Lesson 9: Sabbath and Community
Acts 2: 41-47
I call upon the Bible scholars of the world to use a plural “you” in your translations. “Y’all,” “You all.” Even “You’uns” will do. It would be so much easier to tell when Scripture is addressed to a community and not just individuals. I would wager that there are a lot more “y’alls” in Scripture than “yous” singular.
Why is “y’all” important? In our individualistic culture, we tend to read the Bible as if it were about us as singular entities. Yet, faith is both communal and individual. God is all about building a beloved community. God calls and blesses Abraham and Sarah so that all the families of the earth will be blessed. God gives the law so that a distinct community will be formed that will draw the world to God. Jesus gathers a small community to learn from him, and at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon 120 men and women to form a community to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
The members of this new community pray, study and eat together. As committed Jews, they celebrate Sabbath together. If the new Christianity is to survive, the life of the community is crucial. There will be social criticism, shunning, fake news and persecution coming their way that will be arduous, if not impossible, to withstand without the support of others.
Yet even without a tidal wave of social criticism, maintaining faith and the practice of celebrating Sabbath is difficult. With the continuing decline of religious affiliation, our culture no longer supports faith. On Sunday mornings, drive through neighborhoods or center cities. You’ll see most cars parked at home or gathered at sporting events.
One might think the community of faith provides healing for what ails us: a place of support and belonging centered on the goodness of God. The rates of loneliness have been increasing since the 1970s. Today, as many as 60% of college students and about 40% of adults report being lonely. Across age groups, we have fewer close friends with whom we plan activities. The rise of media has isolated us as we engage with our computers, phones and televisions instead of being with friends face to face. Our addiction to work has left us with few relationships outside of our employment. Neighborhood gatherings, hobby groups and civic organizations have shrunk or disappeared. The pandemic made isolation worse.
As Alcoholic Anonymous will attest, positive, life-affirming behaviors are best supported with gatherings and having a person whom you can call for help.
Similarly, committing to grow in our relationship with God is undergirded by a community and by people who are trustworthy. Author Carol Bechtel mentions making a covenant with one person, a few friends or another family to enhance one aspect of celebrating Sabbath. Such a covenant could include a meal, weeding a garden, drawing a doodle of the Scripture heard in worship, singing or sharing prayer.
Joining a spiritual companion group can be life giving. Such a group commits to a faith practice like writing prayers each day, reading a chapter of a book a week or painting a scripture passage with the understanding that finger-painting is okay — as are stick figures! The group doesn’t need to be friends, only to share a common purpose.
I led a writing group for several months. No skill was required. There were no wrong answers. We read a Scripture and I provided a “prompt,” an open-ended sentence from which people wrote. After reading a lament in the Psalms, a prompt could be, “I get angriest at God when …” or “enemies can be inside and outside us. I want to tell my enemy …” As people were willing, they shared what they wrote. We did not analyze nor add our two cents to what someone said. We received it quietly and thanked the person gently. It was a sacred hour, a holy sharing, that I found sustained me in my faith.
In one church I served, a group of men decided to meet before work every two weeks. Their format was to talk about sports, read and discuss the upcoming Scripture for Sunday worship, and pray. The group lasted for years.
Whether with a friend or a group, check in weekly. Have guidelines for the group, such as beginning with prayer or contemplative music, maintaining confidentiality, or not giving advice. Brainstorm your own guidelines by asking, “What do you need to be comfortable with each other?” As trust builds, share personal concerns and celebrations. Commit to pray for one another. I have been told repeatedly that spiritual companionships make worship more meaningful because the people are known and respected by others in the faith community.