God Works while We Rest
So I was restless Tuesday evening. I’d been wrestling with my sermon in the back of my head while working and being with family. I had promised you all a sermon on the benefits and blessings of rest this week because this month, at the very beginning of our regular meetings, we’re looking at rest ALL MONTH LONG, and God commanded us to rest and had blessed rest and made it holy from the very beginning in Genesis 2. I had done the research for all the amazing things that happen (the blessings) when you rest--when you unplug. When you sleep.
But the sermon, in the vague corners of my mind, seemed like a sermon for a happier time. A time when we could all kick off our shoes and look at how silly busy our lives are. It seemed like a sermon topic for a time when the only thing out of whack was the amount of kid birthday parties we were obligated to attend--and I don’t want to underestimate how exhausting that really is. It is.
But the sermon that had been coming together in the back of my head honestly seemed like a cliche Facebook post on the top 10 benefits of taking a nap. Probably click-worthy, but that is not what we’re going for here.
It was a sermon for one kind of rest--rest from our schedules. But our exhaustion right now also stems from a weariness beyond our calendars and busyness.
We’re also tired because our hearts had to run at full pace this week as we absorbed the news of a man shooting and killing 58 people and injuring 500 more in a matter of minutes in Las Vegas. We are tired because the US is hurting and rebuilding and salvaging lives in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico--oh, Puerto Rico. We are tired because of Trump and North Korea and nuclear fear and Equifax corruption--one of our friends has had his entire identity stolen--new life insurance policies, mail rerouted, Amazon account taken over.
I was tired because my mentor told me this week that she is most likely in the early stages of alzheimer's. And maybe you too have also received news this week of a diagnosis, a broken relationship, or something else that draws on your already depleted energy levels. Maybe you watched that movie we showed on Friday. Dear lord.
We are tired and bound and probably slightly bent over as we enter this space this morning.
I’m going to read a story from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13:10-17 about a woman who probably felt pretty similar. Exhausted, despairing, crippled and bent.
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.
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.”
”But the Lord answered him and said, “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, the day of rest?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
I told you this woman is tired. She is crippled in body and spirit the passage tells us. Like some of us this morning she also found herself burdened, shuffling into Sabbath, into the day of rest. Despite the side-eyes of the grumpy leaders and the pain in her body, she showed up for holy rest. She didn’t even ask to be healed--maybe she assumed that her status, as a woman, an unclean cripple, made her exempt. But that rest, that rest was hers.
And in this story in Luke, God is the one who shows up to do the heavy lifting, to do the work. Jesus met her there. In this story he pauses from his teaching; he gets her attention; he releases her from her burden of 18 years. Jesus touches her. He defends her place in the community on the day of rest. He shames her accuser.
She showed up to rest and in an ironic and perhaps divine twist, God is the one who got to work. God is working through this woman’s rest.
Maybe the religious leader, like many of us today, think that Sabbath and rest is a time where nothing happens, where nothing is supposed to happen. Rest signals a moment of emptiness or lack--and in a world that runs at the pace of ours, that can seem like wasted time. Who has time for rest? In a week like this week we are constantly reminded that we’ve got too much work to do.
But we also need to realize, in the same way and in different ways than the religious leader, that much actually does happen when we, like this woman, heed the call to rest--God happens.
I think in this story holy rest, taking a moment to stop, is about giving God the space to heal and release and bless in a way that doesn’t happen when we’re off working, thinking, checking things off our list or saving the world.
Rest, that holy and blessed thing that we learned about last week in Genesis 2, is a space not of emptiness or “checking out,” but it is the space where the grace of God is at work, not us. And that kind of work is irreplaceable--it’s the kind of work that heals, sets us free, reminds us who we are. When we are exhausted, whether spiritually or emotionally or physically, showing up to rest, even if we’re shuffling in like this woman, to STOP and REST opens up doors to God that are otherwise closed to us.
God is working when we show up to rest. In this story and even now.
A study at Carnegie Mellon claimed that “Chronic stress lasting more than a month but less than six months doubled a person’s risk of catching a cold.” When we live life at a slower pace and rest, our immune system, the body that God gave us, can maintain itself better.
And consider this. Manoush Zomoradi, author and host of the podcast “note to self,” just released a book all about the benefits of boredom (which include happiness, creativity, and productivity). God is doing a good work when we rest.
Or consider mindfulness or meditation, practices of rest for your brain. Mindfulness, in a choppy Jenelle definition, is sitting still and quieting your mind to focus on right now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right now. The sounds, tastes, smells of right now. So many of us are addicted to the work of thinking--thinking about tomorrow’s meeting or yesterday's arguments. Mindfulness is offering your brain and body a rest from the work of thinking or over-thinking.
The rest of mindfulness reduces your “fight-flight-or-flee” hormones (which for many of us have been cranking hard for about a year now). The rest of mindfulness allows your brain to switch into what some doctors call your rest and digest brain functioning--one that allows you to make sense of things and plan appropriately and compassionately for the future.
Or consider this...one study in the journal Psychiatry Research last January found that participating in regular meditation increased the gray matter in our brains. Gray matter is the lovely stuff involved in learning, regulating emotions, getting appropriate perspective on things, empathy, and creating a healthy sense of self. Let me say that again--REST when we are weary can help us learn, be empathetic, be grounded in ourselves and our lives, and have a reasonable perspective on life. God is doing a good work while we are resting.
And in a time where we are processing secondary trauma from our violent week, research shows that rather than immediate action, space and time to sit with our feelings are key to recovery. Rest can help us avoid creating narratives of vindictiveness and othering that can lead to additional violence. Sitting with our feelings, without judgement and without lashing out, resting in them, can begin the healing process.
When we slow down. When we show up for Sabbath, for stopping, God gets to work. God’s blessings unfold. We rest: God transforms and sets free.
I could go on and on about the heart benefits, the cancer benefits, the relational benefits and I will tell you that the mental health benefits of rest are real.
Like the woman in Luke, God gets to work in us, in our hearts and minds, when we show up with our burdens and lay them down in rest.
In a way, what rest allows for us to do is decide not if we’re going to engage with the world--we must, but how. It sets aside time to take a deep breath. Get our brain and heart back in working order. Root ourselves in empathy and knowledge of ourselves and God. Get healed and bandaged up so that we have the wherewithal to head back into the world.
God’s good work in our rest sets us free to be creative about solutions.
God’s good work in rest sets us free to access empathy for ourselves and others.
God’s good work in our rest helps us to better understand ourselves.
God’s good work in our rest gives us the freedom to shift from fight, flight, or flee mode to a steady heartbeat and the ability to think clearly.
God’s good work in our rest sets us free from the burden or delusion that we have to fix everything, all the time.
God’s good work in our rest, like we read in Psalm 23, can even give God a moment to set a table amidst our enemies of racism, violence, guns, fear, fear, fear. When we rest, God’s transformative table is set even in such company and we are invited to sit down and eat, and invite others to the table too.
God’s good work in our rest means that all the feelings and thoughts that are laid on us every day can either get dusted off or gently seep into the crevices of who we are and who we want to be and who God is calling us to be.
God’s good work is found in the midst of our rest, in the midst of our ability to stop and take a breath, our commitment to slow down and shuffle in with our crippled walk and let Jesus touch us--maybe that touch comes through a nap or a conversation or a therapy appointment or a time of prayer or in breaking from the news cycle. Maybe it is a holy mystery and we simply wait in silence.
As much as God’s good work is in the action around us and in us, God’s good work is also in the rest folks. Thanks be to God.