Lord of the Sabbath
Sunday, January 31, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune
Dear friend’s in Christ, grace, and peace. Amen
One of the things I have been asked more than a few times in the last 10 months is the question of what people will do around worship and coming back to church when we are all safely vaccinated, and it is safe to gather in large groups of people once again.
I have spoken with other pastors about this matter. I have talked to parishioners.
It is an interesting question. I do not know what the answer will be, but I am curious to find out and I do wonder what people will do.
I wonder if people have gotten out of the rhythm and the practice of going to worship and have developed new rhythms, new practices around the sabbath and worship.
How much will the convenience of on-line worship and the need to continue on-line worship effect the observance of the sabbath day?
Or have they decided sabbath practices are no longer needed and they will just do other things on Sunday mornings. Have they discovered or decided they no longer need church anymore?
On the flip side of that scenario, I also wonder if there will be a surge of people coming back into the house of the Lord because they realize how much they miss the power of worshipping with others, singing, praying, and connecting with one another in faith and learning and fellowship. I sure hope so. Or maybe nothing will change at all. Who knows?
In Jesus’s time the sabbath was taken very seriously.
In fact, the things you could do and not do were exacting, clearly spelled out and to the extend you were obedient to this law, this commandment, reflected on your relationship with God.
This is what it says in Exodus, chapter 20.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 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. 11 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 very clear. The seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. Our sabbath rest is a gift to ourselves and a gift to God. It is intended for our good; for rest, renewal and to strengthen our relationship with God. All good things. So, what does Jesus do? He breaks the commandment to teach us something. Luke gives us two examples.
One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”
On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8 Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”
Besides Jesus breaking the commandment, what is the common denominator in the two stories?
Human relationships. Meeting real needs. Caring for yourself and others.
In addition to worship and rest, maybe this is what it means to honor the sabbath and keep it holy. Maybe it has less to do with not working and more to do with loving our neighbor and loving ourselves.
When Jesus responds to the criticism of the religious leaders about breaking sabbath law, he simply says, I am Lord of the Sabbath. He is creating a new understanding of the commandment. A new way of observing it and living it.
Which of course confuses and angers the religious leaders. But it is simply a way for Jesus to talk about his authority and how he is expressing that authority.
Are we bound by this law or are we set free to keep the sabbath holy in light of Jesus and the call to do good and not harm on the sabbath?
I think the response of the religious leaders is less about obedience to the commandment and more about not liking what Jesus is doing.
Jesus breaks the rules. The rules are in place to keep things in order. To maintain the status quo.
- Think about what it must have been like to be in that synagogue as Jesus was teaching and the man with the withered hand is asked by Jesus to get up and stand by him.
- Everyone in that room must have been wondering what was about to happen.
- Everyone in that room knew it was not right to heal on the sabbath because it was considered work.
I know it is hard to wrap our 21st century brains around that kind of thinking but that is the way it was. They must have been on the edge of their seats, will he do it or won’t he do it.
Then he asks the question; is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”
This is Jesus at his irritatingly best, forcing us all to re-examine our religious understanding of the commandment in a new context, a new circumstance.
- Do you mean to say dear Jesus that following the commandment is about more than just not working on the sabbath?
- Do you mean to say dear Jesus that being in relationship with you means I have to look at religious laws in a new and different way?
Jesus is forcing the kind of change in thinking and practice that creates conflict and makes people uncomfortable.
He is forcing the kind of change that causes us to re-evaluate our attitudes, bias’s and understandings of the commandment.
And if I have always done it this way or thought about it in this way, it is a challenge for me to think about it in a new way.
So how do we remember the sabbath day and keep it holy in our lives and in our families?
Do we set aside time to worship and focus on our relationship with God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
When the times comes for us to gather again, will you be part of the community of saints who need each other for mutual encouragement and support?
Will your sabbath practices do good and save lives or will it do the opposite? For you and others?
And finally, if Jesus is Lord of the sabbath, and He is; to honor the sabbath and keep it holy is really about our relationship to Him, giving our complete, flawed, and broken selves to Jesus.
And then we can stretch out our withered hands and take hold of him, knowing we are healed, knowing we are whole, and knowing we have rest for our souls.
For the 3rd commandment and the one who is Lord of the sabbath, we say thanks be to God. Amen