Keep It Holy
In 2007, at age 75, my dear friend and mentor, Rev. Earl Palmer, still preached five sermons each Sunday, led the thriving 4,000-people-per-Sunday University Presbyterian Church, continued to write books, served on significant boards, and kept a speaking schedule all around the country. A few days after I was honored to join his congregation’s celebration of his 50th year in ministry, we had breakfast together. Through bleary, work-worn eyes I looked across the table and asked the obvious question: “Brother, how in the world do you do it?!”
Earl was a kind soul, so he didn’t laugh at me. But he did answer resolutely and firmly: “Allen, it’s all about Sabbath. But obeying God’s Sabbath command doesn’t just mean trying to shoehorn a day off out of an otherwise 80-miles-per-hour week; it means living our lives in all-sufficient seven-day units.” In my own 5th year as a pastor, worn out from burning too many candles on both ends, I asked how and when he had figured that out. “A wise mentor told me to do this just as I got started in ministry. Since then, I build into each week everything I need to flourish: intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual growth. I’m still kicking five decades in,” he said with a grin, “so the guy must have been right.”
Earl’s counsel inspired me, but I found a way not to act on it then. I lived apocalyptically toward specific deadlines and for specific seasons, then collapsed. During those days as a Senior Minister in Seattle, I saw my health decline precipitously because of that pattern, and, despite brief periods of promise in the years since, I still haven’t kicked the hurry habit to this day. How ‘bout you? Can your friends and family tell which day is your Sabbath? Can you feel the glories of a Sabbath rhythm in your weeks?
Brothers and sisters, God gave us a brilliant gift through Moses that thundering ancient day on Mt. Sinai: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) Yet you and I ignore God and leave the treasure unopened in the corner. I confess to not being able to remember the last time I took a full day off, much less feeding a balanced diet to my body, mind, emotions, and spirit. Imagine opening the divine gift and living a life in the Sabbath rhythms – imagine a church doing that together. God could do great things through such an ordered, rested, focused, and energetic church, don’t you think?!