(watch here: https://youtu.be/eVxzlFIwJ8c)
12Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
As a golfer myself, I like the one about a pastor who went out golfing one day even though it was on the Sabbath. The angel, Gabriel, saw him and summoned God. “God!” cried Gabriel, “We have a pastor golfing on the Sabbath! Strike him down with a lightning bolt!” God calmly responded, “I’ve got better plans for him.” Just then, the pastor took a swing at the ball and it drove 420 yards, bounced and rolled up onto the green and fell directly into the cup, a hole-in-one. The pastor was ecstatic, whooping it up. Gabriel says to God, “What gives, I thought you were going to punish him?!” God says, “Who’s he going to tell?”
Clearly, no one told that pastor the basics in his seminary training! Everybody’s watching to see whether you’re going to mow your lawn or work on your car on Sundays. And I suppose for most of us golfing is more work than leisure so you best not get caught out on the golf course either. Of course, Sundays are our busy days of the week, arguably the busiest day of the week. It’s not a day of rest for us so we get to dedicate another day of the week to keep the Sabbath. Even then, it’s hard not to work on that day when so many others are working away. But like everyone else, pastors must also be disciplined in how we honor the Sabbath day. We must be very intentional in what we do or don’t do.
This week we begin our final summer sermon series with a 3-week series on the Sabbath. Dedicating a time for rest is important, so important that God mandated it in his hallowed Ten Commandments. And it is important for a number of reasons as we’ll see over the next few weeks. The Narrative Lectionary authors cleverly titled each of the passages for each other weeks. This week we see our passage is titled, “Sabbath for Self.” Next week it will be “Sabbath for God” followed by “Sabbath for Community.” The titles suggest there are three primary entities who stand to benefit from having a Sabbath. We benefit from a Sabbath, God benefits from a Sabbath, and our community as a whole benefits from a Sabbath. All three entities each gain something from keeping a Sabbath.
So how do we stand to benefit from a Sabbath? I’m not oblivious to the forces at work in our modern day society. There are many things competing for our attention on Sundays. We have limited time in our lives and dedicating one day a week to resting from our work can seem wasteful. There’s just too much expected of us each week to commit an entire day to rest! I get it! I understand the frustration at merely suggesting it! But believe it or not, there is much to be gained from honoring a Sabbath day each week. And not just some extra sleep. God didn’t command it simply for us to catch up on lost sleep from the week. God commanded it to help us stay in right relationship with him. God knows all the demands and expectations of our lives here in this world…He created it all! God knows how easy it is to get distracted and overwhelmed by it all. He also knows our need for peace and order. He knows the destructive power of fear and worry. When we are fearful and worrisome, we quickly become paralyzed and unable to participate in God’s beautiful creation. And God wants nothing more than our active participation in all that He created. God wants us to live and thrive and be joyful and hopeful. God wants us to serve and love him and each other. God gave us his ten commandments to enable us to do just that. They help us to be in right, harmonious, peaceful relationships with him and all those around us. His commandments are gifts, not punishments. Even though most of them tell us what not to do rather than what to do, God’s commandments give peace and order to our lives, two things we so desperately need if we are to not only survive but thrive in this world. Keeping a Sabbath helps establish much needed peace and order.
But that isn’t all the Sabbath does for us. All too often we equate a Sabbath day to simply a day of rest. But the 3rd commandment simply states, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Yes, in the verses following we and those around us are instructed not to work. But is resting from our labors the only way to keep the Sabbath holy? The last verse in our passage for today suggests otherwise: “15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” That’s an interesting statement immediately following the command not to work. Perhaps keeping the Sabbath holy involves more than being idle? Of course it does! It involves being idle SO THAT we can reflect on all of God’s many blessings throughout our days of work. God brought the slaves out of Egypt, those poor, merciless souls who worked their lives away without any rest. God gave them their freedom just as He wants to give us freedom from our labors too. God wants us to use our times of rest in remembering for a very specific reason: to increase our trust in him. In remembering God’s grace and mercy, we can’t help but increase our trust in him. He is a loving and gracious God who always rescues us from our slavery. We can always trust him and his deliverance. He is a good and faithful God!
A Sabbath not only establishes peace and order but it can also help build trust in God. We all need help building trust in God. Time and a little wisdom from Scripture can build lasting trust. Psalm 9:10 reads, “And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” We need time away from our work to properly seek God and God does not forsake those who seek him. Indeed, God rewards those who seek him with freedom and salvation as we hear in Psalm 13:5: “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” Placing trust in God is essential for knowing his love and mercy. We need to trust him and we can by keeping a Sabbath. We have much to gain in honoring a Sabbath. Peace, order, and trust are important in our walk through life. Let us take the time to rest and reflect on God’s many blessings. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.