Some here have heard each of the messages in this series on Sabbath. Some have heard 1 or 2 of the messages but also missed 1 or 2. Some are normally here on Sunday mornings but happened to miss the past three weeks and have not heard the messages on Sabbath. Some of you are here for the first time.
A number of questions regarding this study have come to me. Many come from small group leaders or participants in groups I lead. Dina who is our ministry assistant and participates in 2 small groups and I have talked, a lot. I have talked with Heather extensively. And my wife. And many of the questions are my own.
Of all the questions, I’ll share a few.
Rob has said Sabbath should involve food, and it should involve a lot of people. Does Rob have any idea how much work it is to cook for a lot of people? I do have a sense of that, and I do appreciate the work that cooks do. I appreciate it tremendously. I am very grateful for a big meal and I know that if someone’s daily work is in a restaurant it might sound pretty tough to hear that Sabbath should be rest and it should be festive and it should include food.
On the traditional Jewish Sabbath, the food is prepared the day before so that no work must be done on the Sabbath day. In the reading I have done, I found it is a lot of work, a ton of work, to prepare for the day of rest.
Being New Testament people, we aren’t bound by the rules that were imposed (for good reasons) by rabbis from the institution of the law in Moses’ day to the days of Jesus. Jesus gave a new understanding which was a return to the original. Sabbath is to be a gift for people. So if preparing a thanksgiving-sized feast is work that interrupts someone’s experience of Holy rest, then the meal should come about in a different way.
What if a slow-cooked soup was made the day before in a large pot, enough to feed a dozen people? On Sunday, after church, you and your friends gather, you heat up what was prepared the day before. Your friends can help set the table and poor the drinks. You put out some bread purchased the day before and butter. Serve the soup or stew, with enough for seconds. You have a hearty meal. Special prayers are said at that time, prayers of blessing for friends around the table. Prayers of thanksgiving. Maybe a 3-month schedule of readings from scripture and prayers are kept and you do that 4 times in the year. And everyone is involved in the clean-up. The enjoyable dinner conversation continues as the dishwasher is loaded and the table is cleared.
Now, everything I have just shared is by way of example. Your Sabbath doesn’t have to look anything that or could look exactly like that. For the record, I usually don’t cook. I’ll throw together oatmeal or grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. I am not a very good could. But I am not above household chores. Laundry, dishwashing, trash –those are all my jobs.
Another question that has consistently arisen regarding Sabbath – does it have to be on Sunday? No! Last week I shared an example of a pretty famous pastor – Eugene Peterson. His Sabbath was on Mondays, with his wife. Their food was a picnic of sandwiches and fruit. Much of the time was in silence, walking trails in the woods. But then the silence was broken. The spiritual discipline of silence, after a few hours, gave way to communal eating and talking together. Their community was only three – wife, husband, and Holy Spirit. But, it was still communal; it was a shared meal; it was a step outside of normal time, just for a while, and into Holy time. Again, that’s an example.
Each of us has to take account of our lives and find the space where we will step out normal time, business as usual and into holy time.
Maybe you’re student and you spend a ton of time reading and re-reading books. Your lightest moment, when intense study is not critical, happens to fall on Thursday nights. That could be your Sabbath time. You set aside an hour, 4-5PM, for prayer. In that hour you talk to God in a way that you cannot the rest of the week because of schedule and the pressure to focus on studies. You don’t let anything interrupt that hour. Then, when that time is up, you join friends for a meal. And maybe instead of a night watching favorite sitcoms, the night is spent unplugged, talking in a leisurely way. If closes with the group praying for one another.
Is this a small group or is it Sabbath? Sabbath time can be either or both. It is dedicated time in which we rest from business as usual and we receive God’s grace and blessing. We anticipate the pace we will liven once we enter God’s heavenly eternity. What I described for a student, the Thursday night Sabbath is an example that might work for some but certainly not for all. Remember, we’re living in the new rhythm, the creation rhythm which Jesus established and modeled. We’re reaching back to God’s perfect creation and forward to God’s perfect eternity. And we’re trying to set our life, briefly, amidst the rushed rhythms that normally stress us; we pause to live in God’s blessing.
The printed guide our small groups have used includes a prayer with these lines: “Create in us a new rhythm of life composed of hours that sustain rather than stress, of days that deliver rather than destroy, of time that tickles rather than tackles.” When I first saw that I thought the author was stretching the alliteration a bit. Prayer is to be more sober-minded. I thought, “Do we want to use the word‘tickles,’” in prayer?
The answer is yes! In describing his struggle with Pharisees who rejected his message Jesus said, “I am playing music and you won’t dance” (see Matthew 11:17ff). Dancing, tickling, laughing – these are all part of our Sabbath to remind us that God rejoiced at creation by declaring“Very good,” and “rest.” God rejoiced at the exodus when he delivered his people from slavery. God rejoiced on the third day when he raised Jesus from death to resurrection. God rejoices when each one of us is saved. We put our trust in Jesus. We acknowledge him as Lord of our lives. And we are raised from death in sin to new life, eternal life in Jesus Christ. That is a life of rejoicing, and in Sabbath time that Heavenly rejoicing is to be in us.
That rejoicing does sustain us in midst of a fallen world that stresses in a million ways. It does deliver us from sins that destroy. And the playful, whimsical nature of Jesus that welcomes children and walks on water and feeds crowds with a fish and loaves so they can stay with him because he wants them, he wants us with him –the way of Jesus does tickle so we laugh holy, rejoicing laughter.
Sabbath time should involve food – it can be a simple meal or huge one.
Sabbath time should be shared with people – it can be a lot of people or an intimate group.
Sabbath time should include prayer and worship – it can be Sunday morning worship at church; or a special time of worship during the week.
Sabbath time should be restful – rest comes in different forms for different individuals. In certain seasons of life, true rest may be hard to come by but we still seek God in Sabbath time, even if we have the nonstop work of caring for someone who cannot care for himself – a disable parent, an infant child, or maybe another circumstance.
In talk of all these examples and principles, we remember that we are not imposing Sabbath rules. Rest is God’s gift. We’re inviting the church to receive God’s gift of Sabbath time, an intentional structuring of life so that we regularly take a break from business as usual and step into God’s holy time. I believe that if we live in God’s blessing, it will impact who we are and how our lives go at all times.
I recommend anyone who wants to be a passionately devoted follower of Jesus Christ to make Sabbath-keeping a lifelong practice. Sabbath keeping must above all else be a celebration of the relationship we have with God as individuals and as a people.
Today’s readings come from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.
Deuteronomy 14:22-26; 15:1, 7-11
22Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.23In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.24But if, when theLord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you,25then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose;26spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.
15Every seventh year you shall grant a remission of debts.7If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.8You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.9Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is near,” and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lordagainst you, and you would incur guilt.10Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.11Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you,“Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Leviticus 25:3-4, 8-12
8You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years.9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land.10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines.12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
Look again at Deuteronomy 14. What happens? The tithe of grain is eaten. Where? At God’s house, in His presence. Who eats it? The one giving the tithe. Essentially, God wants his people to come to him and eat with him. Don’t just enjoy the fruits of your labors. Come, enjoy them with God.
If the people could not physically transport their tithe to the Lord’s dwelling, then they may sell their tithe for money. And they would then carry the money to the place of God’s choosing. Once there, the people could spend the money on whatever they wanted, whatever looked tasty and good. Then verse 26, “You shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.” Rejoicing together. Sabbath is rejoicing together.
If you were here for the second Sunday of the year, then you heard me say what the word of the year is at HillSong. Does anyone remember? Joy! By the end of 2012, we will have heard and said joy or rejoice or some other iteration 56,913 times, give or take. Joy. Why practice Sabbath? To live in God’s blessing. What happens when we make it a lifelong practice to keep Sabbath and thus live in God’s blessing? We have joy.
I have tried to think about Sabbath-keeping as a practice that is not exactly like a spiritual discipline, but there is one discipline described in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline that fits with Sabbath-keeping. The final discipline he describes is celebration – Christ followers are to be people who celebrate. “Celebration is the heart of the way of Christ,”Foster writes.[i] He points out that joy is included in the fruit of the spirit, that celebration brings joy, and joy gives us strength. Eugene Peterson cites the billions spent on entertainment in our society as a sign that we are starving for joy. But it cannot be purchased.
People try to buy it. They end up temporarily thrilled, separated from their money, and frustrated in the long run. Joy, says Peterson, is a consequence of Christian discipleship, a product of God’s abundance.[ii] We cannot conjure it up, but we can seek God. In our seeking, we discover in God’s story that we were created for joy, for God’s pleasure, and to live in God’s blessing. Though our sins have marred God’s intent in creation, Jesus in death and resurrection has rescued us. No matter what happens in life, we can celebrate our salvation. Even when we are in seasons of fear or mourning or uncertainty, we celebrate the reality of what Jesus has done for us and we celebrate who we are in Christ.
Through Sabbath practices – worship, table fellowship, rest, play – we celebrate. We rejoice.
In Deuteronomy 15 we read about the seventh year in which all debts are canceled. People who have fallen into poverty enjoy the same rejoicing as people of means. The tithe described in Deuteronomy 14 leads to celebration and in chapter 15 God makes clear that He wants everyone, the poor included, in on this celebration. In Jesus we see that this is not just for once every seven years but every day. Deuteronomy 15:10 says, “Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so.” That spirit defined the early church and is to be what guides us in our worship, in our Sabbath keeping, and in our life together as God’s people.
In Leviticus, we read of the 50thyear, the Sabbath of Sabbatical years. All slaves are freed, land is returned to the original owners, and all is set back to God’s established conditions for His people.
Today we are thousands of generations removed from the specifics of Leviticus 25. But the concept of Jubilee, life lived in God’s blessings fits perfectly with the gospel and with all we’ve said about Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord … has sent me … to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). In Galatians Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free. … [We are] called to freedom” (5:1, 13). Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
Nothing is to impede us or block us from living in the blessings of God. We keep Sabbath and celebrate when doing so to reject all that distracts and to declare that Jesus is Lord and we are His and that is something to sing about.
My prayer as we end our time of formally talking about Sabbath-keeping is that you and I, each of us, will discover how in the comings and goings of our lives we are to set time apart, time that recognizes God’s holiness. In that time, we would find rest. In that time would seek God and worship Him. In our rest, in our seeking, and in our worshiping, we receive from God: we receive freedom from our crowded, rushed, plugged in worldly existence. And, we receive joy that only comes in God’s presence. The joy the begins when we will ourselves to rejoice over God’s glory then spontaneously bursts forth in us because of what the Holy Spirit is doing in us.
We keep Sabbath and rejoice and celebrate as we do so. In that, God meets us and then we rejoice all the more because we have met God – all of us.
We conclude by rejoicing in song, singing together of God’s jubilee, the salvation of our souls.