You can find a lot of books, TV-shows, blogs, and YouTube videos giving advice about time management, how to be more productive, and how valuable our time is.
It seems to be a given in our society that being able to do more, produce more, and to consume more are good things. Convenience foods, electronic communication, and online shopping are all designed to save time — time that we could then spend on being more productive: work, school, and consumption. This is the world we live in, and more and more of us are simply exhausted by it.
The problem with all of this is the same problem that was faced by the Hebrews during their captivity in Egypt: being productive and getting things done is the accepted understanding and definition of value. Making bricks, building cities, and creating wealth for others was the value of those slaves. Our time and attention are sold to advertisers; our aches and pains and exhaustion become yet another opportunity to sell us a solution. Even in our own eyes we become valuable only in the ways in which we contribute — the thought of being considered lazy or not pulling our weight is abhorrent to us.
God’s response now, as it was then, lies in liberation. God led those Hebrew slaves through the wilderness and into the Promised Land giving them this instruction: “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt…keep the sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15, NRSV) For one day each week, they would not be productive. Their slaves, their servants, their animals, even the foreigners living among them — all would not be productive. And yet, they would still have value. At the heart of their liberation would be sabbath.
Sabbath was not just the heart of their liberation. It was also the heart of their resistance.
Even in a strange land, even by the rivers of Babylon, sabbath was with them. Even under occupation by Persians and Greeks and Romans, sabbath was with them. Even in diaspora, scattered across the earth, sabbath was with them. It set them apart; it made them different; it defined a relationship with God and with each other that was separate from any consideration of productivity or wealth or utility.
Sabbath is also God’s gift to us. Inside this commandment is the key to unlocking our chains, liberating us from our bondage to busyness and inviting us to experience the freedom of sabbath. God did not create us only to be productive, but also to enjoy, experience, and celebrate the whole of God’s creation.
At the core of stewardship lies the idea that we are to use God’s gifts in the way in which God wants us to use them. Material possessions, talents and skills, and time itself are all God’s gifts. God has not just hinted or suggested that we should take time to rest and recognize that we are more than just slaves — God has commanded it.
We are freed by God’s command.
Rev. Raymond Hodgson is the rector of the Church of St. Bartholomew, Sarnia
and a member of Diocesan Stewardship Committee.