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Rest for the weary

Sabbath time must be starting point for Christian life, Candler theologian tells SFTS audience

April 11, 2013

the Rev. Andrea C. White, T.V. Moore lecturer at San Francisco Theological Seminary

The Rev. Andrea C. White, T.V. Moore lecturer at San Francisco Theological Seminary —Larry Pickard, SFTS staff photographer

SAN ANSELMO, Calif.

Sabbath rest is a starting point for all that follows, not some kind of reward for what we have accomplished the previous week, Candler School of Theology Professor Andrea C. White told a crowd of about 100 alumni and friends of San Francisco Theology Seminary here April 11.

White’s lecture, entitled “Divine Mysteries: A Theology of Time,” was the first of four lectures she will give during the seminary’s annual T. V. Moore lectures, named for an SFTS professor who taught here from 1906-1926.

Numerous theologians have advocated removing “stewardship” from the Christian lexicon, White said, because it has been “hijacked … by corporate philanthropy.” Too much of current talk about stewardship has “focused on finances and the use of money,” she said.

With most religious institutions in financial crises, White said, “Stewardship has lost its theological punch. Throughout the church stewardship had emerged as its most important industry … it has become a human-centered construct.”

The problem, White said, “is that our standard practice of stewardship relies on a logic of equivalent exchange, while a theological understanding of stewardship relies on a logic of excess.”

Rethinking stewardship, White said, requires thinking about time, not money. “The anxiety about stewardship ― of money and time,” she said, “comes from our anxiety to control the future. We think about time the same way we think about money ― ‘time is money,’ we say, another commodity to be bought and sold.”

Thus another cottage industry has been born ― “time management.” And, like “financial planning,” White said, “it tricks us into thinking that we control not only our time but
God’s time.”

That desire ― to control what is wholly God’s ― has created a contemporary society characterized by what Augustine called “restlessness,” White said, as humans strive to control that which is uncontrollable as if it is ours, not God’s.

“Sabbath rest is always a rest in the midst of restlessness. It intervenes between six working days on the one side and six more on the other,” White said.

She called for Christians to “turn our concept of time and Sabbath on its head. Stewardship of time entails a theology of Sabbath as the ground and starting point for all we do,” White said. “Not because we seek a blueprint to secure our future, but because our life in the present is oriented by our hope in God’s promises for the future.”

Sabbath rest is a lost art, White said, “but Sabbath rest is not just a vacation from work ― rest is the first day and all subsequent activity is fashioned from Sabbath rest. The rest of the week emanates from Sabbath rest, not the other way around.”

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