This past Monday and Tuesday, I was with an ecumenical group of pastors who serve as Mentors for Macedonian Ministry clergy groups. As some of you know, Macedonian Ministry was founded by The Rev. Dr. Tom Tewell, one-time associate pastor here at FPCB, who played a pivotal role in connecting me with the FPCB pastoral search committee during the same conference one year ago. This year, we gathered at Princeton Seminary to experience their innovative “Farminary” program, which links theological education and pastoral formation with the actual practice of small-scale sustainable agriculture through a working farm just two miles from the Seminary campus.
On the farm, my job for several hours was to clear a garden bed that was significantly overgrown by “cover crop”: plants that contribute to the fertility of the soil rather than draw nutrients out. Kneeling in the dirt, sweating and grunting as I yanked up plants under a 95-degree sun, I asked the farm director what would be planted there. “Nothing,” he replied, “at least for the next two years. For this garden to really bear fruit, we need to let the bed lie fallow so the soil itself can rest and be ready to support a healthy and vital crop.”
My grandfather was a farmer, so I knew about letting fields lie fallow. But it struck me that this is a lesson that we often forget to apply to ourselves. God, of course, knows better. It’s no accident that the practice of Sabbath is not just a law, not even just one of the Ten Commandments, but the longest and most detailed one: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:8-11). There are no loopholes in that; everyone, even the livestock, needs a regular chance to rest.
This weekend is Labor Day weekend — a sort of secular Sabbath. Unlike most of our other national holidays, the specific point of it is to rest, to honor laborers by telling them to set down their labors. And it traditionally marks the end of summer, the most popular season for vacations, as well. As I return from my two weeks’ vacation, I’m newly reminded of the power of rest, of lying fallow and being restored, so that we can truly “bear fruit” through our work.
Whether you’ve been away or not, I encourage you to find a way to practice Sabbath especially this Labor Day weekend: to rest, to play, to worship God, to spend time with loved ones, and in so doing to be restored and ready to bear fruit once more!
Grace and Peace,