Thursday, October 30, 2008

The limits of can-do

Americans tend to be a can-do people. Rarely do we face a problem and deem it insurmountable. Instead, we quickly set to work looking for an answer through economics, or politics, or the military, or through technology, or by better educational opportunities. It’s a part of our national ethos to believe that if we just think hard enough or work long enough we’ll figure out almost anything life can throw at us. Just look at the language of both political parties as they address today’s greatest challenges. They may disagree with one another on what the answer to those challenges may be, but both boldly assert that there is a political solution to every crisis we face as a nation – from the slowing economy to the threat of terrorism.

In many, many ways, this can-do attitude is a product of what we call the Protestant work ethic. It is the idea that work is essentially good and that our work can be fruitful. It’s true – work need not be seen as drudgery or obligation. Work can be done for the glory of God. After all, God gave us six days to do what? Work. But what keeps our work and our understanding of work’s potential from tipping over into idolatry (that is, the misguided belief that our work has no limit to its potential)? The Sabbath. God may have given us six days to work, but he has also given us a day to rest, to worship, and to wonder.

William Willimon put it this way, “Sabbath keeping is a publically enacted sign of our trust that God keeps the world, therefore we do not have to. God welcomes our labors, but our contributions to the world have their limits. If even God trusted creation enough to be confident that the world would continue while God rested, so should we”[1]. As we shall see in this week’s sermon text, some challenges in life defy our own ability to overcome them. Some rivers are just too big to cross on our own. In such cases, the solution comes not from doing so much as it comes from waiting. For our God is poised to do “amazing things among you” if we’ll just be still long enough to hear his voice and see him move. How do we practice stillness? By keeping the Sabbath.

Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10

[1] William Willimon, The Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Nashvile: Abingdon, 2000), 329.

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