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Sermon for Sunday 3 June 2018

FIRST READING Deuteronomy 5:12-15

12{Moses said,} “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.’”


PSALM Psalm 81:1-10

1Sing with joy to God our strength and raise a loud shout to the God of Jacob. 2Raise a song and sound the timbrel, the merry harp, and the lyre. 3Blow the ram’s horn at the new moon, and at the full moon, the day of our feast. 4For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. 5He laid it as a solemn charge upon Joseph, when he came out of the land of Egypt. 6I heard an unfamiliar voice saying, “I eased his shoulder from the burden; his hands were set free from bearing the load.” 7You called on me in trouble, and I saved you; I answered you from the secret place of thunder and tested you at the waters of Meribah. 8Hear, O my people, and I will admonish you: O Israel, if you would but listen to me! 9There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not worship a foreign god. 10I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”


SECOND READING 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.


GOSPEL Mark 2:23–3:6

23One Sabbath {Jesus} was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” 1Again {Jesus} entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.



For the majority of Christians, the only commandment harder than the Third Commandment, to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, is the 5th petition of the Lord’s Prayer; “forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others!” Now the topic of forgiveness, both giving and receiving, is an important subject and one that needs our considerable attention, but I’ll save that for another Sunday. Today, I’d like to focus on the second hardest command, honoring and keeping the Sabbath holy.
As most of you know, I grew up in a Christian home and one of the things Dad was very strict about was our activities on the Sabbath. There was to be no work allowed on Sundays. The Sabbath was, for my father, a day of rest as God directed in Exodus (20:3-17) and Deuteronomy (5:7-21). However, when Mom pointed out that cooking and cleaning up after dinner were work, Dad knew he was cornered. So, as finances would allow, Dad would take us out to dinner on Sundays, but he felt bad about making the restaurant personnel work on the Sabbath. Dad didn’t like the idea of watching television on Sundays either, but I did notice that he often peeked at the TV late on Sunday afternoons, especially when his favorite teams were playing football.
Another thing that wasn’t allowed on Sunday was swimming. Even though the irrigation canals looked very inviting in the hot Arizona summers, I had no problem with this rule. In my mind, I knew that even a good swimmer can get a cramp or get caught in the road culvert and drown. For me, I could imagine what the scene would be like if I drowned and reported to St. Peter at the gates of heaven. St. Peter would ask, “Son, what happened to you that you should be reporting to me at such a young age?” I would reply, “Sir, I was swimming in the irrigation canal and drowned.” Then St. Peter would say, “But son, today is Sunday. Surely you weren’t swimming on the Sabbath, were you?” I figured that as I nodded my head shamefully, down would come the gavel of judgment. Case closed. Off to hell with you; swimming on Sunday. It was those thoughts kept me out of the canals. But I must admit, I did venture, from time to time, into the smaller irrigation ditches close to the house. They weren’t more than waist deep.
The Third Commandment is the longest of the Decalogue. Whereas God used a mere four words to give us the Fifth Commandment–thou shalt not kill–the Lord used 134 words, depending on the translation, to tell us about the Sabbath. God must have known the abuse that was coming so He wanted to reiterate its necessity. Yet will all the words God expended, this commandment has been the most controversial. The essence of the commandment is given the first sentence, verse 12 (Deut. 5): “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”
The word “Sabbath” (“shabbat” in Hebrew) doesn’t mean “seven.” It means to desist or to cease or to rest. The word “holy” means “different or set apart.” Therefore, we could easily render this sentence as follows: Remember the rest day and keep it different from all the other days of the week.
As you probably know, the Jewish Sabbath has always been from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. The Christian movement changed the Sabbath to Sunday because that was the day Jesus arose from the dead. Across the centuries Sabbath observance among Christians has swung between two extremes. On the one extreme, you have the nit- picking legalists who have forgotten the purpose of the Sabbath. On the other extreme have been the secular materialists who have disregarded the Sabbath altogether.
In the first century A.D., the nit-picking Jewish legalists harassed Jesus about the Sabbath. The Mishnah listed thirty-nine types of work, with lots of sub-heads in each category, that were prohibited on the Sabbath. It required one North Carolina lawyer or a dream team of Los Angeles lawyers just to keep up with Sabbath rules and regulations. In short, they had turned the Sabbath into more of a burden than a blessing.
In our gospel reading for today, on one particular Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were traveling down a road and were in need of a snack. As they walked they picked a few heads of wheat from a field to munch on as they walked. Now one thing we need to clarify is this wasn’t considered stealing. Remember Jewish law directed that the edges of the field were to be left for the poor. So, anyone in need could harvest the plants on the outsides of the field. But the Jewish legalists saw them and pounced upon their actions. You see, the harvesting of crops was outlawed on the Sabbath. It didn’t matter if you were hungry or not.
Some years ago, there was a group of about thirty Christians who took a tour of Israel. On a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, they happened to be near the historic Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The guide was telling them something of the history of that wall which dates all the way back to King Solomon. The teller of this story said he noticed a strange woman standing nearby watching them closely. He assumed she would try to sell the group something when she got a chance. About that time a member of the group raised a camera to take a picture. Suddenly the woman was on him like a duck on a June bug. “No photograph allowed on the Sabbath,” she shouted as she wagged a finger in his face. Suddenly I understood, he said, exactly the kind of legalism that Jesus and the disciples confronted long ago in a wheat field.
Jesus responded by taking His critics back to the original intent of the Sabbath. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Today our problem with the Sabbath isn’t too much strictness. The pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Our society completely disregards the Sabbath. The reason is two-fold: greed and the self-indulgence of our secular culture.
Like the other Ten Commandments, the Third Commandment cannot really be broken. But people can break themselves by violating it. People in America are suffering grievously and dying too early because they disregard God’s wonderful gift of the Sabbath day. Therefore, let me share three guiding principles which I believe are true to the letter and the spirit of Biblical instruction about the Sabbath. First, a 24-hour period, preferably on Sunday, should be set aside each week for spiritual growth, rest, fellowship and physical and mental renewal.
Did you know that the statistical experts for the insurance industry can almost predict the year in which you are going to die? That’s right. They ask you a few questions…like, do you smoke? Are you overweight? What is your occupation? Are you happily married? What is your family medical history? And boom, the computer algorithm spits out a predicted age of death. Personally, I think there’s another question the statisticians should ask. It’s this: do you observe a Sabbath day each week? I’m convinced that faithful observance of the Sabbath will add at least five years to the average life span. Another pastor shared with me his thoughts on the subject recently.
He said, “One of the finest attorneys I ever knew was a member of a church I once served. His was a corporate law firm. Some of the largest companies in the Southeast were his clients. This man was so sharp that his biggest clients insisted upon his personal service; they wouldn’t accept the services of his partners and assistants. This man came to church regularly, but he never really observed a Sabbath. He either went back to the office or worked on material he brought home. The pastor says he remembers the first time the member was in the hospital for a heart attack. Major corporate leaders telephoned him in the hospital. They would ask how he was doing. Then, thirty seconds into the conversation, they were pumping him for legal advice. The man died in his early 50s.
I’m convinced that a well-observed Sabbath each week would have added years to his life. The eminent British physician, sir James Crichton Browne, made this observation: “We doctors, in the treatment of nervous disease, are now constantly compelled to prescribe periods of rest. Such periods are, I think, only Sundays in arrears.” We need a 24-hour period of rest to allow our bodies, minds and spirits time to rejuvenate. This is the first guiding principle. The second guiding principle for the Sabbath is this: if we cannot observe Sunday as Sabbath, we should set aside another day.
As a pastor and a former member of the military, I know observing the Sabbath on Sunday isn’t always possible. For me, I set aside either Friday or Saturday as a day of rest. Even the military understood, except under extreme circumstance, that people need a 24-hour period to rest and rejuvenate. For professionals like first responders, police and medical personnel who must provide 24/7 coverage, weekend work is a requirement. Additionally, many people in the food service and tourism industries find that Sundays are the busiest times of the week. For congregations establish in places like Oak Island and Myrtle Beach, this isn’t a popular commandment.
Think of all the institutions and businesses that must be open on Sundays: hospitals, nursing homes, some drug stores, some service stations. Large industries like the power company cannot shut down their operations one day per week; therefore, at least a skeleton crew is required on Sundays. One of the things about us having two different service is that it gives a worship opportunity to those folks who may be able to work later on Sunday. However, I must issue a word of caution at this point.
We can’t rationalize our Sunday behavior. We must be honest when we ask, is what I’m doing, as far as work goes, absolutely necessary, or is it just a question of making a little extra money? Let’s suppose that Sunday is a workday for you. And let’s suppose that you’re invited to be the guest of a good friend at Pinehurst, and the date selected is a Sunday. Would you miss work to play a round of golf? The answer is simple; if you can get away from work to play golf, can’t you get away to worship God?
But it’s more than just worship, which is important. Even if you do take time to worship on Sunday morning, but then go and work the rest of the day, you still need to find another 24-hour period to treat as a Sabbath. And if you are an employer, you also have a responsibility to see that your employees have a Sabbath too. For our mental, spiritual and physical well-being, we need a day of rest. The third principle for the Sabbath is this: we Christians are well-advised not to impose our Sabbath on others.
If a Chamber of Commerce wants to urge businesses to restrain their activities on Sundays, that’s fine. I must admit, I have mixed feelings about the so called blue laws that force our Sabbath observance on an unwilling population. Some argue that without these blue laws, Christian business persons operate at a competitive disadvantage. I disagree: consider the fact that Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby seem to do just fine, and they’re closed on Sunday. My response is this: Being a Christian has always required some sacrifices. I believe God honors that sacrifice and helps those who are faithful.
Several years ago, the business leaders of Atlanta were asked to choose their city’s most respected CEO. They didn’t select Ted Turner or the boss of Coca Cola. Instead, they chose the fast-food chicken magnate, Truett Cathy, the boss of Chick-fil-A. You can tell what makes Mr. Cathy tick by reading the plaque in his office which states his corporate goal: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us; and, to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A.”
As you know, the fast-food business is highly competitive. But don’t look for Chick-fil-A restaurants to be open on Sundays in the future; they won’t be. Not as long as Truett has his way. Mr. Cathy has heard all the arguments for staying open seven days a week. But he replies, with a slight grin, that his restaurants usually generate more sales in six days than others do in seven. God honors those who honor Him.
I know a teenager who needed a summer job desperately. He found one at a fast-food restaurant. When he was arranging his work schedule with his boss, he said, “I can work anytime but Sunday mornings. I am in church then.” His boss honored that request. In fact, in a very short time, the young man had moved up to cashier and then to shift leader. His boss commented, “As soon as I knew of this young man’s attitude toward church and Sunday work, I knew he could be trusted to handle our money.”
The Sabbath is a gracious gift to us from a wise, loving God. We can ignore it, but if we do, we are the ones who will suffer. In my 8+ years of ministry, I’ve been with more than a few folks who were dying. You know the one thing I’ve never heard any of them say? “I sure wish I had spent more time at the office or worked a little harder in my business.” But I have heard a number of them comment, “I wish I’d taken more long walks with my spouse”… or “I wish I’d flown more kites with my kids”… or “I wish I’d spent more time watching a little cork bob up and down in the water”… or “I wish I’d read more story-books to my children and grandchildren.” You get the picture. You could say that each of these was saying, I wish I had observed a Sabbath each and every week.
Pastor Charles Allen likes to tell about some American explorers who went to Africa. They employed some native guides. The first day they rushed to cover as much distance as possible. They did the same thing on the second, third, and every day. On the seventh day they noticed the guides sitting under a tree. “Come on,” they shouted, “Let’s go.” One of the guides replied, “We no go today. We rest today to let our souls catch up with our bodies.”
It’s vitally important spiritually and mentally for us to gather each week to be fed by God’s word, to receive the nourishment of the Lord’s supper and for fellowship. It’s also important for us physically and mentally to take time to rest and allow “our souls to catch up with our bodies.” God had a good reason to give us this command, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God (Deut. 5:13-14a.) You and I need to rest.

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