Society: Will the Real Tyrant Please Stand Up?

…Our observation of the Sabbath is a special time of recognizing that, ideally, as members of the Christian community we are part of an alternative society, standing in contrast to the values of the world and able to offer to those outside the community the opportunity to choose another way. Our ethics are not like those of the world around us; we don’t’ settle for generalized moral philosophy. Rather, our ethics is shaped by the narrative of our community, the stories of God’s interventions in history…It seems to me that to recover the command to keep the Sabbath might help our Christian communities to restore the other commandments. Certainly if we honor one day as a day set apart to concentrate on the holiness of God, our priorities will be restored and we will again seek God’s will concerning our relationships with parents, with sexual partners, and with possessions.

~Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Eerdmans, 1999. pp. 41&43

I started this BLOG in January intending to explore what is fundamental to us as Christ followers. I presupposed that the core issue is not so much how we, and by extension our message, can be relevant to the culture, but what in our culture is really relevant to us. In the entry for January 15, 2005 I wrote:

Here is the challenge: discover what is relevant to those of us who are mere sojourners in time. Jesus sketched the challenge in the terms of being “in the world” while not being “of the world.”

Who am I? Better put, where am I? I am between two worlds: in one, but not of it; bound for another, but for the time being, bound TO the one I’m in. If that is true, if I and other Christ followers are “between two worlds,” then the question of relevance is vital. What really matters? Where do we fit in this world—or do we fit at all?

So how are we to be different from the culture?

That’s not the question. Analyzing the ways of our society and then setting out to be different merely uses society as a baseline to react against. A community ought never be defined by what it is opposed to. Instead, a community should be identified with what it affirms, distinguishable because of its faithfulness to its character. In the case of the followers of Jesus, our nature has been inherited from him, so our community should be identified with him. The right question is how can we be faithful? It is in our faithfulness that we ought to be distinguishable from the culture, and if by being faithful we wind up being a counterculture, then so be it. Another way of putting it is that Christ-followers should seek what is relevant to them and respond to it.

Yesterday, I suggested that God’s gift of Sabbath might well be intended to introduce us to the ways of the Kingdom—timeless, relational, creative. If so, then learning to live in God’s rest is relevant to us. Living the hurricane of Western culture is not. Embracing the restful cadence of the eternal Father is relevant. Willingly plodding in the forced march—a death march—of the world is not.

Many of us have viewed the Sabbath as an imposition, as though to be called away from our daily routines and hourly obligations amounted to an inconvenience, or worse, tyranny. But who is the real tyrant? Is it the Lord of the Sabbath, emphatically calling his followers to come away and rest? Or is it the world that drives us toward a mirage of success and survival that is the real tyrant?

And which of the two is more relevant to us as we live between two worlds? Which is more likely to distinguish the community of Christ-followers as “an alternative society, standing in contrast to the values of the world and able to offer to those outside the community the opportunity to choose another way?”

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