Day of Rest
I posted on my Facebook account a question this week and it got some good responses. I asked “When you hear the word Sabbath what is the first thing that comes to mind?” Here are some of responses, “I think of Black Sabbath,” got that from a couple of people. “Judaism. Isn’t that odd.” “Is my sermon done yet?” “REST & WORSHIP HIM! Thank you God for thinking of us! I love those kind of days! Sometimes those days are filled with worship and busyness but I love those that are restful too so I can regroup!” What do you think of when you hear the word Sabbath?
The word Sabbath is usually attributed to a certain day of the week, a day of rest and reflection. For Jews and some Christians, Saturday is the Sabbath. For us, mainline Christians, it is Sunday. The short story about why it switched is that Jesus rose on a Sunday and now that is marked as a holy day. Each Sunday is called a little Easter. For Muslims the Sabbath is on Friday. Whichever religion or denomination you follow, during the weekend there needs to be a Sabbath. But why?
For Christians and Jews it goes back to creation. Genesis tells us the God created the world in six days and on the seventh day he rested. This idea continued in the lessons that God was teaching the Israelites while they were in the wilderness for forty years. In the wilderness food is hard to come by and God provided food for his chosen people in the form of manna from heaven. Each morning the Israelites would wake up to find manna on the ground. This would be enough food for everyone to have some and it would let them survive this harsh time. On the sixth day enough manna fell to feed people on that day and on the seventh day, a day when they were suppose to rest.
In Solomon’s Porch Sunday School class we are reading through a book called Manna and Mercy. It is retelling of the Biblical story from Genesis through Revelation. It is a great book, and you can color in it! This is how this book described the gift of the Sabbath, “Humans do not have to work every day to receive and distribute God’s manna. The extra time is a beautiful gift from God which makes it possible for humans and animals and earth to rest. Sabbath allows humans to experience full time the wonder of friendship – with God and others and all creation.” The Sabbath is to be a day when we relax and give thanks. It is a day when we remember our friendship with God, others and all of creation.
This was the ancient idea of Sabbath. It was and still is a great idea, a day apart to be in the presence of God. This is the actually one of the Ten Commandments, so you know God means business. The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
God is so serious about it. So much so that later on in Exodus it comes out that if you break this commandment you could die. Exodus 31:14 says, “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.” Just in case you think God was kidding, in Numbers 15 there is a story about a man who was found gathering wood on the Sabbath, GATHERING WOOD! The man was brought to Moses and Aaron and the assembly. Then starting in verse 35 it says, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the LORD commanded Moses.” God ain’t messing around! The people start to learn their lesson but the prophets have to keep reminding them over and over again about how important it is to keep the Sabbath. By the time Jesus is born things are starting to get a little ridiculous.
I am a fan of the rules. I like to follow them. Actually, I love to follow them. I think if there are rules they need to be followed because they are there for a purpose and each have their reasons. I know there are other people out there who don’t think the same way I do. This comes to the surface often when playing board games, especially Monopoly. Monopoly is a grand game and I love to play it. What is always an initial fight is what to do with the Free Parking space. Everyone plays the game differently when it comes to that space. The official rules state that “A player landing on this place does not receive any money, property or reward of any kind.
This is just a “free” resting-place.” Those are the OFFICAL RULES and thus they should be followed. But NO. Some people play that any fine or payment that has to be made from the Chance or Community Chess cards or if you get taxed the money all goes into a kitty in the middle of the board. Then if you land on the Free Parking Space that person gets the money in the middle of the board. This is a hotly debated fact but the Official Rules tells you what to do!
The official rules of God dictate that on the seventh day we should rest, but the religious rulers of Jesus’ day decided that they had to help the ordinary people follow this commandment. In doing so they put up a bunch of fences around the major rule to keep it safe. They defined what it meant by work, which according to the story in numbers means you cannot collect wood. This also meant that no one could work, no person or no animal. Jesus tells us that people could take their cattle down the water to drink but they could not be burdened by anything. One could not travel at all either. The rule was that you could only go 2000 cubits on the Sabbath. A cubit is the length from your elbow to the tip of your longest finger. 2000 cubits is roughly ½ a mile, it is a ¼ of a mile for shorter people. But that is all they were allowed to walk.
It is kind of like if we would put up rules today to make people follow the Sabbath. Like stores that were closed on Sunday or shut down mid-afternoon. It would be like having laws that restricted the sale of alcohol on Sundays. How weird would it be if Walmart closed at midnight on Sunday and didn’t open up again until midnight on Monday? I’m young, but I’m not too young to remember that this use to be the case. And there are still places in this world where similar law are followed. But now, in many modern towns and cities, Sunday is just another day of the week.
The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction now. When Jesus was around the religious rulers put so many rules and restrictions in front of the people about the Sabbath that Jesus says they became slaves to the Sabbath. Jesus reminds people that “the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” Now it seems no one cares about the Sabbath and so we must remind ourselves of the ancient gift that God has granted us in this holy day. With so much to do in our lives we have to sit back and allow ourselves not to do anything.
Jesus was reminding everyone the meaning of this day when he healed the crippled woman. The woman had been bent over due to a curvature of the spine for 18 years. She was use to looking at everyone’s feet instead of their eyes and she had come to seek Jesus. Jesus looks at her and doesn’t ask her if she wants to be healed, the text tells us that “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” She was liberated from her old life and now could stand up straight, a position of dignity. But not everyone was happy.
The religious leaders were appalled that Jesus did this on the holy day of rest. Didn’t he know better? One cannot walk 2001 cubits on the Sabbath, only 2000! You cannot heal on the Sabbath that is work! Yet Jesus is quick to correct. He reminds them that people help animals that get into trouble on the Sabbath, so why shouldn’t he help this poor woman. Plus this act of mercy fits right into the true meaning of the Sabbath, enjoying friendship with God, with others, and with all creation.
You see there are always exceptions to the rules, if the exceptions bring out the true purpose of the rule to begin with. If rule followers fight with the people who want to put money in a kitty and give it the person who lands on free parking, they can because it is in the rules. But the main purpose of Monopoly is to get together with friends and enjoy each other’s company. If the game starts in argument and doesn’t come to a compromise the purpose of the game is lost. If we tack up so many rules around the Sabbath that we are slaves to the rules, we are not enjoying the Sabbath any more. The Sabbath is a day of rest and people find rest in many different ways. Some find rest sitting on the couch watching sports or soaps. Others find rest in doing a craft or working in the yard or garage.
As we hear about Jesus healing on the Sabbath, we in the modern world, have to remember the importance of this day apart. Jesus pushes us away from being a slave to our lives. We need to find time to say no, relax with friends and family, rejuvenate, and sometimes just breath. When we listen to a great piece of music sometimes the most dramatic points are when nothing is played at all. Sometimes the moments that excite us, that pulls us into the music is when there is a rest.
One day a man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and a little annoyed to learn that the other guy had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my ax when I sat down to rest.”
The Sabbath is to be a day of rest. A day when we remind ourselves of the gifts that God has given us. It is important to do so because then we remember whose we are. We don’t need to get super legalistic about the day, because a day of rest can be any day of the week truly. On this Sabbath, we come to remember who Jesus was. He was a God-man who didn’t mind making exceptions to the rules if it glorified God and shared his grace with others. We need to remember to take a break and refuel our own souls in order for us to be able to go out and share that same grace with others too. We need to rest and sharpen our ax. We need to find a place for some free parking and enjoy a state of rest to see how glorious our God is and to enjoy our friendship with God, with others, and with all creation.
And all God’s people said…Amen.