Tagged with Sabbath Series

Sabbath’s Close

2013-04-29 07.46.00Psalm 92

How are you feeling as the summer nears its end?

Summer is not over yet – but the end is coming. Some of us are moving from a time of rest or recreation into a busier time. Some of us may not have been able to truly rest or enjoy these months; so this time of transition into fall may be even more bittersweet. What is on your heart in this season?

We end our Sabbath summer series with Psalm 92. It is the only psalm that is explicitly said to be for the Sabbath day.

In the opening section, we’re reminded of how important it is to praise the God who offers us steadfast love and faithfulness. These are the two most celebrated characteristics of God in the Hebrew scriptures, or Old Testament: steadfast love and faithfulness. It’s good to remember them, on the Sabbath.

We remember them, and we give thanks. Not just a little thanks. Not a half-hearted thanks. In the morning, and at night; with singing, with lute and harp and lyre. It’s on our Sabbath Day, after all, that we gather with others in worship, singing hymns, enjoying beautiful instruments playing to the glory of God.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

In the second section of the psalm, the message changes. (more…)

Sabbath: Holy Saturday

3-MarysMatthew 28:1-10

I got an email this week from our reader. He was wondering if it was possible that I had sent along the wrong reading. Easter? In August?

This may be the first time I have preached on an Easter text when it isn’t Easter morning. But if you’re going to get technical about it, every Sunday is supposed to be a kind of mini-Easter: a day to proclaim “Christ is Risen!” and celebrate God’s amazing work of resurrection. So you could argue that this text is fitting for any Sunday of the year. But the reason I chose it this week is because it begins with three words: “after the Sabbath.”

All summer we’ve been talking about Sabbath, about holy rest: what it is and what it isn’t, how to do it, what gifts it might offer us. And I can’t let the summer end without mentioning the role that Sabbath plays in our most central story. Sabbath is there, right in the middle of the holiest three days of the year: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday. Jesus and his followers were Jewish, and Saturday was their Sabbath. Holy Saturday Sabbath is what stands in between Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection.

Sabbath: Healing

TwoBrothers_BentWoman_710Luke 13:10-17

It’s an inspirational story. A woman, physically crippled by a spiritual illness, has been unable to stand up straight for eighteen years. She comes to her local synagogue to hear the words of a rabbi who has recently become famous: Jesus of Nazareth. But this woman gets something more than an inspiring sermon. Jesus calls her over and says, “woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He lays his lands on her, and immediately she stands up straight and begins praising God.

It’s an inspirational story. But not a straightforward one.

First, there’s a problem with the local leader. He decided to allow Jesus, a traveling preacher, to speak in his community. And he got more than he bargained for.

I talked last week about the controversy going on in the first century of the common era about Sabbath observance. Rabbis of that time period disagreed about the correct way to keep the commandment to rest on the seventh day of the week. It may be hard for us to imagine, but this was a hot button topic.

As a guest, Jesus really should have been more sensitive about this hot button topic of Sabbath observance. But for all his many gifts, Jesus was not really great at dealing carefully with sensitive issues. Not only does Jesus speak in direct contradiction to the teachings of this local rabbi; without hesitating, he actually performs a healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath. As a religious professional, I have to say – that was pretty rude.

Rudeness and religious controversy. That’s the first problem. And the second problem is: illness and healing. (more…)

Sabbath: Wisdom

3925-adj-photo-cornfieldMark 2:23-28

This summer, Bob has been preaching about the parables. The parables, these short, intriguing stories, are a key part of Jesus’ teaching for the disciples and all who follow him. This morning, we hear another teaching moment from Jesus in the passage from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus is walking through cornfields with his disciples on the Sabbath day. All of them are devout Jews, familiar with Jewish Sabbath laws, which prohibit any form of work on the Sabbath. But these folks are travelling. They’ve had no chance to set aside food ahead of time. They have no hosts to give them a meal. They are hungry, and food is right at their fingertips. So the disciples reach out, and take fresh corn off the stalk, and eat it. But not unobserved. Right away, others make an objection, and challenge Jesus, saying “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

It may seem ridiculous that a crowd of people of faith could get upset by a few kernels of corn, but it’s important to remember that already, in this second chapter of Mark, Jesus has drawn a lot of attention. The Gospel of Mark moves swiftly. The first chapter covers John the Baptist; Jesus’ baptism; his temptation; the beginning of his ministry; the calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John; public healings in Capernum; and a preaching journey throughout Galilee. That’s just chapter one. The last verse of the chapter reads: “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter. “

Jesus has already gotten a lot of attention by the end of Chapter one. And in Chapter 2, once he has everyone’s attention, he starts breaking all the rules. He forgives sins, something only God is supposed to do. He eats with tax collectors and sinners, disregarding both religious teaching and social etiquette. He does not require his disciples to fast when all the other good Jewish people are fasting. And finally, in the scripture this morning, he allows his followers to disobey the Sabbath laws, too. (more…)

Sabbath: Home


Isaiah 56:1-8

How are you pursuing happiness?

This summer here at WCUC we are focusing on the practice of Shabbat, the practice of Sabbath. It feels like an audacious thing to do – to spend a whole season on just one religious practice. But I am convinced that this is a necessary exercise. It’s necessary because holy rest is so hard for us to understand, to practice, and to prioritize; and because it is so high on God’s list of instructions for us (number three or four on God’s list of the 10 most important commandments).

So, this summer we are focusing on Sabbath: we are reacquainting ourselves with the concept of holy rest. We’ve already spent some time thinking about what we should try to avoid doing during our time of Sabbath. But the question remains: what should we do instead? If we leave all our work and worry behind, how shall we pursue our happiness? It’s not quite as straightforward as we would like.

The text today from Isaiah is for a people who are also struggling in their pursuit of happiness.  This text comes from the beginning of the third section of Isaiah. At this time in their history, the Israelites have just received their greatest desire. After years of exile in Babylonia, they are returning to their beloved city, Jerusalem. The Israelites are finally back in the streets where they once walked; the houses they used to live in. They are finally back at the site of the holy temple, where they worshiped. The Israelites are finally back in God’s holy city. It should be a time of joyful celebration. And yet — happiness still eludes them. The pain of the past is still real. And, more than that, the city they have returned to is not at all like they remember it. The neighborhoods have changed. The great temple is in ruins. And where there used to be familiar faces, now there are foreigners.

In this time of great excitement and great disappointment, the prophet offers words of promise. (more…)

Sabbath: A Commandment

manus-ten moses receiving the tablets of the lawExodus 19:16-20:21

Last week I invited the congregation to consider the practice of Sabbath; to join me in making room for holy rest in our lives. But the biggest question is: how? What is it that we can avoid doing in order to make holy rest possible?

Traditionally, there are 39 specific acts prohibited during Sabbath – tasks such as sowing, plowing, and reaping crops; processing grain into flour, and baking it into bread; spinning and weaving fibers; hunting and slaughtering animals; constructing buildings; travelling. With the exception of cooking and travelling, though, most of us don’t do many of these things at all. So this ancient list of Sabbath prohibitions doesn’t give us very specific help.

Turning to our more recent ancestors in faith seems like a good idea, but it may be even less helpful. Christian Sabbath in in early American congregationalism was a grim affair, and not one I think most of us would want to recreate. Sabbath was for sitting still, being silent, and reading the bible; preferably all three at once. Church attendance was mandatory in many communities; and we’re not talking an hour-long service in the morning. Morning worship; afternoon worship; you could spend all day in church, including at least two hour-long sermons. Part of the thinking was that church was a great way to keep people out of trouble, and more specifically, out of the bars, whenever they weren’t at work. You may know that First Parish in Concord moved the door of its church so that its services did not let out right in front of Wright’s Tavern; thereby doing their part to discourage Sunday drinking.

Avoiding agricultural tasks won’t help most of us find any rest. And who wants a rest that is deadly dull and full of endless preaching? Surely, that is not what God has in mind for our holy rest. So this week we’re going back to the source, back to the beginning. What was it like when our ancestors first received the instruction to rest? (more…)

Sabbath: A Beginning

Sabbath-rest-348902821-300x200Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. This text comes to us from the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a part of the collection of Hebrew Scriptures known as “wisdom texts.” I will admit, though, that I sometimes have my misgivings about just how wise it is.

Let me quote the very beginning of this book: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? … All things are wearisome, more than one can express…” This message of futility may sound right on to you, but it is not really consistent with the rest of the Bible. Many have wondered why Ecclesiastes was chosen to be included in our biblical text at all. Perhaps it is because it has been traditionally believed to be wisdom collected from the great King Solomon.

But this particular section of the text, the one that Annie read, has become very popular. It’s often chosen for funerals and memorial services. Others know it because of Pete Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” There’s something about this text that captures for us the great variety of human experiences, the mysterious patterns they make in our lives, and the difficulty of finding meaning in it all.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven – A time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. There is a time for everything, it seems; except for rest. (more…)