Keep the Lord’s Day Special

If you fancy yourself a would-be author, let me suggest a topic for a definite New York Times best-seller.  

You’ll be working the crowded neighborhood at the intersection of Self-help Street and Spirituality Avenue. Your topic is flung far afield across disciplines – the healing arts, physical and natural sciences, psychology and sociology.

Your economy of words will build a case that, in order to maintain good health, human beings regularly need a day off to recuperate – a break in the action, a sabbath rest, as it were. You’ll deftly argue that body, mind, and spirit need time to get away from it all and thus rejuvenate, re-invigorate, and re-combobulate.  

In this, our overinvolved and overscheduled living; in this, our hyper-busy planning and programming that seem to be wearing everyone to a frazzle – including our kids, a book like yours surely will scratch a common itch, catch on fast, and sell out quick.  

Of course, the field of so-called experts is crowded. You’re not the only one preaching about some aspect of sabbath rest. For the most part, though, your colleagues tend to write “how-to” manuals, recommending as wind for your sails everything from lighting candles at sunset to psycho-therapeutic aroma treatments.  

Thanks to quick-witted marketing teams, such books brag that the experience of wholeness and joy will return again upon their completed reading. Also swarming in that chatty cloud are buzzwords like renewal, delight, and enrichment.  

A quick search of Amazon reveals seductive subtitles: “The antidote for the overworked.” “Live your best life ever.” My favorite was the title of a Jewish book: “Oh No! It’s Sabbath Again and I’m Not Ready: A Homemaker’s Guide to Making Friday the Easiest Day of the Week.” I was surprised that I didn’t find “Spiritual enlightenment and flat abs in 30 days!”  

Making sabbath rest all about us is one approach to unpacking the Lord’s fourth word: Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Let’s take a slightly different literary tack. Following this route, however, won’t produce a book that flies off the shelves. Trust me, this yawner be a literary flop.  

That’s because the books that always seem to catch on always seem to make sabbath all about you and me. Practicing sabbath, so go these storylines, will improve your life, your mental state and energy level. Why not throw in whiter teeth and fresh breath too, while you’re at it!  

But as the whole of Scripture interprets the Fourth Command, Sabbath is not all about us and instead all about God. Holy Sabbath affords time to worship God, to chew on lessons and digest of sermons, to practice grateful generosity in tithe and offering, to generate the joyful noise of prayer and song.

And, Sabbath is a weekly reminder that such rest is mostly all about repenting of sin and vowing to live a more holy life on those other six days. Say what? Yes, really!  

Such re-creation and redemption root deeply in the Old Testament. In Scripture’s opening scene, God’s Spirit moves across chaotic darkness to organize a verdant and just world. And after igniting that cosmic explosion and calling it all “good,” God rests.  This short video explores the idea of such seventh-day rest and the biblical concept of Sabbath. Hang with it until the end to learn why Jesus adopts this idea of Sabbath as a major part of his own mission of bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.

What is the Sabbath, really?  

Well, it’s the Lord’s Day! The Day of Resurrection!  

The New Day’s critical mass has shifted: Less so on resting from physical work and more so on resting from sin and brokenness. Who knew?

This latter kind of “rest” thus becomes a glimpse to the ultimate and eternal Sabbath rest that just will be eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Sabbath allows preview and preparation of basking forever in the Lord’s New Heaven and New Earth when Christ returns.  

Until that great day, Sabbath is about enjoying God, enjoying God’s Creation, enjoying other people as the images of God in our midst. You come to church to take the focus off yourself and put it properly onto God, God’s people, and the poor for whom we take offerings. It’s a time to find out how the sick and elderly of the congregation are doing, if the young adults are packed and ready to head off to college, and to pray for each and every one of those blessed saints in joy and concern.

It’s a time to learn a little something more about all the many sacred blessings that God reveals in the Bible.  

Just as every Sunday celebrates “a little Easter,” there ought to be a little Sabbath in our hearts and minds every day – through, with, and in Monday through Saturday, in the sense that you and I aim ourselves toward God and toward others, by repenting of sin and thus reaping the bounty of reconciliation and right living – alone and in community!  

Most of our brokenness essentially arises from selfish blindness, putting our wants ahead of God’s designs and ahead of human need and suffering. Sabbath-living on a Tuesday morning or Friday afternoon means that you take care of others first, not worrying about yourself, because if others do the same, they’ll take care of you.  

So, what is the Sabbath?  

Sabbath is the complete re-orientation of one’s thinking.

Sabbath invites you into God’s grace, into God’s story, into God’s rhythms that prepare you not to re-enter the new week of rat-racing. Sabbath encourages exiting the rat race for good!

Truly recognizing Sabbath for what God intends is to let the Holy Spirit sanctify your living every day. To use the Sabbath as a launching pad for the same, old destructive routines of busyness desecrates the Sabbath and blasphemes God!  

Maybe this helps wrap your head around all that: The “weekend” is for recharging your batteries. The Sabbath is for transforming your mind. Which in the end makes Sabbath all about redemption!  

As Exodus 20 tells of God handing over the Ten Commandments, the Lord commands Sabbath rest based on Creation. “For in six days Yahweh made the heavens and the earth, but he rested on the seventh day.” But in the second telling of the Law – in Deuteronomy 5, our lesson for this morning, Sabbath is about Creation and Redemption. “For remember that you were slaves in Egypt but that God led you out of there.”

Second time around, redemption rises from Sabbath rest. Creation and Redemption – two big movements in the story of God with us, and both nestle intimately in Sabbath. The way God made us – and the way we’ve been saved by God – both point us toward Sabbath. Think about how that kind of Sabbath would be a game-changer, as I read to you from the Old Testament’s book of Deuteronomy.  

Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today.

You shall learn them and observe them diligently. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between the LORD and you to declare to you the words of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.)

And he said: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. You shall not do any work – you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male or female servant, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female servant may rest as well as you. 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. (Deuteronomy 5:1-15) 

The Good News of Creation looks, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels like this:  

In the end, as in the beginning, and at every point in between, God alone is the Creator. God has taken gracious care to create for us a fitting earthy home. Far from being some remote god who sets the universe a-spinning but then steps back and leaves it alone, we believe that God is still vitally close to every fiber of Creation. God takes care of us, because God alone is the Maker and Caretaker of everything. All that’s left for you and me to do is this: Willingly and joyfully enter into a hallowed work that God already has well under control.

Of course, each of us has many gifts and varied talents, so it’s important that we have jobs and tasks to build meaningful work. And that we labor faithfully and diligently in the timeframes that the needs of God and others demand. And sometimes that means clocking-in on Sundays.

But Sabbath through the lenses Creation and Redemption reminds that neither you nor I can ever do it all – and that we don’t need to, either! You are enough!

If we really are faithful workers who carry out our God-given callings and vocations as best we can during the week, then with relative ease we ought to be able simply to leave those pursuits and pastimes for a while, too. Like on the Sabbath Day! The Lord’s Day! The Day of Creation and Redemption! The Day of Resurrection!  

Since you and I are co-creating participants in God’s larger imaginative work, rest assured that, when we take a break – to rebalance the budget of good food, good exercise, and good rest, for body, mind, soul, and spirit, none of us is skipping out on work and into mere idleness. When you or I take a break, we’re leaving the cares of the world in God’s hands, which is precisely where all our work and all our provision have been abiding all this time anyway!  

Honor God by putting God first.

Elevate God above all others.

Honor God with your lips.

Let God be the rhythmic breath of your time. Yah-Weh! YH-WH!  

Moments of simply being more highly prized than always doing. Yah-Weh! YH-WH!  

All of us, always, everywhere: Waking, sleeping, breathing, with the name of God on our lips, praising the Lord’s down-to-earth love for each and every blessed one of us.   

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.      

Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message during worship on Sunday, August 6, 2023. Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Doug Bratt, Scott Hoezee, Stan Mast, Mike Mazzalongo, and The Bible Project, and Jen Wilkin inform the message, which is the fourth in Pastor Grant’s series on The Ten Commandments. 

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