In the Spirit The Rev. Peter Balentine
Sep 17, 2016
BRYAN EATON/Staff PhotoHope Community Church on Hale Street in Newburyport.
It may just be me, but my perception is that Sundays in our culture seem different now than say 30 or 40 years ago. Do you agree? When I was growing up back in the ‘70s, Sundays were a day different from the other six. Sunday used to be a lazy day. You didn’t have a big agenda.
But today, it is getting harder and harder to distinguish Sundays from other days of the week. Sundays have become days of rush and busyness, often as much as Monday through Saturday and sometimes even more. The pace of our 21st-century world has definitely increased, but I think many of us are missing something that is in fact “vital” to our life and well-being as humans. I think we are missing Sabbath.
If you know your 10 commandments, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” is No. 4.
It is the longest of the commandments. God has more to say about it than murder or adultery or any of the other commands. But it is a command that the church in America has largely neglected. Sabbath is a blessing and a gift. Jesus said it himself that the Sabbath was “made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). So what is the Sabbath?
First, it is a day that we stop working. The word Sabbath literally means to cease. Work is a good thing. Scripture tells us to work and that work is a way to glorify God. But God has given us a pattern and a rhythm to follow: We work for six days, then we stop working for a day. We stop trying to accomplish and get things done, and instead pursue only activities that are enjoyable, freeing and not undertaken for the purpose of accomplishment.
Why is stopping work important? Because it brings perspective — that we are more than our work. Existence is more than work.
Second, it is a day that we rest. If I were to say to you, I want to give you one day a week where you can just rest, doesn’t that sound good? Would that be good for your family? That’s the gift God has given us. God set up this model when He created the world — resting on the seventh day. God himself doesn’t need rest, but He has built into each of us a need for rest.
What is rest? Resting is not just physical, it is emotional, intellectual and spiritual rest. Rest that restores our frazzled emotions, our tired minds, our weary spirit. Rest is any activity where you can take your time and go at your own pace. It’s nothing you need to accomplish, rather something you enjoy.
The key is you have no agenda. You aren’t run by the clock. You are not doing it because it has to get done. You are supposed to be resting! Sounds good, doesn’t it? The amazing thing is that this is what God commands us to do. Rest!
Third, it is a day we set aside to focus on the Lord. Most Christians celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday. Do you know why? Sunday is the day Jesus rose from the dead. He was put to death on Friday and rose from the dead on Sunday. His resurrection is the basis for our entire Christian faith. As Christians, we have taken the fourth commandment — to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy — and combined it with a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Sabbath is more than just stopping work and resting. The Sabbath is a day set aside to focus on the Lord and worship Him. Worship helps us regain perspective about what is really important — remembering who God is and our complete need for Him. We remember again His grace and that all of our life comes from Him.
This command to keep the Sabbath is a real challenge to follow in our culture today. Stores are open seven days a week and the prevailing assumption more and more is that Sunday is the same as Saturday.
If you are going to get serious about this fourth commandment, you are going to have to be counter-cultural and go against the flow. It is something that you will have to think about, plan for, and pray about.
But I want to challenge you to take this command seriously. You need a day to stop working. You need a day to rest. You need a day to focus on the Lord as a family. Do this for your own benefit! The Sabbath was made for you!
The Rev. Peter Balentine is pastor of Hope Community Church, Newburyport.
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