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Sabbath: A Good Gift from God


The late John Lewis, civil rights leader and politician passed away a couple of years ago. He was a man full of courage and conviction, someone who devoted much of his life to racial justice and equality. Over the years Lewis came to adopt a phrase, two words that would serve as a type of battle cry for him throughout the years, that phrase being “good trouble.” As in, “Never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble."

And as we’ve been going through this most recent section of the Gospel of Luke and as I reflected on our story for today, I couldn’t help but notice that Jesus has been getting himself in and keeps getting himself in some “good trouble.” Now, for what it’s worth, the causes and battles that Jesus and John Lewis were fighting were certainty not one and the same, but yet even still, Jesus, time after time after time, keeps getting himself in some “good trouble” as he shakes up the status quo and challenges many of the preconceived notions of the religious leaders of the day and the Pharisees in particular.

A few weeks ago, we saw how Jesus claimed to have the authority to forgive sins – something that only God himself had the authority to do, and here Jesus is claiming to be God in the flesh.

Then we saw Jesus eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, eating with the bad guys, the losers, the nobodies, the people you’d least expect and the Pharisees can’t believe he would choose to keep such sordid company.

And then today, we see Jesus getting into so much “good trouble,” that our story finishes by saying that, 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

All because, as we’ll see in our story today, Jesus, in the Pharisees eyes, threatens and challenges one of their most sacred rhythms and institutions, the Sabbath day itself.

And so this morning, we continue on in our sermon series in the Gospel of Luke and this morning we continue on in what you might call the fourth in a four part mini series of “good trouble” stories. Jesus is about to get himself in some big time trouble for what he allows and how he understands the role and purpose of the Sabbath.

And so for this morning, as we so often do, we’ll spend the first half of our message today diving into the nuts and bolts of the passage and then having done that, we’ll come up for air and address what it all means and how it applies today for you and me.

So let’s dive in. In order to understand this passage, we first need to briefly review the Sabbath itself.

Way back when in Exodus, God’s people, after they had been rescued from slavery in Egypt, living under the oppressive reign of King Pharoah, God gave his people the 10 commandments, one of which was to remember the Sabbath day.

And the Sabbath commandment from Exodus reads like this … “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.”

And so, on one hand, the command is incredibly simple – six days of work, one day of rest. It was a day that was meant to be freeing and restful and joyful. And yet, in the Pharisees mind, it wasn’t so simple. They didn’t see it so much as freeing, but rather restrictive. Because in their eyes, What exactly constitutes work anyway? What’s considered rest? And how do you distinguish between the two? The commandment itself in its brevity, kind of left it up to interpretation. And the Pharisees, in a painstaking effort to ensure that they would not break the Sabbath, that they would not do anything that could possibly be construed as work on the Sabbath, set up what could be described as a “fence around the law” – making their own interpretive decisions and effectively putting up red tape after red tape and red tape to ensure that they would not work on the Sabbath.

So for example when it came to eating food on the Sabbath, eating food itself was fine, after all, people get hungry on the Sabbath too, but preparing food, harvesting food, was not, that was considered work, and in their minds, considered as breaking the Sabbath itself.

And so when the Pharisees saw the disciples picking heads of grain, rubbing their hands and eating the kernels, the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” In their minds, the disciples by harvesting, by taking food and processing it, were breaking the Sabbath.

And so, In response, Jesus points back to an example from back the life of King David, when David and his companions technically broke the law by eating bread that was only for the priests to eat. And then when Jesus says, “The Son of Man (speaking about himself) is Lord of the Sabbath” he’s effectively saying, “If David can break the law for the sake of meeting a basic human need such as hunger, then so can I. After all, it was I, not him, who created the idea of the Sabbath itself.”

The second story seems to make a similar point. Where, on another Sabbath, Jesus encounters a man with a withered hand. And in the Pharisees mind, healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, that, amazingly, somehow, was work.

Apparently there was some kind of rabbinic law that allowed healing on the Sabbath only if that life was actually in danger, but yet a withered hand, which would not have been seen as an urgent matter, surely something that could wait until tomorrow. But yet Jesus heals the man anyway, but not before first asking them this question, 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Or, as Eugene Peterson in his Message translation puts it, “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? To do good or evil? To save life or destroy it?

You see, the Pharisees had put so many restrictions and so much red tape around their Sabbath day practices that they had effectively sucked all the life and joy and freedom out of it and in doing so, missed the point and purpose of it all together. Where they had seemingly forgotten that the Sabbath wasn’t something for them to be confined by, but rather freed by. It was meant to be life-giving. After all, it was given to them as a gift, after their ancestors were slaves in Egypt, where they worked day after day after day, working 7 seven days a week, and then God graciously gave them a day of rest. The Sabbath was meant to be liberating and life-giving, but instead the Pharisees had made it restrictive and burdensome. Or in other words, they had somehow found a way to make their day of rest feel like work.

This past week I had the opportunity to read and discuss this scripture passage across multiple generations and age groups, both those, say, over the age of 75, and those under the age of 45. And what was so fascinating to me was how these two different age groups, these two different demographics, come from vastly different understandings and practices when it comes to the Sabbath itself. Whereas the older generation, those over the age of 75, they very much remember a time when the Sabbath was taken very, very seriously, when it was still very much a part of the culture. Like, you don’t work on the Sabbath, you don’t cook on the Sabbath, it’s a day for eating leftovers, you don’t shop on the Sabbath, you don’t even spend money on the Sabbath. The older generation, those who remember the days of the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s, very much understand and can identify with the instincts and concerns the Pharisees have regarding the Sabbath.

And yet, on the other hand, the younger generation really has no category for the Sabbath whatsoever. For them, it’s often not a hard and fast rule or day to observe anything. In their minds, anything goes on the Sabbath. And even more, in the midst of a busy week, rather than carving out a full calendar day, the mindset is, find a few hours here and a few hours there as time allows to slow down.

And as I was listening too and processing how these two groups think so differently about the Sabbath, it also struck me just how similar they each are. And that is both groups often fail to recognize the gift and blessing that the Sabbath truly is. On one hand, there are those who identify to an extent with the Pharisees, who in a restrictive and legalistic approach to the Sabbath, effectively suck the life and joy and freedom of the Sabbath itself. And yet on the other hand, there are the Millennial types, who in a dismissive and carefree way, effectively blow off the Sabbath entirely and just keep working and running in the rat race instead.

Ironically, both groups make the same mistake. They both fail to recognize the gift and blessing that the Sabbath truly is. To quote, J. Ellsworth Kalas, “The gift of the Sabbath looks too good to be true; why would God want to do something so utterly kind? So we look for some meanness in the graciousness of God, and finding none, we impose our own.”

The older generation believes the gift of Sabbath looks too good to be true by making it so restrictive that they drain all life out of it, a kind of “you will sit there and you will like it” mentality. And the younger generation believes the gift of Sabbath looks too good to be true by not being willing to actually take one and working straight through it. And because both groups and their relationship with the Sabbath is deficient in different ways, both groups need this sermon applied differently.

For example, let’s take a rudimentary, everyday chore, some might say a necessary evil, laundry. Is it okay to do laundry on the Sabbath? And what does this passage have to say about it? I asked Callie this question the other night and in doing so I was trying to attempt to apply this passage to our everyday life, because here in this passage we see Jesus, as his disciples harvest and eat food, and as he heals a man of a withered hand, is effectively communicating that it’s okay, it’s permissible, maybe even good and right to meet basic human needs, to do good works, yes even on the Sabbath when the situation calls for it. So I asked Callie, “Okay, so let’s play this out, if laundry is running low, and the boys are almost out of clean clothes, do you think Jesus would say that it’s okay to run a load of laundry on the Sabbath?”

And friends, I’ll tell you, as I asked that question, Callie looked at me as if I had three heads, and eventually in a puzzled and confused way said, “Are you trying to give me permission and tell me it’s okay to do laundry on the Sabbath?” Her point being, I already do laundry on the Sabbath! I’m already up to my ears in laundry, my life is already filled with loads and loads of laundry. Thanks, I guess, for giving me the permission and freedom to do laundry on the Sabbath. And yeah, friends, the conversation from there went about as well as you’d think it would go. ☺

All this to say, I was making the right application with the wrong person.

You see, to the older generation, they very likely might need to know that it’s okay to do laundry on the Sabbath. For those who grew up having a more restrictive understanding and practice of the Sabbath, who fear that God might strike them with a bolt of lightning if they’re caught doing any kind of work (yes, even laundry) on the Sabbath, they need the permission and reminder that it’s going to be okay if you meet a basic human need by running a load of laundry on the Sabbath.

But yet to Callie and those of the younger generation, what they need to hear is, don’t do laundry on the Sabbath. Enjoy a full day of rest and no work. The laundry isn’t going anywhere and it can wait until tomorrow. And yes, in order for that to be a reality for her, I should pitch in and help with the laundry too.

In the end, rather than falling into the trap of the Pharisees who are overly restrictive regarding the Sabbath and the younger generation who are overly dismissive regarding the Sabbath, I think there’s one question above all that can help us enjoy the Sabbath as God intended for us to, and that question is, “Is it life-giving? Does it bring life to you and to others?” If the answer is yes, well then, do it. If it’s not, well, then don’t do it.

As for the practical realities and exact details around the Sabbath day itself and how you spend it - “Do what brings you and others life and helps you connect with Jesus.”

So on the Sabbath, do what gives you life! For me, it’s hiking and jogging around the High Trails outside of town sometimes with Caleb, sometimes by myself, while listening to a sports or ministry related podcast.

Do what gives you life. Play a video game. Journal. Read scripture. Make beautiful art. Be with your family. Make a homemade meal, follow a recipe. Read a book while your kids watch a movie. Give yourself the permission to be inefficient. Make an actual phone call. Stay away from your work email. Take a long walk. Take off your watch and forget about the time. Pray. Order takeout and don’t feel like you have to apologize for it.

Introverts, recharge alone. Extroverts, recharge with others, but will you please do them a favor and leave the introverts alone.

Do what is life-giving for you, whatever that might look like.

And for what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s really all that important which day of the week you take a Sabbath. Some will say it’s got to be Sunday, but yet so many people in our world today, and many in our church, work on Sundays, and understandably so. I think that Jesus would tell us that to get overly caught up in such technicalities is to miss the point.

So for example, parents, one small suggestion for you. You might want to consider establishing Saturday as your Sabbath and Sunday as a day for church and chores. And I say that because sometimes wrangling the kids to and from Sunday worship can feel a bit like work.

A few months ago when Callie and the boys and I were on vacation, I got to experience something I rarely experience. I attended church with the boys, helped them get dressed, got them in the car, sat with them throughout the whole service, and what do you know, I was exhausted by the end of it. I looked over at Callie and said, “You do this every week? By yourself? With both kids?” I was humbled by just how challenging her job every Sunday can be.

All this to say, parents, I want to say thank you and well done for just getting here with your kids for worship and thank you for your patience and flexibility with us over the past couple years as Sunday School hasn’t always been a reality for us. As you know, we’re having a Sunday School Conversation after worship today to plan and discuss how we can make Sunday School happen regularly and consistently here at FPC and I just want to say thank you for your patience and flexibility. At the same time, I’m also convinced that you’re part of the long term solution as well.

Above all, as for the Sabbath, do what brings you and others life and helps you connect with Jesus. And I’ll finish with this …

The Sabbath is ultimately one part of a greater unit and division of time in the seven-day week. Work six days, rest one, just as God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. And what’s unique about the week is that it has distinctly biblical roots and yet from a secular worldview can seem somewhat arbitrary and artificial. For example, the day as a unit of time, that’s one rotation of planet earth. The year, as a unit of time, that’s the earth making one trip around the sun. Truth is, you can’t really mess with the day and year as units of time.

But yet you can with the week. In fact, civilizations throughout time have experimented with “weeks” longer than seven days. For example, in 1793, just after the French Revolution, France adopted a 10-day week. The revolutionaries made the move in an effort to simultaneously de-Christianize the country and increase its productivity, moving from the 7 day week, to a 10 day week. Rather than work six, rest one, let’s work nine rest one. But yet in the end, France only kept the 10-day week around for 12 years because of its extremely disappointing results. During these years, the French society saw a stark increase in injuries, exhaustion, illness, and work animals that collapsed and died at astounding rates.

And the author of the article that I read summarized it perfectly, saying, “these people were attempting to operate on a rhythm other than the one that was created for them, and the results were disastrous.”

They were attempting to operate on a rhythm other than the one that was created for them. Exactly.

The Sabbath is a good gift from a good God. Friends don’t neglect and don’t forget it and don’t make it overly restrictive either. The Sabbath was made with you and I in mind, for tired and weary people, who worship a God who neither slumbers nor sleeps. So friends, go enjoy the Sabbath for all it’s worth. And in all of it, be reminded that the God who created the world continues to sustain it, even while we rest.

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