As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Sabbath Living, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday June 6, 2018. The Reading was Mark 2:23-3:6.
Improving on what God has made
We have to admit that God is pretty clever. Humans have been trying to emulate God for years, but there are not many things that we have improved upon what God has made. We have tried making humans – both through cloning and through robotics, but both have presented us with either ethical or technological problems that we just can’t solve. We have tried creating new ways at creating plants, and light, and all sorts of other things. But they all result in more problems. Even something that I might be willing to admit that we did better than God – the Tablet… still has it’s issues. I don’t think that Moses ever had issues with the ten commandments freezing, or getting addicted to playing Candy Crush on the stone tablets. He did break his stone tablets though, so maybe ours are still just as fragile.
But there is one thing that we have improved upon what God created. You see, God created the Weekend – but when he created it, it was only one day. We were clever enough to say, nah nah nah, why have just one day, when we could have two! There are even some people who would argue that we need to improve it further, and have a four-day work week, arguing that the increased labour participation and increased efficiencies would allow a living wage from only four days of work. There’s even one author who has proposed methods of efficiencies and content creation that would result in a 4 hour work week. Now that’s what I call an improvement. 4 hours work week, 164 hour weekend!
Now those two examples are perhaps a bit extreme, but we have still improved on God’s one day weekend. Or have we?
We are so busy that we have lost Sabbath living
These days, our weekend are often so busy, that we have lost sight on what God originally intended. And what did God intend? Well, we have two places where the Sabbath is commanded. The first appears in Exodus 20:
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)
So we have this first one, commanded because God made everything in six days and blessed the day of rest. The second comes in Deuteronomy 5:
Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14 But 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. 15 Remember 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.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (NRSV)
Now see that the reasoning given for this is slightly different. Here, it was because the Israelites were slaves, who were forced to work. Now that they are free, the seventh day is a day of rest to remember that God saved them.
But it goes further than that. You see, that in both versions the command to work six days, and rest on the seventh as a sabbath to the Lord. Now, for the Israelites who had just escaped lives of slavery, this wouldn’t have been a hard command to keep. “You’re commanding us not to work for a day? Nah, I want to go and do some work”. But the command doesn’t stop there. In both versions this command is extended. “You shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the resident alien in your town.” It wasn’t just the Israelites who were to stop work, but it was a grace that was extended to all people. For in committing to have this Sabbath day yourself, but forcing others to work, you were then as bad as the Egyptian slave masters who lorded over them while they were slaves.
So we can see that the original intention of the Sabbath was to ensure the rights of all people were cared for and looked after, and presented as a weekly reminder to the Israelites.
But, when we see a list of the 10 commandments, all of that isn’t included in there is it? No, it’s just “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy.” And when that is all there is, it leads to a strict observance – You go to church and that’s it. No having fun, no shopping, no working. You sit and you rest, because that’s what God intended.
And that’s what we see the Pharisees talking to Jesus about. Their interpretation of “observe the Sabbath” meant that you didn’t do any work at all on the Sabbath. So while you could walk a certain distance, you couldn’t “work” – which the plucking of grain most certainly was. Even if it was the disciples just grabbing something from the side of the road to eat. Their interpretation was so strict that it was better to go hungry, than to break observance. It was better – in their mind – for someone to die on the sabbath, than for them to be healed.
We can live our Sabbath through all our lives
But that isn’t what God intended at all. God intended the Sabbath to be an observance, and a reminder, to look out for and care for those around us who are less fortunate. To look after and care about those who are in need. And we see this in Jesus’ response to the Pharisees.
Through Jesus’ interactions, we see that he constantly challenged what was thought about the Sabbath. He “worked” on the Sabbath, and he treated others with the respect they deserved on days that weren’t the Sabbath. Through Jesus’ example, we see Jesus modelling a Sabbatical life – that is, a life that reflects the Sabbath in all things.
The more that we live out the Sabbath values in our every day life, the more we will reflect these values to those around us.
Sabbath living changes how we treat others
The result of reflecting those values is that we will change how we treat others. When we change how we treat others, we are able to transform the lives of those around us.
When Jesus entered the temple, he didn’t say that the man with the withered hand should immediately leave. Instead, he saw an opportunity for the way that he treated this man to transform the lives of those around him – as well as the life of the injured man. Through the miracle, and the way this man was treated, Jesus modelled how we are to live.
Similarly, we need to follow how Jesus lived his life. We need to reflect the Sabbath not just on Sunday’s, but through our every day life. And this is where I prefer the Exodus version over the Deuteronomy version. In Deuteronomy, it says “Observe”, but Exodus has “Remember”. We need to “Remember” the sabbath – which isn’t something that only happens on a Sunday. We need to remember it throughout the week as well. Because as we remember it throughout the week, we will remember to change our values, to change how we treat others.
Jesus always included the other. He welcomed them back into community. He never excluded.
The Very Reverend Dr John Shepherd, once Dean of St George’s Cathedral, said in 2014:
Whenever we draw a line around those we say we will only accept and love, Jesus will always be on the other side of it.
Lord, let us not judge or make distinctions. People are people, and that’s all that matters.
That’s sabbath living. Where we don’t judge, or make distinctions. Because people are people. And that’s all that matters.
Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy
So go and remember the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath tomorrow, and on Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday and next Sunday. And keep remembering it – as in remembering it you will start to reflect the Sabbath values that Jesus reflected – one of welcoming and acceptance, one of inclusion and generosity.