Remember the Sabbath Day

Biblical Text: Mark 2:23-3:6 (and Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

So this Sunday in the Church year is the one that starts the Long Green season. The festival season, which stretched from Advent through Trinity Sunday (Christmas to Pentecost), is over and another word for this is Ordinary Time. And the first lessons given are interesting as they are on the Sabbath Day. By this time the Easter attendance bump is long past, and most pastors are hoping the Summer lows are not too low. The Festival season gives people extra reasons to attend. The long green season – made longer this year because the moveable feast of Easter was so early – is more like the Christian life. It has its high moments, but most of it is lived in the plain. Which is why I think starting it with a reminder of what the Sabbath is, is a sharp choice.

And as Lutherans we also have a sharp law-gospel distinction to proclaim – completely in tune with Jesus in the gospel lesson – about the Sabbath. In the law the Sabbath is simply about rest. It only demands that nobody in your authority do any normal work. The gospel purpose of that law is that we might draw near to the Lord. And in the promises of Jesus there are a multitude of ways that we can so draw near. The law itself is good and wise, but it doesn’t save. You could spend you day of rest just sitting and check the box. Salvation rests in drawing near to God.

The sermon develops those thoughts through a reflection on how work expands to fill the time, old blue laws, and a meditation about what I think is the Spiritual sickness of the day. It is not that we don’t want a Sabbath, but that our people collectively don’t want this Lord of the Sabbath. And so we get the heavy yoke of the work of the Devil, the World and our own flesh.

Needing a Sabbath

“The Lord will get his Sabbath, one way or another.”

That’s an older proverb I unexpectedly heard someone quote the other day.  I say older when I mean archaic.  Because you’d have to know what a Sabbath is first.  Then you’d have to know both who The Lord is and that he commanded one.  And it would probably help to understand that this Lord had a bunch of fights in his own day about the Sabbath.  All things which are no longer common knowledge. But it struck me that ears might be deaf to exactly the wisdom they need to hear.

The first thing I always ask when I hear a proverb is “Is it True?” In this world that is on something of a sliding scale and it often depends upon the context. There are rock solid proverbs – “A fool and his money are soon parted.”  There are marginal ones – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” As long as you are content with marginal returns, accepting what the universe gives you, this is great advice (and holding an MBA and CFA exactly what I’d tell 98% of people), but it is terrible advice to anyone who is after excellence. Financially, you wanted all your eggs on Amazon at almost any time in the past 25 years. If you want to make the Big Leagues, that better be what you are doing all the time. In asking “Is it True?” one of the big helps I find is asking, “Is it biblical?” “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not, neither is “God helps those who help themselves.” What about this one?

It is not directly a biblical Proverb. You won’t find it attributed to Solomon. Neither does Peter, James or Paul mouth it.  But there is a deep way in which “The Lord will get his Sabbath, one way or another” is biblical.  When the Israelites took the land of Canaan, God gave them larger Sabbath commands. Every 7 years they were to allow the land to lie fallow. Every 50 years, the completion of seven sevens, was the Jubilee year. All slaves were manumitted, all debts forgiven, any land sold reverted to the family who owned it originally. The Jubilee turned everything Israel thought they owned into a stewardship arrangement. You never actually bought a field, you stewarded it for at most 49 years. Of course there is no actual record of a Jubilee ever actually happening. The Sabbath of Sabbaths was not taken.  And no farmer let his field go fallow every seven years, are you crazy!?! What is God going to do, send manna? 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 tells us the 70 years of exile were 1 year for each missed Sabbath.  The Lord would get his Sabbath, one way or another.

The second thing I ask when I hear a proverb is “how is it used?” When would someone quote this proverb. The most logical time to quote this is to the work-a-holic. The point being that you should take a rest.  The implied threat being that if you don’t willingly take a rest, your body will probably fail in some way forcing a rest. But there is a second time it might be quoted.  When someone has put all their eggs in the basket of the world, you might quote this to them.  The intention being something like “don’t forget the sacred or the spiritual.” It would be akin to “man does not live by bread alone.” And that is where I wonder if we have become deaf.

Luther’s explanation of the Sabbath commandment is nothing about a seventh day, but about the deeper recognition of the Sabbath.  As the Lord of the Sabbath said, “it was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” And that deeper recognition is that we should not despise preaching and the Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Keeping the Sabbath day is about maintaining a proper reverence for the Word of God.  It is by the Word we were created.  It is by the Word that we have been saved. And it is by that same Word that we live in the promise of the resurrection. That day is coming when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess (Isa 45:23).” The Lord will have his Sabbath, one way or another.  The question is: Is your Sabbath one of grace or compulsion and exile? Today we are invited to a Sabbath of grace made for us, but the Lord will have his Sabbath.

He Came to Make Us Holy

Biblical Text: Luke 4:31-44

The text details a Sabbath Day for Jesus in Capernaum. It is a day full of demons and healing. And what it makes completely clear is that the cosmic battle has come to earth. Christ has come to make us holy. The confrontation in the Synagogue with the demon sets the conflict. The demon thinks that “us” is mankind and the demons. The Holy One of God has nothing to do with that us. But Jesus rejects the demon’s definition of “us”. To Jesus us is God and man, God with us. And Jesus intends to make us holy. And he does this by His word. The sermon examines the authority of that word and what it calls us to be and do.

Marriage, Faith, Good Wine

Biblical Text: John 2:1-11

Preaching on John is always interesting. The wedding at Cana is one of those texts that you just can’t drain it all. 180 gallons of good wine will do that. This sermon has three movements. The first is doctrinal. The wedding at Cana reminds us how much God loves and blesses marriage. The second is personal. Mary is the picture of Faith. The interaction of Jesus and his mother is a picture of the test of faith. And what God gives through that test. The last movement is what the church used to call a spiritual or mystical reading. Why six stone jars, why water to brim, and what about the wine? This one goes in the keeper file.

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

Biblical Text: Luke 4:16-30

We are continuing through our Epiphany series which might be subtitled “seeing God”. The normal ways of seeing God that the Epiphany texts help us to see are Word and Sacrament. This text is no different in that, except this text asks the next question: what does seeing God mean for the one who sees? And Epiphany is always also a test. Do we believe? Do we trust the promises given in the Word of God and the sacraments, or do we demand what we take as greater signs? This sermon ponders Jesus’ reception in his hometown, and parallels that reception among those who have been made his family by baptism.

Just What is a Sabbath Anyway?

Biblical Text: Mark 2:23-28
Full Sermon Draft

In the course of my lifetime I’m not sure if there is a word that went from being in general use to almost obsolete more than Sabbath. It might be hard to imagine if you didn’t live through it, but the great deliberative bodies of our nation once spent great amounts of time thinking about a Sabbath and its meaning. Today I’d bet that the vast majority of folks wouldn’t even recognize the word. It is in the 3rd commandment. Lots of the controversies around Jesus are because of it. What is a Christian supposed to do? That is what this sermon is about. What is a Sabbath anyway? And if we are supposed to keep it holy, how do we do that? It is so easy, and yet awfully hard. It is all about the gospel, and yet we so often want a law. But as Jesus says, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So we need to understand how to receive it as a gift, not work to secure it. We have a Sabbath rest, even if we don’t know it. This is about knowing it, and living it.