Sunday’s Sermon: Learning Sabbath

This week’s sermon kicks off a 3-week series on sabbath: Learning Sabbath, Living Sabbath, and Loving Sabbath.


Once upon a time in a grassy meadow, there lived an ant and a grasshopper. The ant worked very hard collecting food from the farmer’s field far away. All day long, without stop or rest, she scurried back and forth, collecting the grains of wheat, and storing them in her larder.

As she worked, the grasshopper would look at her and laugh. “Why do you work so hard, Ant?” he would say. “Summer is here, and the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine by working the day away? Come, rest a while. Listen to my song.” But the ant would ignore him, steadily continuing on her path to and from the field. “What a silly little ant you are!” the grasshopper would call after her, and the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.

Time passed, and the seasons changed. It grew cold, and snow began to fall. Suddenly, the grasshopper realized he had no shelter and nothing to eat. “Oh, what will I do? Where will I go?” he wailed. Suddenly, he remembered the ant. “Ah ha! I will go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter,” declared the grasshopper. So off he went to the ant’s house and knocked on her door. “Ant,” he said, “you’re in luck! I’ve decided to come and sing for you while I warm myself by your fire and while you get me some food from that larder of yours.”

But the ant just looked at the grasshopper and said, “All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper. There is no warmth or food for you here.” And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper’s face.[1]


  • Ahh … Aesop’s fable of the grasshopper and the ant – a story with such a tried and true moral for our society today: It is wise to worry about tomorrow today. Work work work before you can rest. Cram every minute of your day with activity so you don’t get caught without “enough.” But as Christians, how are we supposed to balance this work ethic with the Biblical mandate for Sabbath?
    • How do we even understand Sabbath?
    • How can we truly live into Sabbath?
    • Can we ever grow to really love the idea of Sabbath?
    • These are questions that we’re going to spend the next few weeks exploring. We’re going to think about the role that Sabbath does – or maybe doesn’t! – play in our lives and how it affects us. –> today’s: learning about Sabbath
      • What is Sabbath really about, anyway?
  • Sabbath = about rest –> pretty clear
    • Rest as source of renewal for body, mind, and soul
      • God sets the ultimate e.g. for us – text: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day.[2]
        • In terms of our fable, God ≠ an ant-style God –> Working is important, yes. God worked hard for six days. After that, God rested. And so should we. You see, it’s also important to set aside time for rest and renewal.
          • Important for bodies – time to literally recharge
          • Also important for minds and spirits – Washington Post article “Sabbath Rest Good for Body and Soul”: Medical science has demonstrated that the effects of rest are significant, indicating the great role that rest can play in our physical and emotional well-being. Lack of rest and relaxation is associated with inattentiveness, inability to concentrate, impulsivity, moodiness, learning difficulties and health problems.[3]
          • Talking about more than just career work – housework, other chores like shopping trips, anything else that saps you of you energy
          • Scholar spells it out: Israel rests because God rests. This God is not a workaholic; Yahweh has no need to be more secure, more sufficient, more in control, or more noticed. It is ordained in the very fabric of creation that the world is not a place of endless productivity, ambition, or anxiety.[4] –> So God’s rest was about more than just physically needing to stop and take a breather. God’s rest was about renewal. For God, that meant pausing creation for a day.  For us, Sabbath rest is about stopping to take time because there are other, more important things than working to get ahead, to make an extra buck, to both produce and consume more and more and more.
    • On the surface, this is what got the disciples into so much trouble with the Pharisees.
      • Text: Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.[5] –> according to Pharisees, picking grain = work (strictly prohibited on Sabbath according to Jewish law
        • Important distinction to make: disciples are doing more than just snacking here – Gr. “eat” = consume, devour –> Those are the kinds of words that we use when we’re really hungry! Remember, the disciples gave up everything they had to follow Jesus – jobs, family, money, and security. They couldn’t just pop into the corner store for a Snickers bar every time they wanted a bite to eat. At this point in their journey, they were so hungry that they were devouring raw grains of wheat! So they weren’t “working” to get ahead in their own harvests or to make some extra money on the side. They were “working” to keep themselves alive.
          • Scholar: The Law provides that [those who are poor and hungry, as the disciples were] could pluck grain in fields that did not belong to them; the issue was whether it could be done on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were concerned for God’s honor in correctly observing the Sabbath.[6] –> Ahhh … so honoring the Sabbath is about more than just resting for the sake of resting. In our Sabbath rest, we are also honoring God. It’s important that we hear the scholar’s final words. The Pharisees were concerned with correctly and respectfully honoring God. Their hearts were in the right place. They just misunderstood.
            • Put more focus on the “no work” part of the Law than the ultimate purpose – connecting with God
    • Never fear … Jesus is here to correct their misunderstanding
      • Straight out tells them – text: If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.[7]
      • But before he says that, he comes back at the Pharisees with story of David from 1 Sam: Saul was king before David –> David spent time in Saul’s household after slaying Goliath, but Saul grew to hate David –> Saul tried to kill David, so David fled –> in midst of fleeing, David enters the temple and begs the priest for food because he’s starving –> priest’s response: I have no ordinary bread at hand, only holy bread”[8] (Bread of the Presence: loaves of bread that remain on the altar in the temple as an offering for God) –> David convinces the priest to give him the bread anyway
        • So Jesus comes back at the Pharisees with another story about bending the letter of the Law in order to take care of ourselves.
          • Law mandated David wasn’t allowed to eat that bread, but David was in need
          • Law mandated the disciples weren’t allowed to do any work, but the disciples were in need
          • You see, Jesus is trying to get the Pharisees to see that there’s more than one way to honor God on the Sabbath.
  • Brings us back to OT text – instructs to: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy [because] the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.[9] –> makes it clear that there’s more to Sabbath than just taking the day off (in terms of fable = not your grasshopper-style Sabbath)
    • Heb. “keep it holy” and “consecrated” = same word –> means “set it apart”
      • So we’re supposed to do more than just kick back and relax on the Sabbath. Rest is certainly a part of it, but it’s only one side of the story. This idea of “consecrating” Sabbath time – of setting it apart from all the other time that we spend during our week – has a sense of intentionality to it. Think of it this way: when you set something aside – an object or a task – you set it aside for a specific purpose, right? You set it aside so you can focus on it, keep it special, and give it your full attention. This is what God is asking us to do with our Sabbath time – to set some aside so we can turn our attention to our relationship with God, the One who created us, redeemed us, and continues to sustain us day in and day out.
        • Notice I said “set some time aside.” –> Doesn’t have to be all day
          • God doesn’t expect us to sit around all day doing nothing. But God is asking us for something – some time that we set aside specifically for God. Read the Bible. Pray. Listen for God.
          • Rest and renewal for your faith, for your soul, for your relationship with God à truly honoring the Sabbath by consecrating some of your time for God
          • Scholar: Sabbath practice is not to be added on to everything else, but requires the intentional breaking of requirements that seem almost ordained in our busy life.[10] –> Basically, make room for God because it’s important. More important than …
            • Groceries
            • Mall trip
            • Pile of dishes or laundry or leaves out in the yard
            • “Real life” e.g. of this – LNPC “Sabbath experiment”
  • At the beginning of the sermon, we asked what Sabbath was really all about. I think one way to answer is that Sabbath is God’s gift for us. God knew that we would need rest because we were created in God’s own image, and even God rested! Now, I know how hard it is to take that time. I get home on Sunday afternoon, and although my body just wants to REST, my eyes see my house … and my grocery list … and my to-do list … and the clock. My brain says, “You have all this ‘free time’ today. You could get so much done. You can rest later.” But that’s not what God says to us. God says, “You have all this given time. You and I could get to know each other better. You can work later.” What is Sabbath rest all about? Sabbath rest is about choosing God and only God. Not multitasking with God in the background. Not listening for God with one ear and the latest news report or football game or television show with the other. Not juggling our relationship with God among all the other balls that we’re trying to keep in the air. Sabbath rest is about taking the time to put all of the rest of it down so that we can offer ourselves up to God. Amen.

[2] Ex 20:11.

[3] Albert Scariato, “Sabbath Rest Good for Body and Soul,” Washington Post, March 5, 2009,

[4] Walter Brueggemann. “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 845.

[5] Mt 12:1.

[6] M. Eugene Boring. “The Gospel of Matthew: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 278.

[7] Mt 12:7.

[8] 1 Sam 21:4.

[9] Ex 20:8, 11.

[10] Brueggemann, 846 (emphasis added).

One response to “Sunday’s Sermon: Learning Sabbath

  1. Pingback: A Different ‘The Grasshopper And The Ant’ | God's Wisdom Lent To An Unorganized Mind

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