We are a people, a society of restlessness. The rest brought about by recreation, by vacation seems to be short-lived at best. We yearn for true rest, deep rest, for God to breath life back into our parched souls. We were created for a particular rhythm in our lives whereby we could lay a hold of that rest. In Rev Tim Haughton’s sermon, we will hear an invitation, engage a practice, and embrace a promise.
Psalm three – a Psalm of David – written in a particular set of circumstances – King David up to this point in his life has had incredible success – subdued the enemies of Israel, expanded the borders, amassed great wealth, built an opulent palace, brought the capital to Jerusalem.
But great success has also been marred with catastrophic failure – an affair with a married woman – a murderous coverup – children die – go wayward –banished – friends have become rivals, parasites, thorns in his side.
Then one thing caps it all off – his son Absalom – who has always nursed royal ambition – raises up an army against him – declares himself King – besieges Jerusalem – walks in unopposed – perpetuates grievous violence against David’s wives.
David is forced to flee – walking – barefoot, hiding his face. As he goes – his old enemy – King Saul’s relative hurls down rocks, mud, insults upon him.
He arrives at his destination beaten, downtrodden, exhausted, but in psalm three he tells us he left refreshed – in Hb nephesh – meaning breath and soul – literally God breathes life back into his soul – restoring his inmost place – and then – the night before the battle he lays down and sleeps.
We have an important meeting, an encounter we are dreading, a busy time at work, a fight with a family member, a dr’s appointment – and we have a restless -sleepless night.
David’s life is on the brink of destruction – and he lays down and sleeps – he lays down and sleeps.
I don’t know about you – but that stirs up in me a yearning – a longing – a deep desire for rest – for life to be breathed into me soul – restoring my inmost places – for are we not restless?
There is restlessness that comes from that inner murmur of self-reproach – the constant comparisons with others exacerbated by social media – telling us we are not enough – not thin enough – beautiful enough – cool enough – accomplished enough – restless from the expectations put on us by family – society – culture – not to mention our own crushing expectations – we’re restless.
We come up to the cottage – yearning to find rest – a restoration brought about by the beauty of our surroundings – time with those we love – but how long does it last? – for me it quickly dissipates in the bumper to bumper traffic – that stop at Costco on the way home and the insanity that ensues – the demands and the stressors of home and office right where we left them – Do you long for rest – deep rest – for God to breathe life into your soul? Restoring your inmost places?
We’ve come to the right place – for our readings today invited us into a particular rhythm of life – a rhythm perfectly suited for who we were created to be – a rhythm meant to restore – remake – renew – so today let us hear an invitation – engage a practice – and embrace a promise (x2)
So first lets hear the invitation – remember sabbath – keep it holy.
The command to set aside sabbath – is imbedded in the 10 commandments – found in a list with such things as murder – theft – adultery – the message is striking – a society that fosters restlessness – busyness – over work – over achievement – is as destructive as a society that fosters murder – theft – adultery.
But what is also striking is that the command to honour Sabbath is the only command that comes with a rationale – it’s important that we understand why we are invited to keep Sabbath.
In our exodus reading that rationale was expressed in this way – Remember Sabbath – for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and all that is in them but rested the Sabbath day.
Remember Sabbath – remember you are created – created in the image of God.
Judith Shulivitiz is a secular Jew – a writer for the new York times book review – she joined a synagogue after seeing her life bearing the marks of what she called suffering from a lack of sabbath – she wrote an article about her experience saying – in the darwinian world of the New York 20 something – everything – even socializing, reading, exercising felt like work or the pursuit of work by other means.
In the article she sought to invite others – secular like her – into the practice of Sabbath that met her in that restlessness by giving this creation rationale – she writes
The story told by Sabbath is that of creation: we rest – because God rested – In other words, we rest to honor the divine (image) in us, to remind ourselves that there is more to us than what we do during the week.
You see the other six days will seek to define us by our achievements – our titles – our accumulation of material goods – or the lack thereof – the other six days will seek to define us by the opinions of others – comparison with others – how we match societal expectations – but Sabbath roots us in who we truly are – gloriously made in the image of God – in Christ remade as his beloved children.
Remember Sabbath – remember who you are – created in the image of God – but also remember – you are not God – you are created – you are creature.
Martin Luther – the Protestant reformer – said in his commentary on the 10 commandments that we cannot break any of commandments 2 through 10 without breaking the first.
What does he mean? – well the first commandment is – you shall have no other God’s before me – so – in not keeping Sabbath – what demigod are we honoring before God?
You see – the worst hallucination busyness conjures up is the conviction that I am God. It all depends on me. How will the right things happen at the right time if I’m not pushing and pulling and watching and worrying.
Taking Sabbath is to say clearly – I am not God – God is God – he is good – sovereign – loves us.
Canadian pastor and author Mark Buchannen in his book on Sabbath writes – if God can take any mess, any mishap, any wastage, any wreckage, any anything and choreograph beauty and meaning from it then you can take a day off.
Remember Sabbath – remember you are more than what you did during the week –created in the image of God – remember also you are not God – you are creature.
But exodus is not the only place we find the 10 commandments – they are also in Deuteronomy – but here the rationale for Sabbath has changed – Deut says – Remember Sabbath – for you were once slaves in Egypt and God rescued you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
In the land of Egypt the people of Israel were forced to work each and every day – they knew work with no rest – while the Egyptians lived a life of leisure.
God is saying to his people – if you can’t obey my command to observe Sabbath you are willingly entering once again into slavery – to not honour Sabbath we may be willingly enslaving ourselves to our work culture that pegs status to overachievement – enslaving ourselves to our consumer materialistic culture – enslaving ourselves to the identity we are building from our work – enslaving ourselves to our people pleasing tendencies where we just can’t say no – enslaving ourselves to our insecurities that our work is covering over – enslaving ourselves to external expectations – enslaving ourselves to our work ethic – remember Sabbath – breaks the chains – loose the bonds – silence the cracking whips – do not enter into slavery.
Let us hear the invitation – remember sabbath
Now if we were to respond positively to that invitation – how might we engage the practice – what does it even look like?
Well Genesis 1 is the song of creation – and the repeated phrases of this song teach us deep truths about the reality of God’s relationship with his creation. One of those repeated phrases is “it is good” – after each day – God says – it is Good – it is good – it is good – and then the 6th day after he creates humankind – very good
But surprisingly that phrase is missing from the seventh day
What are we to make of this – does it mean that God doesn’t think the seventh day is good – of course not.
After reading the crescendo of it is good – we are meant to fill in the gap – to proclaim ourselves on Sabbath – It is good.
Duane Lifkin in his book on Sabbath says –
That is what Sabbath rest is and that is what it is for. It is designed to provide us with an opportunity to pause and look at what we’ve done and to decide whether it was worth doing. It is a time to stop and examine
Unfortunately many of us try and avoid examining our lives – the busyness is a way we can avoid really looking at ourselves – we keep on the move – avoid being by ourselves – be sure the television is on – the phone always in our hand – above all avoid the moments when you can stop and examine.
In C.S. Lewis’ screwtape letters – the fictitious Uncle screwtape – a senior demon is trying to teach his protégé exactly how to drive a patient away from God – and encourages him – keep him distracted – keep him busy – so he won’t see the bad influence of his friends – he won’t see his pride – he won’t hear from God.
Sabbath invites us to stop – to prayerfully examine – can we look back over the week and affirm? – it is good!
This prayerful examination could come by asking ourselves pointed questions – Does the path I’m walking lead to a place I want to go? If I keep heading this way, will I like where I arrive? Plot the trajectory: will you land in a place you care to live?
Could do this in a simple prayer of examen – where have I seen God most in my life this week – where has God seemed absent – where do I need his Grace most for the week ahead
Sabbath calls us to reflection – to stop – and prayerfully examine – can we proclaim? – it is good.
There is another repeated element in the song of creation – not found on the 7th day – which again speaks of God’s intention for Sabbath.
In vs. 2 we read that the earth was formless and void – creation then was about forming and filling.
1, 2, 3 = forms sky, water, earth.
4, 5, 6 = fills sky, water, earth
What is formed must be filled – and filling implies procreation – when related to humanity betrothal – intimate connection.
On Day 7 – the ancient rabbi’s reflected that God did in fact create – form something – they believed he created menuha – rest – they spoke of it as if God were like a king who made a bridal chamber, which he plastered, painted, and adorned; now what did the bridal chamber lack, a bride.
Rest has been formed as a bridal chamber – who or what would fill that rest?
This imagery is made all the more clear in the command – remember Sabbath – the word remember is the same word as betroth – remember – wed yourself to sabbath.
This is a day that God says is meant to be spent with Him – to be spent in worship –worth ship – seeing what he’s worth and giving him what he is worth.
Sabbath invites us into the delight of worship – corporate worship – personal worship – worship that entails delighting in his word – in his presence – in his gifts to us – in his good creation – all of these things an expression of our worship – our worth ship – seeing what he is worth and giving him what he is worth.
I suspect that for many of us – while we may long for the rest Sabbath brings – will be overwhelmed by the prospect of setting apart a day that is unlike any other day – how could I possibly – that’s one less day to get everything else done – and in the midst of such thoughts the invitation goes unheard – the practice unengaged – so perhaps it would be best to simply encourage you to expand your sabbath time beyond what it presently is – I suspect you will begin to find that engaging a practice of sabbath will begin to reframe all your other days – break the taskmasters – release your identity from the things you do – such that when you return to the other 6 days you may find yourself doing less – laying more down – and you will delight to expand Sabbath into the resulting gaps.
As we hear the invitation – and engage the practice – we will be brought to embrace a promise.
In our Hebrews 4 reading – we have a passage all about rest – in fact rest is spoken of 11x in 8vs.– but not in every instance in the same way – the author seems to be inviting us to consider that the rest of Sabbath is simply a foreshadowing – a foretaste of creation’s ultimate rest – it’s no mistake that Jesus does the majority of his miracles on sabbath – he’s foreshadowing creations ultimate rest in and through him – and the Hebrews passage invites us to yearn for that rest – to embrace that rest
How do we embrace that rest? Well the writer of Hebrews speaks of the word of God being sharper than any two edged sword – that the word of God will strip us down – get us to the very heart of who we really are – leaving us naked and exposed before the holiness of God.
This naked exposure we so often run from – rush to cover up with our sense of goodness – of accomplishment – of the opinions of others – all contributing to a deep sense of restlessness – for that work can never end – instead the writer invites us to take that nakedness – that exposure before the work of our great high priest – Jesus – who through his death clothes us with his grace – mercy – love forgiveness.
Richard Loveless – in his book – the dynamics of spiritual life – writes this – If we start each (week) with our personal security not resting on the accepting love of God, and the sacrifice of Christ, but on our present achievements, such arguments will not quiet the human conscience, and so we are inevitably moved to discouragement and apathy, or to a self-righteousness or some form of idolatry that tries to falsify the record to achieve some sense of peace.
But the faith, gospel faith, that is able to warm itself at the fire of God’s love and what Jesus has done for us, instead of having to steal love and self-acceptance from all these other sources, is the very root of peace, go to this fire, it is merry, it is bright.
The film – Chariots of Fire – chronicles the true story of two British runners in the 1928 Olympics – Harold Abrams and Eric Liddel.
They each tell us why they run – Harold Abram says – I run because I have 10 seconds to justify my existence – Eric Liddel runs – because he says – God made me fast – and when I run – I feel his pleasure.
In reflection on this vivid difference – Tim Keller said this – One man runs to prove who he is – the other runs because he knows who he is.
One man is working even when he is resting – the other resting even when he’s working – the practice of sabbath reorders our lives – as we begin to work out of our rest – rather than resting from our work.
In a Jewish home sabbath begins with a candle being lit – creation begins with a – let there be light – and redemption begins with the light of the world entering to give us true rest – a rest found in and through the gospel.
So this sabbath and every subsequent one – let us go to the fire of his love for us in Jesus – it is merry – it is bright – it is the very root of peace – it is the very root of rest – remember Sabbath – set apart a day like no other day – a day for God to breathe life into our souls.