October 25, 2021

Sabbath

An excerpt modified from a sermon I wrote on Sabbath:

Sabbath. It’s the third commandment. It’s one of the top ten for God, and it even made the top three. It follows not having other Gods and not taking God’s name in vain. It’s important. I have never been one to believe that the Ten Commandments are suggestions. I do not think that they are dated. I believe there is a reason that Martin Luther focused on them in his writings and the small catechism. I also believe they are an important part of our teaching both in confirmation and in the church. This commandment is not a suggestion. Luther noted that we are to fear and love God and not neglect his word. We need to hear it and regard it as holy and learn from it. One of the interesting things about sermon preparation is God often calls one to preach on things you have not yet mastered. Sometimes I find that I am preaching mostly to myself and while that is humbling, it’s also a gift. I have felt called to talk about this for some time. I think this commandment is one of the hardest to live out in our culture today. I live a pretty full and abundant life. In fact, one of my friends recently joked, ‘some people have a full plate. Marcus has a buffet.’ I found it amusing, but not necessarily good. I have always tried to honor the Sabbath. As a pastor, Sunday is certainly not the Sabbath. So I take Friday off and as long as there are no events, I try to (at least twice a month) enjoy a Saturday with my family. I take one day a month that I count as a work day and spend it with God in prayer, reading and reflection. The problem is I never really took the Sabbath seriously. There were so many exceptions. Sure, I was not in the office, but I was not fully present with God. I was not truly resting. I honored the Sabbath as an important idea, an ideal or suggestion and not one of the most important commandments God offered his people. 

In case you have forgotten the creation story, God created the world in six days. The heavens, the earth, the sea, the sky…all of it in six days. On the seventh day he rested. If the God of the universe took a Sabbath, then who are we to ignore it. Are we more important, more efficient, more wise and more powerful than the God of the universe? I hope not! Jesus rested. He often went away to pray; he spent his last hours in the garden in Sabbath. You cannot read very long in any of the gospels about Jesus and his ministry and not come across a time where he stopped to rest, to pray, or simply left to be alone. We know Jesus even took a nap in the middle of a giant storm. He slept through a crisis and miraculously the disciples survived. If Jesus needed rest, then who are we to say that we don’t? This commandment is not a good idea, and it’s not dated. I mentioned that I myself was not truly honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Back in February, I asked a friend and spiritual director colleague to come and speak to a pastor’s group here in Colorado Springs I help to lead. His message was on Sabbath. It was one of those moments where you know God is speaking to you. Yet, I resisted at first. I made the excuses in my head. I blamed my failure on circumstances, on the actions and beliefs of others. One of the things that he noted was that the Chinese symbol for busyness literally means death. That stung. He then pointed to all of us in the room who were technologically connected. He noted that Sabbath for us does not include seeing, reading, or even answering text messages, emails, phone calls etc. He noted that simply seeing these things would put us into work mode and did not honor Sabbath. He challenged us all in the room to turn off our email, our phones and to truly disconnect on the Sabbath. I thought he was crazy. I could see the looks in the room. His suggestion was so outlandish it was almost heretical. I knew in my heart of hearts he was right. So, that next day I tried it. Late Thursday night, I turned off my work email on all of my devices and computers. I went ahead and turned my phone off. I will be honest; I love my phone. I am a technology guy. The first few hours of that Friday I felt a bit odd. I felt lost, guilty, and nervous. I got over it. I remember that Saturday morning well. I woke up feeling more rested than I had in two years. It was in that moment that I both mourned and rejoiced. Such a simple thing. Sabbath. Now, it’s become a habit. It’s a gift. It’s a boundary. You can call my cell phone and my voicemail will tell you about my phone being off on Friday. It’s been life giving. I share my story with many of my colleagues and friends, those who mentor me and those whom I mentor. I recently had to call a colleague and friend and was surprised when he did not answer his phone. As I listened to his voicemail, I heard it. He too had a new message and was embracing the Sabbath. I both smiled with joy and shed a tear knowing how much he needed Sabbath. 

Our other passages today remind us of some important truths. You see, Jesus was not caught up in what he did, what he accomplished or his importance like we are in our world today. He did not care much about reputation as Philippians reminds us. He made himself nothing, not a man of good reputation or bad, but of no reputation. Jesus recognized that service also means to rest. The world has survived without us for thousands of years and while our lives are a gift from God to bless others, the world will continue to survive without us after we are gone. It is so easy to get caught up in what we do (especially for men) or our relationships and the success of our children (especially for women). I too get caught up in that. I love to serve. I love to help. I love to be an influence for Christ inside and outside the church, whether meeting with a youth, sitting in a meeting for the school district or having a chat in line at Starbucks. I have found that while my motives and desires may be pure, the devil is the master of taking good things and making them bad. I have found myself I moments of weakness or insecurity of delighting too much in what I do and forgetting why I do it. It’s in those moments that my need for Sabbath is the greatest. It’s not about what we do, it’s about who we are, and perhaps more importantly whose we are. 

You see, Sabbath is not just about rest; it’s about identity. It’s about being reminded we belong to the God of the universe. It’s a reminder that we are beloved and created in the image of God, in spite of our sin, in spite of our success. This passage in John reminds us that we are called to remain. Sabbath is about remaining in Christ…it’s about connecting to the source. Sabbath helps us to remain in Jesus, to build and maintain that relationship with God that not only sustains us, it defines us. We are called to bear fruit. Fruit is not found in busyness, it is found in remaining in the creator. It means to embrace seasons of growth, pruning, death and fruit. I right now am in a season of pruning as I cut things out of my life so that I may better remain in this next season. We are called to embrace, celebrate and honor the Sabbath. It’s a rhythm. It gives us life. It’s the only way to have peace in the midst of chaos-to remain in and with Jesus. The rhythm is one every seven. It’s not seven every 365. It’s not one every thirty. There are no exceptions listed in Exodus. It’s a commandment. There is not an exception to Sabbath if you have a smart phone, work in a church, are a CEO, if you are part time, if you have a family, if your marriage is great, if your marriage is falling apart. There are no footnotes.

We live in a noisy, chaotic, painful, broken, hurried, isolated world. Peace alludes us in our world, in our schools, our homes, and our lives. The life we live, in our homes, in our work, and even in our churches is not sustainable. We need to rest. We may be living in the most complicated time in history. In many ways everything has changed, but much like the rest of history, as everything has changed, we also recognized that nothing has changed. As Scripture reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. As is often times the case, the answer to our complex problems is very simple: simple to understand, but difficult to apply and live. So difficult that we often cannot do it alone and much like following Jesus, it takes us a lifetime to live. The answer is Sabbath. May we be a people who learn to rest well and to abide in the one who created us out of love and wants nothing more than to be with us, so that we can live abundantly.

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