Salem Lutheran Church


Is It Lawful?

Can anyone tell me the third commandment? Yes, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Following this command, God went on to say, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it” Exodus 20:8-11). For many of us this is one of those commands that we find almost impossible to keep because it really doesn’t seem to fit in our modern, fast-paced world, does it? But, what I find most interesting in the modern world’s inability to follow this command is that the very reasons we say we can’t follow it are the reasons God said, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” We need the Sabbath and when we fail to follow this command, we literally are killing ourselves. So my prayer and my hope is that in the next few minutes we might change our minds about the Sabbath and maybe find ways to help others observe the Sabbath.

Today’s Gospel story is all about the Sabbath and the proper way to observe it, but apparently, Jesus never attended the class on what God meant by “Remember the Sabbath and keeping it holy,” because time after time Jesus seems to get it wrong. It seems like time after time, Jesus was working or doing things on the Sabbath when he should have been resting or worshipping. So what was Jesus’ problem? Why did he always seem to be breaking the law?

The law is clear. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord…”. The seventh day is to be set apart; it is to be a day that is different from the rest. It is a day in which we are to rest. So why is this important?

To begin with, we need rest! Without rest, we cannot be all God created us to be. I mean, think about it, if we start with the premise that God is the creator, then who would know better than the one who created us as to whether or not rest was important. Without proper rest, we cannot function properly, we cannot think clearly, and we are prone to accidents and mishaps. I don’t think there is anyone who could logically deny this reasoning, and yet, part of our argument for not taking a day for Sabbath is that we are just too busy.

The second part of this command, though, is just as important. God said while you are resting, remember to remember the One who has given this command. That is the “keep it holy” part, and herein lies the issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus never denied the need for rest, and he certainly didn’t deny the need to keep the Sabbath holy. The issue was in how we make it holy. In other words, Jesus sought to open our hearts and minds to what it means to follow the law so that we might come to know new life. For that is the purpose of God's law, to give life, and so today we ask the question, Is it lawful?

This was not only a question in Jesus’ day, it is still a question. In fact, if we turn to the teachings of Martin Luther, we see it was an issue for his day. as well. In his Large Catechism Luther wrote about this command, “According to the outward meaning, this command does not concern Christians.” However, Luther goes on, and I paraphrase here, from an internal perspective, this command is all about what God knows we humans need and therefore it does concern us. We need the Sabbath, because first of all, our bodies require rest. That is a no-brainer, isn’t it? Secondly, and even more important, we need Sabbath, Luther taught, because Sabbath allows us separate time to worship our God and to provide space in our lives to hear and discuss God’s Holy Word (Large Catechism on Ten Commandments). For Luther, keeping the Sabbath holy was, and is, about finding ways to not only listen to God, but to partake in God’s healing presence in this world. If we are only keeping the Sabbath because it’s a command, then we need not keep it. But when we keep the Sabbath so that we might improve our lives so that we can continue following the will of God, then we most certainly must follow this command. As I said last week, what we do in this life is not about doing things right. No, what we do is always about doing the right things.

So let’s take a look at our story again. In the first part, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field and they were “plucking heads of grain” and eating them. The plucking was considered work and the Pharisees took exception to that. Jesus would agree that work should not be done on the Sabbath, but for Jesus, the grain was a gift from God and plucking it to eat it, when one was hungry, was a good way to use God’s gift. In other words, it was just good stewardship. This was about nourishing themselves, so that as part of the Sabbath they were equipping themselves to better do God’s work.

In the second part of the story, Jesus heals the “withered hand” of a man. Now, let me make a very important point here. No one, not even the Pharisees, would have disputed the point that healing always took precedence on the Sabbath when one’s life was in danger. But, a withered hand was not really a life-threatening heath issue. But for Jesus, the intent of Sabbath was to help God’s people become whole again, and this man, with his withered hand, was not considered a whole member of the society. He probably wasn’t accepted into many circles of the community. He probably couldn’t be a valuable, productive member of the workforce, but by healing the man’s hand, not only was the man made whole, but God’s community was made whole, too. For Jesus, remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy was and is always about healing and wholeness; it is never about rules and tradition. Remembering Sabbath is not about what we do or when we do it; it is about why we do it. What makes our actions lawful is whether or not they are life-giving.

Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture where many activities are scheduled seven day a week. We live in a culture where technology has made us always accessible, which often means our work follows us home. We live in a culture in which we are over-programmed, over-scheduled, and overwhelmed, and to that God says you need rest, come to me and let me heal you and offer you new life. As Jesus reminded his dissenters that day, God gave us the Sabbath for our lives, not for God’s life. The purpose of Sabbath is to provide us time to heal and rest. It is meant to provide us space to listen to God and be nourished by God’s word.

Sabbath isn’t about just doing more leisure stuff, but neither is it about just going to church. Sabbath is about worship of God, to be sure, but also healing, eating, and meeting human need, including our own. Sabbath is less about not doing and more about spiritual practices that help us grow closer to God. Sabbath needs to be whatever helps us pause our working, consuming, and spending to remember that God is at the center of our lives and to receive the blessings he extends us.

That might mean Sabbath is about feeding those who are hungry because doing so also feeds our souls. Sabbath can include attending worship with your family and discussing the sermon afterward at lunch. Sabbath might mean unplugging from the world and having a family board game night. Sabbath might include hiking to that waterfall you have been meaning to see. Whatever fills your soul in a godly direction can be part of Sabbath. Whatever helps you grow closer to God is Sabbath. That is what makes our actions lawful or not.

In the crazy, busy, messed-up world, may you come to find true Sabbath each week so that you might be made new and whole again. Amen.

Tags: Sermons