Why Keep Sabbath? Week Five: Because God Meets Us There

Sermon by:
Rev. Terri Thorn
delivered on:
July 30, 2017
Bible Reference(s):
Psalm 73

As I pondered how we would wrap up this sermon series on Sabbath-keeping, I was trying to figure out how to condense the insights of the last two chapters of Walter Brueggemann's book, "sabbath as resistance" into one message...and an abbreviated message at that.   Brueggemann's book has been the guide through the previous weeks of this series and I really did not want to leave out the last two chapters, one of which addresses how Sabbath helps us resist the urge to multi-task, and the other drew a connect between Sabbath-keeping and obedience to the 10th Commandment...thou shall not covet what your neighbor has.

Both are worthy of their own messages, to be sure.  However, tonight is about learning to practice Sabbath...it's about appreciating the fullness of reasons we should keep Sabbath.  We've heard that we should keep Sabbath because it is a gift from God.  We should keep Sabbath because, like the Hebrew slaves, God has saved us from the acquisitive, production mindset of Egypt, and also like the Israelites, we need to be reminded that our worth is not measured by our wealth.  We learned that we should keep Sabbath because life is not a race and God's people are not rats.  We do not need spend our days on a gerbil wheel of life.  We should keep Sabbath because God is a sabbath-keeping, sabbath-giving, sabbath-commanding God.  We should keep Sabbath because the attitude of Sabbath-keeping, which reveals the fruit of living in the Spirit of God, is how the world knows we belong to God.  We keep sabbath, because sabbath-keeping is a way of community-making.

And more...there are numerous good reasons why God's people should incorporate Sabbath into our lives.  And by that, I'm not just talking about worshipping on a specific day of the week or in a particular way.  Sabbath keeping is an ongoing way of life...a work-stoppage...priority-setting...regular worshipping way of life...but it is also a mindset - a mindset of grace and abundance...an attitude of hope and trust.  Friends, Sabbath-keeping is good for us..for our physical, spiritual and mental well-being.  God has given it to us for our benefit.  We should be grateful.

Still at the end of the day, folks, I think perhaps the most significant reason for keeping Sabbath is because it is in the quiet trust of Sabbath...in the rest, in the worship, in the God-centered mindfulness...that God meets us, assures us, and transforms us. 

I think that's what this Psalmist is trying to tell us.  Regardless of how chaotic our lives may seem...or how perverted or upsetting the world has become...despite all the deceiving messages about what is important...no matter how loud the ungodly voices of hate...in the midst of all that confusion and sense of dejectedness...when we enter the sanctuary -- or holy presence of God -- we begin to see differently.

Take a look at the Psalmist's story.  He's feeling down...defeated...surrounded by evil.  And, worse yet, he looks around and it appears as if evil is winning.  "They have no struggles," he says.  "Their bodies are healthy and strong.  They don't have problems like the rest of us.  And...they are not nice people.  In fact, they are mean and violen; they flaunt their wealth and oppress the poor.  They do not even begin to have the burdens and struggles of common people."

Heck, there's a part of me that things he was prophetically speaking of 21st Washington, DC!

Seriously...this psalmist is heavily burdened because all that he has been taught about good and evil, right and wrong, love and hate, blessing and community...everything...all of it...none of it seems to be the reality of the world as he is living in it.  And it has started to take a toll on his physical, mental and emotional health.

Now, who in this room cannot relate to that?   At some point in our lives, most of us have felt like the underdog...as if all the good we are trying to do is going unnoticed...at best it is ineffective,  at worst, it has been overcome by the presence of arrogance, greed, and mean-spiritedness.  Many of us have at one time or another felt that we were facing a mountain that was too steep to climb.   And I think that at least some of us, in a moment of overwhelming despair, have questioned whether seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly even matters anymore.

In fact, unless you're completely disconnected from all news sources, there's not a one of us who probably didn't have some version of that thought this week.  I mean, as if the circus we call Congress isn't enough to disorient our sense of righteousness and fairness in the world, it sure makes one question whether the ordinary citizens even matter.  The death of Lt. Aaron Allan surely felt as if good lost the battle to evil.   Last month when the Foster family was randomly attacked by a 19 year-old kid and Max lost his life, the sense of order in our community was ripped apart. The opiate drug abuse epidemic.  The lack of funding for quality education.  The lack of safe affordable housing. The lack of employment opportunities that support a basic standard of living.  The bulging at the seams foster-care system.  The for-profit prison system. The increasing gap between social economic haves and have-nots.  The fear and division over basic human rights. The crushing of human spirit and denying of  human dignity.   The universal decline in Christian worship attendance.  The undeniable change that is on the horizon for most all models of "being church". 

The list goes on and on. And folks, really, truly, I am not trying to be a pessimist or an alarmist.  I'm just pointing out the things that make us feel like this psalmist...the things that weigh heavily on our hearts and minds...the things that I believe burden God's heart too. 

Of course, we are Easter people...we believe that God has the power to breathe life into all of these dead situations.   However, we are also human people...people straddling that chasm between the heavenly hope and the earthly reality.  And...sometimes...if we've been standing there in that gap for too long, we find ourselves slipping...the way the psalmist was slipping.  "But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped." 

Until...as he says in verse 17...until I went into the sanctuary of God.   Until I paused my thinking.  Until I slowed my mind.  Until I took a Sabbath break.

Then I perceived their end.   Then I understood the bigger picture. 

In other words, then I remembered the promises of God.  Then I remembered that God is God almighty.  God is the God of goodness and righteousness. God is the God whose power is greater than any other god...even greater than death.  God is the source of strength for the faithful. God is the God who holds our hand and gets us through.

When the psalmist entered the sanctuary of God...and again, by sanctuary we do not mean a building with pews and pipe organ...we mean God's Holy Presence.  When the psalmist entered the holy presence of God...God met him there.  And the psalmist spirit was transformed.  

His situation had not changed...but his understanding of it had. And that shift always signals the beginning of healing.   In the presence of God, in the sanctuary of Sabbath, the psalmist remembered. He-centered. He was renewed.  He was transformed.  I mean, look at the change in his language...and in his perspective.  No more angst or complaining or frustration...just "But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works."

This, my friends, is the reason...the gift..the blessing...the purpose of Sabbath.  To be near God...and trust God will take care of all the rest.  Glory be to God. Amen.