Week 6: Sabbath as Counter to Covetousness

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord* has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-16

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet* something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:1-2

In these two epistle passages, we are offered opposite sides of the same coin. What does it mean to love in Christian community? Perhaps more broadly, what does it mean to be God’s people?

In the 4th week of Lent, we explored the connection between Sabbath and belonging. Sabbath is the demarcation. People of God are people of Sabbath. And, people of Sabbath are people of community- they are neighbors to and with and for one another. The author of the letter to the Corinthians describes this kind of community as one of compassion, patience, forgiveness, and love.[1] The opposite- the thing God’s people are called not to be- is described by the author of the letter of James. Coveting that which belongs to another will breed conflict and violence- war and murder, he writes. These are stark realities.

I grew up with a younger brother and can remember, vividly, the way our conflicts- verbal or physical- would almost always stem from jealousy or from wanting what the other had. In some moments and experiences, that was attention, in others it was a toy or a thing, in still others it was a bit more abstract. He wanted my later bedtime and I wanted what I perceived to be his easy ability to get by without discipline. In truth, it didn’t really matter what the exact situation was- the underlying issue was that we coveted what the other had, or what we thought that the other had (because in truth, looking back, there were so many times when we were fighting over nothing at all!)

 

Covetousness- whether of children (or adults) over a toy, or over societal place, or recognition, or money, destroys relationships. It can destroy even the potential for relationship. And yet, it is so hard to not, inadvertently, fall into the trap of coveting what someone else has, or what we perceive someone else might have. Covetousness is, all too often, a way of our world.

 

But this is series of reflections on Sabbath- what does covetousness have to do with Sabbath?

 

Sabbath is a “big no” to covetousness, writes Walter Bruggeumann.

“But it is more than no. Sabbath is the regular, disciplined, visible, concrete yes to the neighborly reality of the community beloved by God…Sabbath is taking time…time to be holy…time to be human.”[2]

 

Sabbath is our opportunity to practice God’s rest; a rest defined without anxiety, without concern for what comes next, without covetousness, a rest that signifies our belonging to the people and the community of the Sabbath God, a rest where we are able to find and to know God’s peace in our own lives.

 

“We may come to know, but likely not without Sabbath, a rest rooted in God’s own restfulness and extended to our neighbors who also must rest. We, with our hurts, fears, and exhaustion, are left restless until then”[3]

 

Reflection:

What is a time when you fell into the trap of coveting something or someone? Was it something “real”, or was it something you imagined that they had?  Did the situation involve someone you were already in relationship with? What happened to that relationship?

 

Is there an area in your life where you would like to find God’s peace? What would that look like?

 

This week, we’ve heard the word ‘neighbor’ a few times. Who is your neighbor in the context of Sabbath? (this isn’t a trick question, I promise!) How could you help to create a communal space for rest with your neighbors? (whoever you think they would be- maybe literally the people who live on either side of you, maybe a group of friends, maybe an internet-based group of people you’ve never even met, maybe your family…etc.)

 

This is the sixth week of creating intentional space for Sabbath. What do you need to put in your Sabbath Box this week in order to make space for God’s rest (check out week 1 if you’re not sure what I’m talking about here)?

 

Activity:

Covetousness is not always directly related to acquiring and collecting goods, but often it is. Take time with your family or just yourself this upcoming week clearing out the “stuff” you don’t need anymore. Maybe that means you need to donate those old sweaters you keep thinking you might wear again or that you clean out the cabinets. Maybe it means clearing out all your old unread emails that remind you about promotions and sales or about business left undone. Maybe there are items on your to-do list that you can just let go of thinking you need to do. Maybe there are conversations with people that you’ve been putting off, or opportunities to ask for or to offer forgiveness.

 

Think together (or just on your own) what it would feel good to rid yourselves of and do it, donate it, toss it, ask it, feel it, write it down.

 

Make space for God’s peace in your life- space to find the rest rooted in God’s restfulness.

 

Friday Night Prayer:

Lord,
it is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.

[1] There isn’t consensus about authorship for this letter. It’s a letter attributed to Paul, but there is scholarly debate on that topic. For our purposes, however, authorship isn’t the question, so we can let the debate continue!

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 86.

[3] Bruggeumann, 89.