Slow Faith | Sabbath

This is from the sermon preached on Sunday, October 3, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon here.

I remember when Sundays were the slowest day of the week. My family attended the 8:30 am worship service at North Salem United Methodist Church. Worship was followed by Sunday School taught by Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Cashdollar. As a family, we were home by 10:30 or 10:45 am every Sunday morning. That left an hour for my sister and I to play before a Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup or Homemade Pizza lunch was ready. Many Sundays, we would drive 45 minutes to see my Grandmother, which meant seeing my other cousins who would be there to visit with their families as well. If it was football season, many Sundays was spent watching to Steelers. When I became a teenager, youth group worked its way into the Sunday routine.

It was a slow day. Mom and Dad taught us that this was the Sabbath day. A day to worship and a day to rest. There were times when we’d try to do other things, but they would be short lived as our focus was on worship, rest, and being together as a family. This was our family rhythm. We went to school and worked for six days and then we rested as a family on Sunday.

This morning in our series, SLOW FAITH, we are looking at the discipline or habit of the practice of Sabbath. In our first message in this series, we talked about how we are slaves to the pace of our culture. We run and run until we are ragged and weary. One practice we have to seek the rest that God promises us and to develop a deep faith is the practice of Sabbath.

The first thing we need to ask is this question: What is the Sabbath?

Sabbath means “to stop” or “to cease.” In Judaism, the Sabbath was the time between sundown on Friday through sundown on Saturday where the people would stop working in order to rest from their toil. It was a day to worship together as a family and as a community. Sabbath is more than a “day off.” It is a “spirit of restfulness that comes from abiding, from living in the Father’s loving presence all week long.”[1]

We can see the importance of Sabbath throughout the Scriptures.

Sabbath is the Rhythm of Creation

In Genesis 2, the writer tells the story of Creation where God created the universe in six days.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. [2]

After everything had been created, God rested. God, the All-powerful, all-knowing one rested. I think we wear our weariness and our schedules like a badge of honor. We don’t rest. We don’t stop. Even God rested. God didn’t need to rest, but was teaching us a divine rhythm of rest. When we go against the Sabbath rhythm we are fighting God.

Sabbath is an act of Resistance

When we get to the book of Deuteronomy, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. One of the commandments is “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.” In the book of Exodus, the command to practice Sabbath is rooted in the creation account. We rest because God rested. In Deuteronomy, we see a subtle change. The command to practice Sabbath is rooted in Israel’s slavery in Egypt.

“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” [3]

Here, practicing Sabbath is an act of resistance to the economy of Pharaoh that was built on the back of slaves. Pharaoh’s desire for more wealth and power created a restlessness that would not permit Sabbath rest. Slaves do not practice Sabbath. Slaves do not get a day off.

God, through Moses, reminds Israel that they are no longer slaves. They are no longer the means to wealth. They are the people of God. Sons and daughters get days off. Sons and daughters get to practice Sabbath.

We live in a culture that is increasingly asking us to work 24/7. Even as this pandemic is prolonged- more and more people are working from home. That is a blessing and a curse. If our office is at home, we face the constant temptation to answer one more email or return one more phone call. Our work is building the wallets of someone else. When we practice Sabbath, we are offering an act of resistance to the economic systems that trap and enslave people today.

Sabbath as resistance says that we do not have to work constantly to have value. Sabbath as resistance teaches us to put our faith in God to provide rather than the economic policies of the world. Sabbath as resistance teach us that there is a different way to live.

Sabbath is a Gift

In the Gospels, Mark tells the story of Jesus and the disciples walking through the grain fields and picking some heads of grain and popping them in their mouths. The Pharisees saw this and claimed that Jesus and the disciples were breaking the Sabbath. In the mind of the Pharisees, you could only walk so far on the Sabbath before it became work; you could not glean or harvest a field (which Jesus and the disciples were evidently guilty of doing); and you could not even save your animal if it fell into a well. Upon confronting Jesus, Jesus replies to the Pharisees:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Pastor and author John Mark Comer writes that in Jesus’ day that they people needed to hear the second part of this verse- that man was not made for Sabbath. Pharisees tried to put burdensome laws in place to protect and honor the Sabbath. Humanity wasn’t made to serve the Sabbath.

Today, we need to hear the first part of the verse: The Sabbath was made for humanity. We mimic the pace and hurry of the culture. We can take a day off but it is not the same as Sabbath. We might go to worship, but we have forgotten the gift of a Sabbath Day. We fill our days with activities and work rather than stopping, ceasing, and resting in God’s presence and we wonder why we are so tired. Sabbath is a gift.

Admittedly, Sabbath is a countercultural practice which makes it somewhat difficult to implement. As a pastor, I am asked every year by our District Superintendent about how I practice Sabbath. In my previous appointment, I took my Sabbath on Fridays where I could rest, read, and chew on God’s word. Since coming to Avenue, Sabbath has been much more difficult because there is always another meeting, article, or person to care for. This isn’t to complain, but to say I understand the challenge of Sabbath. It takes a lot of work to be able to stop working.

On top of two full-time jobs and four active kids, Sabbath days are sometimes in short supply. When we do get a Saturday where we stay home and take it slow, we often say to one another- “Why don’t we do this more?” Sabbath rest is a gift from God. When we fail to practice Sabbath, we are passing up a gift that can breathe life into our bodies, our families, and our churches.

Dream with me a little bit here: What would your life look like if you took an entire day and didn’t work? Not just stopping from your job, but no laundry and no yard work in order to do something that you really enjoy? What would it look like to have a day to worship, read a book, to go on a walk, and play a board game with your kids or grandkids? How might the gift of Sabbath impact your life? Your faith? What are some Sabbath routines that you can develop that will help you to listen to the voice of God and be led by the Holy Spirit.

Sabbath requires great intentionality. Andrea, as a teacher, hates taking a day off from work because working can be easier than making sub plans so she can be off. Likewise, the practice of Sabbath requires planning in order to stop working for the day. We have to get everything done the day before- or trust God that it will still be there when Sabbath ends. Theologian Walter Brueggeman writes, “People who keep Sabbath live all seven days differently.”

In order to grow a deep and abiding faith, we must slow down and linger with Jesus. One way we can do that is to develop our practice of Sabbath. It is built into the DNA of creation. It is an act of resistance that declares, we are no longer slaves but children of God. It is a gift that God offers to weary humanity.

[1] John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

[2] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ge 2:2–3.

[3] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Dt 5:15.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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