A Day to Remember and Contemplate the Glory of God

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Luke 4:14-19, Exodus 20:8-11

Sunday’s coming. And for the preacher, pastors and worship leaders, it comes frequent and fast. Once a week. Every week. A sermon once a week. Plan the bulletin. Prepare and practice music.  Once a week.  Prepare to inspire. Lead worship. Once a week.

Once Sunday is over, Monday awaits… another day to prepare for next Sunday. Which comes fast. Especially at my age! Once a week. I have a mentor and friend who refers to this as the relentless return of the Sabbath.

Which is why Sabbath is challenging , especially for church professionals and preachers. It really is not a day of rest for us. At the Kirk there are more meetings scheduled on the Sabbath than on most other days of the week. I’m not complaining—really… but I’m just sayin’!So, we have to find other days in the week for our Sabbath.

This is why I am looking forward to worship on my Sabbatical. A time to sit in the pews, to enjoy a variety of worship experiences. To be fed. To honor the Sabbath in a new way.

It is fairly clear from Scripture that the Sabbath is to be honored. “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it holy”—holy meaning – set apart. Different. Hallowed. Honored.

So the Jewish and Christian faith from the beginning has lifted up the Sabbath as a day different from the rest of the week. “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy”

We receive these instructions in two different books in the Old Testament. From Exodus and Deuteronomy with long explanations telling us why we are to keep the Sabbath.  The Sabbath commandment is the longest of the 10 commandments.

Exodus bases the reason for keeping the Sabbath in the story of creation. Deuteronomy, in the experience of slavery and a declaration of freedom. Slaves cannot take a day off. They have to work 24/7. Free people can. Sabbath is their declaration of independence.

Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible 157 times. In 157 different locations the word Sabbath is used. And anytime something is mentioned this often, it should tell us something. The Bible is filled in minute detail with how important Sabbath is—which is very. The Bible can tell us exactly how we should celebrate and remember the Sabbath—which is by resting and turning our hearts toward God.

We know Jesus remembered and observed the Sabbath. We know for a fact that Jesus habitually goes to the synagogue, as both child and as an adult. When Jesus is 12 years old, and he goes missing… where to they find him? In Jerusalem, in the temple courts, sitting among the elders and teachers.

Today, we hear Jesus’ first public sermon.

 “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom….” As was his custom.

Jesus did get in trouble for breaking the strict Sabbath rules that evolved over time.

But he didn’t break it by avoiding worship. He broke it by doing good on the Sabbath.  Acts of love and service. By healing for example.  There is a difference between breaking a Sabbath for selfish reasons and breaking Sabbath for the good of others you know.

Jesus clearly remembered the Sabbath. As did the Jews. As did his disciples who were also Jewish at the time.  For them, keeping the Sabbath was not an interruption in the week, it was key to their survival. Sabbath rules and rituals had saved them over the years.  

When some of those same Jewish people were taken into Exile in Babylon,they practiced Sabbath law as a way to remember who they were.When the Greeks, then Syrians, then Romans occupied their land and mocked their laws,keeping Sabbath was a means of defiance against tyranny.So Sabbath laws were not just religious instruction. They were political statements over against brutal occupiers of their homeland. Their ancestors had shed blood to preserve Sabbath laws. They were the sacred cows of Judaism.You did not dismiss them nor violate them lightly.

You might say that in keeping the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept them.Because this was the day… the one day… when they paused to remember who they were and whose they were. This is the one day when they stopped to recover their true identity… as the children of God.

For them, Sabbath was about worship- a day to set aside to worship the God who made you. A day to refrain from worshipping all the other gods we worship in our lives the other six days a week—and you know who they are for you. For all of us:

Money, the Calendar, politics, sexuality, power, success, work/career, the self,  athletics, entertainment, nature. Just to name a few.  We worship those gods on a regular basis. You do as do I.

So Sabbath is a day to put those gods back in their place: To remember that while these are gifts of God, they are not god. So, we gather weekly to put these gods in their place. To remember who we are and whose we are. That we do not belong to or draw our identity from those other gods.

It is the day, I can reset or reboot my life and my priorities. And that is a good thing. Because during the week, my values and priorities can get way out of wack. 

But more important than that, it is the day when I can simply  rejoice and enjoy the presence of the Lord among God’s people.

Calvin said that Sabbath is the day we set apart to contemplate the glory of God. I like that. A day to bask in the presence of God.

I think of a story John Claypool tells about his daughter, Laura, who eventually died of leukemia. When she was four, John was attempting to put her to bed one night, but she was like most four-year-olds. To avoid going to bed, Laura took three trips to the bathroom, asked for a drink of water, wanted another story told, needed Dad to put the light on, heard a sound, and so on. John finally took care of his daughter’s needs and went upstairs to work.

He was deep into his work when (if you have children, you know this experience) he could tell Laura was standing at the door of his office, staring at him. He hadn’t seen her or heard anything, he just knew.  Frustrated, he turned around and said, with a bit of anger in his voice, “What do you want me to do, Laura?”  Laura sauntered up beside her Dad, grabbed his arm and said, ‘Nothing, Daddy, I just want to be close to you.”

Laura may have been speaking the words of God to us: ‘I don’t want you to do anything. I just want to be next to you.”

I wonder if one of the most important reasons to worship on the Sabbath is simply to pause from all of our doing… and to bask in the presence of God… To stop and contemplate the glory of the one who loves me and made me.

This is how Psalm 100 seems to understand it:   “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth…. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before the Lord with joyful songs. Know for sure that the lord, he is God. It is he who has made us and not we ourselves. (Psalm 100:1-3)

I love the hymn by William Kethe, a good old Scottish Presbyterian, based on this Psalm:  “All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice, Him serve with MIRTH, His praise forth tell, Come ye before him and rejoice.”

What the Psalmist knew and Kethe knew is this:  the most important thing we do on the Sabbath – is to enter into the presence of our God, to remember who we are and whose we are … and to offer our joyful—(yes, Presbyterians, joyful) praise and thanks to this God.

It is the day… the one day of the week, when I gather with you—a fellowship of Christians who share faith… to remember what God has done for us in the gift of this world and our lives… and one another. to remember the God who seeks to free us from slavery… to remember the God who overcame the powers of death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We gather with song and prayer, to hear the Word proclaimed through sermon and the sacraments… and to enjoy this together as God’s people.

One of my goals during Sabbatical is to gather with others who worship God in joyful and creative ways. There is a world of worship out there… and I don’t get out very much, especially on Sunday. . On Sunday  I’m fairly busy you know. I’m looking forward to learning from others how they remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. I’m looking forward to experiencing how God’s people in other places remember who they are and whose they are.

And I’m looking forward to coming home… to be with you… to share what I have learned… and, as the Holy Spirit leads… to help us reflect upon how we can Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy— maybe in fresh and new ways… that are joyful and bring glory to God. Amen.  

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