Faith Works 2-7-15
Why a Sabbath?
This is going to be one of those unfortunate "do as I say, not as I do" homilies.
A sinner redeemed by grace, that's all I can count on, and moving onwards to perfection. Anyhow. Sabbath, Sunday, a day of rest, the Lord's Day. What's up with that?
Sunday still has a sort of secular sacredness in TV ads and promotions, which will occasionally point to the one day to sleep in, the one day to read the papers, the day for brunch. For churchgoers, it's a day to (in many cases) get up earlier than even the rest of the week, and a change of clothes or at least a focused attitude more than letting go.
(Yes, there are Seventh-Day Adventists & Baptists in the area who, along with our Jewish brothers & sisters would point out we're doing it wrong, and the Sabbath of the Lord's command is Saturday. Most Christians very early on moved it to celebrate the first day of the week, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and since that's the most common, back to Sunday…)
There are still many of us around who remember when you drove to church on quiet streets past closed stores; they were called "Blue Laws" (another long story) and basically go back to our Puritan and Calvinist early settlers in this country who affirmed that the Sabbath should be a day of rest, or else. So the state and civil authorities enforced a no-work, no-nothing-but-church policy for the day, believing that was the best way to honor God, the right way to "keep the Sabbath" in a holy fashion.
Even in those days, there were debates about what you should do on Sunday, after church or between services if you had an evening gathering, too. Some held to a no-work, no-fun, nothing but the Bible and genteel conversation kind of approach.
Other Puritan divines suggested that play and fun and leisure were a part of God's intention for the renewal built into the pattern of creation; John Piper speaks of what he calls "Christian hedonism," where we are called by God to find joy and pleasure and satisfaction within the bounds God has set, but within them to actively seek celebration and enjoyment.
Orthodox Jews (who, again, mark the Sabbath observance from sunset Friday through Saturday) smile and tell you that a married couple making love on the Sabbath is a "Double Mitzvah," a special blessing right along with good food on Shabbat honoring the joy God intended for the day.
So honoring the Sabbath is, at its heart, meant to be a blessing, not a burden. And Jesus famously says "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," which generally is seen as pushing off the table, at least for most Christians, the idea that we need a big heaping pile of rules to make Sunday special.
And through the last few decades, Sunday rules as to liquor sales, car lots, and Little League playoff games have fallen away, and Sunday has become just another day, or at least the back half of the weekend.
What some are trying to renew in the church and in society is the reminder of what's at the heart of Sabbathkeeping: you can't do it all, you can't control everything, and you are a finite created being who needs rest. Just as a day calls for sleep at the end, a week cries out for a time set apart in some way.
We set it apart, alright, and jam it full of leisure activities that wear us out to where we're many of us looking forward to the simple grind of Monday at work.
As a pastor, Sunday has to be a day of work, so to speak. I get up early, have the biggest set responsibilities of my vocation to fulfill, and often a hatful of unexpected responsibilities to shove in around those.
Which is why, for years, I take Tuesday as my day off from pastoral work. (Cue laughter of the multitudes.) Right, because I'm terrible at taking a day off, plus meetings keep having to be on that day, or surgeries, or funerals. But God has a way of dealing with such as me.
If you visit Newark Central this Sunday, you won't find me in the pulpit. I'm having surgery, and getting my Sabbath for a few days whether I'm ready or not!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you keep the Sabbath at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.