29 Aug Sermon: Trinity 10/Proper 16, Year C
21st August, 2022
Legend has it that ‘ At the time when God was giving Torah to Israel, He said to them: My children! If you accept the Torah and observe my mitzvot (commands) I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious that I have in my possession.
—And what, asked Israel is that precious thing which Thou wilt give us if we obey Thy Torah?
—The world to come.
—Show us in this world an example of the world to come.
—The Sabbath is an example of the world to come.’
This story is taken from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book, The Sabbath, in which he also says, ‘that it is an ancient idea, that the Sabbath and eternity are one—or of the same essence.’
It is perhaps not surprising that in a youGov poll from 2017 surveying which commandments people thought were still relevant in the 21st century — only 6 – those relating directly to our relationships with other people – where considered by a majority of people to be relevant and important for society today.
Considered least relevant of them all – even among Christians surveyed was the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy.* (Jewish believers were not mentioned in this survey and might have a different perspective to share)
And this again – in our 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, culture – is perhaps not surprising.
For many of us, I hazard a guess, that the Sabbath prompts thoughts about a day in which no work is done, or memories of a time when all the shops were closed and perhaps even all the toys were put in the toy chest in order to spend the day in more pious pursuits.
For others, ideas about the sabbath may seem like a burden, an imposition, a hindrance and a constraint to the enjoyment of living.
And it is possible we could read this morning’s gospel story about Jesus’ healing of this woman in a way that confirms that perspective — rejoice! Jesus has liberated us from the demands of the sabbath! and we could leave it at that.
However, that perspective, along with that of the pharisees’, are both missing what is truly at the heart of the Sabbath— what Jesus is both doing and communicating.
For if nothing else the Sabbath is about life, true life, the fullness of life – it is a vast and profound idea which is both deeply counter-cultural and desperately needed in our 21st century world.
This morning, far from being able to plumb its depths, I want to share with you a few of thoughts that hint at this expansive nature of the Sabbath.
The first is that the Sabbath is about being human.
The ten commandments are given to us twice in scripture, once in the book of Exodus, and again in the book of Deuteronomy.
And they are pretty much the same, except when it relates to the Sabbath, where they answer the question Why keep the Sabbath Holy? quite differently – and so give us two reasons… both of which relate deeply to our humanity.
The first giving of the command is rooted in creation – and so somehow ties the importance of the Sabbath into the very fabric of the universe. Keep the Sabbath holy… for in six days God made the heavens and the earth and on the 7th day God rested. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20.8-11)
The very first thing God makes holy in the story of scripture – is not a person a place or a thing, – but a day, a period of time – set aside for the holy purpose of being – of resting, of being present, dwelling with creation – and God invites us into this holy, sanctified time to be present with, to dwell with, our creator — for this is where we remember what it is to be human, in the presence of God, renewing our identity as both creatures and children of God.
The second reason given – in the book of Deuteronomy – for keeping the Sabbath Holy – is because we are no longer slaves in Egypt. God has liberated God’s people from slavery. (Deut. 5.12-15)
As human beings our value is not based upon the number of bricks we produce in a day, or what we can construct or accomplish or achieve. We are not slaves to the commerce or consumption of this world.
Our value, our worth, is found in our relationship with our creator – as children of God. And remembering this of ourselves – we are able to extend that understanding to others, resisting oppression, injustice and violence and all which dehumanises others.
In the commandments Sabbath is given not just to Israel, but to the servants, aliens and animals in their midst, and even to the land – it is a universal gift which recognises the common family of all creation.
Sabbath just might have something to contribute to the environmental crises we are facing.
Sabbath is about being fully and truly human, part of the family of creation.
Sabbath is also about enough.
In a world in which we are encouraged to want more and bigger and better… Sabbath is a holy pause from the treadmill of consumption and production – reminding us that in God and with God we have enough and we are enough.
Sabbath is a time in which we are invited to live as though all our work is done, living into the promise of the kingdom to come, delighting in God as God delights in us.
Sabbath is about enough.
Sabbath is also about love.
This idea is also drawn from the commandments – noting the significance of its position within the commandments… the first three having to do with our relationship with God, the last six having to do with our relationship with others…
At number 4, the sabbath sits between these… and I would suggest it acts as something of a hinge, a connector, holding the two together. It is within this sacred sanctified time of presence with God, that we learn how to love God and to love others more fully.. which is the fulfilment of all the commands.
If we lose this sacred time, which establishes us in the ground of our being, we suffer, along with our ability to love as we have been created to love.
Sabbath is about Love.
Sabbath is also about healing and wholeness.
We know from experience that the world God created and enjoyed on that first Sabbath day is broken – all creation shares in the pain of that brokenness.
As the story I shared at the beginning suggests, Sabbath is a gift for the present moment that points us to the promise of the World to Come – where all that is broken is made whole in the heart of God once more.
For Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, the one who will bring us into the eternal Sabbath rest that still remains for the people of God…
Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest…take my yoke, my teaching, my ways, upon you and I will give you rest for your souls…
Sabbath is a way of encountering that wholeness now. And that is why, far from being a breaking of the Sabbath, Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath, was a sign of its very fulfilment, and the healing to which we are all journeying toward.
Sabbath is about healing and wholeness and the World to Come.
These are only a few thoughts that skim the surface of something both deep and wide.
Certainly one of the questions we are left with… is what then, does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy?
It strikes me – that while it may be necessary to give the Sabbath shape in our lives, through a regular, exterior practice, – in order to incarnate it, to live it out – the true keeping of the Sabbath as holy – is something that happens in the interior space of our hearts and minds.
Without this, any exterior practice becomes hollow, something we see reflected in Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees.
And so keeping the sabbath holy is about more than what we do and what we don’t do – and it is very much about what God does in us, as we set aside sanctified time, to dwell with and rest in God.
Far be it from me to say more than this — but however we seek it – may we welcome the Sabbath into our lives – that space in time, where we may encounter anew, each day, the Lord of the Sabbath, who brings healing, and rest and renewal to all who seek him.
May you, this day, receive the healing and wholeness of Sabbath rest that remains for us in Christ our Lord.
- ’Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is seen as the least relevant of the Commandments in the modern era. Fewer than one in five (19%) Britons say keeping Sundays holy is still an important principle to live by, including fewer than a third of Christians (31%) and 7% of the non-religious.’
Image: Tree of Hope, by Julie. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)