to the inner workings of our minds and hearts.  Astronomers are exploring the possibility of quantum relationships in the largest parts of our universe.  We are quantum people in a quantum world.  Things are connected even when it looks like they aren’t.  
This forces us to rethink how we look at our universe and to develop a new picture for how our lives work in the world.  Sometimes we call this quantum phenomena irony.  How many of you have heard your mom or aunt say to some single woman, “You’ll meet Mr. Right just about the time you stop looking for him”?  There is some kind of quantum connection there between finding and not looking.  
Today, we begin our series on the Sabbath, with the basic premise that there is a quantum connection between our practice of Sabbath and the rest of our week.  Even our calendars experience quantum entanglement.  Good Sabbath practice leads to good weeks and good years.  Bad Sabbath practice has a “spooky action from a distance” that drags down our moods, our health, our spirituality, and our performance in school and work.  Some things are connected even when it looks like they aren’t.  

Sabbath is a huge issue for our church.  Our pastors are so concerned about Sabbath that we have been fasting every week for about a year, praying that our church will grow into a better practice of Sabbath.  This is huge!  Throughout September, I’m going to try to walk us through every major text on Sabbath.  As we look at both Old and New Testament passages, we’ll explore what the Sabbath means for us today and how we can experience more of God’s joy and peace by practicing the Sabbath faithfully.
So let’s get started.  Our main text for today comes from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.  The Sabbath is the 4th commandment:
8 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
Let’s unpack this in three points: the command of the Sabbath, the reason for the Sabbath, and the gifts of the Sabbath.  Sabbath is a command; what does that mean for us now?  And obviously, there are some important reasons for this Sabbath thing or the Bible wouldn’t talk about it so much.  What are those reasons?  And lastly we’ll take a look at some of the amazing gifts God gives us through the Sabbath - gifts that are obvious even to irreligious people.

First, the command of the Sabbath.  When we think about the Sabbath as a command, we need to keep three things in mind.  
  1. We are really sneaky in our efforts to avoid the command.  One of the first things we Christians associate with the Sabbath is lots of rules about what you can or can’t do on the Sabbath.  The ancient Jewish lists rules for the Sabbath are legendary.  The Puritans in the American colonies made hosts of laws forcing people to do this and that to practice the Sabbath well.  What’s the deal?  Why all the rules?  Well, basically, it’s really, really hard for us to quit working.  We tend to find ways around all the rules.  So, the religious teachers made rules and more rules to clarify exactly what was OK and what was not OK when it comes to Sabbath practice.  
  2. Then, the rules kind of took over.  After a while keeping the Sabbath became all about the rules instead of all about God.  There were rules for everything, and people believed that they were being holy and pleasing God if they kept all the rules.  Simply put, this is legalism, and Jesus rejected it.  We read in our gospel lesson today that the rules said no healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus said that people are more important than rules.  God made the Sabbath for people not people for the Sabbath.  Jesus called for a simpler practice of a Sabbath that helps people connect with God and each other.  
  3. Sabbath still a command for Christians.  Pretty much every theologian everywhere agrees that the Ten Commandments still apply to Christians.  Unless you want “The Nine Commandments,”  the Sabbath command still applies to us.  Yes, the Sabbath is reshaped and reworked in the New Testament.  We’ll talk about that more in the weeks to come, but first we have to face up to the simple fact that God commands us to rest for one day every week.  This is fundamental.  No getting off the hook.  Take a day of rest.  “This includes ... your sons and daughters” (Exodus 20:10).  
The Sabbath isn’t a legalistic command.  Sabbath isn’t about doing something to please God.  Sabbath is about taking time to remember that God is already pleased with you.  Sabbath isn’t about doing the right things in the right way.  Sabbath is about not doing and resting in what God has already done for us.  But it is still a command for all of us.  Don’t expect to have a healthy spiritual life if you ignore this command.

OK, now let’s look at the reason for the Sabbath.  Actually, the Bible gives us several distinct reasons for the Sabbath.  Next week, we’ll look at the restatement of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy, which gives a different justification for the 4th commandment, and next we’ll look at Exodus 31 which gives still another reason for the Sabbath.  But today, let’s focus in on Exodus 20.  This roots the Sabbath command in the beginning of time in the creation story.  We rest because God rested.  
Wait a minute?  What does that even mean?  God rested?  Was God tired?  Was it hard work creating the universe?  Did God need a break?  What does God do for rest?  Watch TV?  If God is all-powerful, why did God rest?
This question has plagued theologians for thousands of years.  About 1000 years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki proposed an answer that is still intriguing.  He suggested that on the seventh day, God actually created rest.  This rest is not a “negative” reality.  Darkness is the absence of light.  But this Divine Rest is more than the absence of work.  This Divine Rest is a positive presence in the world, a fullness of being, an experience of peace and goodness.
  God created the world, and then God rested - experienced the goodness of that creation - for a whole day.   
Throughout the week, God calls us to join him in the action of creating.  God asks us to help him tend this garden that is our world.  We call this work.  But on the Sabbath, God asks us to just rest in the goodness of all that is.  Rest in God.  Rest in beauty.  Rest in goodness.  Rest in peace.  Rest in the knowledge that God is the true Creator and Sustainer of the universe - not us.  Rest in the knowledge that God is the foundation of our lives - not our own work.  Rest in the knowledge that God’s love defines us - not our achievement.  Quit trying to become better.  Quit trying to do more.  Quit trying to be bigger, better, faster.  Just rest.   A modern rabbi explains it like this: “On Shabbat, we escape the relentless need to keep on [working], and we taste the deliciousness of pure "being."
One day a week we just relax in God’s presence.  This broken world is still good and beautiful and holy - because God loves this world.  These broken people are still loved and beautiful and holy - because God loves these people.  This broken heart in this broken body is somehow still good and beautiful and holy - because God loves this heart and this body.   We have more creation to do, but it can wait.  Today is the day to rest in God’s love.  This is why we do Sabbath.

So, wrapping this up, the command of the Sabbath has been adapted, but it still stands.  The reason for the Sabbath is to empower us to rest in God’s love.  Finally, let’s talk about the gifts of the Sabbath.  This is where the quantum reality of Sabbath starts to play in.  A good Sabbath practice is connected to all our other days in unexpected, hidden ways.  Sabbath gives us two fundamental gifts: freedom and energy. 

The gift of freedom comes through resting in God’s love.  As it slowly soaks in that God’s love defines us, then our work begins to define us less and less.  Other peoples’ opinions of us become less important to us as we realize how important we are to God.  Society’s expectations of success begin to fade away as we understand that the heart of success comes simply from living in God’s love.  
As we learn to rest, our chains begin to fall off.  We realize that we have been slaves and didn’t even realize it.  A true Sabbath sets us free to live with courage and love.  Yes, of course, we still have work to do, but we don’t have to that work to prove anything to anybody because God has already proven himself to us.  We can live out of a deep confidence in our being because we are fully loved through Christ.

The gift of energy also comes through resting in God’s love.  One of the core planks of our vision is being renewed by God’s love.  The Sabbath is the center point for this renewal.  Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz became famous for coaching elite athletes who were going through periods of struggle.  They were amazingly successful at helping these top level athletes regain their edge and high performance.
But here’s the interesting part.  They didn’t spend ANY time with them talking about technical or tactical skills.  Instead they spent all their time “helping them to manage their energy more effectively.”  Their fundamental premise is simple, but shocking: “Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy - not time.”    Then, they took this idea and starting helping people apply it all over the world in all kinds of fields: business, education, the arts, religion.  Everywhere - same results.
Most people focus on time - more time working, more time studying, more time practicing.  Wrong, wrong, wrong!  Energy is the main point, not time.  Think about it.  Think about when you’re trying to read when you’re really tired.  You get to the end of the page and you can’t remember anything you just read.  More time reading isn’t going to help.  You need more energy.
In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, they explain it like this:  “Human beings are complex energy systems, and full engagement is not simply one-dimensional.  The energy that pulses through us is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.  All four dynamics are critical, none is sufficient by itself and each profoundly influences the others.  To perform at our best, we must skillfully manage each of these interconnected dimensions of energy. ... To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.”
Do you wonder why it’s hard to go to work?  Are you struggling to get up in the morning?  Why do so many Korean high school students hate school?  They don’t hate learning.  They hate school.  Why is that?  Are you studying more and getting worse grades?
It all comes down to a lack of energy.  We’re exhausted.  We’re tired in every way.  We’re emotionally disconnected.  Overwork has eroded our ability to focus. Self-interest doesn’t motivate us anymore.  We’ve lost touch with our purpose in life.  
A God-filled Sabbath is the cure.  The gift of the Sabbath is more energy.  A good Sabbath practice involves full nights of sleep and maybe some naps - physical energy; time with family and friends - emotional energy; time to relax and to play - mental energy; and time to connect with God and our purpose in life - spiritual energy.
There is a quantum mystery here.  If you want better results, you have to stop working at it - for at least one day.  Some things are connected even when it looks like they aren’t.  Einstein would call this “spooky action from a distance.”  You might call it irony or blessing, but the result is the same.  Practicing a Sabbath boosts both performance and happiness.  
Quantum physics is changing the way we think about the world.  It is counter-intuitive, and it is forcing us to rethink some of our basic ideas about how life works.  
Over the next month, be open to a quantum Sabbath.  Some things are connected even when it looks like they aren’t.  A good practice of the Sabbath can change your life.  
Sabbath is counter-intuitive.  Allow God to change the way you think about the world.  Be open to rethinking some of your basic ideas about how life works.  Resting one day a week every week might just be the best thing you ever do.

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