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Sabbath: That Would Be Enough

An Intermission: Rest  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  22:36
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On the Sabbath, we are instructed to "rest as if the work is done." True rest comes out of a posture of trusting in God's abundance. There is always enough...enough to eat, enough to sustain us, enough to bring healing. To rest on the Sabbath in the "enough" of God is also to participate in the opening up of rest for all who long for it, all who seek healing, justice, and peace. Our enough (found in Sabbath practice) allows the followers of Jesus to be liberators of those who do not yet have enough.

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The New Revised Standard Version Plucking Grain on the Sabbath

Plucking Grain on the Sabbath

(Mk 2:23–28; Lk 6:1–5)

12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

The Man with a Withered Hand

(Mk 3:1–6; Lk 6:6–11)

9 He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Good morning — it is a joy to be with you today and to open up this short series on Rest, Sabbath, Sabbatical, and Jubilee. This practice of sharing pulpits and speaking to each other’s congregations is a great joy for me, a homecoming and opportunity to delight and reconnect, so thank you for welcoming me into your worship services today, friends at Cordata and FPC. And to our St. James family, how great is it that we have such strong bonds with our family of Presbyterian congregations that we not only can hear from each other’s pastors in this season, but that it highlights the mutual support and care that we all provide for each other and that we all so desperately need right now.
That Would Be Enough
In the hit musical, Hamilton, we see the unfolding love story between Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler. The ambitious founding father is a workaholic, not willing to throwing away his shot to rise up and help create a new nation out of the American Revolution. His work and writing consumes him, but he also loves Elizabeth (“Eliza”), and so he’s caught between his destiny to make a better nation and be present as a husband and father.
Eliza sings a beautiful, heartbreaking song to Alexander called “That Would Be Enough”, as she longs for him to come home, be with her, and be happy with what is. The song wrenches on our hearts, because we too feel that tension: If we are to take rest, will there be enough? Or if we step away from our work, have we done enough to let it lay for a day?
At the heart of us practicing the Sabbath is the recognition that there is “enough” to go around. That God has provided enough.
Out of the land of Egypt, the Israelites venture into the wilderness and receive the commandment to practice the Sabbath day. This is God’s response to the powerful oppression from Pharoah over the Israelites, where he forced them to make bricks day after day with no reprieve. There was never enough in Pharoah’s perspective. And God pushes directly against this with God’s people: There will always be enough, so rest and be restored.
We are invited to practice the Sabbath in this way, to take a day of rest, trusting that there is enough. Not simply enough, but an abundance, enough to go around.
Jewish philosopher Abraham Joseph Heschel says that to practice the Sabbath is to “rest as if the work is done.” Out of the abundance of God’s providence, we rest on the Sabbath not because the work is done (there is always more to do), but “as if the work is done” because we trust that God provides enough so that we do not need to keep scratching for more.
We need this message now, as much as ever. In the midst of a global pandemic and racial apocalypse, we need to practice Sabbath rest, as if the work is done, trusting that God is providing enough today to sustain us for tomorrow.
But there’s a problem: As we hear in our gospel text, we don’t have the right perceptions of what the Sabbath is to be.
As Jesus does with the Pharisees, today I want to challenge us to reconsider what it means to practice the Sabbath. In today’s text, we see Jesus pushing against a number of aspects of Sabbath piety that get in the way of practicing justice. And for us, this provokes the question of what our practice is oriented toward: who is the Sabbath “for”? Is it for us to check off a piety box on our list? Or does the Sabbath serve to glorify God through the great purposes of equipping God’s people to bring justice, mercy, and peace to a broken world?
Growing up, I had lots of different ideas about what the Sabbath was meant to be. First, it was the day we went to church — Sabbath and Sunday were synonomous in my mind. I also thought Sabbath was the day when businesses were supposed to be closed. Growing up, that was a much more regular practice. Sabbath keeping seemed pretty unattainable. As I kid, I wanted to play when I had a day off — not just sitting still in the living room with my family all day.
These ideas evolved as I grew up and ultimately caused me to disregard the Sabbath as a practice that would be relevant to my own faith and context. I was doing it the best I could, showing up to church on Sundays, youth group on Wednesdays, serving throughout the week — I felt like I had given God what God needed, why give another full day?
And just as Jesus does with the Pharisees, so I also know that he is doing with me: I have come to believe that the Sabbath is something entirely different than these early notions. I have come to know that practicing the Sabbath is nothing short of a lifeline, a powerful comma in the sentence of our days, a space for replenishment and joy and activity and hope.
See how Jesus frames the Sabbath in our text this morning. First, when he’s asked about the disciples gleaning in the field on the sabbath, he challenges the Pharisees to remember the great King David and his sabbath breaking meal. David knew that the needs of his companions were more important than a pious restraint from eating the temple bread. Then Jesus digs in deeper and challenges us to look squarely at the clergy of the religious establishment: aren’t they breaking Sabbath by doing their work on this day? They aren’t? Hmmm. So, they’re guiltless?
He takes both of those examples and then pulls the frame back out to a wide view and reorients his listener’s perspective on the temple and juxtaposes it with true Sabbath practice: temple piety does not always equate to practicing mercy. The ethic of human life, the care for the needs of the hungry or the sick — these are in the realm of practicing mercy. And when the sacrificing gets in the way of the mercy-giving…we have a problem.
Jesus pushes this out a bit more in the second section of our Gospel text. The clergy members clearly still don’t get what he’s on about and they ask him about curing a man on the Sabbath. They challenge Jesus with a bind: will you heal on the sabbath or will you refrain from doing work?
Masterfully, Jesus flips the tables on them once more and challenges whether they value sheep over human life. Jesus heals the man on the Sabbath. He does work in the synagogue — healing, liberating work. And this makes the clergy angry. Because…my friends, they, we, are missing the point.
So…if we’re missing the point and if the Sabbath is actually about resting in God’s abundance…where do we go from here? How do we practice Sabbath in a world of disruption and unceasing work?
I needed these texts this week, as they are working on me. Lately, I have noticed my body being more and more fatigued. I’m not waking up rested. I’m tired more and more of the time. And I’m realizing, I haven’t really taken good rest. Sure, I’ve used some vacation days and got some down time — but in this season, it seems there is no true way to get down time because each day presents us with a fresh challenge, a news cycle filled with division and uncertainty, a new report of hope for our world and then another story of brutality and violence. We are being whipped back and forth.
I need this text (and I want to bet that so many of you do too) because I need to rest AND I need to remember what rest is for.
That’s key — what the rest is for.
Let’s go back to our pious clergy members and the misconceptions many of us hold about the Sabbath. Practicing Sabbath is about finding the goodness of God in the land of the living and delighting in it and responding to the abundance of all that God provides with joy, celebration, rest, deep breaths, activity that stretches our happy muscles, and helps us root down again in God’s sustaining presence.
To that end, Sabbath, as the clergy members of the religious establishment saw it and as I’m sure many of us see it, Sabbath is not about showing up and doing pious religious stuff.
I’ll push on this a bit here, just to illustrate: I want to challenge us to consider that what we are doing right now, gathering in worship…it is not the fullness of what it means to practice Sabbath.
Sabbath practice looks like carving out intentional time to rest, delight, celebrate and enjoy — and often worship is a part of this. But think about it: how many of you are on committees in your congregation? How many of you serve as elders or deacons? How many of you help with children’s activities or lead worship with your musical gifts in your church? Do you serve as an usher or help with the church website?
First, I want to say THANK YOU! The glorious work of serving the church and participating in worship is a foretaste of the Reign of God and something we should wholeheartedly participate in and be a part of.
And second, please chuckle with me here: It’s not Sabbath keeping.
At St. James, we have our church Session meeting following church every Second Sunday of the month. So for elders, there is work to be done. Good work, important, gospel-bringing work. It’s the work that Jesus is actually supporting (in a way) as he talks in verse 5 of our text and notices the priests working in the temple and their guiltlessness for breaking the Sabbath. That is not what the Sabbath is about in the first place!
If I’ve confused you, I’m sorry. Here’s what I’m getting at: Sabbath practice, Sabbath rest — it is wholly different than a piety or, put in the positive, wholly different than making the most of our God-given intellect and gifts day after day. It is different, complimentary, equipping these great works we do, works of worship, service, and action.
Sabbath rest is the invitation to trust that we are held in the loving arms of God enough to take a breath and take a moment, a day, to simply exist and delight in the goodness of that.
Sabbath rest looks like turning the computer off. It looks like going for a long run, not because your training schedule demands it, but because your body delights in it. Sabbath rest looks like celebrating an abundant feast with people we love and inviting others who do not have enough to come to the table as well.
For me, practically, Sabbath is what I do on Saturdays. On a day when I typically have no responsibilities. I spend the day on Friday with my family, making sure everything around the house is done. And then Saturdays, we rest. We play, we eat, we hike, we watch TV or read books. We delight that while the work is unceasing, we can pause.
For some of us, Sabbath might very much be something your practice on Sundays. Awesome! What we’re getting at here is not a religious piety around how and when you do it. What we’re getting at is that the Sabbath is a matter of the heart. And so, I ask, does your practice of the Sabbath invite you to rest, to let down your guard, to trust in God’s abundance for a day? Good!
Please don’t hear any of the critiques here as a condemnation of not practicing the Sabbath the right way: we’re all working on it, we’re all trying. And we all know how difficult it can be to carve the time to simply rest. I very much get that. Rather, today, hear the invitation to find the space, however you can — it is worth it, for your soul, for your community, for the glory of God.
I’ll close with this: when and how you practice the Sabbath will look different depending on who you are, so what’s more important is asking the question of what is the practicing inviting you into? If the practice of rest leads you to not feed the hungry, you might be doing it wrong.
If Sabbath keeping invites us to be restored, to pause, and then be more fully equipped to care and support and love and give of our resources and share and lift up the needs of the poor: then Sabbath is probably happening. If it is inviting you deeper into love of Christ, love of neighbor, and love of self: you’re probably doing it right.
When we start to practice Sabbath, we push against all the powers of the world which would tell us that things are scarce, others are threatening, and that we should hoard our time, resources, and energy. When we start to practice Sabbath, even in the smallest ways, we find that God opens us up to greater mercy, lovingkindness, forgiveness, and grace. And, as people who have rested and delighted in God’s goodness, we can also be people of liberation, setting others free from the endless cycles of violence, despair, and fear that bind us.
And friends, we desperately need this right now. May the delight of God’s abundance you find in Sabbath rest set you free to therefore set others free. Amen.
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