Sabbath Rest

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
February 1, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

                                                                                  Sabbath Rest

Scripture Reading:       Exodus 20:1-11

Then God spoke all these words: “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 the 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. Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 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, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

This is the fourth Sunday in our series on the Ten Commandments. We’ve already explored the deeper meanings in the first three commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me” [because no other gods seek to be in relationship, in covenant, with you]; “You shall not make for yourself an idol [of me; don’t set me in stone; let me breathe!]”; and “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God [don’t underestimate my nature and my ability; trust me!].”

But I think the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” trips us up more than any of those first three commandments, because it can be so hard to dedicate a whole day every week to worship and rest. In our culture, it’s nearly impossible. Where do you find the time to not work? Or at least to not cook? It’s not as if manna falls from heaven every Saturday and miraculously lasts through Sunday every week, as it did for the Israelites in the wilderness, so they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath. And look at me! I work nearly every Sunday! Where does that leave me? … Ah, yes. The gift of time …

Imagine with me for a moment that you are a mayfly. You push your way through your final moulting stage into adulthood, and it’s glorious! You delight in the windshield of a fast-moving truck, hanging on for dear life, wind blowing your antennae rakishly across your forehead, until you decide to let go and fling yourself to who-knows-where, and who-really-cares? Upon landing, you find others—thousands, millions of your cousins who also became adults today—and you swarm up and down and around with them, celebrating this wonderful thing called life! You find a mate, and that’s a good thing … and then you go on, flying, swarming, dancing, swirling, resting, eating, mating, flying, swarming, dancing, swirling, resting, eating—furiously for as long as the sun lights the day. Then as dusk falls, you begin to feel very, very tired. You find a place to rest, you go to sleep, and … you never wake up. For you are a mayfly, and your lifespan is one day.

Imagine now that you are Adam or Eve. Your experience is similar to that of the mayfly’s, at first. You suddenly find yourself alive, aware, and you delight in this wonderful thing called life! You, too, find a mate, and you enjoy that for a few … minutes J … and then you go on, running, dancing, exploring, resting, eating, running, dancing, exploring, resting, eating—furiously for as long as the sun lights the day. Then as dusk falls, you begin to feel very, very tired. You find a place to rest, you find your beloved and go to sleep and, for all you know, that’s all there is. But for you, it isn’t! The next morning, you wake up! You have been given the gift of another day! Imagine your surprise! You get to start all over again!You don’t understand it, but it’s wonderful! You get to live a second day!

(A side note to the critical thinkers among us: In my “unpacking” of the scriptures I’ll be referencing in this sermon, I am aware that it may sound as if I embrace a very literal interpretation of them. Please know that I understand some of the language to be not historical record but literary device. I’m trying to honor the text and get at the deeper message of it by taking seriously the patterns and rhythms within it.)

As the Creation story is recorded in Genesis, God created:

  • On Day One—day and night;
  • On Day Two—sky and sea;
  • On Day Three—earth, plants and trees;
  • On Day Four—stars, sun and moon;
  • On Day Five—creatures of sky and sea;
  • On Day Six—animals: wild, domestic and human.

It says God created humankind on the sixth day. And then, the Bible says, “God rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” So that second day that was gifted to humankind, full of surprise and delight—that second day that our poor mayfly didn’t get L—was the seventh “day” of creation. It was the Sabbath, the day on which God rested from his labors.

But was God tired? Is that why God rested? I don’t think so. But how did God spend that first Sabbath day? Here’s my take on it—and this is totally my own exegesis of this passage, drawn from my own imagination and understanding of what God is like. I think on that seventh day, God looked down on those human creatures he had made, and he became very, very interested in getting to know them. And God said, “I’m going to take a break from all of this creating business and go down and spend some time with those humans. You know, I’ve been kind of lonely too—like Adam was before I created Eve—and I think those humans may be good company for me.” So God took on a form that would not frighten those humans, and on that first Sabbath day—that morning that Adam and Eve were so amazed that they were alive again (and I’m sure it was, by the way, the most beautiful sunrise ever)God approached them and introduced himself, and they went for a walk in the garden and got to know each other. Building relationship. Community. Covenant. Trust. Love. God and the first humans spent the first Sabbath day in blessed fellowship and peace, exploring God’s beautiful earth together, because doing so met both of their needs. Isn’t that a compelling image?

And it became a habit—a wonderful habit. I don’t think I’m too far off here, because later in Genesis, it says Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” God wasn’t just wandering around the garden; God was looking for his friends. When he didn’t find them, he called to them, “Where are you?”[1] and God was heartbroken to learn that they had been “fellowshipping” with someone else. For the first time, God became jealous—jealous of the serpent who had risen up against God and tried to usurp God’s place in the humans’ hearts. God cursed the serpent and the ground he crawled upon. And where fruit had previously come easily for the humans—from the earth and from the womb—it now would come with toil and labor, sweat and pain. But still, already, God was merciful. God longed to restore the communion he had once shared with the humans.

God made effort after effort to draw them back in, and this is where the pattern of sevens (of Sabbaths) emerges: When Adam and Eve’s son Cain committed the first murder, God cast him out but promised to protect him—with sevenfold vengeance. After Noah built the ark, God gave him seven days to gather seven pairs of each animal and bird to save from the flood. And every seven days, Noah sent a dove from the ark to seek dry land.

The covenant between Abraham and Abimelech at Beer-Sheba was sealed by the gift of seven lambs. Jacob served Laban seven years to marry Leah and then another seven years for Rachel. Jacob bowed to the ground seven times when he met his estranged brother Esau. Joseph secured the future of the people of Israel by interpreting Pharaoh’s dream in which seven skinny cows ate seven fat cows and seven skinny ears of corn ate seven fat ears of corn.

Every seventh year was to be a Sabbath for the land: the land was to rest. There are dozens of other examples of God’s pattern of sevens, but this is my favorite: After every seven-times-seven (49) years, the people of Israel were to celebrate the Year of Jubilee, in which all debts were forgiven, all family lands were restored, and all indentured servants were freed. A fresh start, for everyone!

The message is clear. It’s all about healing, absolution, restoration, liberation. It’s all about God reaching out to humankind to restore the communion God once shared with us in the cool evening breeze of the garden. The sevens are gifts. The Sabbath—the seventh day—the day of rest—is a gift.

Now, some of you are probably thinking, “But Sunday isn’t the seventh day of the week!” And you’re right. By our calendar, the seventh day would be Saturday. But Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday—the first day—as a weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. So I guess the seventh day depends on when you start counting. The important thing is that you start counting. My seventh day spans several days. I count the eight to twelve hours I spend every Friday to Saturday working on my sermon as Sabbath. That’s my time of communing with God, studying God’s word, hearing from God, and trying to capture it in words for you. Sunday morning is definitely Sabbath. The parts of Mondays that I spend in quality time with Nathan and other family members are Sabbath. And other unpredictable times during the week when God speaks to me through you and others, through music, or through the quiet of my own heart—those times are definitely Sabbath. Because Sabbath is a time to rest the body and nurture the spirit, and what a gift to us that is!

Jesus kept getting in trouble with the religious people of his time because he saw the Sabbath as a gift—a gift, for example, to the man whose deformed hand he healed on the Sabbath, a gift to his hungry disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath, a gift to the blind man whose sight he restored on the Sabbath, a gift to the woman whose back he straightened on the Sabbath. His critics thought doing God’s work—because it was “work”—was a violation of the Sabbath. But Jesus told them, in Mark 2:21, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus was saying, “It’s not about piling law upon law. It’s about healing, absolution, restoration, liberation.” The Sabbath, made for man, is a time for fellowship with our ourselves, our families, our faith families, and God; a time to rest the body and nurture the spirit.

After the first five days of creating, God said it was good. But after the sixth day, God said it was very good. A medieval sage said that’s because it was on the sixth day of creation, when God created humankind, that the world gained a soul. In the same spirit, Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote, “Each Sabbath we are reminded of our potential for doing good. It is our re-creation each Sabbath that helps us acknowledge our role in bringing goodness to the world. We are the bridge between the worldly and the divine.” So rest. Take Sabbath. And as you do that, may your spirit say, “Be Still, My Soul.” (Please join me in singing that hymn.)


[1] Genesis 3:8-9.