Lent 2 - Sabbath
Mark 1:29-39, Deut 5:1-22, Psalm 130
We are in the second week of our Lenten sermon series. This year we are talking about deepening our roots in Jesus. Last week we remembered that fasting is sacrifice and blessing. We remove something from our lives in order to make room for something else. Or we decide to add something to our lives and need to sacrifice something in order to make space for it. I mentioned last week that I am adding sabbath rest to my life this year. And I will have to sacrifice things in order to make space for it. I want to share three things that I have learned about sabbath rest with you. 1) God commands that we rest. 2) Keeping a sabbath takes great faith. 3) The sabbath renews our souls.
Let’s start with number 1, that God commands that we rest. We are all familiar with the 10 commandments. Number 1, worship God. Number 2, don’t make idols. Number 3, don’t use God’s name in vain. Number 5, honor your father and mother. Number 6, don’t murder. Number 7, don’t commit adultery. Number 8, don’t steal. Number 9, don’t lie or bear false witness. And number 10, don’t want what other people have, don’t covet. We know these. But when we read them, we often do what I just did: we skip over number 4. Number 4 is the commandment to keep a sabbath rest, not just for ourselves, but for every human and animal in our lives. It’s odd that we skip over this commandment because the commandment to keep the sabbath has the longest description of any of the other commandments. It’s a very important one. We often don’t think of resting as being as important as not committing murder, but...it...is. And it has a very important spot in the list of 10 commandments. The first 3 commandments are about our relationship with God. The last 6 commandments are about our relationship with people. The sabbath commandment is right in between, meaning that it is the key to a right relationship with God and a right relationship with people. It’s essential.
The 10 commandments appear in two places in the Bible: in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5. Each list spends the most time describing the sabbath. And interestingly, each list has a different rationale for keeping the sabbath. In Exodus 20, it says that we should keep a sabbath rest because God took a rest after creation. So God created for six days, then took a rest on the 7th, therefore so should we. Implied in this is the idea that embedded in creation is the gift of rest. In Deuteronomy, which we read this morning, we can see in verse 15 that the argument goes like this: “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.” Here we remember that when the Israelites were slaves, they were not allowed to rest. Once God liberated them, God commanded that they rest. We don’t want to become slaves to our work when God has liberated God’s people for rest. We were created for rest. We were liberated for rest. God commands that we rest.
This leads us to point number 2: keeping a sabbath takes great faith. It’s interesting that God commands that we rest. Often, all we ever talk about is how tired we are. So you would think that we would all jump at the opportunity to rest, but resting is not in our nature. Doing, getting, being in control, that’s in our nature. We often think that our society today is more fast-paced than in the past, and in many ways that’s true. But I was reading in the prophets about ethical issues and noticed that in Amos 8 God criticizes Israel because on the sabbath day all they can think about is making more money. They can’t let it go for a day and just delight in God. The need to do...to get...to be in control...that’s human nature. God commands that we rest because normal life never slows down. It never stops. And if we don’t stop, we lose sight of what’s important.
Our jobs, our volunteer work, our school work, it’s all important, but it’s not the most important. The most important things in our lives are the relationships that are discussed in the 10 commandments: our relationship with God and our relationships with the people that God has put in our lives. Intentionally taking a sabbath rest forces us to grow in our faith because it takes great faith to stop working for a day. We have to trust in God. To trust that God will hold everything and it will all be ok if we don’t work on it for a day. You remember the woman I told you about who led me to faith in Jesus, Bibi? In college she was studying to be a lawyer. But she never studied on Sundays. That was her sabbath day. And she got straight A’s. If you ever read a book about sabbath you will find a classic story about a group of people migrating west in covered wagons in the U.S. They were all Christians. Winter was approaching and they were worried about how long the trip was taking so they had a conversation about it. Up until that point, they had all be resting on Sundays and not traveling at all. After that conversation, half of them decided to continue keeping a sabbath, while the other half decided to travel all seven days of the week. In the end, the group who kept the sabbath rest got there first. Because of that rest, they had more energy for traveling on the other six days and their work was more efficient. Keeping the sabbath takes great faith. We have to trust that our success or failure is not in our hands but in God’s. It also renews our souls so that we have more energy for the other six days of the week.
Which leads us to our third point, that sabbath renews our souls. Sabbath is not an extra opportunity to get our chores done. It’s an opportunity to renew our souls. Benefiting from it requires planning. The point of a sabbath rest is to spend time with God, with other people, and to refresh our souls. We have to be intentional about this time or we will just fill it with chores and errands. Even in the Jewish tradition, there is the day of preparation for the sabbath. We have to prepare our lives so that we can stop and rest. In a book that Becky Pitt introduced to me called “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly” by Marva Dawn, Marva talks about the need to spend the three days leading up to the sabbath preparing (pg. 54). I’ve been working at that. I’ve intentionally been starting my chores a few days earlier than normal so that I can get them all done by the time my sabbath starts. And if something pops into my head that I need to do, I write it down in my planner so I don’t have to think about it anymore and I look at that list after my sabbath. This allows me to start my sabbath without a to-do list. It takes planning and intentionality to make this happen. I am learning that starting the day without a to-do list refreshes my soul and I look forward to that day when I don’t have a to-do list.
I’ve recently been listening to a podcast called Spirituality for Ordinary People, hosted by Rev. Matthew Brough. Episode 40 is about sabbath rest and something they mentioned really made me stop and think. The guest on that podcast said that sabbath is supposed to refresh our soul. I realized that I have no idea what refreshes my soul. Since doing sabbath once, I’ve learned that not having a to-do list refreshes me, but there must be other things. So I am hoping to discover what refreshes my soul. An activity that refreshes our soul is not an escape. After an escape, the challenges of life come crashing down on us again. After an activity that refreshes our soul, we have renewal and energy to face the challenges that life throws at us. I am hoping, during Lent and beyond, to continue to work on sabbath rest and discover what refreshes my soul.
There is one more thing about refreshing our souls that we have probably never thought about. This type of spiritual rest is practice for heaven. We lay down our work and our cares for a day and spend that day resting with God. Descriptions of heaven are that the lion lays down with the lamb, and God will wipe away every tear. Spending time with God during the spiritual rest of a sabbath, gives us a taste of the peace and comfort that we will experience in eternity with God. It is a little taste of heaven, once a week.
Just to recap, our first point was that God commands that we rest, ...because rest is against our nature. We were created to rest and liberated to rest. Secondly, taking a sabbath takes great faith. We learn to trust God will all of our obligations so that we can rest from them for one day. And thirdly, sabbath rest renews our souls. We spend time with God, with others, and time doing activities that refresh our souls. It is a little taste of heaven. This is what God is calling me to add to my life during Lent this year. What is God asking you to consider adding to your life or eliminating from your life this Lent? As we continue on this Lenten journey, may we all continue to deepen our roots in Jesus.