I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must have no other gods before me…. Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the LORD your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Don't do any work on it-- not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you-- so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That's why the LORD your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7, 12-15 CEB translation)
Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it-- not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 CEB translation)
The doorbell rang unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon, in that short window that I have between worship and afternoon Bible classes and youth. I looked out the door and saw a US Postal truck. I quickly grabbed a bag of goodies I had prepared for party favors for those who came to my open house the previous week, and chased down the postman who was climbing back in his truck. “Here!” I said, holding out the parcel of candy. “Merry Christmas! Also, it’s Sunday. You aren’t supposed to work on Sunday!”
Now, let me just stop right now and acknowledge the irony of my statement. First of all, you know from the description above that I, in fact, work all day Sunday. Most Sundays I work between 10-12 hours. It is usually my longest day of the week. So yes, pot, meet kettle. I will tell you that this is the case for most pastors, and so we actually observe Sabbath some other day in the week. I will also tell you that as a group we suck at actually Sabbathing. It is a major physical and spiritual issue for us, and we should do better for God, for ourselves, and for our people. But I digress. Here is the other irony of my exclamation to the postman, though. I did not say he is not supposed to work on Sunday because of my religious convictions. I said it because since when have the postal workers ever worked on Sunday?
Our substitute postman was thankful for my candy, and just as exasperated as I was. “I know,” he said, a bit of a grumble in his words. “We only work for Amazon on Sunday.”
Oh, God, I did this to him! I said his visit was a surprise, but I had actually gotten a confirmation that my package would be delivered on Sunday. I remember reading it, and I also remember thinking, Well, that is a misprint. Nobody delivers on Sunday. Nobody used to deliver on Sunday. But apparently if you are Amazon, you can change the whole game. And you can own the post office one day of the week.
Now, Amazon did not open this Pandora’s box. I remember when Wal-Mart started opening on Sundays. And malls. And restaurants. And all kinds of places. But I never thought anyone would get the post office to change. It was like the last vestige of sabbath holiness (except for Hobby Lobby and Chik-fil-a). The last sign of a world that knew how to take one day off. And it is gone.
What I do not know is if it is gone for good, or gone temporarily because it is the Christmas season. I did not have the wherewithal to ask the postman as my world was spinning before me while we talked. But even, maybe even especially, if it is just for Christmas, then it is offensive that the season that is supposed to remind us to orient ourselves around God has been the one that encourages us to orient ourselves around stuff and self. Because that is what we are really doing – insisting that we get our stuff as soon as possible, no matter how inconvenient it is for anyone else. Who cares who has to work when, I want my essential oil diffuser right away!
The words from the 10 commandments seem like relics now. Quaint ideas from a simpler time. But was it that simple? I remember when the Israelites were first told that they had to take a Sabbath. It actually predates the giving of the 10 commandments in the Exodus story. They were told to Sabbath as soon as they got on the other side of the Sea of Reeds. They could not gather food from heaven on the 7th day. Some of them went out and tried. They just couldn’t strand the idea of a day off after hundreds of years of slavery. They could not even fathom how to rest. And I am afraid we are enslaved again. If we are not ourselves enslaved, then we need to own up to the fact that we are Pharaoh – that we enslave others for our own benefit and gain. God wanted us to remember that reality, which is why in Deuteronomy, the generation set to enter the Promised Land is reminded of this reality – a reality that none of them (except Moses and Joshua and Caleb) actually experienced. You gotta remember the path of slavery, and don’t go that way. Take a blessed day off!
But that is not the heart of the problem, really. The heart is who our God is. The heart is whether we are actually following the first commandment – to have no other gods before God. I fail here too. I sat down and totaled how much Amazon got from me this month and how much God did. Some of this is sticky, because some of the things I ordered from Amazon are for the church, but that feels just a smidge like serving two masters. But if you just go on straight totals, Amazon edged out the church. Now sure, God only asks for 10% and Amazon would really like 100%, but in this particular season, who is God? And who is Christmas for? If we look at the 10 Commandments as they were presented in Exodus (and if you have a problem with biblical contradictions, click here), we are reminded that God created everything we have to work with, even everything that we have fashioned into Amazon. Isn’t that worth a greater due than super-fast delivery?
Merry Christmas, everyone. And a Happy Amazon Year.