REMEMBERING THE SABBATH
Exodus 20: 8-11; Luke 13: 10-17
Do you know people who can’t accept gifts well? I’m one of them! So many thoughts go through my mind: ifI use the gift right away then it will be gone, so instead I save it! By my notusing the gift, gift cards have sometimes expires or gotten lost. If it’s food,it might go bad or expire. I have seen places in people’s closets where theyhave neatly placed gifts they have received that a) they haven’t yet opened; orb) that they aren’t sure they can use; or c) that they think they’ll “re-gift!”I am bad about using gracious gifts, but now I am working to use them withthanks! Have people given you gifts that you haven’t used? Have people givenyou a gift and you didn’t thank them?Both have the potential of hurting the giver!
Today I want to suggest that the Great Gift-Giver ofthe world—God
–the onewho has given us blessings, and the Son, and creation, has given us anothergift that is often ignored, stomped on, or set aside, and often people do notthank God for it. It’s the Sabbath.It’s a day of rest, or at least a day of doing something different fromthe other days; doing something rejuvenating instead of debilitating. It isalso supposed to be a day to honor and thank God. Even though it is acommandment that is meant to be kept along with do not kill, do not steal, anddo not commit adultery, the gift of the Sabbath is one of the most trampled-onand ignored commandments on the list. I suspect it hurts the giver when we donot receive the gift and use it! Some walk around exhausted, sleep-deprived,over-worked, grouchy, or complaining. Could God be watching and say “I don’twant to hear it! You need to put your foot down and take a day; make a day;carve out a day to rest! I gave you that gift and even modeled it for you inGenesis!” Many would say back to God (and yes, God can take a good argument)“Right! Tell that to my boss, tell that to my kids, or tell that to theircoaches.” Encroaching activity, like crabgrass on a lawn, will eat up yourday of rest. We know since NewTestament days that the Christian churches have most often carved out Sundaysas their Sabbath. If you are Jewish your Sabbath is Saturday (actually Fridaysundown until Saturday sundown.) Jews had problems in this country for yearswhen many occupations required Saturday work and almost everything was closedon Sunday. Now Christians also haveto decide to keep a Sabbath or not since most stores stay open that day.Sabbath is only one of God’s finest gifts, one that often gets set on the shelfof our lives to be used another month, or another year, or decade. But likemany other gifts, you either use it, or you lose it or it expires. I know a number of people who workednon-stop most of their lives, some of them even working extra hours for extramoney. They looked forward to their retirement day, some even crossing off dayson a calendar, when all their days would be free time. Finally: retirement! Theirsaved-up chores took about a month of retirement time and then many were bored.They decided to travel, but then a heart attack, or cancer, or some otherailment clipped their wings and the second half of life changed from what theyhad pictured. Soon their saved up time was just taken up reading magazines indoctors waiting rooms. Just as the saying suggests to stop and smell the rosesalong life’s pathway, the Sabbath is a gift meant to be enjoyed along the way,not saved. (Jeff Sumner, are you listening??) Using the gift of Sabbathpleases the giver! There are no starsin our crowns by working ourselves into burnout, bitterness, or illness.
Certainly there are those who do observe the Sabbath- some strictly, some moreopenly. Some of you grew up whenthere was no card playing, no television, and no shopping on the ChristianSabbath. For the Orthodox Jew even today, any food consumed on the Sabbath mustbe prepared the day before. “No work of any kind” is their way of understandingthis law. Read it in Exodus for yourself. But we find in Luke that Jesusattracted critics when he stopped a synagogue service to offer healing on theSabbath. “Healing is work!” they said. “Heal that person tomorrow!” Can you imagine if hospitals went darkon a Sabbath day so that no care was offered? Or perhaps the Jewish nurseswould work on Sunday and the Christian nurses on Saturday, and the atheistnurses would take a different day!Even now weekends have fewer staff. But healing and recovery does nothappen according to a set schedule. The Savior, the one who came to give us abundantlife, healed on the Sabbath. You’ll remember his words in Mark chapter 2: “TheSabbath was made for mortals, not mortals for the Sabbath.” Even on the day Jesus was put into thetomb, his body was not anointed with spices until the next day because “On theSabbath day they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56) Attendingto the body of Jesus- perhaps one of the most important events in the historyof the world- did not happen for 24 hours because God’s gift was before them.They chose to follow the commandment and not to insult the giver. If they hadanointed Jesus’ body immediately, the Easter story would have been strikinglydifferent.
In her book KEEPING THE SABBATH WHOLLY, Marva Dawnwrites: “To keep the Sabbath means to cherish it, to honor it as the Queen ofour days, in consort with the King of the Universe. To develop the habit ofSabbath keeping requires some intentionality on our part; [but] its ceasingenables us to rest, and its feasting enables us to embrace afresh.” (p.203)
Keeping the Sabbath; we know it is a commandment, notmore or less important than the other nine; we know that it is a choice sinceGod gave us free will, but that God hopes we will keep it. The other thing welearned today is that the Sabbath is a gift and that the giver is God. Now ifwe choose to keep the Sabbath, howmight that be done? There arethose who have fond memories of Sundays in the past as I do. Growing up when Iwould visit my grandparents in Ellwood City, we would go to church, have familymembers over to share a big noonday meal, we would visit with each other, andthen they would leave and we would take naps! There would be a light supperthat night and afterward before dark when it was cool, we would drive to thecemetery to water the flowers on the family graves and hear once again thestories of their lives. At my grandmother’s in Sylvester we did almost the samething. To the boys and girls here I have to tell you, it was not boring, it wasmagical. I never forgot the ritual. Certainly the times have changed and theway you might keep your Sabbath has changed. Some who work Sundays observe aSabbath on a different day. But if you are like me, you have to be extravigilant to guard your Sabbath. On those week days, you can get swept into workthat is draining and stressful if you aren’t careful. The times are differentin Florida. It is more difficult for most to keep the Sabbath. There aredistractions and attractions everywhere. But when your soul feels most dry, or bitter,or over-worked, only stopping to drink in the living water of which Jesus spokecan revive your soul again. Observing the Sabbath is part of the prescription.
Lynne M. Baab wrote a recent book called SABBATHKEEPING in which she admits she struggles to do what her title suggests. Thatis honest. In our world that values what we have accomplished more than who weare, God says “I value who you are most.” Our world tries to create each one ofus into the sadly humorous term “human doings” because it measures our worth bywhat we do. God, conversely,created us as “human beings” because we are valued for who we are. Therehave been studies of those who have skipped having days off: some by workdemands, some by choice. In both cases, people who took their Sabbath days weremore alert, joyful, and productive. It was once put this way. “All work and noplay makes Jack a dull boy.” What saying might describe your life? How couldyou choose to change it today?
Our Jewish brothers and sisters have been keeping orstruggling to keep the Sabbath for ages even before Jesus was born. Let meclose with their prayer of the traditional home service for Sabbath eve. Let uspray: (Silence)
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of theuniverse, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments, and commanded us tokindle the Sabbath lights.
May the Sabbath-light which illumines our dwellingcause peace and happiness to shine in our home. Bless us, O God, on this holySabbath, and cause Thy divine glory to shine upon us. Enlighten our darkness andguide us [and the world] toward truth and eternal light. Amen.
Jeffrey A. SumnerAugust 22, 2010