“Giving Sabbath”

A Sermon Series on the Ten Commandments
Deuteronomy 5:2, 12-15; Luke 13:10-17
Rev. Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
February 7, 2021 

Season 2, Episode 1 of the I Love Lucy show aired in 1952. It is entitled “Switching Job,” and in it is a 2-minute clip that is among the funniest and most memorable in all of television history. Already, many of you probably know what I am talking about. 

It’s this scene where Lucy and Ethel go to work in a candy factory, are set up in front of a conveyor belt, and the boss tells them that as the pieces of candy are coming from this conveyor belt to them, they need to wrap each and every one of them and if even one gets past them…they are fired. 

And so you better believe they do their level best to keep up. And at first, all is going well. 

But then the belt starts to speed up. And now the candies are arriving one after another and in such numbers and frequency that they can’t wrap each and every one. You see the look of horror on their face and the audience is laughing riotously… 

Because now the two women start pulling some of the candies off of the conveyor belt and stuffing it down their shirts, in their mouths, in their hats. Anywhere that they can hide the fact that they are not keeping up…but at least they try and maintain the appearance of success. 

Well, eventually the boss returns, and she glances at Lucy and Ethel, sees no chocolates have fallen off the end of the conveyor belt. 

“Well fine…you are doing splendidly. Speed it up!” 

And the conveyor belt moves at a ridiculous pace as the women are in this all-out frenzy trying to keep up with the candy and stuff it anywhere on their clothes or mouths. 

As funny as the scene is it is actually a really apt picture for the problem the people of God face in the book of Exodus. 

The people of God are enslaved to Pharaoh – charge is to make bricks day after day. It is their never-ending conveyor belt. 

And then one day Pharaoh declares to his taskmasters: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota.” 

Speed. it. up. 

As we said last week, no wonder the commandment to take rest must have been so striking to these people. But before we get too far into the 4th commandment itself, I think it’s also worth asking just for a moment: 

What is it that makes that particular clip so funny and so familiar to so many even nearly 70 years after the first episode aired? 

My sense is this: like all truly good comedy, it tells the truth. 

How often it really does feel like much of life is a conveyor belt of things coming toward us that must be dealt with or some kind of bad thing will happen… 

  • It may be as ordinary as the endless flow of laundry and dishes, maintenance, and chores… 
  • It may be the never-ending emails or texts or posts to which we need to or really should respond to… (and those are most definitely a ‘speed it up’ from the days when it was all hand-written letters)
  • It may be for some that their conveyor belt is constant demands of parenting and work and church (and look, a lot of those things may be good things. It’s candy coming down the conveyor belt)…
  • Or it’s the bills that keep coming and the continual fear that these cannot be taken care of if this speeds up at all…
  • Or the expectations that others continually have for you and that those keep coming in so many little forms… But then at another level, there is something about the conveyor belt that feels so true not just about our individual experiences but the way our society operates.
  • The advent of the internet and social media has meant information and news and entertainment are continually flooding toward us from our TVs, phones, computers, tablets, vehicles…
  • We live in a society that is ever producing more that we might purchase more…or at least purchase the latest update, the newest model and if you try and hold out and say you don’t need the latest and greatest device – it’s really not long before you are holding a device that mysteriously is running really slowly and forcing you to pick up the newest model coming your way on the conveyor belt…
  • We live in a society where the pace of change coming our way is incredibly fast – and that was pre-pandemic. And for many who are older this is overwhelming the speed of that conveyor belt but the truth is for most who are younger there is a terrifying sense of not being able to keep up, adapt, do the latest thing you are supposed to do to remain relevant, employable…
  • We live in a society where the best way to look successful to others is to tell them how busy you are…standing strong right there at the conveyor belt, handling it all just fine to all appearances…

That scene is really funny…because I think it is really true. And much more than we are often aware of. 

But…let me add that while I think we probably do relate at some level to Lucy and Ethel trying to deal with the continual conveyor belt….What I think gets less attention in this particular scene is that there is a third person in the scene. 

Someone who can actually do something to change the conveyor belt dynamic. 

It is the boss. 

The one who sets the women to work and the one who speeds the work up – she is the one with the most power to truly do something to either give a measure of rest…or push them some more. 

And now we are drawing quite close to the fourth commandment again. Because the 4th commandment is spoken to people who are in the position of the boss, the one with power, the one with influence on how the situation unfolds: 

“Observe the Sabbath day…Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do.” 

  • “You who have authority, influence, power – you rest…and you ensure they rest.” 
  • “You release from your work…and you ensure those under you can and do release.”
  • “You receive sabbath…and you also give sabbath.”

And this goes to the heart of what Jesus is doing in that passage from Luke 13. From a position of power, he is giving release to this woman otherwise bound. 

In this world with so many trying to keep up with the conveyor belt in any myriad of ways…what does it look like to be a people who take seriously this command to give rest? Release? 

I spent one summer in college as a youth group intern for my home church in Cincinnati, OH. I served under the Youth Director, Brian, and I served alongside one other intern, Linnea. 

And on the very last day of the internship, Brian had the three of us sit together at a park bench to do a final review of our time together. 

I’d had a couple of reviews in my life at this point – I knew what to expect. “Let’s talk about how well you did juggling all the things you expected on the conveyor belt plus the things you didn’t. How well did you do all of the things.” 

We get to the park bench, Brian pulls out a pen and paper for all three of us, and then says, “Ok, here’s how this review is going to go: for 15 minutes, we’re going to write in silence all of the ways we saw God work through one another.” 

So I wrote about how I saw God through Brian and Linnea. They did likewise for me. 

And honestly, at first, I remember thinking to myself that this was a terrible idea because now there is no space for him to tell me how I could do better. Learn from how I juggled the conveyor belt of things. 

I wanted to talk about the conveyor belt; he wanted to talk about grace. 

And you know what…To this day, I have both letters that Brian and Linnea wrote me in that park. Why? 

Because Brian used his position of authority to pull us from the conveyor belt, and show us the gift of being loved not for what we did or did not do, not for how well we juggled the conveyor belt or didn’t…but loved for who we are as animated by God. 

What a gift the church of Jesus Christ is when we talk seriously about this call to be a people who receive rest but also give that same grace. 

And I think we can consider what that looks like to give rest for others one day in seven (much like Chick-Fil-A famously does)…but also what it is to give the gift of rest, of grace in a pervasive manner that can happen any day and any time as the conveyor belt is ever-moving along. 

The 4th commandment points us directly to a host of different people who are in our sphere of influence: 

son and daughters…’ Our children and grandchildren, many of them piled under the weight of all kinds of unrealistic expectations of ‘success’ in terms of grades and schools and arts or athletics…what is to give rest? 

To give space and time to communicate the most important thing: you are loved not to the degree you do or do not do something, you accomplish something or you fail…but because you are God’s beloved. And goodness, in this time where many parents work from home and teach school from home…what does it look like to give the grace of rest? 

Nor your ox, your donkey, or any of your animals…” 

How often we forget just how near and constant the gift of creation is all around us…what does it look like to be a people who are not ever-pressing for its resources, its food, its habitations? Even down to the nitty-gritty of our dietary and transportation habits – there are ways to consider our part in granting rest unto God’s creation. 

nor any foreigner residing in your towns…” These would have been the folks who were the most vulnerable of all because they do not have any family to fall back on. There is no social safety net for them. No economic safety net. They are living life in the most precarious place. 

These, then, are the people for whom that conveyor belt has 

  • second and third eviction notices, 
  • or credit card debt with incredibly high interest growing every month,
  • or slurs and prejudiced attitudes in continual motion toward them,
  • or continual questions about where they will be able to find a new home and school for the children and work for the bills as they escape violence from their own country…
  • or these are some of folks both afar and quite near for whom the pandemic has made food access all the more scarce…

What does it look like to give genuine rest? Loving others not for what they have done or not done, how well they have or have not navigated the conveyor belt… but because they are God’s beloved? 

Thanks be to God for the stunning amount of donations you all have given toward the Super Bowl of Caring as you seek to be a people who continually find ways to grant rest. 

And as we ask these questions, I am mindful we ask not them as a people above or better than any of these different directions. 

We ask these questions as people with profound empathy because we remember what it’s like to be bound to and overwhelmed by the conveyor belt…and what it has been like each time God has delivered us. 

Listen to the rationale we hear in Deuteronomy for honoring the 4th commandment: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there…” 

Remember” – it’s in an on-going tense. 

“Continually, habitually remember…the time when you were enslaved. Remember what it feels like to be held by, trapped by, consumed by the conveyor belt.” 

And then also remember when God through Brian Shockey delivered you to an experience of God’s gracious love. And then also remember the times when God granted you rest. Release. Provision. 

The church that remembers those stories…looks upon one another and this world not with judgment but with profound empathy. Compassion. 

And they then long for others to know the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ that declares to those who stand at the conveyor belt…. 

  • You are not your work. Or your lack of work. 
  • You are not what you can multitask or what you let fall through the cracks….
  • You are not your greatest successes nor your abject failures…
  • You are not what you own or what you have failed to possess…
  • You are not your job title and you are not your hidden shames…
  • You are not the names you have been called or the hurt you have given…
  • You are not what you think you deserve or what you think you do not deserve…

Your worth, your giftedness, your beauty…they have nothing to do with what is on that conveyor belt. 

You are God’s beloved. Forgiven in Christ Jesus. Loved just as you are. And our words and actions are extensions of that gift of rest. 

As people in the position of the boss at some level and in some way… we scan our workplace, our volunteer organizations, our family, creation, those genuinely living most vulnerably and precariously before the elements…to whom is the Holy Spirit calling us to give rest? What does it look like? 

Perhaps begin by remembering your own story – what has it looked like? What then could it look like for another? Amen. 

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert