Preaching on Sabbath: For the Preacher and the People

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Exodus 16:23-30 (The Voice Translation)

Moses (to the leaders): Listen to what the Eternal commanded: Tomorrow, the seventh day, is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath dedicated to Him. Bake or boil whatever you need for today’s meals. Whatever is left over, keep it to eat tomorrow. It won’t spoil.

God wants His people to keep the Sabbath as a special day and to depend on Him—not their own efforts—to supply all they need.

So the people stored some of it until the next morning, just as Moses had instructed. None of it spoiled, nor did it have any worms.

Moses: Eat what is left over today, because today is a Sabbath to the Eternal, a day of rest. You will not find any of it in the field today. You are to gather it for six days, but on the seventh day (the Sabbath), none of it will be on the ground.

When the seventh day arrived, some of the people ignored Moses and went out to gather it anyway; but there was none to gather.

Eternal One (to Moses): How much longer are you going to disobey My commands and instructions? Look! I have given you the Sabbath as a day of rest. That is why I give you an extra portion of food on the sixth day. Everyone should stay where they are and not go out to work on the seventh day.

So the people did as God directed and rested on the seventh day.

So here’s the crazy thing about this story, about these Israelites: they have been slaves for four hundred years; for generations they have worked and slaved for the Egyptian empire day in and day out, every day of the week for their entire lives.  This is all they have ever known, this is all they have done, work and work and work and work.  All they have ever known is the reality and the expectation that they must work for their food, they must get and gather whatever they can to feed their families, to get by, each and every day. But now, all of a sudden, they find themselves far from the familiar and they hear that the God of their forefathers, the Eternal One, has just liberated them from the land and empire of Egypt and is inviting them to just sit back and partake of His provision.

Wait…what!?

God tells them: “Listen, for one day, for just one day each and every week, don’t work, don’t labor or toil or struggle for your sustenance. Don’t work, just trust me, just stay where you are and see that I am the LORD, that I am the One who not only saves you but I am the One who provides for you. So just be still, just stay where you are. You don’t have to work for me.”

This was a completely foreign concept to these people, and really, when you think about it, this is a completely foreign concept for the rest of us. After all, we’re “working for the weekend” aren’t we?  I mean “we work hard for the money” and we hate Mondays, don’t we?  And why?  Well, we hate Mondays because it’s the start of a whole new week, it’s the beginning of a whole new battle, another uphill climb towards the top, because the only way we’re ever going to get rest or be rewarded, is if we earn it.  We’ll only get to take a break or have a rest if we’ve worked hard enough and long enough.  This is all we know, this is what is familiar to us, this is what we think or believe about life and the world around us.  But you know, that sounds an awful lot like the ethic of an empire and it doesn’t sound anything like the good and gracious gifts of a loving and liberating God, does it?

If you’re working for the weekend, if you’re trying to earn your rest, then really, there’s no gift for God to give you. If you’re trying to earn your gift or earn your reward, then there’s no grace to receive because you have already earned it, you’ve worked for it, there’s nothing left for God to give you.  But Sabbath is different because Sabbath is a gift; because Sabbath is grace.  It’s no law or legalism. A day of rest, refreshment and renewal is not an obligation, requirement or restraint. The principal and promise of Sabbath, is an act of grace.

Our rest is given, not earned. We’ve got this whole thing backwards. When we think of Sabbath, we think of creation; we think of Genesis chapter 1 and the creation poem, the song and lyrics that provide us with the rhythm and pattern for all of creation.  And when we think of the creation poem, we think of seven days, because God created and then God rested on the seventh day. But did we rest on the seventh day? No!  Trick question–we actually rested on our first day.

But weren’t we created on the sixth day?  Yes we were, but in this Jewish poem, and in the Jewish calendar, the hours of the day are not kept the way we keep them.  Based on the Jewish calendar, based on the rhythm and the pattern of the creation poem and our Creator, a day is defined by saying or by singing: “And there was evening, and there was morning the fifth day…and there was evening and there was morning the sixth day…” (Gen. 1). This means that when we were created and given life on the sixth day, we breathed our first breath, looked around and saw the light of this world, and then…we rested.  The first thing we ever did was sleep.

When a baby is born and it breathes its first breath and it’s brought out and into the light of day, what’s the very first thing a baby does?  Rest on its mother’s chest.  The very first thing we do in this life is rest. Pastor Mark Buchanan, in his book, The Rest of God, helps explain the principle and promise of Sabbath by putting it this way:

“The Jewish Sabbath begins in the evening.  It begins, in other words, with sleep.  Sleep…is a necessity.  But it is also a relinquishment.  It is self-abandonment: of control, of power, of consciousness, of identity.  We direct nothing in our sleep.  We master nothing.  In sleep we become infants again, utterly vulnerable, completely defenseless, totally dependent.  Out of control.”

From God’s point of view, as God originally intended it, we do not earn our rest, we do not earn our vacation time or long weekends, nor do we earn our sleep or Sabbath because the rest of God is a gift of grace.  Some of us, like some of the Israelites, are so addicted to working that we don’t know how to rest. But before God ever liberated us, before God ever saved us from our slavery to sin, He gave us grace in the gift of Sabbath.  He gave us something we need not earn; something simple and childlike to do on our very first day of the week.

Maybe it’s through your work that you think you know who you are, but when we rest in God we discover whose we are. When we rest in God we are reminded in whose image we were made, by whose breath we live, and through whose love we are saved. When we realize that we were never made to earn our rest, we will once again discover our truest and most ancient of identities; for we will once again be children of God.

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Adam A. Kline is the Lead Pastor of the Madoc Wesleyan & Free Methodist Church (madocmethodist.org) in Madoc, Ontario, Canada. He is a graduate of Houghton College, received his M.Div from Wesley Seminary at IWU, he is a Myers-Briggs Certified Practitioner, and a Volunteer Fire Fighter. In addition to his love for his wife and three children, Adam is passionate about narrative theology and is a huge film-fanatic (no seriously, he adores the art and craft of filmmaking)! He blogs occasionally at thenatureofnarrative.tumblr.com and you can follow him on twitter @thekliner.

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