Tag Archives: Sabbath

Just What is a Sabbath Anyway?

Biblical Text: Mark 2:23-28
Full Sermon Draft

In the course of my lifetime I’m not sure if there is a word that went from being in general use to almost obsolete more than Sabbath. It might be hard to imagine if you didn’t live through it, but the great deliberative bodies of our nation once spent great amounts of time thinking about a Sabbath and its meaning. Today I’d bet that the vast majority of folks wouldn’t even recognize the word. It is in the 3rd commandment. Lots of the controversies around Jesus are because of it. What is a Christian supposed to do? That is what this sermon is about. What is a Sabbath anyway? And if we are supposed to keep it holy, how do we do that? It is so easy, and yet awfully hard. It is all about the gospel, and yet we so often want a law. But as Jesus says, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So we need to understand how to receive it as a gift, not work to secure it. We have a Sabbath rest, even if we don’t know it. This is about knowing it, and living it.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Exodus 31:1-18 and Luke 6:1-19

Exodus 31:1-18
Luke 6:1-19
Providence of God, distribution of talents, The Sabbath, Jesus picking fights, Divinity Claims

In the Right Ballpark

The old rabbis made a hand-waving connection between the big commandments and the smaller ones. If you haven’t heard hand-waving before, what I mean is an observation that appears true but there is no immediate way to prove it. Mathematicians use the phrase when something is asserted that gets you in the correct ballpark and being in the correct ballpark is the only thing that matters. Mathematics and theology are closer disciplines than probably either group would like to admit. Since I’m a practical putzer in each, I can make statements like that. Any-hoo, the Rabbis probably got the initial idea from God himself who consistently compares Israel’s idolatry to adultery (Jeremiah 3:8ff, Ezekiel 16:1ff, Hosea 4:1ff, really the entire book of Hosea). If you have a problem with the first commandment (No other gods) then you will have problems with the sixth (no adultery). Of course what this is really useful for is going the other way. If your society is full of sexual sin, you have a deep problem with idolatry. If your society has a problem with stealing (7th commandment) then the spiritual problem causing it is with the 2nd commandment (don’t steal the honor from the name of God). This matching up of one through five with six through ten (sorry Reformed folks, we are using the numbering the Rabbis, the Catholics and everyone else did until Calvin) continues in hand-waving fashion. It gets you into the right ballpark for spiritual issues.

The one that I want to comment on is actually three-eight. The eighth commandment is don’t bear false testimony against your neighbor. Now all the law has a positive and a negative force. The negative force is don’t lie about your neighbor. The positive force in the words of Luther is “put the best construction on everything.” Our 24/7/365 existence combined with the ever present desire to appear “in the know” (FOMO anyone?) has created a monster for the positive force of the law. We immediately jump to putting the worst possible construction on any answer by people we think are against us. It is not just that they disagree with us but that they are evil. In more formal times we would be talking about words like slander, libel and smear. Rachel Held Evans, a societal bellwether in many things, is instinctive in putting the worst construction on everything. The most recent example is taking to the CNN belief blog to pontificate righteously condemning as evil baby starving people those who decided that they were no longer going to support World Vision after their initial statements per SSM. The best construction would have been something along the lines that following the revelation that World Vision was not what they thought, these people decided to move their support to another charity now with greater trust. For example maybe to Samaritan’s Purse, or to drop the charade at all and just give the money to a completely secular charity. Helping people is helping people. Nobody is confused about UNICEF also being a representative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or in other words, pure doctrine actually matters, even though our low content non-denominational culture has been trying to deny that for decades.

There are any number of things where the real problem in society is that we can’t tell the truth about our neighbor and instead substitute the worst thing we can possibly think up for their motivations. No matter how many pinches of salt are given to being a “uniter and not a divider” or “representing not blue or red America but The United States of America”, until the real spiritual problem is addressed we will continue tearing each other apart.

And getting into the right ballpark spiritually means looking at the third commandment which is about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Luther’s explanation of this priceless. “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” If you are tearing your society apart through slander and smear, the real problem that is being made manifest is the ignorance and disdain for the Word of God and the gathering of believers.

Now there is an interesting issue here regarding two kingdoms and the church. America is not the church. Confusing the two, as I am in danger of doing above, is not the right path. Addressing the spiritual problem flows in two ways. The easy way is directed as the great multitude of the post-protestant penumbra of America, the washed (i.e. baptized) hordes that have left the church or have taken up dissent from within for fun and profit. The call of Joel 2:11-17 fits. “”Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him.” Respect for the Word of God does not mean twisting it to fit your preconceived notions and self-justifications. Keeping the Sabbath means placing yourself under the Word. And the 6th commandment and Jesus on divorce and marriage (Mark 10:1ff) are clear. As I said that is the easy one. The tough one is that the same Word makes clear what the church is to do regarding itself to those who will not accept its teaching – 1 Corinthians 5:1ff. The fact that we have entire church bodies that have been lost to the church because of our inability honor the Word is a travesty worthy of mourning.

“Yet even now…” That is the call to Christian Hope. Yet even now, when according to human standards the thing is dead and lifeless, God is faithful. He is the God of the living. He is the God of resurrection. Our Hope springs not from our ability to actually call the assembly or keep the fast, because we cannot. Our Hope is the steadfast love of the Lord. He relents over disaster. He calls forth his unfaithful bride and puts her in white for the wedding feast. That is why we return. That is why the church will live. It is not our love, it is His.

Spiritual Practices #2

The posts on the law and on the spiritual practices in some odd ways merge at this point. What we’ve developed out of our look at the law is the recognition that the moral law is the best representation of the sanctified life. It can’t save. After the cross it doesn’t condemn either. But the law has not been done away with. It has been fulfilled in Christ. The life we life in Christ is one of fulfilling the law. And Christ’s summary of the law is: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt 22:37-39)

This sanctified life retains its cruciform shape. Because God first loved us we are able to love our neighbor. And it is the love of God in our life that continues to form us and enable us to live lives of service. If all you are doing is attempting to love the neighbor, without a strong basis in the love of God to renew yourself, that love will grow cold. I’m convinced that is what we see today in many neighborhoods. How many neighborhoods today actually are neighborly? We work and we get home and dig in. We erect fences and hedges. We screen in porches. We insulate ourselves. We do that because we know that coming into contact places burdens…burdens of love. And when you are not rooted in the vertical dimension of love for God who is the very source of love, those burdens of love for our neighbor become too great.

The very basic spiritual practices are to make diligent use of the means of grace – word and sacrament, i.e. make it to church. The devil will try all kinds of things to separate you from this most basic lifeline because this is where God’s grace is abundantly present. This is where God himself is present. If our adversary can get you to make less diligent use – the seed just might fall on thorny ground. The cares and worries of this world will look very great compared to something as unnatural as getting out of our carefully constructed and comfortable bubbles. Yes, I’m a minister, of course I’m going to say that. Discount the heck out of it. It still stands – go to church intentionally and with a good mind. Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Which Luther explains simply as not despising preaching and the word, but holding it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

That is the basic spiritual practice. You can’t substitute for the assembly of the body of Christ.

The next post – I promise – will start to look at Matt 6, Lenten spiritual practices and the ways we can grow or sustain a gentle piety or loving the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind.