Let me start with your notion that the Sabbath is an “opportunity to lay aside our normal preoccupations and assumptions and immerse ourselves in a radically different approach.” Who would I be if I laid aside my normal preoccupations and assumptions? I can only think of one answer: I don’t know.
I am my preoccupations and assumptions. I am the thoughts I think, and the things I do, and I tend to think the same thoughts and do the same things day after day. My thoughts and my actions are largely conditioned by past thoughts and actions. So to ask who I would be without these is to ask a question I cannot answer, for the “me” that would answer it is the very “me” that would be put aside.
And yet this is exactly what is necessary if God’s promise to “create a new heaven and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17) is to be realized. The new is created when the old is forgotten and no longer comes to mind to be repeated.
Living without the former things, without conditioned thoughts and actions, means living without the learned biases that catalyze the fear, anger, greed, and violence that defines so much of human existence. I wouldn’t forget my name, but I would forget my labels. I wouldn’t forget how to feed, clothe, or house myself, but I would forget why it is OK that others go hungry, naked, and homeless. I wouldn’t forget the call for justice and compassion, but I would forget the excuses that allow for injustice and cruelty.
Jesus, rather than Mother Teresa, would be my role model here. Jesus challenged almost all the assumptions of his time. His table was open to all, something that is still unheard of. He dropped all labels and knew that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and idea so terrifying that we imagine he meant that he and he alone was one with God.
Mother Teresa, on the other hand, as filled with compassion as she was, did not question assumptions and did not confront the system that made for the injustices she confronted daily. To cite only one example: in a country like India whose problems are so deeply rooted in over population, she could not challenge the assumptions of her Church and teach birth control.
As to your question what would a community steeped in Sabbath consciousness, and thus free from preoccupations and assumptions, look like? I suspect it would look a lot like the early Jesus movement among the Jews. It would be a loose knit community of people living lightly, lovingly, and seeing to the healing (on all levels) of everyone it encountered.
How do we transform our communities in this way? With twenty-five years of community leadership experience under my ever-expanding belt I can honestly say I have no idea. I think that is one reason I left congregational life. It may be that the very things needed to sustain a community are the very things that preclude the communal life I am suggesting.
It may be that what we are talking about can happen only among free individuals who gather for a moment to share a meal, a piece of wisdom, or a journey from one place to another without setting up any organization at all.