"First things” is a time-to-time look at the first reading. This week we're looking at Deuteronomy 30:15-20, which you can find by clicking here.
Okay, hear me out: this story just might be about taking a vacation.
After leading the Israelites out of Egypt, braving slavery and plagues, outrunning chariots, Moses leads the people to Mt. Sinai, where God dwells in smoke, lightning, and fire. The glory of the Lord, terrible and majestic, has settled among God’s people. God begins to speak, beginning to dictate the Law, the life-giving Torah.
A little bit into this, just after the Ten Commandments, God invites Moses up the mountain. He tells him to come and wait, and that God will give him tablets of stone. And so, Moses tells the elders, “Aaron and Our are in charge, whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
And so, Moses went up the mountain to be with God. There, he saw the glory of God. There, God gave him the law. Moses was there for forty days and forty nights. He stayed a while. Because God invited him up out of the valley, and he let others carry the burden of leadership for a while.
Now, let me be clear, the point of this text is not that Moses took a vacation. To boil it down, the point is that God’s glory is revealed to the Israelites and that an eternal covenant is made. But, what I’m saying is that within this great and epic story, a man asks others to be in charge and he goes up a mountain and dwells with the divine for a while. He takes a vacation.
God calls each and every one of us to encounter God’s revelation. In fact, more than simply call us, God reveals Godself to us everyday. But sometimes, just sometimes, we have to leave our present environs for a while to hear God’s voice.
Maybe you’re the type that actually likes to go up a mountain. I’m afraid of heights. Maybe, like me, you prefer the lower elevation of a beach or lake. Most of us, I’d wager, have some experience of the clarity that comes from getting away. Taking time off, traveling, is good for us. God might actually speak to us along the way.
One of the hallmarks of God’s law is the Sabbath, a holy day of rest, where people and nature take time for friendship with each other. There exists the sabbatical, too, an extended period of rest every seven years. One recalls the creation story, where God creates for six days, and on the seventh, the Sabbath, God rested. God took a day off, so you can too. It’s God’s gift.
Far too much of society wants us to be constantly going. One can think of the “can’t stop, won’t stop” of “hustle” culture, where overworking and neglecting oneself and family are lifted up as the way to earn success. This all strives from the myth that, with enough work, one can accomplish everything. Yet, people all around the world are trapped hustling due to economic conditions, poverty, and the like, while the wealthy often enjoy leisure at the expense of others.
Part of the gift of God’s law is that rest is for everyone. Rest and leisure is a human right just as much as the right to work or the right to free speech. In fact, it’s enshrined in Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a founding document of the United Nations.
As we turn to Lent, the traditional time of year where we prepare for the Easter celebration, perhaps amidst our prayer, fasting, and charity, we might also make space for rest and relaxation. Perhaps God is calling you to take time for yourself as part of a lenten discipline.
One further gift of this time of rest is the time for friendship and connection. Traditionally, the Sabbath has been a time for worship as much as it is a time for rest and relaxation. At St. Stephen’s, we know that your time in church is a time for you to rest. Here, you can leave your worries behind; here you can bring those worries to Jesus and lay them down. Resting in God’s house, hearing God’s word, much like Moses did, you are then renewed for the rest of the week (or more). After resting a while on our pews, you return to life, fed by the Word of God and filled with love.