A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on September 2, 2012.
Thank you, Father, for the skills, the talents, and the education that allow us to work in meaningful endeavors. Because of your direction, we thank you for guiding and directing us to fields and opportunities in order that we might consider what we do a vocation—a calling from you. We pray for the younger members of our church family who dream, plan, and study in anticipation for the path of their lives. We ask that you would work in the influences and opportunities that surround them in such a way as to lead them to occupations where they might always rejoice in what their hands make and in what their minds conceive. May we, and the youth in the future, always honor you in our work. Comfort those whose work is unpleasant. Protect those whose work is dangerous. Lift up the hearts of those who feel that their work is demeaning. Grant meaning to those who find themselves in circumstances where they spend days at tasks they would prefer not to be in. Grant jobs to all who would work and, particularly, to those who feel obligation for family. We thank you that, in your wisdom, you did create the Sabbath for our benefit. Thank you for the rest and refreshment that it provides to renew our strength and our spirit. We pray it all in the name of Christ Jesus, your Son. Amen.
Sabbath requires surrender. If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop.
—Wayne Muller in Sabbath
Imagine that you have given your spouse a very special gift. Let’s just say it was a piece of furniture. When I visit in homes, I can usually tell the chair that is the most pronounced chair in the den. It is the one that has the best view of the TV. You have decided to get your spouse a new chair for that special spot. Over a period of time, you notice that your spouse abuses the chair. The husband comes in and repeatedly does a body flop into the chair. Pretty soon, the chair starts to creak and then it starts to wobble. He picks at the buttons, tucks, and seams until they are all frayed. He spills things on the chair. Within a year, instead of being the “new” chair, it is the chair that you are trying to figure out how to give away and you wonder if the used furniture store will actually take it to resell because it looks so bad. How would you feel if you gave that gift and someone treated it like that?
Imagine that there is a child in your life that you care deeply about. It may be a neighbor’s child, a niece, nephew, son, or granddaughter and you buy them an i-Pad. One day when you are over at the child’s house, you see the i-Pad is outside in the rain. You say, “Did you notice that you left that i-Pad I bought you outside?” but the child acts as if it is no big deal. Then you notice the child is playing Frisbee with the i-Pad. The screen has a crack in it, and the child says, “Well, this is no good. I need another one.”
If someone abused a gift that you gave like that, what would it do for your relationship? Would it strengthen the relationship or would it weaken it? Would you feel closer or would you find yourself mystified and a little perplexed and, quite honestly, a little angry? If we treated a nice gift that someone had given us like that, we know that it shows lack of appreciation. Quite honestly, it shows immaturity, and it would not deepen our relationship with that person whatsoever.
Hold on to that thought for a moment. Starting today and running through Easter, I am going to be preaching an extended series on Great Themes of the Bible. There are a number of ideas, concepts, and beliefs that are woven throughout the scripture. They appear in the New Testament and the Old Testament alike. They keep resurfacing, and when someone mentions it, we automatically know what they are talking about. We can think of dozens of verses that might go with them.
The first theme on this Labor Day weekend when we think about taking a holiday and resting from our labors is the theme of Sabbath, the day of rest. The first giving of the Ten Commandments is in the Book of Exodus. In the passage from Deuteronomy 5, Moses is speaking to the children of Israel as they are preparing to enter into the Promised Land. They have done their wandering and conquering, and they are getting ready to enter in. If you think of the word duo (two people singing), Deuteronomy comes from the same root. This is the second giving of the law. Moses is re-capping everything they are supposed to know about their relationship with God. At this particular point, he re-caps the Ten Commandments. On this particular commandment about the Sabbath Day, Moses remembers they have been slaves. It is important to remember that engrained in the minds of the children of Israel is the fact that their ancestors were slaves. The generation has now passed away. They had no control over when they worked, what they did or how long they worked. They were always under the guide of taskmasters. Isn’t that a terrible word? They had taskmasters. Just as things in our parents’ generation still influence us, in their generation they were still influenced by the fact that they had been slaves. It was not that far away in time.
Moses said to them, “Remember you were once slaves and now remember that God has ordained the Sabbath Day as a day of rest. God has taken it from the very order of creation. He has taken it from his own model in creation. For six days, God created, and then on one day, he rested. He has given this to you who have known about slavery. You had no choice when you worked or how long you worked. He has given it to you as a gift.”
This is a great gift, not only to the former slaves who are first hearing this but to God’s people in every age—to us. The Sabbath is a gift. We focus so much on the do nots of the Ten Commandments—do not steal, do not murder, do not break your marriage vows—that we forget sometimes that the Ten Commandments really are set up to protect us and to give us the kind of life that we would like to have and the kind of life that reflects what it means to be the people of God.
How on earth could we live in community with each other if people constantly lied to each other? How could we live together in any kind of society if people were always stealing or killing? We know that all of these things work together to put a protective wall around us to give us hope for the best life possible. This is true with the Sabbath. It is given to us for our protection so that we might know rest. Did you notice that in the reading that it was not, “You shall rest,” but your manservant, your maidservant, your male animals, your female animals, somebody visiting from out of town—everybody is supposed to rest. It was designed so that everyone could enjoy the rest that God enjoyed on the seventh day of creation and not just for a few people who enjoyed rest while everybody else waited on them.
If we take what we learn through scripture and try to put it together, here are some things I would encourage you to remember about the Sabbath. First of all, there is a rhythm in life—six to one. In six days God created the earth and on the seventh day he rested. I believe that every life finds meaning in work if it reflects the nature and character of God. People who never work are rarely happy. Have you ever noticed people who, for whatever reason, don’t do much and are usually complaining? They usually have an ache and a pain and are not happy about anything. I think we are designed to invest ourselves in something—to make and to do. We have six days for work and one day for rest. Not only do we work but we also rest.
During the French Revolution, they decided they would do everything different from the way it had ever been done before. They decided they would rest every tenth day. They would work nine days and rest on the tenth day. I have still not figured out how that calendar worked. It did not last because it was not the right rhythm. It was too much work and not enough rest.
We outdo the French Revolution. We work two or three weeks in a row sometimes before we take a day off. There seems to be a backwards pride when we can complain about how many days we have worked in a row. The biblical rhythm that God has established in life is to invest yourself in something. Do, make, and grow. Work six days and rest one day. It is a gift.
Do you remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees when they were complaining because they did not feel that he and his disciples observed the Sabbath correctly? Jesus said, “The Sabbath was not made just so you could observe and obey it, but the Sabbath was made for you.” It is a gift.
I am always analyzing the commercials on TV. I really do believe that if you stop and pay attention to what is advertised much of the time, it gives you a window into the things that are going on in our lives. Have you ever noticed how many commercials there are about not sleeping well? There are commercials about beds with numbers, beds that you can jump on and not spill your drink, medications to help you sleep, things to keep the person near you from snoring, and any number of other things. There are lots of commercials about people who are not getting a good night’s rest and not feeling well. As a culture, we are worn out. We are tired because we don’t get enough rest and we constantly complain because we did not sleep well. We have ignored the very gift that God has woven into creation—one day out of seven to rest.
What is it OK to do on the Sabbath? This is a tough one, isn’t it? We all had parents or grandparents who would not let us play cards or read the newspaper on the Sabbath. The Pharisees had 1,581 laws about what you could or could not do on the Sabbath. You could tie a knot if you could tie it with one hand. My experience is that is not much of a knot. I have often wondered, Could you use your teeth? That would help a little. People ask, “Can you go to the movies? Can you go to the office and work a little? Can you go shopping?”
Patrick Miller has written probably the best book on the Ten Commandments in the last ten years. When it comes to this commandment, he says that the commandment is designed to provide two things for us—refreshment and restoration. It is designed so we are restored and refreshed when the day is over. What is going to help you feel restored and refreshed tomorrow? If I would give any one piece of advice it would be: Stop running. I will have to tell you that my own attitude about the Sabbath has changed over the last few years. I used to do a fair number of things that were not work, but what I found was that I was still running. I have tried much more in my own life to accept, use, and be thankful for the gift that God has given in the Sabbath by doing less. So I would just say that if you are trying to decide what to do with the day, will doing what you decide make you feel restored and refreshed tomorrow? Then just remember that it is a great gift that God has given us that nobody else can give.
Our society has infringed upon the day and will continue to do so and they will take it away from us in every way that is possible. If we are waiting for someone to say, “Here is the time. No one will ever schedule anything on top of this or expect anything from you that you could not do another time” that is not going to happen. It is always a surrender. It is always a decision. If we think we are going to wait until everything is done to stop and rest, we will never do it.
Don’t look at the Sabbath as another rule that we all have to keep or else God is going to be mad at us. Think of it as one of God’s great, wonderful gifts to us. Then, let’s use it in a way that says to God, “Thank you for this gift.”
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.