The Meaning of Sabbath Rest
September 3, 2017 Pastor: Larry Gaylord
Topic: Sabbath Scripture: Hebrews 4:1–4:11, Mark 2:23–2:28
This holiday weekend I'm on deck for child care while Leslie is in Montana for her family's annual reunion. After we dropped Leslie off at O'Hare, Dahlia and I went to the beautiful Shedd Aquarium. We missed the dolphin and whale performance, but from downstairs we watched the dolphins as they waited their turn in the show. They seemed to exhibit sheer joy in their anticipation. It was a God moment, as we contemplated the wonder of these intelligent creatures. Later, on the road home, a rock hit our windshield, so it was back to reality with a bang.
This morning we are thinking of the people of Texas and Louisiana. They need the rest and Sabbath that our passage speaks of, but it will be some time before they get it. We give thanks for thousands who have loved their neighbors as themselves, in some cases forfeiting their own lives. The storm that swept so much away also diminished differences of race, class, and religion. Suddenly those others were simply neighbors.
Scripture tells us the first one to keep Sabbath was the Creator. God didn't need to recuperate, but "on the seventh day, God rested from all his labors." It seems the Creator took time to appreciate and savor all that had been accomplished.
Sabbath played a pivotal role in the life of Israel. The command to observe is exactly half way through the Ten Commandments. The holy day was the glue that held the Jewish people together even while they were scattered for centuries. Other people had no concept of such a day of rest. It was a new and life-giving principle. Today, millions still have no opportunity for such rest. They are in servitude or even slavery, and their lives consist of relentless work.
The Mark passage records an ancient dispute over Sabbath observance that seems far-removed from our world. The rabbi's disciples seemed to violate the day's strict requirements by harvesting in. They were hungry, so they ate. Jesus explained that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of people--not the other way around. He was consistent about this in his own ministry. He deliberately healed and cared for people on the Sabbath to demonstrate the day's true meaning. On this of all days there should be works of mercy and feeding the hungry. Sabbath thus served as a sign for the true meaning of every day in God's kingdom.
How can we best live the Sabbath in our own time? Some recall Sundays when a beloved activity was forbidden, such as sports. A member of our church recalls being angry when Dad prevented him from playing in a basketball tournament. He thought there might be an exception made for this important event, but no. Much later, our member looked back with respect for his dad's principled stand and courage. He came to appreciate the value of one day set aside for worship, rest, and family gatherings.
Today, in our 24/7 culture, the importance of Sabbath is greater than ever. What are the life-giving customs that we can restore or strengthen?
A few weeks ago I was at a beautiful retreat center near Northbrook, IL, for a seminar led by author/educator Parker Palmer. He's a powerful speaker. A recent book is called, "Healing the Heart of Democracy." At our first gathering, participants were asked to tell about themselves and why they were there. Quite a number shared that they were tired. Some said exhausted. A few admitted to being totally burned-out.
They were in need of a deep experience of Sabbath. Their fatigue had snuck up on them. Only when they paused for a few days did they realize the extent of it. People in every field of work may have this same experience. Sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. Unrelenting pressures and the drip-drip of daily conflict can take a toll.
We are mindful of all who are dealing with illness, and all who care for them; and those, too, who are responsible for young children. There are also some who have too much time on their hands--they're confined to their homes or are simply alone. If we have a "driven" personality, we might not relish the idea of down time--our "rest" might take the form of alternate activities. That's not a bad thing, it just requires some intentionality on our part.
Here are some suggestions for things we can rest from: regret; panic; spending; alcohol; noise; saving the world (another One has already done that); condemning ourselves or others.
And to rest into: recalling enjoyable times; praying for the fun of it; reflecting on scripture; taking a walk; being grateful; watching birds; music and art; feeling good about our life; eating appreciatively.
In Matthew's gospel, this same story has a famous saying right near it. It seems to suggest, Christ himself is our Sabbath. Abide in him, and you will always have Sabbath. It goes like this, and can serve also as our communion invitation: "Come unto me, all you that labor and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest unto your souls."