How delightful that word sounds after a full week of work. With manager Kaley gone in Puerto Rico, soaking up rays and teaching on agriculture, we have worked extensively to complete her lengthy to-do list and thus secure ourselves the Promised Pizza Dinner. After weeding, hoeing, edging, planting, harvesting, and sweating, our list has grown gaunt as our stomachs brace themselves for garlicy goodness. We shall greatly enjoy the fruit of our labor.
We value hard work. In America especially there is something almost patriotic about dirty hands, muddy jeans, and a dusty pick-up truck. We praise production and profit and feel a sense of righteousness for a good 40+ hour week. The Bible even instructs believers “to work with your own hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:11b-12). Very rarely do we have a problem understanding that God worked six days creating and that we should toil likewise. Our challenge comes with that whole issue of the seventh day when God rested.
It’s one thing to affirm that we ought to take a Sabbath, but it’s a whole different enchilada when it comes to actually ceasing from our work and finding the physical and spiritual rejuvenation of rest. The fourth commandment has become the great suggestion. “A Sabbath rest is definitely great,” we say, “but I can get along without it,” as if we, the creatures, can function like the Energizer Bunny while God, the Creator, needs his water breaks and nap times. Friends, we need to tear down our idol of productivity and take a God-ordained rest.
But the call for Sabbath rest does not stop with us humans; rather, it extends to animals (Ex. 20:10) and the land (Lev. 25:4-7). God’s covenant law with the Israelites demanded that livestock enjoy the seventh day’s rest and that farm land should lie fallow every seventh year in order to replenish itself. Meanwhile, we participate in a food system where animals are born, raised, and slaughtered in factory farms while we scratch the same dirt year after year, setting our corn rows closer and closer just to get more, more, and more. Friends, we need to tear down our idol of efficiency and give the creation a God-ordained rest.
Now, in the New Testament Christ reinterprets the meaning of the Sabbath: Not only is it a day or rest, it is a day of restoration. Violating all sense of first-century Jewish, religious propriety, Jesus did the unthinkable and healed many people on the Sabbath, delivering them from all sorts of physical and spiritual pain and disease. Jesus’ actions force us to not just take rest for ourselves, but to bring freedom, healing, and justice to those who are marginalized, ill, and oppressed. Yet, much of the food we so painlessly select from the grocery store comes to us on the backs of underpaid, abused, and neglected workers around the world. Friends, we need to tear down our idol of ease and grant our neighbors a God-ordained rest.
Wait, I thought this was a blog about community gardening, not an avenue for a three-point sermon (count ‘em, there are three).
My apologies, but when you give a Bible major a hoe, a garden, and free range over the weekly blog post, this is the kind of stuff you get. But, let me take you where the rubber of theology meets the road of reality; where the Sabbath rest, you and I, and the beauty of farming intersect.
First, farming is hard work. Meeting planting deadlines, turning the compost, edging the garden, and battling the weeds all in the blazing sun were some of our more pleasurable tasks this week, and we have dirt-caked fingernails and plenty of filthy laundry to prove that we accomplished it. But, our work, however God-honoring it may be, never trumps the necessity of a God-honoring rest. Take your Sabbath rest from whatever your work, and rejoice in the Lord who grants not only physical rest, but true spiritual rest as well.
Second, know your farmer. More times than not, your local, smaller-scale farmer maintains practices that offer rest both to both animals and land. Choose free-range chickens and grass-fed beef over meat that was produced and processed in inhumane ways. Select fruits and vegetables from reliable famers who steer clear of aggressive, harmful chemicals and take the time to nurture and replenish their soil.
Lastly, “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Learn the origins of what you consume and select products in a manner that upholds justice and mercy over convenience and ease. For starters, check your coffee and chocolate to determine that those who have brought it to you are treated and compensated fairly for their labor. In this way you can offer a Sabbath rest to those in need.
An easy word, but a challenging concept. As we close out another work week, I hope that you find joy and satisfaction in your labor, but more than that, I wish you peace and rejuvenation in the rest you experience and share with others.
John and the IWU Alliance Garden Team