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Sermon for April 7, 2019 -- SABBATH WORSHIP

“SABBATH WORSHIP”

-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 4-7-2019 Pardeeville

(Mark 2:23-28 and Isaiah 58:1-14)

 

 

     You may or may not be happy to find out that today we complete our journey into the 58th chapter of the book of Isaiah.  I have held you hostage for over a month now and, beginning next Sunday, we shall look elsewhere in the Bible for what God has to say to us.  If we’ve accomplished nothing else though, we have become a bit more familiar with the book of Isaiah and with the circumstances of the chosen people during that time.  Over the past four weeks, we’ve seen the people misuse the practice of fasting and the resulting harsh words from God.  The people wonder why they should fast if God isn’t going to notice them.  Ahem.  This is not the reason anyone should fast!  We most commonly think about fasting from food.  During the season of Lent though, when many of us give up something, it’s very much like fasting.  Hopefully, whatever we choose to do without during Lent will allow us time to deepen our relationship with God.  That would be ideal.

     And up until now as we look into the book of Isaiah, we have been talking about fasting, how the chosen people were messing it up, and what God suggested as a new way to fast.  God told the chosen people to be aware of the needs of others…to work for justice, to serve the poor, the hungry, and the homeless.  In the last two verses which we added this morning, we’re talking worship.  And very much like the rest of this chapter, the chosen people are not worshipping correctly either.  The word Isaiah uses is “trampling” the Sabbath.  That’s a pretty vivid description!  At the time, the chosen people were simply going through the motions and calling it worship.  What people really wanted to do was pursue their own interests on the Sabbath.  They wanted to go about their business and not take advantage of the time out the Sabbath presented them.  God offers the chosen people a deeper relationship if they will only change what they’re doing and stop disrespecting the Sabbath.

     What is considered appropriate to do and to avoid on the Sabbath is the subject of our reading from the Gospel according to Mark this morning.  Jesus and his disciples are out taking a walk and they pass a field of grain.  The disciples pick a few heads of grain.  Now I don’t know if the Pharisees were hiding on the other side of the road or if someone squealed on the disciples later on.  Somehow, the Pharisees learn what happened and they choose to interrogate Jesus about it.  In some of the things I’ve read about this story, it was not against any law for a traveler to pick grain.  Fields were deliberately unfenced and close to the road in order to keep the grain handy to any passers-by.  But the Sabbath was a big deal for Jews.  It was a commemoration of the creation story in the book of Genesis when, after creating the world in six days, God rested on the seventh day.  The Pharisees had even gone to the trouble of adding an additional 39 laws to the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”.  The Pharisees interpreted what Jesus’ disciples did that day as harvesting and therefore working on the Sabbath.  This was strictly forbidden.

     This is what Jesus is addressing at the end of this passage when he says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind…not humankind for the Sabbath.”  The long list of rules the Pharisees added to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” was an attempt to confine God to a set of rules.  The concept of Sabbath was intended for all of us…to give us the opportunity to worship God as a community of faith and to offer us rest.  These are the two ways to worship God on the Sabbath.

     So what about keeping the Sabbath today?  Sunday is treated radically different by society these days than many of us remember from fifty or sixty years ago.  A lot of us remember blue laws.  Most businesses were closed on Sunday, or at least had much shorter hours.  Everyone went to church.  The big meal of the day was early Sunday afternoon and people truly rested.  That was all back in the glory days of organized religion, when the church had great influence.  Since then much has changed including the evaporation of the church’s influence in our culture.  On Sunday, it’s anything goes now…sporting events, camping, going to work, or just sleeping in.  What would the Pharisees say!?  Fifty years ago, you might not drive very far on a Sunday because you might not be able to find a gas station open!  Just because a person doesn’t go to church on Sunday though doesn’t make them evil.  If fact, we need to be careful in our reaction to folks who do not attend church.  We don’t want to become modern-day Pharisees. 

     A relatively new concept for churches nowadays is called “missional theology”.  In this new concept, the church understands itself and its people to be sent out by God into the community.  No longer is the church a place to draw people to.  Instead, the people of the church go out to serve God in their communities.  And here’s why:  because of the shift in attending church on Sunday, there are four groups of people we are likely to encounter when we go out.  The first group knows at least a little bit about what church means.  Maybe they only attend on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday, but they have some understanding about what goes on.  The second group are people who have been injured by the church.  They have been excluded or downright made to feel inferior to others because of their lifestyle or a number of other factors.  The third group has never been in a church.  They haven’t the slightest idea what it’s all about.  They don’t understand the worship service or the symbolism or any of it.  And the fourth group are people who are members of another faith tradition, such as Muslims or Jews.  When we meet almost all of the people in these groups and lead with the question, “Would you like to come to church?” what do you think the answer is going to be?  A relationship between people needs to be built first.  That’s why missional people feel called by God to go outside the walls of the church.

     For centuries, missionaries went to faraway places to bring God to the people living there and we still do that.  But the mission field these days is much closer.  In fact, we may think that as we go out we are bringing God to our community.  What we will find though is that God is already at work in our community.  We need to understand what God is doing among us and then find a way to join in the work that God is currently doing.  Being missional is a difficult concept for us to get used to, especially those of us who have experienced the church in a much different way most of our lives. 

     That means we have to balance the former idea of Sunday worship and the current trends.  We certainly do not want to give up coming together as a community of faith on a Sunday morning.  This is an experience we value highly.  It’s important to be together.  It’s important to come together to worship God, to confess our failures, to receive forgiveness, to offer prayers for others, and to sing.  But we are only here in worship for a short time each week.  Most of our time is spent outside the walls of our church.  It’s there where we can begin forming relationships with others from some of those groups.  Once those relationships grow, we can invite others to come to worship on a Sunday morning.

     I’d like to close by speaking a bit about the other meaning of the word “Sabbath”.  The concept of Sabbath goes back to the book of Genesis, when God finished the work of creation…God rested.  That provides the example we need to do the same thing.  “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word “Sabat” which means rest.  We get the word “sabbatical” from the same root word.  And during the season of Lent, we have the ideal opportunity to practice Sabbath time.  I think I mentioned that a presenter at a conference I attended years ago called Sabbath time “wasting time gracefully”.  That’s the same place I learned two different Greek words that both mean time…but time in different ways.  One of those words is “chronos”.  Chronos time is clock time.  It’s the word we use to ask ourselves, “Am I on time?”  It’s what the White Rabbit in the story of “Alice in Wonderland” meant when he said, “I’m late!  I’m late!  For a very important date!”

     The other Greek word for time is “kairos”.  This is a better description of Sabbath time.  Kairos time is the right time.  We often say that God sent Jesus into the world at the right time.  But kairos moments exist in our lives, especially when we experience the presence of God in a retreat setting.  God has set the example for kairos time, inviting us to balance work and rest.  Maybe you know someone for whom resting seems out of reach.  I know at least two people who would have a difficult time achieving kairos time.  These folks are competitive, ambitious, impatient maybe to the point of being frantic.  They are just going, going, going all the time.  I honestly don’t know what to say to them about being in a retreat setting or seeking out kairos time.  I hope they have some way to unwind that I’m not familiar with.  But for the rest of us, we need to find ways to put aside the day-to-day busyness in our lives every once in a while.  We need to do so regularly and a retreat setting is perfect.  The next best thing though is setting aside some time every day during the season of Lent to be alone, be quiet, perhaps read the Bible or use a guided meditation.  Doing so gets us to kairos time.  We find ourselves in God’s presence and, since we’ve quieted ourselves already, we can be more receptive to what God is trying to tell us.  This too is the worship we offer to God.

     So there are two ways to Sabbath.  We can gather as we have this morning to worship God as a community of faith.  And we can put ourselves in position to achieve some kairos time with God on a regular basis.  If you haven’t mastered this second one yet, there are still a couple of weeks of Lent left.  Kairos time awaits.  Thanks be to God!

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