The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the second and third chapters.
Glory to you, O Lord.
One sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” 3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. I think this can be a hard commandment to keep.
We all learned the third commandment when we were in Sunday school and confirmation class. You may also remember what Luther tells us in his explanation: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.” That’s not the hard part of the commandment for me. I love preaching and Bible study. But, that’s not the whole of the commandment. That’s the part that Luther wanted to emphasize because of the things that were going on in his church in his time. People were not attending worship and receiving the sacrament regularly.
Jesus reminds us today what a great gift the sabbath is to us. He reminds us that the sabbath is God’s gift to humankind. That’s the hard part for me, seeing the gift of resting from work one day a week. Trusting that God will take care of things without me. Perhaps that’s hard for you, too. Do you take your responsibility too seriously? Do you think it all depends on you?
Pastor and Professor Marva Dawn has written a book called “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly.” It’s all about the rhythm of life and honoring God and the ways God made us to be in the world.
She divides keeping the sabbath into four categories.
The first part of keeping the Sabbath is something Dawn calls, “Ceasing.” The most obvious thing to cease doing on the sabbath is working. It’s always been hard for me to let go of the work I need to do even after I get home. It seems to live in my head like an endless list of things I need to remember. It’s even harder now that we have so much technology available to us.
Remember when we didn’t have cell phones, much less smart phones, and we were not instantly available for questions? Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, and I appreciate how I can save time tomorrow, by answering a text message today, but our constant availability through technology makes it harder for us to cease working on the Sabbath.
In addition to ceasing work, keeping the sabbath calls us to cease our possessiveness. When we give up our possessiveness we are reminded that we are only stewards of the things we have. We no long focus on accumulating stuff. The sabbath helps us remember that it all belongs to God.
Dawn says that keeping the sabbath means ceasing enculturation. That means not giving in to what the culture and society tell you that you must do. Society tells you that you must always be busy and productive.
For the Jews, keeping the sabbath was the hallmark of being a member of the Jewish community and faith. It was what separated them from the gentile community. Paul considered sabbath-keeping to be one of the non-negotiable marks of a believer. Keeping the sabbath makes you different and it’s one of the things that non-believers will notice about you.
Keeping the sabbath is all about giving up the illusion of control. That means that we cease trying to be God. When we give up trying to control our future we trust that God will provide for us. We don’t worry or get anxious about things. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ever have any responsibility or that we don’t ever need to work. It means that one day each week is God’s gift to remind us that God is God and we don’t have to be.
Ceasing to work means that we have time for rest. Resting is the second part of keeping the Sabbath. Physical rest is obviously important to us. Resting means that we have strength to work the other days of the week.
Spiritual, emotional, and intellectual rest are important as well. We can’t rest our bodies if our spirits are struggling. Spiritual rest is part of God’s gift of faith. We trust that God will provide for us and we leave our concerns with God. We trust that God is working in us and will work through us.
The greatest result of Sabbath resting is the peace that comes from knowing the presence of God. Happiness is fleeting, but the peace and joy of knowing that God is with us are what carry us through the sorrows and tragedies in this life.
Keeping the Sabbath isn’t just about not doing things we usually do. It isn’t just about Ceasing and Resting. The third part of keeping the Sabbath is “Embracing.” We embrace the values of the Sabbath. We embrace the intentionality and deliberateness of those who keep the sabbath.
When we keep the Sabbath, we embrace the joy of being part of the Christian community. We embrace the opportunity to be with our family and friends. We embrace the people we love and delight in their company without the pressure of concern about the work we need to do.
We embrace God’s instructions to live in grace and love. We embrace the pleasure of giving rather than getting.
There are many Jewish folktales that talk about how the sabbath is celebrated in heaven by the angels. The point of these stories is to remind us that when we embrace the sabbath, we are imitating the angels. We are singing and celebrating with the angels.
When we make music, when we sing together, when we enjoy the beautiful praise music of the worshipping community, we are celebrating the Sabbath with the angels.
Feasting is the final part of remembering the Sabbath. This is the feast of the victory for our God. What a wonderful privilege to celebrate this gift! Our sabbath is not jus a time of ceasing and resting and embracing. It is a feast.
We come together every week, not just to remember that God gave us a day of rest every week, but to remember and celebrate all that Christ has done for us.
Christ, himself, is the host of our feast. He is present with us in the meal. He brings the food and the gifts for the celebration. He invites everybody! You are invited. Your friends are invited. Your families are invited. All the people you like are invited. Even the grumpy and disagreeable people are invited.
We celebrate the sabbath feast with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven when we sing and make music together. The sabbath is made for us.
Psalm 92 is a song for the sabbath day. I would like to close by sharing the first and last stanzas.
ELW Psalm 92
1It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praise to your name, O Most High;
2to herald your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night;
3on the psaltery, and on the lyre,
and to the melody of the harp.
4For you have made me glad by your acts, O Lord;
and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.
12The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
13Those who are planted in the house of the Lord
shall flourish in the courts of our God;
14they shall still bear fruit in old age;
they shall be green and succulent;
15that they may show how upright the Lord is,
my rock, in whom there is no injustice.