Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Honor Sabbath – “Rest with God”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
January 8, 2023
Genesis 1:26-2:3; Mark 6:30-46
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
God rested on the seventh day not because God needed rest, but because God knew that we would need rest. If God offered the example of resting after creating the world, then maybe, just maybe, we limited, fallible, vulnerable human beings would let go of our responsibilities long enough to find rest and renewal as well.
Never ceasing to work is the practice of those who feel as if their lives depend entirely upon what they do, and not upon the grace of God. Never ceasing to work is ultimately a failure to trust in the providence of God. What we will eventually discover is that the world does not finally depend upon our efforts, but upon God’s grace.
In our gospel reading from Mark, the tired disciples experienced this eternal truth.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’
But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii* worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see. When they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Jesus had only three years of ministry to change the world. He only had three years to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
But it was Jesus’ custom to spend time each Sabbath day in the synagogue. And it was a regular habit of Jesus to go off by himself, away from his disciples and the crowds, often up on the mountain, to rest and to pray.
I suppose if Jesus, with the weight of the world upon his shoulders, could take the time to observe Sabbath time, then perhaps we could as well….
Martin Luther was known to be a very active man. Luther was always doing, serving, studying, working for the Church. He was known for his intensity and intentionality in seeking to be a good Christian. He was also known as a man of prayer. One of my favorite stories about Martin Luther is that one day his colleague overheard him say:
“I have so much to do, so much to do…I must bow and pray another hour.”
Our theme for the month of January is Honor Sabbath. Honoring the Sabbath is a biblical practice, intended for faithful living, Intended to enable human beings to live physically balanced and spiritually healthy lives. Not honoring Sabbath can create unbalanced and unhealthy lives, lives that may be full of activity but not full of those wondrous gifts of Christmas – hope, peace, love, and joy.
If we want to live all year long with hope, peace, love and joy, then we will want to take seriously the commandment of God to rest, to honor sabbath time and keep it holy.
Over the week before Christmas, I received a very unexpected opportunity to rest with God. As many of you know, on Tuesday morning, December 20, I tested positive for covid for the first time since the whole pandemic began.
Then, on Thursday morning, two days later, Melanie tested positive as well, which meant that our quarantine period would extend through Christmas day. For the first time in my life, I didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve. For the first time in 30 years, I didn’t lead Christmas Eve worship. For the first time I can remember, I didn’t even leave my home for a full week, except for a walk or two in the park.
I don’t think I have ever stayed home for a full week. Some of you may not be surprised that I got a whole lot done around the house that week.. The first few days I decorated the Christmas tree, repaired a fence, spread mulch, did laundry, cleaned up the kitchen, caught up on our finances, you name it.
I would work for a while, then feel really tired from the illness and sit down for a bit. But since I didn’t have a terrible case of covid, I would soon get up and get going again. At one point, Melanie looked at me and all the house projects I was doing and exclaimed: I think you need to get covid every year at Christmas!
Then, as was probably predictable to everyone but me, my body said stop. I got up the third or fourth morning, made it to the sofa, and didn’t move far from that spot the rest of the day. Physical illness has a way of forcing our bodies to rest. When one is dis-eased, the human body requires rest in order to heal, to renew, to re-energize.
The Ten Commandments, first and foremost, are not about limiting humanity. The Ten Commandments are a gracious gift from God for the sake of our physical, mental, spiritual, and communal health.
The fourth commandment – to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy – is ultimately an offer for a balanced and fruitful and enjoyable life.
Not too many years ago, a “Professor Heglin of Switzerland made an interesting series of experiments. He was seeking to discover the effect of work upon the body. It was his purpose to find out how much energy the average (person) expends each day on (their) average tasks; then to measured the average amount of energy which was restored to the average person during a night’s sleep. He wanted to find out how well the balance was maintained. To his amazement he discovered that some ten to twenty five percent less oxygen was stored away in the night than was used in the day. Every day, therefore, he surmised, we draw on our reserves. Never is the strength expended in a day’s labor fully restored by a night’s rest. At the end of six days the average person is exactly one day behind in reserve energy.
In order to keep a healthy balance between supply and demand. Only as we rest one day in seven does the energy required for the week’s work become restored. (Redhead, p.64)
I cannot confirm the accuracy of the science in Professor’s Heglin’s experiment, but I am sure about its basic truth. Energy deficiency does not immediately become a serious condition, anymore than failing to observe the sabbath day for a few weeks in a row. But declining in our energy reserves is one of those things that if we allow it to continue, it will slowly, but surely weaken our bodies and deplete our souls.
Have you ever known someone who was finally able to take a week of vacation after a long period of work, only to spend part of their break utterly exhausted, or worse, physically ill?
Sometimes, when a person finally allows their bodies to rest, the effects of stress or overworking catches up with them and causes dis-ease. Physicians have begun to realize the integral connection between depleting our reserves and the many physical and mental illnesses which dis-ease the human body.
One of them put it like this: “In the treatment of nervous diseases, we doctors are compelled to prescribe periods of rest. Such periods are, I think, only Sundays in arrears.” (Redhead, p.65)
…only Sundays in arrears….
In Psalm 46, the Lord commands: Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still.
Sabbath, in Hebrew shabbat, means to stop, to cease, to rest. Work hard for six days at home and at work, and then enjoy a full day of rest, without a to do list.
Resting does not necessarily mean sitting still all day. Fortunately, we are no longer so legalistic about the Sabbath day. I can remember my mom talking about extra long Sunday afternoons. She and her younger brother were not allowed to make much noise around the house. While the adults sat in the den and read the newspaper, the kids were supposed to be quiet and were not even allowed to play in the yard.
Today, we view Sabbath-taking differently. We don’t have to sit around all day and do nothing. Especially since many of us no longer engage in physical labor during the week, we may need to engage in physical activities that refill our cups and do not deplete our bodies. Activities like playing sports and exercising and walking in the woods can be a form of sabbath-taking, If such activities are not work for you, but provide mental and spiritual rest.
If activities like building things or painting or crafting is not work for you but play, after spending much of the week behind a computer screen, then those can be good things to do. Visiting with friends or family, so long as it does not feel like work but is refreshing to the soul, has always been a helpful sabbath activity.
Since Sundays are no longer sacred time in our society, many will enjoy sabbath time on a day other than Sunday. Pastors, like nurses and caregivers and restaurant workers, often work on Sundays, so we have to be creative about our sabbath-taking. For me, sometimes my Sabbath, my rest in God, is from noon on Sunday to noon on Monday. I am not legalistic about it, but often for those 24 hours, I do not check my email or follow up on my to do lists.
For those 24 hours, my intention is to engage in activities that refill and do not deplete my cup. When we don’t follow the Ten Commandments, we tend to live like sheep without a shepherd.
The shepherd oversees the flock and ensures that they have grass to eat and water to drink. The shepherd ensures that they lie down in safe places, and enjoy rest along the way. The shepherd ensures that they don’t follow each other off of rocky cliffs. The Good Shepherd knows that, just as our bodies depend each day upon a sufficient amount of rest, so does the well-being of our lives depend on a sufficient amount of rest and re-creation each week.
Some of you are aware that there is a college football game tomorrow night. It promises to be a competitive contest. My prediction is that, regardless of which is the better overall team, the game will come down to physical and mental readiness of the coaches and players. You can imagine the challenge that Kirby Smart has to keep his coaches, his players, and himself fully fit over the holidays.
The teams continue their workouts and game preparations over the Christmas break. They have to be physically and mentally ready to play at their peak performance, even after flying to the west coast and dealing with all the potential distractions. If the teams do not strike that critical balance between working and resting, they will play with tired legs and exhausted minds, and the fourth quarter, and perhaps the National Championship, will belong to the other team.
When the disciples returned from their pastoral work among the villages, Jesus encouraged them to come away for a time of rest, to learn the critical importance of breathing in after breathing out. As may often happen to us, that time of rest was interrupted by the needs of the crowd. The crowd, Jesus recognized, were like sheep without a shepherd. He and the disciples could rest later. So, Jesus met the spiritual needs of the crowds, and he enabled the disciples to meet their physical needs.
And then, true to form, Jesus sent the disciples away to rest, while he dispersed the crowds and then went off by himself for Sabbath time with God on the mountain.
Jesus had only three years of ministry to change the world, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. But it was Jesus’ custom to observe Sabbath time, restful time in prayer on the mountain, and communal worship and fellowship time in the synagogue.
I suppose if Jesus, with the weight of the world upon his shoulders, could take the time to observe Sabbath time and rest with God, Perhaps we could follow that practice as well. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Redhead, John A, Jr. Uncommon Common Sense. 1997.
Ken Myers and Dorothy Bass on Mars Hill Audio Journal, Vol. 42