I read an article by Emily Thomsen this past week that started this way: “Some call it a “park in time.” Imagine having a day every week to avoid work, to-do lists, and household chores without any guilt! How about a day to spend with your family and friends, or out in nature, or doing something nice for someone else? Sound like a luxury? It’s not; in fact, God designed a weekly holiday and built it into our very nature at Creation.” (end quote)
The problem is that we in the United States aren’t very good at keeping God’s design of a weekly holiday. By that I simply mean what our scripture said after God created in Genesis chapter 1, “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested.” And in our Exodus passage, once again, we hear: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.”
While I’m not necessarily advocating the reinstatement of the blue laws of yesteryear, I am concerned that we pretty much ignore God’s command, as part of the 10 commandments, to keep a special day set aside to worship God, work on our relationship with our Lord, grow in our own spiritually, and learn more about our Creator and what the Redeemer wants for our lives. We may barely pause in our hurried lives. And, even if our lives aren’t that hurried, do we take a whole day for God?
There was a TV commercial voiced by an American actor who said, “Why do we work so hard? Other countries work, stroll home and stop by the café and take the whole month of August off.” Off! Good point! The majority of Americans pretty much don’t know how to slow down unless they have to slow down because of health reasons or age. We know of many people who continue to be extremely busy well into retirement.
Are we so very driven to buy our dream house, continually update our technology, and purchase a backyard pool or a new car that we must work continually? There are too many people in this country who work a full time job and still can’t make a living wage, so they work another job in addition. Some people work extra days or all week just to help send their children to college or pay their rent. Many young people have to live at home because they can’t even afford to rent a small apartment. We work, work, work. Even when we aren’t working at an occupation, we work at running children or grandchildren to lessons or ballgames or the like, or we are caregivers. We are on the go to countless meetings, grocery shopping, working out, cleaning the house and yard and taking off to conferences. When do we stop? Scripturally speaking, not often enough.
We conveniently, at times, forget that God did plan a day of rest for us just as God also rested. We may even take perverse pride in violating Sabbath rest, although we likely wouldn’t word it that way.
In order to keep the 7th day holy, we have to stop. The Hebrew word for Sabbath, Shabbat, literally means to cease. We stop just about everything. Am I crazy to say that in this era? It seems impossible today with the standards we have set for ourselves – our children to be in all the activities they can be, our job, or jobs, falling on the Christian Sabbath day, and similarly, our desire to spend time with our family often doing something. Frequently that time is not merely resting and enjoying each other’s company and too often doesn’t include worship of God.
Still, we are to rest from our day-to-day occupations and other running around and refocus on what is really important. Unfortunately, for far too many Christians today, that emphasis isn’t God and what God wants of believers.
Another element to Sabbath rest besides physically, mentally and emotionally resting, is a day God set aside for us to worship God, for drawing closer to the Ruler of all, for learning more about our Savior and what our salvation means and how it plays out in our lives. Sabbath means rest in a way of being restored in the Lord. It means a restoring of our lives to a right relationship with our Maker and in service to Jesus Christ. And too, it is a rest from earthly labor for divine labor. Christ utilized Sabbath time for acts of mercy and good works. Good Sabbath works may include listening to someone who is grieving or simply being there for someone who is lonely. Good Sabbath works may also include enjoying each other’s’ company as we rest. But first we are to worship God and remind ourselves that we are God’s people. The theologian Karl Barth explains that the concept of Sabbath rest is “setting aside of the mind” in order to focus on the divine.
Now, when I talk about the Sabbath Day, the 7th Day, to be more accurate I would be referring to sundown Friday through sundown Saturday as the Old Testament explains. You may notice, when reading Genesis chapter 1, that after each “day,” God states that everything the Lord had created was “good.” But the seventh day God called holy which is more than “good” or even “very good.” For Christians, the Sabbath turned into the Lord’s Day which is Sunday, the 1st day of the week, the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. So, Sunday is the day we are to keep holy, set aside for the Lord and for acts of mercy and good works. If you think about it for a minute, the entire world learned from the Bible that there are 7 days. Now, sure, there are other reasons for that, but the fact remains that we all follow a 7-day per week calendar. It is a pattern established by the Creator, God. God intended that 7th day, again transformed into the 1st day of the week for us because of Jesus Christ, to be a day of rest, restoration, worship and good works.
One question from our Book of Confessions, in the Catechisms, that won’t be included in our Statement of Faith following this sermon asks, “How is the Sabbath or Lord’s Day to be sanctified?” The answer includes not only resting “from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time in the public and private exercise of God’s worship.” It goes on to say that we are “to prepare our hearts… that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of the day.” Christians, how seriously do we take this commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy? Does it mean anything to us today? We are a society that works, works, works. How then can we keep a whole day set aside for the holy?
To a large degree, we have blown this particular Godly commandment in our arguably post-modern society. There is a moral relativism going on that isn’t merely coming in the future. It impacts our thoughts on following through with Sabbath rest and restoration. We have all kinds of excuses for not worshiping God, not resting in our Maker, not committing ourselves to actions of mercy and good works, or not restoring our own hearts to the best place we can be as believers. We hurt ourselves with our busyness.
The Chinese character for “busyness” includes the characters for “heart” and “killing” or “death.” In other words, busyness could literally or figuratively be “heart annihilation!” Perhaps a question we ought to be asking each other is “How are things with your heart, Christian?” We ignore Sabbath rest to our own peril. If we could alter our Judeo-Christian worldview a little we could think of Sabbath or the Lord’s Day rest as virtue. Rest is not the same as laziness or apathy and Sabbath rest is anything but lazy. It is restoring and worshipful as we prepare ourselves for the week ahead.
A workshop leader at the Well-Being Conference Rodger and I went to last week explained: We buy into the false assumption that we are always to be ‘on.’ We think of being ‘off’ as either sleeping or being idle and we tend to shy away from the word ‘idle’ in American society. For some idle is a bad word. Yet, we don’t always have to be ‘on’ regardless of modern technology. We can be turned ‘off’ so-to-speak for a time and offer that time to God. Is an hour enough, is two hours, what about half a day, let alone a whole day?
A burning question is likely: Is it even possible today to take a Sabbath rest? At the conference I just mentioned for Rodger’s and my continuing education, we learned how important it is for ministers to turn themselves ‘off’ on occasion. Quite literally, our job can demand that we are ‘on’ all the time. Our behavior is noticed, our children’s and spouse’s behavior is remarked on, there are emergencies at all times of the day and night, we are expected to be doing certain things every morning, noon, and evening, and thoughts of the next sermon or Bible Study or church meeting creep into our consciousness throughout the day. We were reminded that without our own Sabbath-keeping we will get burned out and less capable of fulfilling our calling that is also our occupation. Importantly, our relationship with God will suffer.
What can we all do to make sure we set aside time to work on our relationship with God? If we can’t come to worship every week, and hopefully there is a viable reason we can’t, and although it is merely second best, we work on setting aside another time for God that day or during the week such as in extended prayer time or more reading of scripture or attending Bible Study or being involved in good works. All that should have God in Jesus Christ as our focus. And too, if we can’t set aside a whole day for rest on the Lord’s Day, then perhaps we could lift up prayer and express thanks to our Lord at various times throughout the day. Sunday night before bed, we could read the Bible or a devotional and pray. Sadly, even if we set this type of time aside, we fall far short of God’s command to us to keep the Lord’s Day for the Christian set aside as holy, blessed, sacred. That is a question many contemporary people have pondered.
A great quote from Karl Barth explains that our society challenges Sabbath, but at the same time, Sabbath challenges society. He states, “rest requires planning, intentionality (I think extremely significant), diligence and surrender. The paradox is that we have to work to make virtuous rest happen in our lives- both by creating a Sabbath heart and intentionally setting aside time to rest, even when internal and external pressures loom. Sabbath-keeping has always required diligence and surrender.” All of this really comes down to what you will do to take time for a Sabbath rest and restoration in the Lord. Each one of us must determine that for ourselves. I encourage you to intentionally work it out with your Lord, our God, who made heaven and earth and all that is within it. Amen.