Exodus 20:8-11, 23:12, 31:15; Mark 2:23-3:6
February 7, 2021
— Sabbath and Rest
The subtitle for this week’s sermon should be “How Badly Do You Need to Mow Your Lawn?” We have all done it – work on Sundays. We have all been convicted in this regard by the Apostle Paul’s claim in Romans that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Your preacher would even brazenly working on this very Lord’s Day, right this very moment (your music director, too, for that matter), if we were on normal schedule. We shop, we clean, we get things ready for the new week, we do yardwork – all kinds of things on the day that the Lord our God set aside as a day of Sabbath, a day of rest, a day that we are scripturally supposed to take very seriously.
Of course, Sunday is not the original Sabbath. No amount of blue-lawing can establish Sunday as a particularly more special day. The original Lord’s Day, the original Sabbath Day, was Saturday in the Jewish tradition and still is. With our routine of having church on Saturdays lately, people may wonder whether I am Jewish or Seventh Day Adventists whose claim to fame is they worship on the Jewish Sabbath. The larger Christian tradition made the day change in the decades following Jesus’ life, and by the end of the first century, it was commonplace for the early church to claim Sunday as the Sabbath. It was, after all, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of a new week each week, and it was different than the Jewish practice in a church that was becoming more and more gentile (non-Jewish).
We have over the years also gotten worse and worse with how we handle the Lord’s Day. Some of us just lump observing the Sabbath in with the other laws that we do not really take seriously anymore, like eating pork products, wearing clothing made from multiple fabrics, or waiting four years before eating from your fruit trees (yes, that is actual Jewish law). Not only do we do a poor job of resting on the Sabbath, we might even work harder. Some of us are very busy on Sunday mornings with all the things that need to be done at church, and you have seen churches that go to great lengths to produce magnificent worship services rivaling professional shows (we have not gotten there, YET). That is work, lots of work. While giving glory to God on the Sabbath seems to be the point, I am not so sure it should completely wear us out.
So I have to wonder just what the point of the Sabbath Day is for us now. It may be a day to work hard for the glory of God, or to rest and relax as much as possible, or maybe it is about something else. The answer might even be a little bit of all three, but I will get to that in a few minutes.
First, we really have to appreciate just how important the Sabbath is for the Jewish people because that is our faith foundation as well. It continues to be very important for the Jews. In fact, Sabbath observance is one of their defining traits, and they take great pains to make sure to honor it by getting work done in advance or letting it wait until after. Sabbath is for restoration as Exodus 23:12 points out, and I really like that word “restoration” because it also includes “rest” which is the point. We need to be refreshed, restored, and find space to remember who we really are when things are quiet.
When God rested, I think we can safely assume it was not because God was tuckered out. After six days of full creation, God was DONE so God STOPPED. That is the original meaning of Sabbath – to stop. This is the first meaning of rest, to cease moving and doing. For humans and other creatures, we find something more to the idea of rest. Not only can we appreciate how much we have done, but we also are refreshed to be able to get back to work when we are ready. I have no doubt everyone in this hardworking group has enjoyed many days of meaningful labor. You have gotten gratification for what you have accomplished, and you have also appreciated the break before getting back to it. This is the natural, daily cycle of life. We rest at night but also have a special rest one day each week to delve deeper into godly appreciation for what we got done.
Here we go. God rested for one day, modeling that routine, and gave us the command to do likewise. If you noticed in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus never argued that the Pharisees were wrong. We are still supposed to keep a Sabbath, a special rest in appreciation of what God has done for us and through us. We are supposed to set aside the distractions and busy-ness of regular life and carve out time for restoration in God’s Spirit. We do need to recharge, and if we are NOT being restored and refilled with goodness and grace each week in our Sabbath experience, we need to change something.
So why does God really care? This gets back to Jesus. The issue for us is not that he was doing things on the Sabbath; it is what he was doing. He was feeding his friends, and he healed a man who was lame, to prove a point, nonetheless. Notice that Jesus did not have to do either of these actions. If the Sabbath was supreme, Jesus and his group could have fasted a day. I doubt they were starving, but I imagine Jesus and his disciples were hungry. Jesus could have also told the lame man to come back after sundown or the next day after the Sabbath Day was technically over. Instead, Jesus feeds his people, nourishes his people, heals his people, makes his people better and more whole. Jesus is pushing us to see that the Sabbath is supposed to help us be more the people that God made us to be. The Sabbath is supposed to help us be better human beings made in the image of God – caring for creation and one another, caring for ourselves, and caring for the God who made us. Our Sabbath time should never be defined by busyness but things that help us to be more the people God created us to be. We need rest to remember, to appreciate, and to anticipate what God is doing. We need hearts to give God glory for God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness. We need space to bless others who come across our path in our Sabbath observance.
You know how hard it is to reflect, to meditate, to ponder your thoughts when there is all kinds of commotion going on around you. Sabbath means finding space to give your body, mind, and spirit to the presence of God.
Can you find God on the tractor? I know people who say they have their best prayer time in the fields. Can you find God on a walk through the woods, on a bike ride, or out on a casual boat trip? Absolutely, if you want to. Can you know the presence of God sitting with a sick friend or find God’s peace as you fix food for someone in need? I would certainly think so, but we have to be careful to not get caught up in the actions that we lose sight of WHY we are doing what we are doing. The goal is not to get busy. The goal is to be refreshed and restored in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Let me ask that question another way: what delights you? The problem with the laws has been they are easily seen as burdens to make life harder or less enjoyable. Jesus is showing us the opposite. What if the Sabbath is to make life in general better, our individual lives better, and us better persons? It is no wonder that God gave us Sabbath. It is supposed to HELP us. God is never trying to drag us down or make us miserable but trying to show us a better way to be better people.
Glorify God with the Sabbath; cherish what we have gotten done after a good work week with God’s help; bless others in restoring and renewing ways that are a blessing for all.
The key to all of this is to do these things purposely and with intent. Be aware and mindful of why we are observing Sabbath. We are not doing it just because God told us to but because it is the right and good and healthy and helpful thing to do. We are clearly supposed to believe this is important from the Exodus texts, but please do not feel God is going to strike us down today if we are not rested enough or enjoying God time enough. The one who suffers will be us, though. We all need good Sabbath, appropriate Sabbath, and right Sabbath. This is one of the big TEN. Even if Sunday does not work, find Sabbath time somewhere each week. We all need rest for the rest of the week. We need God time and we need to be mindful of God’s blessings working between us.
I think I am going to go home now and take a nap. To God be the glory. Amen.