What a crazy world that we live in. You ever feel like the Rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland”? You know the one, he’s always rushing this way and that looking at his watch and muttering, “I’m late, I’m late”. It seems that every hour of every day is filled to the limit with things that need doing and we never seem to have enough time to do it all. How often have you caught yourself wishing for more hours in the day or more days in the week so that you could finally catch up and finish everything that you are supposed to do? That wouldn’t do any good though, we all know Murphy’s law and some of us know about Newton’s law of gravity, but how many of us are familiar with Parkinson’s Law, first set forth in the middle of the last century, 1955, by C. Northcote Parkinson and it says:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
And so regardless of how much time you had available you still wouldn’t have enough. And if you were granted your wish of having an extra day in each week your stress level would simply be added to, because you would have one more day to try to jam too much into. Maybe instead we should wish for shorter days with fewer days in the week to limit our crazy schedules.
Modern technology promised us that all of the new conveniences would save us time and make our lives easier, but in the workplace, computers, blackberries, and cell phones have increased the pace of our work rather then reducing it. At home dishwashers, washing machines, vacuums and microwaves have made life easier but to go back to Parkinson law, work expands to fill the time available for its completion. And so mothers’ lose the time they saved to schlepping the kids around to hockey, music and school activities. Even our kids are stressed out because so much of their time is scheduled and there is so little time to just be a kid, playing and allowing their imaginations to run wild.
It is a never ending circle that seems to escalate over time until finally, there is no more time. Henry Twells an English poet who lived in the 1800’s wrote:
When as a child I laughed and wept,
When as a youth I waxed more bold,
When I became a full-grown man,
When older still I daily grew,
Soon I shall find, in passing on,
O Christ! wilt Thou have saved me then?
And it is into this crazy rushed world that we would like to re-introduce the fourth commandment which reads Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
The Sabbath, a day of rest seems to be an archaic today in the year 2010. You’re thinking “Well sure, that was fine for back then when people didn’t have as much to do, as far to go, but no sir not for 2010, in 2010 we need every hour of every day and every day of the week to get done what we have to get done.” And that my friend is a crock. Please remember one cardinal rule of life, “You do, what you want to do.” The fourth commandment was not given just for the people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, and it wasn’t just given for Jesus and his disciples and it wasn’t just given for John Wesley and the early Methodist’s in the 1700’s or and it wasn’t just given for your grand parents, the fourth commandment is as valid today as it was 30 years ago, 200 years ago, 2000 years ago or 4000 years ago.
God didn’t just give it annoy people or to mess up their plans for the weekend he did it because he knew what we are like. He knew that if he didn’t legislate a time out in our lives that we wouldn’t take one. A tree has to take a break, it can’t say, “you know I really should produce leaves all year round and fruit in January when it’s cold and miserable.” A bear doesn’t choose to hibernate or not hibernate, and what can you say about a cat. Nature has no choice it must take a break because that’s the way it was created. But people are different, we have our freedom and that is the problem. We can drive our bodies, minds and emotions well past the breaking point. We have the power of choice and because of that power we are always in danger of destroying ourselves for some false set of values. It might be work, it might be appearance, it might be the desire to be the perfect parent but in a combination it provides a deadly cocktail for burn out.
Because of this great hazard God gave us a great gift, the Sabbath day, a day set apart, the Lord’s Day, a day of rest and worship, relaxation, recuperation and joy. It is his gift to all of us, but it’s up to each one of us to decide whether or not we will accept it.
A lot of confusion, misunderstanding, dogmatism and hard feelings are generated by this commandment. Almost everybody uses it to prove some point of view. So let’s move very carefully as we explore what it means to observe the Sabbath today.
Now at this point we need to clarify that in the Christian church, in most cases, we do not celebrate the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the last day of the week; remember what we just read,
Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God.
Our calendar has been changed so often through the years it’s really tough to dogmatically state without reservation what day the seventh day was, although some people try. However the seventh day of the week or the Sabbath has historically been celebrated from sun down Friday until sundown on Saturday. And in its original form it merely forbade the performance of work on the seventh day, it was set apart as a day of total rest.
And so our Sunday, which is the first day of the week, is not the historic Sabbath. But we are Christians not Jews; most of us aren’t even Christian Jews like the early church. I know that in our Christian vocabulary and in our hymns and poems we certainly use the word “Sabbath” as a valid figure of speech when referring to Sunday but we need to understand that the two are not the same.
The fourth commandment is the only one of the Ten Comandments that is not repeated anywhere in the New Testament, nowhere. Each of the other nine commandments are reiterated and often made even tougher in the New Testament, but not this one. There is no record of Jesus ever teaching anyone to keep the Sabbath. As far as we know, no apostle ever told anyone to observe it. In John 5:18 we are told that Jesus violated the Sabbath and in other stories we almost get the impression that he did so very deliberately.
But if the letter of the law, the seventh day Sabbath is not applicable to us today, certainly the principle of the Sabbath still is. Because it is grounded in the nature of God, in the nature of man and in the nature of creation.
Although the New Testament nowhere echoes the exact literal Saturday “Sabbath” command, it certainly reinforces the divine principle behind the command. That principle is that a specific and proportionate amount of time be set apart for rest and worship. That principle was not first laid down in the book of Exodus but in the book of Genesis, which tells how God himself rested after six days of creative labour. And even before the Commandments were given, earlier in the book of Exodus when God provide manna for the Israelites to eat, he told them to gather a double portion on the sixth day so they wouldn’t have to collect it on the seventh day.
The Christians of the New Testament soon discarded the literal Seventh Day, Sabbath but kept the Sabbath day principle. Instead of keeping the last day of the week, they began to keep the first day of the week, which we call Sunday. Why? Because it was recognized as being the day Christ arose from the dead. Paul follows 1 Corinthians 15 the great resurrection chapter with these words in 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.
And so Paul establishes a principle of a set time of the week when a gift is given to God. The first day of the week. And then in Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight. On the first day of the week they got together, listened to a sermon and took communion. Sounds like Church to me.
But it’s not enough to know where the concept of the Lord’s Day came from, we need to understand why the principle behind the Sabbath is still valid today. And we find the key in three spots in the scripture. The first is from the command itself. Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God.
And so the first thing we need to discover about the Sabbath is that It Is a Day of Rest.
We live in a tired generation, we are chasing a brass ring that may never be able to be caught and we are willing to make way too many sacrifices for it, and we do sacrifice for it and it’s not necessarily a new phenomena listen to what Robert Louis Stevenson
wrote over a hundred years ago
“Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business is only to be sustained by neglect of many other things.”
Remember this song: (Play snip of Cat’s in the cradle). Every generation since 1973 that has heard that song understands that they are the child and then they grow up and realize they have become the father.
And so we become a busier and busier race of people, seriously how many of us turn our smartphone, blackberries and iPhones off other than to go to sleep. Or do you just turn the sound off?
The rest that God commands us to take allows us to step back from the arena of life and evaluate exactly what it is we are trying to achieve. Even from a purely physical perspective it has been proven that people cannot go on indefinitely without things starting to go wrong with their bodies, their minds and their emotions. I wonder what would happen to the mental health business if we just slowed down. God is basically telling us in the fourth commandment, “Take a break”
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “I do not mean to make an idol of health, but it does seem to me that at least some of us have made an idol of exhaustion. The only time we know we have done enough is when we are running on empty and when the ones we love most are the ones we see the least. When we lie down to sleep at night, we offer our full appointment calendars to God in lieu of prayer, believing that God—who is as busy as we are—will surely understand”
But it’s not just a day of rest; the next scripture would indicate that there is more to Sabbath observance then simply staying in bed, sorry. Deuteronomy 5:15 Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the LORD your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.
It is a Day of Reflection. Not only does God call us to rest on a special day but he also calls us to Reflect on that day as well.
In this scripture God is calling his people to reflect on how He had delivered them from the slavery of Egypt, but I would suspect that it would be fair to talk about how we need to reflect on how God delivered us from the slavery of sin.
And so on that day it’s good to stop and reflect on what God has done and to give thanks. To gather with God’s people and celebrate his goodness. To pause and give a little back to God, our time our money our talents. People say “well I can do that without going to church.” Sure, but do you?
When people do whatever it is that people do on Sunday morning do they really give time to God.
Sunday is a day for God’s people to get together and to reflect and celebrate what He has done for us. We do that by singing his praise, by reading and hearing from his word, by lifting up his name in prayer and by giving to his work. In this case it’s Cornerstone.
We had mentioned previously that it appeared that Jesus had a problem with the Sabbath, which isn’t exactly true, what he had a problem with was what people had done to the Sabbath. Mark 2:27-28 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”
Throughout history the observance of the Sabbath or of the Lord’s Day has inspired two extremes. People have found ways to misuse this gift just as they’ve found ways to misuse the other gifts that God has given us. The first extreme are those people who have historically made Sunday into a day of gloom and depression instead of a day of joy and gladness. This is what had happened in Jesus day.
We are told that the scribes and Pharisees had counted 39 letters in the original language of the fourth commandment and multiplied 39 by 39 and came up with 1521 and that was the number of ways they had come up with to break the Sabbath. You weren’t supposed to work, so what was work? It was to carry a burden, so what was a burden and how far could you carry it before it actually became a burden? Let’s go back to the scripture that we started with: Mark 2:23-24 One Sabbath day as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?” Did you catch that? They were breaking off heads of grain to eat? That would be like picking raspberries but technically I guess they were harvesting grain.
In John 5 we read the story about Jesus healing the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, do you remember who the story ends? John 5:9-10 Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking! But this miracle happened on the Sabbath, so the Jewish leaders objected. They said to the man who was cured, “You can’t work on the Sabbath! The law doesn’t allow you to carry that sleeping mat!” He was carrying a mat, not moving his house.
We aren’t going to do the fourth commandment any favours when we turn it into something like “Thou shalt not enjoy life on Sunday.” Many people mean well, but we cannot make people, especially children; enjoy God by forbidding them to enjoy anything else on Sunday. Such a rigid observance of Sunday can become just as idolatrous today as it was in Jesus day and that is what he was warning us about.
But usually today that’s not our problem is it? Our problem today is probably the opposite extreme; we take a holy day and turn it into a holiday, a day of commercialized recreation, entertainment and profit.
Some of us have taken that passage where Jesus says that if your donkey or ox falls into a pit on the Sabbath that it’s all right to pull it out and have used it as an excuse for everything and anything on Sunday. The truth is though if we are careful and avoid pushing the ox in the pit on Monday through Saturday then we won’t have to spend Sunday pulling it out. And if your ox has a habit of falling into the same pit every week then you ought to fill in the pit or get rid of the ox.
How often do we say, “But I had to go to the store, or I had to buy gas on Sunday.” The proper term for that is poppycock. You don’t have to, you choice to. And when you see me at value food or Sobeys on a Sunday picking up something it is because I chose to be there. When we were pastoring in Truro we made a conscious decision that we would not do commerce on Sunday, period. We did not buy gas, we did not go out to eat we did not run to the store for a loaf of bread or a litre of milk, we did not go to Tims. And we survived. And not once did we starve or run out of gas.
People say that we needed Sunday shopping because there was no time through the week. When we were living in Brisbane, a city of almost 2 million people, the malls opened at 9 and closed at 5, except on Friday when they stayed open to 9, and they were closed on Sunday and we found the time to shop.
Like many things in life we either choice to do the right thing or choice to do the easy thing.
Exodus 23:12 “You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but on the seventh day you must stop working. This gives your ox and your donkey a chance to rest. It also allows your slaves and the foreigners living among you to be refreshed.
It is a Time of Refreshment
According to the Bible, God created the Sabbath. It’s not just a day on which nothing happened, but God blessed it and made it holy. He paused and reflected on what he done. The bible tells us that God called the first six days “good” but the seventh day God called Holy. And it is intended as more then just a day of fun or rest. Within that day represents one seventh of our week and ultimately one seventh of our life. And when we slow down and rest and reflect on the goodness of God it allows us a time of refreshing. It recharges our batteries.
There are those who say they don’t need to go to church to meet with God, and some people try to rationalize that a Sabbath spent golfing, shopping or going to the beach as fulfilling the spirit of the Sabbath.
Golfers in particular plead their case by saying, “I do more real praying on the golf course then I do in church”. However, “Please God, give me a birdie,” is not recognized as part of any accepted liturgy, no does it substitute for a good worship service. Sure you might use his name while on the golf course but I don’t think that counts and more than likely goes back to our message two weeks ago on “Thou Shalt not Cuss”.
Exodus 31:17. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed. Think about it, God stopped working and was refreshed. So what happens when we make the decision to slow down and stop working, not hitting the stop button, but just hitting the pause button for a period of time.
You see, the day of rest shouldn’t end when we walk out the door of the church. “Well, now I’ve done my duty and now I can get on with life.” The Sabbath wasn’t an hour it was a day. And if nothing else when we pause and reflect it will give us a new perspective on the rest of our days. It was Leonardo Da Vinci who said “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”
So what can we do on Sunday or what should we do? Good question
How about: Using it for family time (and family time is not watching your kids play organized sports, it’s not sitting in the living room with everyone on their own laptop, it’s not zoned out in front of the TV). Do you remember Sunday Dinners, not that they were necessarily relaxing especially for the cook, but why not make Sunday dinner a special time and an easy time, soup and sandwiches instead of a roast beef dinner.
I know it’s tough but try to make it a relaxing time, just try sitting back and doing nothing, close your eyes and take a break (Although not specified in the Scripture, a Sabbath nap is certainly a divine gift.)
We’ve mentioned it before but take time for Church, come together with other believers to celebrate God! And take some time for conversation with God.
And if it is your choice don’t work for wages on Sunday and don’t compete for awards.
For your sake, your family’s sake and for God’s sake, just take a break.