This sermon was preached at Hamline Church, using the text Genesis 2:1-3 (the 7th Day):
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
In the mid-1960s, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow developed something revolutionary: a human hierarchy of needs—not something to be used to diagnose mentally ill people, but rather an exploration of what humans need to be fully alive, healthy and thriving.
The hierarchy is a pyramid, its foundation composed of basic physiological needs: food, shelter, water—and most interestingly, sleep.
When you think of the basic human needs, does sleep come to mind? Or are you like me, barely thinking about it until suddenly you haven’t had enough of it?
Well, it turns out that Maslow was painfully right—that sleep is so essential to our human needs that not getting it could literally kill us.
Sleep research shows us that within the brain, there are large quantities of genes that are only turned on while we sleep. I don’t think you need me to tell you how hard it is to think clear thoughts when you’ve had several nights of poor sleep. Anyone who has ever had an infant knows how that works.
If we don’t sleep, our immune system weakens and begins to fail.
Researchers at Washington University in Saint Louis have also begun to link a lack of sleep in life to the development of alzheimers disease later in life.
Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist at Oxford University, has a theory that sleep is a time when our brains process and consolidate memory. He says:
“our ability to come up with novel solutions to complex problems is hugely enhanced by a night of sleep. In fact, it’s been estimated to give us a threefold advantage. Sleeping at night enhances our creativity.”
In case you’re curious, these little anecdotes come from NPR: Russel Foster has a great TED talk for the scientific lay person on this topic. It was on the TED radio hour a few weeks back.
Humans need sleep: we need sleep to be fully human, fully alive, fully whole, not only mentally but biologically.
Yet, we devalue it—we forget it as a basic human need, and relegate it to a secondary thing—something we’ll do after all the work is done.
So, you may be asking yourself—why is this preacher talking to me about sleep, at 10 am on the Sunday morning of a long weekend?
Why have I chosen not to sleep in, dragged my children out of bed, and come here—just to hear a sermon on the adoration of sleep? Is she doing this to tease me? Perhaps living into some kind of holy irony? Or is she just totally and completely clueless?
Well, for the irony of it, I am sorry—and I give you complete and total permission to yawn during this sermon. Or, to take a nap in the balcony. But, if you stick with me—you might see where I’m going with this.
I think you know the beginning of the story just read for us.
God creates the heavens and the earth–the earth is formless and void, and then God brings forth the waters, and the land, and the plants and crops, the swarming fish, the birds of the air—all those quadrapeds–and then us.
“In the image of God, he created them. And then there was morning, and then there was evening—the sixth day.”
This is the foundational story of who we are in faith. It is the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of our story with God.
And yet, when we think about that beginning, maybe we gloss over the seventh day. Maybe we get too caught up in the science and religion battles over what really happened, or maybe this part gets lost as we read on into the next verses—the story of Adam and Eve.
Just like we might be tempted to de-value sleep in our lives, we also might be tempted to de-value these three verses in the grand scheme of creation.
Because what is truly happening here is quite profound.
Here the story tells us that it wasn’t enough to create the heavens, the earth, the birds, the fish, the waters, the dome of the sky–it wasn’t enough to create the humans in God’s image. There was one final thing to do, and it was rest: to institute peace, joy–blessing.
We like to think that WE are the highlight of this story–because as usual we humans like to put ourselves at the center of all stories. But the seventh day is more important.
The seventh day is the pinnacle of the story: the creation of rest and blessing. On the seventh day, God created a holy way of being with this new creation:
Enjoying it. Blessing it. Honoring it. Relaxing in it.
After creating this great and magnificent world, God needed a way to be in relationship to it. Our ancestors used this day of rest to frame the entire history of their existence on earth, the entire narrative of who they are and why they are.
Created in the image of God, rest is as essential to us now as it was in the beginning. The seventh day calls us to live into a principal of sabbath in our own lives, to rest, to bless, and to hallow the work we have done.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day—a national holiday, when we pause as a nation to remember those who have died in service to our country. Many of us pause on Memorial Day to remember fallen friends and family.
This day was originally a day of spiritual and social healing, instituted after the civil war, when the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers could be decorated and honored across the reunited, yet still scarred, nation.
This day of national rest developed out of mourning, but for the goal of healing: so that in rest we could remember our common connection to one another as one country.
On this day, our rest has a restorative purpose, a purpose to heal our hearts and help us to remember the consequences of war. Yet, culturally, this day has also developed into the opening weekend of summer: the official time when we can all kick back and barbeque every weekend up at the lake. This too can be restorative for us, a process of healing and holy rest after a long winter of hard work.
So tomorrow, on Memorial Day, when many of us have time to stop working and just be, let us embrace the principal of Sabbath in our lives.
As people of God, together and individually, we have done incredible work.
In your own life, perhaps you have struggled through sadness, through death, through sixty-hour work weeks, through just the average every day of raising wonderful children. Perhaps you’ve built something great on the job, something you can’t wait to share with others. Perhaps you’ve done the quiet and yet fulfilling work of being there for a friend, your grandchildren, your aging parents.
Many of you have been instrumental on bringing ministries of hospitality to fruition here:
- Our bread oven has truly grown into a community gathering space.
- On Wednesday, we welcomed a refugee family of seven to their new life in America.
- Our Confirmands did amazing work, our kids made movies—and I can’t even count or tally how many people we have fed here: at the Dining Hall, at soup suppers, at local shelters.
- And on top of all that, we’ve been doing hard internal work as a community, trying to re-imagine our role here in the Midway Neighborhood of Saint Paul.
We’ve done a lot, Church.
And though our work is never truly finished, this part of it has come to a close.
The seventh day honors the work God did in creation, but it was not the end of God’s work. The next step in this story, I’m sure you also know: Adam and Eve are in the garden.
Now God must begin a new kind of work, relationship to these intriguing creatures made in the image. Since the whole Bible is a story of that long and winding road, I’m sure you know that God’s work is far from over.
But, framing all of that work is the seventh day, the Sabbath, calling us to a holy rest as a foundation for all that we are.
And like sleep, Sabbath is a fundamental need for us: our souls cannot survive without it. Holy rest is necessary for us, to piece our lives together, to remember the sacrifices made, to honor those who came before, and to be ready for the next stage of the work.
So let us take a seventh day moment: let us rest. Let us bless and hallow this day, and the next, so that we may go out fully whole as people created in the image of God.