Posts Tagged ‘sabbath’

what to do on Sunday

This past Sunday I preached at First Greenville, but the good old CD recorder wouldn’t work … so here are the notes from my sermon, for those who wanted a recording.  (For those of you who don’t attend First Greenville, just know that I use few notes or none at all, so this is pretty rough…)


Matthew 12:1-8, 7/24/11

We were made to worship and serve God.

  1. Famous question from the Westminster Catechism — what is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  2. You can see bits of this purpose of glorifying & enjoying God peeking through when:
  • you’re on a mountaintop or see a beautiful sunrise,
  • or there is a crisis and you drop everything to serve those in need

Often we don’t worship and serve as we should.  Sin gets in the way and distorts the connection God wants to have with us.

  1. God created commandments to help heal the rift, give us a bridge to reconnect, remind us of our true purpose
  2. Many of the commandments are about how you live your everyday life:  keep the Sabbath holy, don’t covet or lie or steal, honor your father and mother
  3. In your experience, you may have seen how not following the commandments can lead to difficulty:
  • If you get off-track with your spiritual life you feel distant from God.
  • If your relationship with your loved ones turns sour, it impacts your whole life.
  • If you run with a crowd that cheats and steals and lies, chances are you’ll do those things too.

So the commandments are a help, to turn and re-turn to the right direction.

There’s a funny thing about commandments, though.  Some people wind up worshiping them instead of the God who created them.  This is the problem Jesus experienced.   Other rabbis were asking similar questions about the purpose of the Law (you may have heard the argument about whether to leave an ox that has fallen into a ditch on the Sabbath.  What if your livelihood depends on that animal?)

Jesus leads us to some tough questions:

  • Do we serve the Law or serve the God who gave the Law?
  •  And does the Law serve God and God’s creation, or does it serve itself?

Jesus engaged his opponents with a theological and Scriptural debate, drawing from the sacred texts of the Law, the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah, and the prophets.

I wonder if people worship commandments, and end up mis-using them, because they are angry.  They believe in a mean, vengeful, and vindictive concept of God, and in their anger they will use anything to bolster their belief.  The Laws of the Hebrew Bible, when twisted into the service of angry people, can become weapons.

The facts emerging about this shooter in Norway indicate that he believed in a twisted type of God — a God who wants everyone to look the same, believe the same, and act the same, and issues severe dictates to keep everyone in line.  I don’t believe this type of being is God — it’s something other, something evil, an idol.

The problem with this idol is that it promises security and freedom from people who bother us.  It promises us life at the expense of other people’s lives.  But the world can’t be forever twisted to meet our demands.  If we allow this vindictive idol to have space in our hearts, then we cannot handle the world around us.  Changes in society, political discourse, and personal freedom do not fit in the worldview of a hateful person who believes in a spiteful God.

Jesus of Nazareth came into a world that was changing rapidly — urbanization, spread of Greek and Roman culture, political changes — and many people felt threatened.  But he taught a way to live that witnessed to the Kingdom of Heaven, a way that was faithful, although maybe a little different from the way people lived when Moses stepped off the mountain with those 10 commandments.

I believe in a God who helps us adapt.  Our God gives us some foundational concepts that help us in any situation, and our God gives us a Savior who shepherds us through any circumstance.  Our God helps us figure out what to do when we’re hungry on the Sabbath.  Our God gives us guidance when we are in a hospital room with a dying loved one, trying to figure out the best course of action.  And our God gives us a spirit of understanding so that we can make it in a constantly changing world.  God can do these things because the world, its people, its laws, and its history all belong to God.

So what can we do with the Sabbath?  I hope that each of us will find a way to allow Christ to be Lord of our lives.  That’s what the Sabbath is about, allowing God to take over for a day.  Each of us can find some action, or a discipline, or a habit that reminds us who is Sovereign.  I’m grateful for the Sundays of my childhood, which were filled up with church activities — those Sundays taught me to rest in the presence of God.

Thanks be to God, who holds this earth, with all its sin and suffering, all its potential and promise, in the palm of his hand.  Amen.

Advent Day 5: Parking Lot Sabbath

Advent Day 5:  Sabbath

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,

like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish

and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,

who alone does wondrous things.  (From Psalm 72)

The above verses paint a picture of what Sabbath is all about:  rest, refreshment, peace, a reminder of God’s power and providence, a glimpse into the kingdom of keaven.

Most of us have trouble with Sabbath, as beautiful as the idea might be.  There’s just no time, we say.

Earlier this fall the students in our college ministry group shared their ideas for a mini-Sabbath.  Only one student knew anyone who actually observed a full Sabbath, a day without work.  Click here for my blog post about what they shared — all good starting points for the task of observing a day of rest.

It can be a task to take some time for rest.  The student who talked about the “total Sabbath” idea talked about how much preparation was needed before each Sabbath (which was Sunday, in the case of the people she knew.)  All  the cooking, cleaning and laundry had to be done before Saturday was over.  That’s a lot of work!  If you did it, though, I imagine it would make you more mindful of what you are about to celebrate.

So  here’s our first Sabbath-related discipline:  preparation.

Let me give you an example from an old friend.  Suppose you’re an art or music major and you feel that you never have time to create for your own personal enjoyment.  You long for even a one-hour rest from the demands of the academic world:  a time for simply enjoying the beauty of art or music.  So, pick a Sabbath time, and the day before, clear away any materials that will remind you of your classes.  Set out some visual reminders, such as a different sketch pad or a fresh set of guitar strings.  (You don’t want your Sabbath to be tied up searching for something you suddenly need.)  Then, for the time you’ve chosen, give yourself over to pure creativity.

Another discipline related to Sabbath is choosing a Sabbath place.  Here’s an idea that’s a little offbeat.  Our church has a huge parking lot, to accommodate Sunday services, weeknight community activities, and football games (the stadium is on the next block.)  However, on an average weekday before 7 pm, there are fewer cars in the lot.  Sometimes people drive into the empty spaces, roll down their windows, and take a short break from the demands of the day.  After a few minutes, they’re gone.  It makes me feel good that even our parking lot can be a place of Sabbath! 

Is there a place you can go for some ten- or fifteen-minute breaks this month?  The ritual of going to the same place, getting ready to go there, and having a certain activity when you get there (prayer, reading, even just emptying your mind) may make your mini-Sabbath more meaningful.

Are you and I ready for a full day of resting in God’s arms?

Today’s daily Scripture reading from the PC(USA):

just a little bit

I’ve always believed in the power of little things.  Yes, it sounds sentimental, like a motivational poster with a picture of a butterfly or something (“One little flutter of a butterfly’s wings….”) Blech.

It’s just that in my way of thinking, getting the big things right is impossible unless I start small.  And in my experience, if I forget about the small stuff, my whole life gets out of balance.

Over the weekend I found myself re-converted to my belief.  Last Thursday night, the college students shared ideas on taking a Sabbath rest.  (Most of the folks in the room admitted to already being tired this early in the semester!)

It struck me how all the ideas being batted around the room were so, well, little.  The activities the students described were rich and meaningful, but just … short.  This is no criticism of the students!  They are simply part of a larger society that seems to have no use for big commitments anymore.

In fact, as I mulled over our discussion, I remembered some other things I’ve read, suggesting that people of faith try something little.  Donna Freitas, author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America’s College Campuses recommended in a recent interview* that students try temporary abstinence from sex.  She wondered if short periods of abstinence might lead to a greater commitment, once students have a breather from worrying about sexual performance and have a chance to rest in their own beds.  Somewhere else (but I can’t remember where) I read a suggestion that Christians try small bits of “fasting” or “abstinence” from things like TV or junk food.  Even the secular magazines I read regularly have articles about cutting down on meat or gasoline or some other commodity, but not cutting it out entirely.

Only one student in that group brought up the concept of a total Sabbath.  Her relatives had been farmers, and they took Sundays off. No cooking (cold leftovers for all three meals), no laundry, no cleaning.  They just got dressed, went to church, visited relatives, and probably washed the dishes.  (I can’t imagine a Southern woman leaving dishes in the sink overnight!)

Wow.  I guess this is where we are as a society.  Sometimes I think the only true commitment we make is to our cell phones.  We’re accessible 24/7, ready to go over tomorrow’s meeting with the boss while we cook dinner, or to check Facebook while we supposedly have lunch with our significant other.

Other than the phone, what commands our true commitment?  Work?  Hmm… everyone checks Facebook at work too.  Marriage?  I wonder if there would be so many marriage books on the market if couples just took a little more time to talk.  Taking care of our bodies?  As long as I can do it in 10 minutes or less!  Taking care of our souls?  Um, maybe later when things calm down at work/school/whatever.

Of course I still believe in the little things.  I really like Donna Freitas’ suggestion.  Also, later on, I’m going to post some of the Sabbath ideas shared by the students.  Maybe these little things can help us rearrange our commitments.

I’ll close this post with one of my favorite photos.  A few years ago, some of the students in our group organized their own camping trip.  Those who went kept talking about what a moment of rest it was, despite the campfire that wouldn’t get going and the bugs and the heat.  One day they rented canoes and just set out in the calm of North Carolina’s eastern rivers.  And on that day, they rested.  If only we could make a commitment to this.

* Donna Frietas’ interview with Patheos: