A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost are here.
We are starting with a quiz this morning. If you don’t want to answer out loud, grab a pencil and make notes in your bulletin. Are you ready?
What does the Hebrew word Shabbat, the word we translate into Sabbath, mean?
Why are we supposed to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?
What exactly does it mean to remember it and keep it holy?
The verb shabbat means ‘to cease.’ As a noun it refers to the one day a week we are to keep holy. Keeping Sabbath isn’t doing nothing or simply taking a day off and it’s not just coming to worship; I was not sabbathing while home with COVID this past week. It isn’t vegging out in front of a screen. For some of us, it isn’t coming here on Sunday and for all of us it is so much more than coming here on Sundays. Rest and time off and worship are all part of Sabbath for sure but for Fr. David and me and for those scheduled to serve, this is time isn’t Sabbath, it is work. God didn’t put a caveat in there that says, cease from your work unless it’s church work. God commands that we remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, a day set apart for God’s work in us. And so we pick another day besides Sunday to cease.
Sabbath is a time of intentionally stopping from our work in this world and intentionally focusing on God’s presence with us so that God can work in us while we rest. It is remembering that after creating all things, God ceased for a period of time to show us that work and rest are both necessary parts of the rhythm of this amazing world because they are part of the rhythm of the One who created all.
In our reading today of the Good News story told by Luke, Jesus and the woman he heals get scolded for healing on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, said ‘you’ve got six other days to do such a thing, don’t do it today.’ This woman had been bound up by the Accuser for 18 years. What’s one more day, they said. Jesus responds by asking ‘what better day than the day God gave us to remember who we are to unbind her, to free her from this spirit?’
The Pharisees had taken what God commanded for good and distorted it. God said to remember the sabbath and keep it holy, to cease our work and give ourselves over to God’s work within us. The religious elite used it to control others. Why had they gone 18 years of ‘six other days’ and not done anything for her? God intended the sabbath to free us from the bondage of these kinds of distortions. The Pharisees aren’t angry with Jesus because he healed; they are angry because he undid a method they used to bind others for their own benefit. He showed them that Sabbath is about life lived God’s way.
Keeping Sabbath is remembering who and Whose we are and our created purpose. Sabbathing is about letting go of our way to make room for God’s way.
For some it is letting go of our need to be in control of all things; trusting that God will keep the universe going while we stop.
For some it is letting go of our need to prove ourselves worthy by our behaviors and accomplishments.
For some it is letting go of our struggle to earn others’ love by what we do.
For some it is letting go of the constant need to keep ourselves occupied because we don’t want to hear what’s in the stillness.
For all of us, it is one way we let God show us how to get back to the core of our being, the image of our loving Creator in each of us.
Sabbathing is intentional, we have to prepare for it. We have to look at the rhythm we’ve made for ourselves and ask what do we need to give up or rearrange to make room for sabbath, a time where we do what enables us to intentionally focus on God’s presence with us. And then we have to make that time more important than anything else on our schedule. Sabbath isn’t an add on to our week; it is an integral part of our week that enables us to do all things from the foundation of who God is and who we are as God’s beloved.
God didn’t create us to earn God’s favor or prove ourselves worthy but to live in the awareness of God’s presence, in the ongoing awareness of God’s Love. Full Stop. No qualifiers, no caveats, no conditions. Our two greatest needs in this life are to belong and have a purpose. Living in the awareness of God’s Love fulfills them both.
Sabbathing unbinds us and sets us free so we can orient our labors properly, or better yet, allow God to orient what we do with who and whose we are.
Sabbathing frees from the artificial success of this world – our purpose isn’t what we accomplish or what we do but to live fully into our humanness which includes rest. Rest is part of the image of God within us. God ceased from work and we must rhythmically cease from our work.
The world binds us with the artificial success of numbers and possessions and personal image. Sabbath returns us to the garden and our true purpose – to abide in God’s presence, to keep that which God has made, to be stewards, not owners.
In one of our many favorite British Detective shows, Endevour, the Detective Inspector Thursday uses the phrase, ‘mind how you go’ as a form of ‘goodbye’. Every time he says it I think, “wow, there’s so much in that.” And now I think I’m going to start using it. Mind how you go. Pay attention, be aware, be intentional with what you do and how you do it. Remember who and Whose you are. A regular rhythm of Sabbath equips us for this intentional, aware, God-centered way of being.
When we step outside of our regular business, we notice things we never did before. And, yes, for some of us this will stir up fear and anxiety.
What if I get still enough to notice what we don’t like about my life?
What if I really do notice that the world can keep turning without me holding the wheel?
How can I show and tell anyone what I accomplished by just paying attention to God’s presence for a whole day?
What will I have to show for it?
What if someone needs something and I’m paying attention to God and not them; what if I discover people don’t need me the way I want them to?
But what if, as we face our fear with God, we notice a feeling of freedom when we no longer carry the burden of running the world?
What if we find peace in no longer worrying about impressing others?
What if we notice that God isn’t put off by our needs and loves us for who we are and not what we do?
What if in the stillness of Sabbath we hear God say, “I love you” without condition or caveat or duty?
When we sabbath we are living from the core of our being, the image of God within us. When we deny we need sabbath or forget it, we are saying we don’t need to live in the very rhythm God created with and for. We are denying our humanity as God gave it to us.
The practice of Sabbath is what equips us to live justly and rightly; loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves; walking humbly with God all the days of our life. Mind how you go.