This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Leviticus 23:1-32
Text: Leviticus 23:3
Sermon prepared by Rev. Kris Vos, Schererville, IN
Listen to the words of this song. It may be familiar to some of you. These lyrics express our natural desire and even longing for Sabbath rest.
Sometimes it feels like this world is spinning faster
Than it did in the old days
So naturally, we have more natural disasters
From the strain of a fast pace
Sunday was a day of rest
Now, it's one more day for progress
And we can't slow down ‘cause more is best
It's all an endless process
(Well) I miss Mayberry
Sitting on the porch drinking ice-cold cherry Coke
Where everything is black and white
Picking on a six string
Where people pass by and you call them by their first name
Watching the clouds roll by
Sometimes I can hear this old earth shouting
Through the trees as the wind blows
That's when I climb up here on this mountain
To look through God's window
Now I can't fly
But I got two feet that get me high up here
Above the noise and city streets
My worries disappear
Do any of you recognize that song? It is okay to admit you listen to country music! That song was recorded by the group Rascal Flatts.
Don’t you miss Mayberry sometimes? Wouldn’t you love to live in a time when life was simpler, easier to manage and easier to understand? It was not that long ago that America was an agricultural society. Randy Frazee notes in his book Making Room For Life that in 1913, 70% of the world’s trade was agricultural. Now it is only 17% of the trade in the world.
It was simple back then. When the sun went down everyone stopped working. Now we live in a world where we don’t always notice when the sun goes down and we start losing natural light. Maybe you have pulled out of Wal-Mart parking lot at night and when you get out on the road you realize you forgot to turn on your headlights. The parking lot was so bright that you didn’t need your lights on. Our days run into our nights and our nights run into our days. We don’t have to stop because of this wonderful little invention called the light bulb. Edison never knew what an enemy of Sabbath rest his ingenuity would produce.
We have lost our way in a technological society. The path to daily Sabbath was clearer when we had to stop working because we couldn’t see at night. The missionaries in places like Nigeria still experience this reality. Electricity working in the evening is a questionable thing in Nigeria. Sometimes you have lights and sometimes you don’t. So when the day is done you start moving towards bedtime because the hours of work were done.
Mayberry represents more than a slower pace of life. It represents a different way of relating to each other. Your friends were your neighbors. Your neighbors knew everything there was to know about you and if they didn’t it wouldn’t take long before they did. Culture today has made our relationships more complex. Our mobility and the size of our communities have dramatically changed the way we think about relationships. We have relationships at work which may be significantly removed from our relationships in the neighborhood where we live. We connect with people at work, church, school, sports activities and yet none of our networks of friends know each other.
Mayberry ultimately represents a RHYTHM of life. Andy Griffith models a rhythm that rings true in our hearts. It stirs in us a yearning for deeper relationships and for a slower pace of life. It calls us to Sabbath.
Leviticus 23:3 says,
“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD.”
This section of Leviticus is unique because it talks about the ever expanding role of Sabbath in the life of God’s children. It talks about the various festivals and how they serve as Sabbath rest. By the time we get to Leviticus 25 it is the culmination of Sabbath in the year of Jubilee!
Our heavenly Father reminds us that as His children we keep Sabbath. Keeping Sabbath is so important it also made God’s top ten list of things we should do. We find the Ten Commandments in two places: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Did you ever notice that Exodus 20 provides a different reason for keeping Sabbath than Deuteronomy 5 does? If you’re not paying attention you could miss this little detail. God gives us two different reasons for the importance of keeping Sabbath. Both are important and the fact that there is more than one reason emphasizes the unique role of Sabbath rest in the life of every follower of Christ.
In Exodus 20 we are instructed to keep Sabbath because God did. In that chapter God says, 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
For those of you with kids you may remember times when your kids were younger and you would lay down with your kids at nap time. You would feign sleep so that they had no alternative but to be still and rest. If you lay there with your eyes open they would talk to you and play with you so you had to lay very still and keep your eyes closed so, hopefully, they would fall asleep. Once they fell asleep you could carefully and quietly sneak out of the room so as not to wake them and return to your day. You didn’t need the nap (at least most of the time) but you modeled napping for them so they would follow your lead.
God doesn’t need Sabbath rest. And yet, He tells us that we should rest because He rested! God wants His children to know how important rest is for us. It is so important that He rests in order to model the behavior for us.
In Deuteronomy 5 we are instructed to keep Sabbath because we are no longer slaves!
There we read, 12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work…Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
This account of the 10 commandments recalls the taskmasters of Egypt who would not allow rest. The concern for Israel was that they would still live like slaves. They would create their own imaginary task masters that would prevent them from honoring Sabbath rest. Maybe you have some of those imaginary task masters in your life:
- Sometimes the voices of a parent can be a task master – “you didn’t do a good enough job”; “you will never amount to anything”.
- Sometimes our passion for success can be a task master.
- Often our desire for more money can be a task master.
Who are the task masters that drive you?*
Are you living more like a slave than someone who has been freed to keep the rhythm of life that God intended for you?
For most of us when it comes to the issue of Sabbath we need to begin with repentance. Listen to the words of Ezekiel 20: 12-13 in order to understand the seriousness of God’s command for Sabbath: 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy. 13 “‘Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws—although the man who obeys them will live by them—and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the desert.
Sometimes we want to blame culture for our loss of Sabbath. But it is not the fault of our technological society. The Amish, of course, would say that it is. They would say that what we need to do in order to restore the richness of relationships and rhythm in life is to get rid of technology and that is why they live the simple lives that they do. They may not be all wrong! But God does not want us to stick our heads in the sand while the rest of the world wanders farther from Him.
Technology is not at fault. Technology has fallen into the wrong hands: OURS! The solution to our problems lies in our obedient response to God’s grace in our lives.
In order to reach a place of obedience we must first do the harder part. That is, we must admit that our present state of relationships and our rhythm are sinful. The way we run our lives is ultimately evil!
Let me give you an example: When you have a particularly busy week and your spouse or a co-worker says to you—“you’ve been working too hard, you really haven’t had a day off this week.” What is your first reaction when you hear a statement like that? Do you feel encouraged that you have a good strong work ethic or do you feel convicted about your sin? Too many of us approach this issue like it is multiple choice:
- The first choice is that it is the Sin of breaking Sabbath.
- The second choice is that you are such a hard worker. In a world that is losing its work ethic, you’ve still got it!
But this is not a multiple choice!
If you are distant from the people in your life that you should be closest to it is a sin! If you are working when you should be resting and nurturing your relationship with God and other people you are breaking God’s law. It is that simple.
Now then, once we have repented we must be reminded of our identity in Christ. Listen to the words of Ephesians 1:4-5 from the New Living Translation: Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.
Here’s that same passage from the NIV:
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—
In the 1924 Olympics there were two famous athletes that competed. One of those athletes was Harold Abrahams. Interviews with him revealed that Harold ran to prove to himself and to the world that he was someone who should be taken seriously. The other famous athlete was Eric Liddel. You may remember Eric’s story from the movie Chariots of Fire. Interviews with Liddel revealed that his primary reason for running was very different from Harold Abrahams. Listen to these words from Eric Liddel, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.” *
The other thing that you might remember about Eric Liddel is that he would not run on the Sabbath. For Eric it was not a legalistic thing. Many take Eric’s spirituality and beat people over the head with it. They use Eric’s commitment to not run on the Sabbath as justification for a legalistic understanding of Sabbath. History reveals that for Eric it was where he found His identity in Christ--just as in the passage we read from Ephesians. For Eric, Sabbath was the time that he renewed his relationship with God and if he neglected it he risked losing that relationship and losing his identity in the process!
Eric did not run to prove he was “somebody.” He had nothing to prove because he was a child of God. Harold Abrahams was driven by a desire to become somebody because his identity was tied to his performance.
If you don’t know your identity in Christ you will never be able to make room for the life God intends for you. If you do not understand your identity in Christ you will always be driven by external forces rather than the movement of God’s Spirit in your heart. Christ’s work for us on the cross solidifies our identity as His children.
What is it that drives you? Why do you run the race?
Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God tells the story of his grandmother, Alice, who lived in British Columbia, a small town called Enderby. Many of the folks who originally came to that area came in search of gold. Like the millions who buy lottery tickets every day in this country there were thousands in that day who pinned all their hopes on the slim chance that they might strike it rich. Alice didn’t come to Enderby for gold. Alice came to live. But Alice would shake her head and tell the sad stories of the miners who came to strike it rich and lost everything in the process.
Alice had a stone in the middle of her garden that was too large to move. So she decided to make this boulder the centerpiece of her garden. She took some stout sandpaper and started smoothing the rough parts of the stone. As she worked on the stone she noticed some sparkles glittering in the sun’s light. She looked closer and discovered it was gold dust. She sanded with renewed energy and hopefulness. Her work was rewarded as the gold flakes increased. Could this stone contain the treasure all those foolish men had wasted their lives to find? She had seen too many people throw away their lives, families, reputations, and fortunes in the hope of finding gold. In spite of what she knew about their folly she was suddenly taken with Gold Fever. She was going to be rich. She started to dream about all that she could do with the money from the gold.
She stopped from her sanding to take a break and that is when she noticed there was something wrong with her wedding ring. The top was fine but the underside was worn paper thin. She had not found gold at all. She was feverishly working away at something far more precious to her than riches. She was sanding away at her wedding ring.*
Are you slowly sanding away at what is most precious to you in your passionate desire to succeed? Ambition, initiative and a strong work ethic can serve us well and can serve to build the Kingdom of God as well. But without a powerful commitment to the rhythm of Sabbath they can also serve to destroy our relationship with God and the people who are closest to us in life.
Let’s close today with 3 practical Ways to Make Room for Sabbath:
#1. The Hebrew Day – For the Hebrew the day began when the sun rose (approximately 6 am) and ended when the sun went down (approximately 6 pm). The time from 6 pm to 10 pm was a time to grow relationships and rest, the key ingredients of Sabbath. We need the rhythm of Sabbath on a daily basis not just on a weekly basis. For some of you who work shift work it is impossible for you to make this kind of adjustment. For many of you it may be possible for you to arrange your day in such a way that you work during the daylight hours and in the evening you begin Sabbath. During your Sabbath evening you nurture your relationships with God and family.
A significant part of the 6 pm – 10 pm is meal time. Having a family meal is one of the most important parts of finding Sabbath rhythm in our lives. That leads us to the 2nd practical application of today’s message:
#2. The Family Meal - A recent issue of Time magazine revealed the results of a study by experts in family therapy. They have discovered the powerful benefits of the family meal. They even discovered that those of you with teenagers can have some of the greatest positive impact on your adolescent children through the family meal:
“In fact, it's the experts in adolescent development who wax most emphatic about the value of family meals, for it's in the teenage years that this daily investment pays some of its biggest dividends. Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use. " “The statistics are clear: Kids who dine with the folks are healthier, happier and better students, which is why a dying tradition is coming back” (Nancy Gibbs Time – June 4, 2006).
Keep in mind that this is a secular magazine with secular researchers rediscovering the value of finding Sabbath rhythm for the family!
#3. Finally, it is essential that you Find Your Rhythm! Mark Buchanan writes about a man who suffered from a debilitating disease. The disease stripped him down. It took away much of his ability to function. He was normally a guy who went at life full tilt. The disease forced him to spend more time with his wife and children than he had in all the years previous. He prayed more, pondered more, read more. He said at one point, “I know God is trying to get my attention. I just can’t figure out what he wants my attention for. He must want me to do something.” Later the man reflected, “Maybe that is the problem,” Mark said, “you think He wants your attention in order for you to do something.” “Maybe He just wants your attention.”
Did you ever think how important it is for us to give God our undivided attention? When we live life in the rat race and we are constantly judged by what we “do,” it can be hard to enter Sabbath rest where God does not want us to “do” anything. He just wants us to be with Him.
As we close, let these words from Psalm 23 sink into your soul:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, and he restores my soul.
Pay attention this week. It just might be that God will make you lie down in green pastures.
*Resources: Rest of God by Mark Buchanan & Making Room for Life by Randy Frazee
Suggested Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 62:1-2 (NIV)
1 My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
We enter worship today with hearts open to God as he reveals to us the nature of that rest.
God’s Greeting: Let’s pray. Father in heaven you greet us today with your grace, your mercy and your peace. Show us again the wonder of the rest that you have promised for us. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Song of Praise: #473 ‘To God be the Glory ’
Reading of the Law – 10 Commandments from Exodus 20
Song of Confession: #260 ‘Not What My Hands Have Done’
Song of Assurance: #486 ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’
Scripture Reading: Leviticus 23:1-32
Message: Making Room For Life
Song of Application: #560 ‘Like a River Glorious’
Benediction: Let us pray. “Father we ask for your blessing as we go from worship today.
May you make you keep us in your tender care and make your face to shine upon us?
Restore to us the rhythm of your perfect rest through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN.