(watch here: https://youtu.be/U5x1m1iAjZU)
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
By now you know I like to start our time together with something a little funny. This week I want to change it up and offer a little story to help get us started. It’s about a man who challenged another man to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.”
This is our second week of a three-week sermon series on the Sabbath. The authors of our lectionary cleverly titled each week’s passage with who stands to benefit from keeping a Sabbath. The first week was “Sabbath for Self,” this week it’s “Sabbath for God,” and next week it’s “Sabbath for Community.” It’s somewhat easy to reflect on how a day of rest benefits ourselves. We need time for our bodies to heal from the exertions of our work. Our bodies simply aren’t designed to be working all the time. They need rest to repair themselves so that they can return to work rejuvenated and replenished. Like that story illustrated, the rested body is more productive and efficient in the long run. Our relationships with God also stand to benefit from a Sabbath as we are then able to reflect on all of God’s blessings and give him adequate praise and thanksgiving. God wants us to know and be appreciative of all his blessings. Our praise and thanksgiving delights him to no end and life tends to run a lot smoother for us when we are in right relationship with him. So yes, it is somewhat east to reflect on how a day of rest stands to benefit us.
A little trickier to reflect on is how a Sabbath stands to benefit God. But before we can understand that we must first ask an important question: does God ever stop working? I think it’s a mistake to believe that God stops working at times. God is always at work doing something. Pay attention to the words in our passage from Genesis: “God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” Nowhere in that statement does it say that God stopped all work whatsoever. No, it says that God rested from his work of creating. His work of sustaining and nurturing continues on even in his resting. Like the axman in that opening story, his work of sharpening his tools goes on in his resting. God never stops working, He simply redirects his efforts just as our bodies and minds redirect their efforts on a day of rest.
Speaking on the Sabbath, Martin Luther was once quoted as saying, “The spiritual rest which God especially intends in this commandment is that we not only cease from our labor and trade but much more–that we let God alone work in us and that in all our powers do we do nothing of our own.” As we honor the Sabbath by reflecting on God’s many blessings, we open ourselves to allow God to do his work in us. You see, we are God’s most treasured tools! Sometimes we are the ax. Sometimes we are the shovel. Sometimes we are the seeder. The point is that we are God’s most precious tools for doing his work in this world. And to be the most effective and productive we can be, we need his regular maintenance and care. God needs to get in our hearts and minds and bodies to replenish us and restore us from all our many labors. God needs to get rid of all the doubts and fears that keep us from doing his work. God needs to free us from all that enslaves us. A Sabbath is his best opportunity to do all these things. We come before him and allow him alone to work in us as Luther suggests.
God is at work in us all the time whether we accept it or not. God never stops working in us. But sometimes his work is more effective than at other times. A Sabbath can be one of those times when we rest from our labors and distractions and focus instead on him and his work. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (2:13) God created us for one purpose and one purpose alone—to give him the glory. All that we do and all that we say should bring glory to him! Our lives should be a blessing to those around us. Our lives should reflect our gratitude for all his blessings. The Sabbath is an excellent chance to fulfill our primary purpose for existence—to give him the glory. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (2:10) God created us for good works; that is, to bring goodness to this world and those around us. In doing so, we are giving him the glory.
So yes, God stands to benefit greatly from a Sabbath. He can get in the hearts and minds of his created beings and go to work at sharpening his tools. He can replenish and restore what was destroyed through work. We can return to our work with renewed focus and vigor. Paul again writes in his letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:13) We can do all things because God honored a Sabbath and redirected his efforts from creating to maintaining and sustaining his creation. Let us give thanks for the strength we receive from him. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.