Sunday’s Sermon: Loving Sabbath

  • Choices
    • Left or right?
    • Cake or pie?
    • Black or white?
    • Newspaper or magazine?
    • The mountains or the beach?
    • We make choices every day – choices about our activities, choices about our relationships, choices about the path that our lives are following.
      • Spent last few weeks learning about what Sabbath is and how we can live into Sabbath rest
        • Read about God both establishing and commanding the Sabbath
        • Talked about how important that rest is to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being
        • Talked about various ways that we can participate in that Sabbath rest in the midst of our busy schedules
        • Sabbath is about …
          • Resting
          • Setting aside time to honor God
          • Devoting energy to building and maintaining our relationship with God
      • But ultimately, Sabbath is a choice. God doesn’t control our actions like some giant puppet master in the sky. God has presented us with all the information. God has said to us, “I love you.” And now God waits to see and hear what we will do, what decision we will make.
        • If/when we choose Sabbath, how do we go from obeying Sabbath to loving Sabbath? Once we’ve made the choice, how can we encourage that intellectual commitment to infuse our hearts and our spirits with the restoration and renewal that is to come?
  • Both Scripture readings today give us e.g.s of this choice
    • OT names it plain and simple right off the bat – text: Is this not the fast I choose[1]
    • Also implied in OT: If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs[2] –> The repeated use of that simple little word – “if” – implies that the choice is ours to make. I don’t know about you, but I hear a quiet hope in these words that God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.
      • Say “quiet hope” because of Israel’s history – not exactly an obedient track record –> God is fully aware that the Israelites haven’t chosen to honor the Sabbath in the past. And God is fully aware that the Israelites will choose not to honor the Sabbath at some point in their future. But because of a pure and unending love for them, God still has hope that, when given the choice, the Israelites will return to God once again. “Will you honor the Sabbath? Will you spend some time with me?”
        • Asks the same thing of us: Will you honor the Sabbath? Will you spend some time with me?
    • Jesus also presents the man with a withered hand a choice in gospel lesson – Scripture: Then [Jesus] said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”[3] –> It may not sound like it, but there is a choice here. The man with the withered hand could have chosen to leave. He could have chosen to listen to the doubt and ridicule of the Pharisees instead of that still, small voice within himself. He could have let the social stigma of associating with this man who was supposedly violating the Sabbath law to deter him from obeying Jesus’ instruction. But instead, he chose to believe.
      • Made a choice to enter into that relationship with God – relationship of …
        • Trust
        • Compassion
        • Faith
        • This is the same relationship that God offers to us. God says to us, “Stretch out your hand to me. Knock, and my door will be opened to you. Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest … my rest … Sabbath rest. But you must choose it. I can’t do it for you.”
          • See evidence of this in Heb in Isa – text: Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.[4] –> Do you remember that Hebrew word that we talked about a few weeks ago – the word that indicated something important was about to happen?
            • Sometimes translated, sometimes not – when translated, it’s often “behold … look … see!”
              • Heb. professor’s preferred translation = Shazaam!
              • Well, we find that word in this passage. Even though it isn’t translated, it appears right before God utters the phrase, “Here I am,” so it’s that phrase that we’re supposed to pay attention to. That’s the phrase that God wants us to really hear. When we cry out … reach out … stretch out our hands, the most important thing to know is that God’s response was, is, and always will be, “Here I am.”
  • And what can we expect once we’ve made this choice – the choice not only to open ourselves up to being in a relationship with God but also to embrace that relationship fully? –> a number of benefits of relationship with God
    • Some named outright in Isa: Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.[5]
      • Isa also speaks of the way God cares for us as part of this relationship: The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.[6] –> I hear renewal in this. I hear hope in this. I hear support in this. In those parched places – those places in which we are desperate for the relief of an oasis – God will be there with us. In those times when we feel too weak to endure whatever it is that we’re facing, God will be there with us. In those times of growth, welcomed or not, comfortable or not, God will be there with us.
        • See how God cares for us in Heb, too: “make your bones strong” – “strong” is also equipped, invigorated, and delivered –> Through that relationship, God is promising to care for us – body (equipped), mind (invigorated), and soul (delivered). All we have to do is choose to take that Sabbath time – that time to honor and reconnect with God.
    • Also see benefits of relationship in gospel passage: [Jesus] said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other.[7] 
      • 2 parts to this illustration – sheep in the pit and doing good on the Sabbath
        • Sheep in the pit demonstrates how much God truly cares for us –> In this illustration, not only are we told that God cares for us – even more than the sheep! – but we are shown that when we reach out in trust and faith, when we honor God with that time and that relationship, God will respond.
        • Doing good on the Sabbath links our well-being with the well-being of our neighbors
          • Also see this in Isa passage: Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?[8] –> We don’t often think of Sabbath rest including issues of social justice, but what better way to honor God than to care for God’s children? What better way to celebrate the relationship we have with our Creator than by spending time with those whom the Creator loves … and those whom society has forgotten how to love?
            • Scholar: It is clear that issues of social justice, religious observance, daily relations, and Sabbath obedience are woven together, and together they constitute what the poet understands as practicing true righteousness.[9]
    • God’s response to our Sabbath time won’t always look like a miraculous healing as it did for the man with the withered hand – sometimes it will look like …
      • Compassion of a friend or a stranger
      • Help from an unexpected source
      • Finding just the right verse in the Scripture that speaks to your deepest need right now
      • Open opportunity that wasn’t there before
      • Chance to be that response from God in someone else’s life
      • When we’re in an active relationship with God – when we’re consciously taking that Sabbath time to rest in God and honor God and renew our relationship on a regular basis – our eyes become more and more open to all those little God-moments in our lives. And it is these little moments that will help us move from simply obeying Sabbath because we know we should to loving our Sabbath time with God.
        • Moments are inspiring
        • Moments are a gift
        • Moments are a delight – Isa even says it: If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.[10] –> God says, “If you honor that Sabbath rest – if you stretch out your hand to me and share in that relationship with me – I promise you won’t regret it. You will delight in it … and so will I. You will benefit from it … and so will I. In it, you will find peace, and love, and renewal … and so will I.” Amen.

[1] Is 58:6 (emphasis added).

[2] Is 58:13.

[3] Mt 12:13a.

[4] Is 58:9a.

[5] Is 58:8.

[6] Is 58:11.

[7] Mt 12:11-13.

[8] Is 58:6-7.

[9] Christopher R. Seitz. “The Book of Isaiah 40-66: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 6. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2001), 500.

[10] Is 58:13-14a (emphasis added).

One response to “Sunday’s Sermon: Loving Sabbath

  1. Pingback: The promise is there, have you failed to reach it? « Emmanuel

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