Exodus 20:1-17 (NIV)
1And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 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.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
When you hear the word Sabbath, what do you first think of?
For me, I think of the book, “Little House in the Big Woods,” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She writes about how as a kid, she absolutely hated Sabbaths. For Laura, a child of pioneers, growing up in the 1860s, Sunday was the longest and most unbearable day of the week.
On Sunday’s she had to wear her nicest clothes all day. She couldn’t make noise. She couldn’t run around and play. She had to sit still, silently looking at pictures in books or quietly listening as her parents read stories from the Bible.
Sundays were agonizing for Laura!
One particular Sunday, she couldn’t sit still and be quiet any longer. Laura started to play with her dog. Pretty soon she was running and shouting. Her dad told her to stop. She started crying. She told him she hated Sundays.
Laura’s dad told her that as long and hard as Sabbaths were for her they weren’t anything as bad as they were for her grandfather.
“When your grandpa was a boy” Laura’s father said, “… Sunday did not begin on Sunday morning as it does now. It began at sundown on Saturday night. Then everyone stopped every kind of work or play.
Supper was solemn. After supper Grandpa’s father read aloud a chapter of the Bible, while everyone sat straight and still in his chair. Then they all knelt down, and his father said a long prayer. When he said, ‘Amen,’ they got up from their knees and each took a candle and went to bed. They must go straight to bed, with no playing, laughing, or even talking.
Sunday morning they ate a cold breakfast, because nothing could be cooked on Sunday. They dressed in their best clothes and walked to church. They walked, because hitching up horses was work, and no work could be done on Sunday.
They walked slowly and solemnly, looking straight ahead. They must not joke or laugh, or even smile … In church, Grandpa and his brothers must sit perfectly still for two long hours and listen to the sermon. They dared not fidget on the hard bench. They dared not swing their feet. They dared not turn their heads to look at the windows or the walls or the ceiling of the church. They must sit perfectly motionless, and never for one instant take their eyes from the preacher.
When church was over, they walked slowly home. They might talk on the way, but they must not talk loudly and they must never laugh or smile. At home they ate a cold dinner which had been cooked the day before. Then all the long afternoon they must sit in a row on a bench and study their catechism, until at last the sun went down and the day was over (Little House in the Big Woods, pp. 87-89).
Later in the book, Laura’s father tells another story about when her Grandfather was a little boy and he was caught sledding with his brothers on Sunday – in that story Grandpa’s father waited till after sundown, till after the Sabbath was officially over, to take the little boys out to the woodshed to “tan their jackets!”
That wait must have made for an agonizing Sabbath!
Sabbath can spark strong feelings.
Hate, in someone who it is really hard to imagine hating anything, like Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Guilt? Sarah and I were talking on Friday about this Sabbath sermon series and the great bible study last Wednesday, and we caught ourselves feeling guilty about all the work we had to do on our usual day off, and how it didn’t feel much like a Sabbath … it felt a lot more like a work day. (Our Sabbath probably would have made Laura’s great-grandpa Wilder cringe and take us out to the shed!)
It would be great if our time studying Sabbath and thinking about Sabbath-keeping could help us to see Sabbath as something good and life-giving … a gift that points us toward knowing and living in God’s grace more fully.
Rev. Kara Root, a Presbyterian pastor serving a church in Minneapolis, has a really helpful, short and sweet, definition of Sabbath, she says, “Sabbath is an intentional time of stopping, given to us by God, to remind us whose we are and who we are” (workingpreacher.org).
Sabbath is intentional.
Sabbath is a gift. Not a burdon.
Sabbath reminds us who God is.
Sabbath reminds us who we are. We are God’s beloved.
Through out Jewish and Christian history, faithful people have wrestled with what it looks like to faithfully keep the Sabbath. We know it is important … it is one of the Ten Commandments. We know it has high stakes … in chapter fifteen of Numbers, some Israelites catch a guy gathering wood on the Sabbath. They bring him to Moses and Aaron to ask what they should do to him … they hadn’t encountered many Sabbath breakers before. Moses says the guy should be put to death outside of the camp. It seems so intense … way too much of a consequence for gathering firewood on the wrong day. These passages make Sabbath keeping seem like it is incredibly high stakes. No wonder people could be so legalistic about it.
But then the prophets, and later Jesus, challenge legalistic Sabbath keeping, they want us to have a clearer, better understanding, of what faithful Sabbath observance could look like. For them it’s not just about following a bunch of rules … its not about exterior stuff. For the prophets … For Jesus … Sabbath keeping is about growing hearts that are near to God.
Jesus insists the “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus challenges legalism. Through his actions and words, Jesus argues it is right and good to do things that give life and preserve life on the Sabbath. Jesus points us away from legalistic life-sucking Sabbaths and toward grace filled life-giving Sabbaths.
Jesus reminds us that the heart of the Sabbath, what we see way back in Exodus, back in the Fourth Commandment, is that Sabbath keeping is about remembering and experiencing God’s goodness and grace.
The commandment to keep the Sabbath points back to God’s creation of the world.
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.
Genesis 2, verses 2-3 tell us –
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Sabbath keeping isn’t just another human rule or law. Terence Fretheim writes, “The divine resting concludes creation … Sabbath belongs to the created order; it cannot be legislated or (repealed) by human beings” (NIB, v.1 p. 39). Biblically speaking, Sabbath is part of God’s good creation, it is part of the rhythms of the universe, not keeping sabbath might be like not eating when we are hungry, or denying gravity exists, or cutting against the grain.
Sabbath keeping is a rhythm that reminds us who and whose we are.
We are not God. We are part of creation. We are God’s beloved creation.
Working and resting is a rhythm God has built into creation. So often we work against that rhythm. We act like we don’t need rest. We work and work and work … and sometimes even our rest seems a lot like work. Sometimes we don’t have much of a choice in the work rest rhythm. Our jobs might make intense demands on our time. Our bosses might ask us to accomplish more than is possible in a 40 hour work week. We might have unrealistic expectations of what we can do … we commit to more and more … we can’t say no.
We might not feel all that valuable aside from what we can accomplish, so we push ourselves harder and harder to feel worthwhile. We don’t rest. We can’t stop. We get worn out. Maybe if we aren’t working … maybe if we get sick or injured … maybe we lose our job … maybe if we retire and we don’t have that work to identify us and make us feel worthwhile, we feel like we are losing ourselves.
There is actually some gospel, some life shaking, world changing good news in the command to keep a Sabbath. God tells us we are more than our work. We are more valuable that what we can produce, consume, or accomplish.
In her book, Sabbath Keeping, Lynne Baab writes:
The sabbath teaches us grace because it connects us experientially to the basic truth that nothing we do will earn God’s love. As long as we are working hard, using our gifts to serve others, experiencing joy in our work along with the toil, we are always in danger of believing that our actions trigger God’s love for us. Only in stopping, really stopping, do we teach our hearts and souls that we are loved apart from what we do (Sabbath Keeping, Kindle Locations 146-147).
Practicing a Sabbath, is about learning to live in God’s grace.
It reminds us “who we are and whose we are.”
We are God’s beloved creations.
We are invited to rest in God’s grace.