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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why Practice Sabbath? To Receive From Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)

People are busy, working hard, in some cases over-scheduled, and in most cases tired. God doesn’t intend this. Certainly God wants us to give our best. With God’s spirit empowering us, we can be more than we could on our own strength. In all our roles, we honor God by striving for excellence. But in our striving, God does not want us to wear ourselves out to the point that we are constantly in a states of exhaustion, reaching for a recovery that doesn’t seem to come before we have to give and give and give again. Our lives are not to be an endless strain.

We need rest as a regular part of life, and we need a new rhythm and a new understanding of time. In the language of the New Testament, there were two words that are both translated into English “time.” The Greek word ‘kronos,’can mean time, and so can the Greek work ‘kairos.’ ‘Kronos,’is measurable time, days, months, years. It is sequential. From ‘Kronos,’we get the English word ‘chronology.’ This is really how we most commonly think of time. ‘Kairos,’ means the appropriateness of time. In our worldview, when is a baby born? Is the baby born on the day the doctor declared to be the “due date?” No! The baby comes when it is time. We think of death the same way. Someone passes, and we say, well, it was his time.

Kronos measures time. I am just about 42 years old. My life is probably close to half-way over. Kairos identifies seasons. A man’s wife dies. They were married 45 years. He enters a season of grief. When Kairos and Kronos are talked about in sermons, usually kairos is seen as something holy. Jesus came to earth in the “fullness of time.” Kronos is seen as something more mundane. In our recognition that people are tired because life in 21st century America is frenetic and the pressure to succeed comes from all sides, we need to claim the holiness of kronos time. God is not only God of seasons and monumental moments. God is also God of today, this hour, this minute. God is not only God of Epiphany and Lent, and Easter and Pentecost. God is also God of Facebook and the calendar. We do not live at the mercy and pleasure of our schedules. We live at the mercy and pleasure of the living God.

What is more difficult, going without checking email and going along without texting, or going along without prayer? Which do we miss? How we answer, when answering honestly and not giving the churchy answer, reveals the rhythm of our lives. I think most of us need a new rhythm. Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book called The Sabbath writes, “There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusively and endlessly precious” (p.8).[i] As a response to the harried rat race lived by so many of us, the life-draining pace that we run that slowly kills us, Heschel presents the Sabbath. He says, “The Sabbath is entirely independent of the month. … Its date is not determined by any even in nature … but by the act of creation. … The meaning of Sabbath is to celebrate time. … Thus we try to become attuned to holiness in time” (p.10).

The baby is napping – and as all parents of young children know, those naps are crucial. The preschooler needs to be picked up from school. The 4thgrader has a dentist’s appointment. Mom has the flu. Dad has a meeting in another town. OK seriously, holiness time? Come on!

The truth is nothing we will say in sermons or in small groups will take away from the stress we all face. It chews at us and forces us to make decisions. That’s just life. But, even in life, real life, we can regularly enter the Sabbath which God gives. And doing so will change our lives, even the harried moments.

So we admit, yes, we’re tired. We admit, yes, God had given his people a gift – Sabbath rest. And we believe that in Christ we are God’s people. So then, how are we, as Christians, to understand holiness in time? How do we discover a new rhythm, one in which life is paced by regular Sabbath keeping? I think the beginning of the answer is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 11-12, where Jesus gives three things. Everything in life for a Christ-follower is defined by Him; and everything in the Bible is read through the lens of the Gospel.

So it is with Jesus we start. He says, “To what will I compare this generation [meaning the people around him who refused to listen to his offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins]? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for your, and you did not dance’” (11:16-17a). Here was God in human flesh bringing new wine, good news, a new life in which people could be freed from sin and guided into a lasting, joy-filled relationship with God, and those around him utterly rejected the offer.

Jesus’coming was a divine declaration that time had changed! The time of God bringing wrath and punishment on the people for the nation’s sins had passed. Jesus brought a new day, a day of mercy and grace. Just pause and consider those qualities. How much do mercy and grace play into your daily interactions with people? On the other hand, at the workplace, in relationships, how often do you see retribution, petty jealousy, self-centeredness? Do we live our lives in the new day Jesus inaugurated, drinking the new wine he poured? Or do we remain in the state of fallen humanity, treating others as competitors to be beaten out? Are we fallen Cains killing the Abels alongside us, and being killed? Jesus brought in a new time.

Along with it, Jesus brought a new rhythm. In the new time, the gifts of God are just that, gifts God gave and gives to bless us. The people around Jesus took the gifts and warped them into a set of rules that beat men and women down into submission, completely defeated, unable to keep rules God never intended in the first place.

In Matthew 12, Jesus and his disciples were in a grain field. It was the Sabbath Day. The hungry disciples plucked the heads of grain and began to eat, but the act of plucking qualified as “work,” and the rules committee forbade such activity on God’s Sabbath! “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” (12:2).

Note, Jesus did not just ignore the complaint, and he did not trivialize it. This was an important moment for people then and for people now. I think Jesus gives us three things related to time. The first two we have mentioned. Jesus gives a new day. The second we see in this controversy over grain harvesting. Jesus gives a new rhythm. He did not get into the minutia. That’s work! No it’s not. It is too! Is not! Jesus does not play that game. He takes the conversation to a higher level. He says that God desires mercy more than sacrifice, and he lays the claim to be Lord (master) of the Sabbath (12:7, 8).

This argument with Pharisees happened as the disciples and the Pharisees and others were walking to the Synagogue for Sabbath worship. A disfigured man was there, and, the Pharisees still refused to dance to Jesus’ music. Still stinging from the argument over harvesting and his claim to be Lord, they saw an opportunity. In a blatant attempt to catch Jesus in Sabbath violation, the rule makers asked, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath.” In the old rhythm, we ask what are the rules and how do we keep them or how do we get around them. The second thing Jesus gives us related to time and the holiness of time is a new rhythm.

The man’s hand is completely withered. “Is it lawful to heal?” What a heartless thought! What a terrible thing to ask! Jesus said, it is lawful to do good, and healing someone who hurts is a good thing. In the new rhythm of Jesus, we seek the good. The key in all of this is Jesus. If the disciples are with the Lord of the Sabbath, they can do what he allows. He allowed them to fill their hungry bellies. If the injured man or the one with a broken heart comes to the Lord of the Sabbath and the Lord of the Sabbath heals, then healing was the right thing because the Lord of the Sabbath says doing good is better than doing nothing.

Jesus gives three things. He gives a new day. He gives a new rhythm, one that can only be felt when we are with Him, filled with His Holy Spirit.

The third gift is one for us to remember and live into as we spend 4 weeks talking Sabbath, and hopefully a lifetime keeping Sabbath. Lauren Winner,[ii]a divinity school professor, an Episcopalian, and a Jewish person who has put her complete trust in Jesus Christ points out that in recent years, a return to Sabbath keeping has come into fashion, but the new popularized Sabbath is a distortion.

Sabbath has experienced revived popularity because it is might contribute to productivity: the rested worker is more effective 6 days a week than the dog-tired worker that puts in seven. A second motivation people find in Sabbath is idolatry with self as the object of worship. Of course people wouldn’t say it that way. But consider how Sabbath is presented: take a day off; treat yourself; have a bubble bath; enjoy the spa. Nothing wrong with any of this, but it isn’t Sabbath. The object of honor and glory is not God, not when my form of worship is finding a way to make myself relaxed and feeling good. Nor is God being exalted when the purpose of my rest is to be a better me Monday through Friday. Again, this is not a critique of the relationship between work and rest and productivity. I simply reject the notion that Sabbath rest is truly Sabbath rest if it is done for the sake of optimal performance.

In fact, Sabbath is not about performance at all. Sabbath is not about relaxation per se. Sabbath is about God, and we Christians believe God was perfectly revealed in the incarnation, Jesus Christ. He gives a new day. He gives a new rhythm in which good is sought over rule keeping. And he give rest. “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (11:28).

The new day, the new rhythm, the blessed rest from heavy, life-taking burdens is restrictive. It’s not for everyone, but only for those who come to Jesus. Of course, all are invited to come – Jew and Gentile, Sinner and Saint, you and me and the neighbor you cannot stand and the dictator who keeps his people under heel. All are invited to lay down their burdens, receive forgiveness of sin, and come to Jesus.

This happens in kairos, the appointed, appropriate time when a person first believes and gives her life to Christ. This is her time of salvation, the moment everything changes. Coming to Jesus also happens regularly in kronos time, when, week after week, no matter how we feel, everything else in life stops, including us, and we come to Him in worship and prayer. We give Him and our relationship with Him 100% attention and shut out all else.

In upcoming messages and small groups we will talk about specific ways Sabbath keeping can happen and we will mentions some ideas about what would not be good for Sabbath keeping. This morning though, I just want us to focus on three actions. (1) We come – uninterrupted and diligently locking out any distraction so that Jesus gets 100% of us. (2) He gives – He gives rest; if we are hungry he give permission to harvest grains; if we are hurting, he gives cures, healing. (1) We come. (2) He gives. And (3), we receive what He offers without trying to influence Him. Instead of trying to get what we want or what we think we need, we come open, we come broken, and we come tired. And Jesus gives out of His wisdom and love. Starting with that, we know God is in control and we aren’t, and that’s good thing. We are on the way to keeping Sabbath in appropriate time so that our relationship with God is right all the time. Everything falls in place. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It falls into place. As Jesus plays his flute, we dance in time, to his rhythm.

If you feel confused, simply relax your heart, and come to Jesus. Take His yoke upon you and learn from Him for He is gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your soul. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Begin your Sabbath. Come to Him.


[i]Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, 1951).

[ii] Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath, p.6-7, 10-11.

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