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Sabbath: What Review (and others) won’t say

By Nathan Brown
Following the recent discussion of the Adventist Review article on Sabbath keeping, I decided to share the following. I don’t consider this a remarkable or revolutionary article and so have been taken by surprise to have it consistently rejected by Adventist publications and to have been “advised” against publishing it. It seems we need a bigger conversation on Sabbath, Sabbath keeping and the possibilities of Sabbath. Like many other aspects of our faith and practise, Sabbath needs to be less about us.
Sabbath afternoon 1: We had caught the train into the city centre and joined in the morning worship service of a multicultural inner-city congregation. But we politely turned down their invitations to stay for lunch in the church hall. Instead we headed to the square in front of city hall, where a different, larger and even more diverse crowd was assembling.
It was a sunny afternoon and the growing crowd was good-natured but purposeful. At the appointed time, a leader with a loudhailer greeted the hundreds of walkers and directed them along a few city blocks and up the hill to a government building. Police were on hand to divert traffic and the protesters flowed onto the usually busy city street.
There were many themed signs and T-shirts but we were there simply as part of the greater mass. The march proceeded at a leisurely pace, but punctuated with sporadic sloganning. The government building to which we proceeded had some responsibility for international affairs and was thus an appropriate target for the assembled marchers to air their concerns for a regional political and humanitarian crisis about which we felt the government should be taking more constructive action.
We listened to the variety of speeches from march organizers, part of a call for government action that was being heard around the country that afternoon.
Sabbath afternoon 2: After worshipping and lunching, we walked down to a nearby park to join in with a community project. A small group of volunteers met monthly to regenerate an area of bushland that had been overrun with weeds, rubbish and public use. In their place, the community members were replanting native trees and shrubs, grown from seeds collected in nearby bush areas.
The area we worked on that afternoon had been cleared and cleaned up, ready for planting. And with a few other volunteers we dug holes, planted and watered most of the afternoon, focusing on just a small part of the larger project area. As the sun settled toward the horizon, 200 new trees were beginning to make their contribution to this reborn bushland.
Being a warm afternoon, we had sweated and this mixed with the dirt we had been working with. We had spent a couple of hours working with some fellow community members, committed to enhancing the environment in which we all live. We had blisters to remind us of our afternoon for the rest of the week. And we had 200 trees we would check on whenever we passed by that area in coming months.
Sabbath afternoon 3: This one is the difficult one—this Sabbath afternoon. (And it’s a challenge to me as well. These experiences stand out in my memory from a few years ago and it bothers me that I do not have many to add to them.)
This is not about the “do’s” and “don’ts” of Sabbath-keeping. It’s about the possibilities of Sabbath and the blessing it can be to us and the communities and societies in which we live. We should not be so preoccupied with Sabbath “resting” or “keeping” Sabbath that we neglect sharing Sabbath. As Dwight Nelson has expressed it, “Sabbath afternoons are a gift from God through you to the poor, the suffering, the lonely and the needy” (Pursuing the Passion of Jesus). This can happen in so many different ways, of which the two stories above are just examples.
Jesus taught, “It is right to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12, NLT) and we need to be more creative and active in how we put this into practice. When I look at our church, the opportunities for service around us and the gift of time we have each week in the form of the Sabbath, I get excited.
Imagine if a busload of people from our church had joined in that protest march that afternoon or, better still, if church members came by the busload from Adventist churches across the city and suburbs to lend their voices and presence to this call for humanitarian action. Imagine if a few carloads from our local church had joined in the community tree planting that afternoon. Imagine the impact if this Sabbath afternoon you, individually or with a group from your church, get involved in some way with your community.

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