SUNDAY SERMON—Sabbath: Entering God’s Rest

By Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OLD TESTAMENT: Exodus 16.2-15

NEW TESTAMENT: Philippians 1.21-27

Sabbath: Entering God’s Rest 

Let me begin with a confession. Today’s scriptures are clearly about the sabbath. Taking time to rest is something I am terrible about. Seriously, terrible. So I am preaching to myself, praying somehow the Holy Spirit will enlighten my stubborn mind. 

Kerry and I had a discussion once about keeping the sabbath you may have had with your family.  It was a Sunday afternoon, and we needed to do some yardwork—pulling weeds, mulching, that kind of thing.  I was hesitant. 

“Do we really need to do it today?  It’s Sunday.” I said.  Truth be told, I didn’t really want to do it at all, whether it was Sunday or Wednesday.  

“When else will we have time?” she responded.  And she was right.  It might be a week or more before we were both home at the same time with not only the time but the energy to do what needed to be done.  The yard needed work, and it is our responsibility to keep it fresh. People would talk if we worked on a Sunday, and people would talk if we didn’t keep it looking nice. 

“But it’s Sunday,” I said.  “I’m a pastor, and what will people think when they drive by and see us working on Sunday?”  I made a compelling argument.  This just may get me out of it.  

“If they’re driving by, then they’re using their cars and going somewhere, probably where somebody is working, so they’re as guilty as us.  And this isn’t work.  It’s relaxing.”  Oh goodness.  Hers was also compelling.  What should we do?  

The issue is the practice of Sabbath, and you’ve probably discussed it with your family.  Should we work on Sundays?  Should we go out to eat, forcing others to work, but helping them provide for their families?  Is it OK to mow the grass or play golf on Sunday? What about laundry and grocery shopping? Scripture say we are not to work. What does that mean? 

This is something I really struggle with, especially lately when I don’t seem to have time in the day for a sliver of what I need to do, and I know I’m not alone. I’m preaching to the choir this morning! We all agree we need to be better about this. Do not feel judged. We’re all in this boat together.  

Oftentimes today when people talk about keeping the sabbath, they say, “Times have changed.  The old commandment to rest on the Sabbath was for an old world.  They didn’t have much else to do.  Jesus changed the law, because we live in a different world.  The old law no longer applies.” 

The world is different now that it was when God commanded us to set the Sabbath apart as a holy day.  Jesus did perform healings on the Sabbath.  That much is true.  But did Jesus’ healings signal that the commandment no longer applied?  Or did it signal that the Sabbath was a time set aside for healing? 

 If we brush aside the Sabbath as an old concept for an old age, I think we lose something terribly important.  The creation story tells us that God rests on the Sabbath.  The world might be busier today than in the past, but can any of us talk about being too busy for sabbath if God took it as part of the creation process? If it’s good enough for God, you better believe it’s good enough for us.  

Scripture talks about the Sabbath often, usually in the same way.  It tells us that the Sabbath is to be set aside, which is another way of saying it is holy.  But set aside for what purpose?  To rest from labor.  Or as Hebrews puts it, keeping the Sabbath means entering God’s rest.  

That means different things for different people.  For you, rest might be spending time with family.  It might mean spending three hours on the couch watching football.  It might mean playing golf.  It might even mean straightening up the yard or fiddling in the garden.  It might mean going to your room and being silent and by yourself for a while. It might mean hitting the river trail. Sabbath is about refreshing our soul in God’s presence.  

Those who didn’t keep the Sabbath in Old Testament times were doomed to death, the Scriptures say.  Not because they would be killed for violating the law.  But because they were dooming themselves to death.  Without rest, without time with God, without refreshing our souls, they were resigning ourselves to death, bit by bit, week by week. (It hurts for me to say those words, because I’m terrible about this!) 

Mark Buchanan is an author who often writes about spirituality, and he says this about the Sabbath:  “The worst hallucination busyness conjures is the conviction that I am God. 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?”  

It’s easy to keep going when the Sabbath comes, continuing our busyness and our business; it’s hard to stop and rest.  But God does, and we must also.  Or we will become the slaves that the Israelites used to be.  If we do not take time enter God’s rest, we’ll belong to pharaoh once again.  The Sabbath is a day set aside for healing, an opportunity we can ill afford to lose.  Enter God’s rest in a way that works for you.  Spend time outdoors.  Volunteer.  Cook.  Eat.  Relax.  Do whatever you’ve got to do to enter God’s rest.  Amen.  

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