Exodus 20:1-17 Matthew 11:25-30

March 8, 2015 by Ken Dale

I wonder when we hear the phrase ?the 10 commandments? what comes to mind? A list of do?s and don?ts? Do we understand them as restrictions ? like speed limit signs? Actually speed limit signs are for the good and safety of the driver and perhaps for the people that live on that road. The 10 commandments when first given to the people were received as a gift. Like speed limit signs they were given for the good of the people ? how to live with God and how to live with each other.

How do we hear that third one ? remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. As a child it was always understood that you just better be sure to get yourself to church on Sunday. It was that plain and simple. As a kid it was understood that I was in church to learn and we got little prizes for all the things we would memorize. In my youth being in church was spiritual in part, but more social if I were to be honest ? time together as friends and we?d all sit in ?our section? of the sanctuary ? ?where the kids sat? ? the PF section of the church.? As I grew older I understood the importance of worship ? we were there gathered together in a worship service. Service is a good word ? Marjorie Thompson captures it in a twofold way ? we were there in service to God, offering ourselves to God in our ?willingness to listen for God?s Word and to give ourselves wholly to God?s designs in the world.? (I love the way Nancy Kennedy captured it last Sunday when she spoke of our willingness to get ourselves in ?gospel trouble.?)? And service also included God serving us as we worshipped and gathered in community knowing that we are loved and forgiven, comforted and challenged by God.

What we get out of the worship service often depends on what we put into it. If we don?t pay attention we don?t get much out of it. But if we think about it ? remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy ? paying attention to what it is supposed to be all about ? namely God and our relationship with God and with each other in God?s name ? there really is quite a lot. Some Sundays I am awed at what?s in a worship service ? more than I thought – but we need to be paying attention. Again, there is the give and take ? our offering to God and God?s offering to us. Marjorie Thompson speaks of our need to pay attention to the words of our worship. The words before us in the liturgy ? the words of prayer, the words we sing in the hymns, the words we hear in the anthems, the words before us in the scriptures, using the time for silent prayer for actually praying and not just waiting, meaning it when we pass the peace, and being open to the movement of God?s Holy Spirit in the service. I?ve always loved the thought about hearing the sermon ? maybe at times it didn?t speak to you ? but maybe it spoke to someone else.? I love how one pastor responded when someone said ?I didn?t get a thing out of that service.? The pastor said, ?Maybe it wasn?t your Sunday.?? It?s about community and being together ? not just ourselves as individuals.

Keeping Sabbath is more than just Sunday at church. Marjorie Thompson speaks of it as the sacred art of ceasing. The word Sabbath essentially means ?to cease? and that?s clear if we read that commandment. ?six days you shall work but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work?? The image shared is God creating the world for six days and then stopping and resting on the seventh. Thompson says that God has built a rhythm of rest into the very fabric of creation. Perhaps as with our consideration of prayer a couple of weeks ago, it is something already there that we just need to tap into. We need to cease ? to just stop ? and take some time out with God. Anyone done any shoveling of snow this winter? I?ve noticed when I shovel I need to stop and rest a bit more often. It enables me to keep on shoveling ? physical activity causes us to need rest. Is it any different for our souls? That inner core of our being also needs rest. I think this is especially true with all the technology that has become part of our day to day living ? cell phones, e-mail, texting, and social media. If we were on the phone talking all that time we?re busy with those things, we?d notice it more ? but we don?t. Thompson rightly says that Sabbath is a ?primary experience of grace that enables our human journey day upon day, week upon week? ? it is ?the profoundly joyful refreshment from which new effort arises, the deep well from which we draw strength, the eternal newness at the root of all creativity.?

Marjorie Thompson speaks of secular rhythm in which you begin with work and move toward vacation and sacred rhythm in which you begin with Sabbath and move toward vocation. The secular rhythm begins in a mode driven by achievement and production and moves to exhausted collapse. The sacred rhythm begins by inviting us to rest in the ?quiet depths of God?s presence, promise and power; then it moves us toward a grateful energized response. Sacred rhythm is resting in God, even enjoying God and I know is in the face of that Protestant work ethic that I grew up with. It goes so against the culture in which we live. Thompson makes a good and powerful point saying ?if God can rest, who are we to presume improving on the divine example?? Yet we try so hard, don?t we? Are we willing to cease? Are we willing to just stop ? and be with God for a time??? All that purpose driven stuff that was so popular ? what about the Lord is my Shepherd? Sheep are led not driven.

So the challenge of course is how! Thompson has some simple but challenging guidance.

First ? shift your mindset. Acknowledge the many ways we are shaped by the worldly thinking that makes productivity, achievement and success our primary identity. Another ? free yourself from the burden of people-pleasing (that was a tough one for me!). Give yourself the gift of ?fallow time? ? even healthy soil needs a break from planting. Second, reshape attitudes and habits ? Make room in life for contemplative time. Keep one day a week for real refreshment, use the unexpected gifts of time that sometimes come ? like illness, waiting for an appointment, and I couldn?t help but think of snowstorms that kept Kathy and me home together this winter. Take time for retreat ? plan it ? go someplace where your soul is restored in some way. Find spiritual nurture in a small group that is faith centered. ?Salt your days with moments of relaxation and receptivity to grace? ? take time for prayer and be mindful that you are living in a relationship with God.

I know we?re not supposed to “proof text” ? which is finding a Bible verse to support what you want to say but I couldn?t help but bring in those wonderful words of Jesus that we heard from Matthew 11. The point is in the context. Jesus has been teaching about discipleship ? about following him. Again, Nancy spoke on that last Sunday in a wonderful way reminding us what taking up your cross is all about. The comforting and assuring words we hear in today?s gospel come in the context of Jesus teaching about following. The last three verses of that passage are known as the great invitation ? but it is not an invitation of inactivity. It is not an invitation to those burdened either by work or by sin. It is to the law-burdened ? those who carry the heavy load of keeping the law laid upon them by the Pharisees. But Jesus? way is different. And he says often ? he came to fulfill the law, not replace it. His way of keeping it is not burdensome. His yoke is ?easy? ? which is actually a word for ?kind.? Jesus captured the purpose and truth of the commandments teaching us to love God and to love neighbor and called it the greatest commandment. In those final verses he says ?learn from me.? which I interpret to mean that we should learn not as pupils but as apprentices. It is not about thinking, it is about doing ? again ? loving God and neighbor. Jeremiah 6:16 lifts a wonderful image. It reads, Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. Jesus is the one who shows us that good way and in following we find rest for our souls.

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy ? the art of ceasing ? the SACRED art of ceasing. Just stop and be open to be in touch with God in some way. It does cause us to remember both who we are and Whose we are ? and that is so important if we are to live the faithful and balanced lives God so desires for us each and all. In ceasing and being in touch we are renewed for that continued service with God as we seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.