With this message being a read only message because we aren’t having services tomorrow, I thought I would take a different approach to what I say and how I say it. First of all, I follow most of the time, the lectionary that is used each year by the UCC and is the same for the Lutherans and the Catholics. So the lectionary gives you 4-6 scripture readings to follow and also gives you the prayers that we use each week for the Call to Worship, Invocation etc. There is a balance of readings from the Old Testament and the New Testament. I read them all and then decide which ones to focus on. As you may have noticed there is always a reading from Psalm. The book of Psalm is one of my favorites. It seems most of the Psalms that are written are uplifting and give you good words for thought. Of course, one of my favorites is Psalm 23, another is Psalm 100. This week Psalm 81, verses 1 through 10, is the recommended one. It begins by telling us to sing out loud to God who is our strength, play the tambourine, the lyre with the harp and blow the trumpet. In other words, make joyful noise to God for He is the one who rescues us if you read further. But it goes on to say that He admonishes the people of Israel for they are not listening to him. That could go for us as well. How often do we forget to pray to God and to listen to God? How many times do we need to be reminded that He is there for us? We also need to remember that He has given us guidelines by which to live our lives. It finishes by saying “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” For us, He didn’t have to bring us out of slavery in the land of Egypt but He has delivered us from a life of sin by sharing his son Jesus with us and by sacrificing His son so that we can have eternal life. God provides for our every need, we need to remember that. Good food for thought and a reminder of who God is to us from the book of Psalm.
Usually I pick one scripture from the Old Testament and then one from the New Testament. However, there are times when another scripture reading from the Old Testament speaks to me so I use it as well as the scripture from Psalm. This week was one of those times. So the next scripture is from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 5 verses 12 through 15. If we would have been in church I would have read the scripture from Deuteronomy right before I read the scripture from Mark. They are both talking about the Sabbath but from a different perspective. The scripture from Deuteronomy tells us to observe the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. We are to labor for 6 days and do all of our work. But on the Sabbath you are not to do any work, not only you but your son or your daughter, your male slave, your female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of our livestock or any visitor, so that your slaves don’t have to work. It is the day that God wanted the Israelites to take the time to remember all that He had done for them by taking them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. So like the verses in Psalm 81, God is again reminding the people of Israel what He has done for them. They are to spend the day in rest so that they can take the time to reflect back on their lives before they were delivered from Egypt and their lives now. For us, again, we need to remember what God has done for us. However, there can be a balance to the Sabbath day. If you then go to the scripture reading from Mark 2, it tells first of Jesus going through the fields of wheat with his disciples and they were plucking the heads of grain. The Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples were doing work on the Sabbath. Jesus explains that it was like when David and his companions were hungry so they went into the temple and ate of the bread which is unlawful for anyone but the high priests to eat. It says; “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” That is a tricky phrase but I think it means that one can observe the Sabbath and can eat if one becomes hungry. The passage from Deuteronomy doesn’t specifically say that one should fast on the Sabbath although it says that it is a day of rest. A balance can be found between those two scriptures. The scripture from Mark goes on to tell how Jesus entered the synagogue and saw a man there who had a withered hand. Of course, the Pharisees were there as well to see if Jesus would heal this man which would mean that Jesus broke the law again by doing “work” on the Sabbath. Jesus told the man with the withered hand to come forward. Then He asked the Pharisees “Is it lawful to save life or to kill?” It angered Him that the Pharisees were silent. Jesus looked around at them in anger; their hardness of heart grieved Jesus. He told the man to stretch out his hand and Jesus restored the man’s hand to normal. Again I think that Jesus was showing the Pharisees as well as us that there is a balance.
In August of 2016 I did a message about the same thing although the scriptures were from Exodus and Luke. The lesson was the same. The scriptures from Exodus were the same as the ones we have today from Deuteronomy. The scriptures from Luke had the same theme but in Luke Jesus cured a woman who had suffered from being unable to stand up straight for 18 years. I don’t doubt that Jesus knew well the laws that said one shall not work on the Sabbath but in Luke Jesus asked the leaders of the synagogue if they untied their ox or donkey and lead it to water. Wouldn’t that be considered work? Yes the Sabbath is a holy day and one of rest but can one neglect the things that need to be done, like taking care of your animals, your family? I don’t think so. Jesus is telling them and us that there needs to be a balance. In that message from August 2016, I relayed my thought that although Jesus knew that the Sabbath was a day of rest, a sacred day, He also knew He needed to follow the greatest commandment of all which is; “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Again there is a balance. We need to take the day to reflect and honor the Sabbath but we also need to remember to take care of and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
In our times, there are professions that the people have to work on the Sabbath. Where would we be if there weren’t doctors, nurses, hospitals, policemen, firemen for instance? There are other professions where the machinery runs 24/7. Again there is a balance, if one works on their Sabbath day then maybe another day of the week can be their day of rest, their day to reflect and worship God. For those of us, who don’t have to work on the Sabbath, then Sunday is our day to come to church, or to worship at home. We need to remember that God is there for us every day but having a time to specifically take the time to reflect and worship God is important. It helps us to remember that God is there for us. It helps us remember that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It gives us a break from our busy days or maybe I should say our noisy days. It gives us a time of quiet so that we can hear that still, small voice that God can have to talk to us. It helps us to be present for God.
So whether you come to church on Sunday, or decide to worship at home, whether you are one of the people who have to work on Sunday, use that worship time you have to make sure you are present for God, you are listening for His voice, you are remembering that God is there for you every day.
In my message from 2016, I included some quotes about the Sabbath. Here are a couple of those that I read.
Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century
“A world with a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the most joyous day of the week.”
Charles M. Blow, 21st century
“There is no wrong time to do the right thing.”
Alice Walker, 21 century
“Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.”