Keeping the Sabbath Holy
August 25, 2019/Ninth Sunday after Pentecost /Richard E. Holmer First Lesson: Isaiah 58:9b-14 /Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-29 /Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
Keeping the Sabbath Holy
What are we doing here? What are we doing here? What are we doing here? What is Sunday all about? Week in , week out, year after year, why do we do the things we are doing this morning?
The Third Commandment says: Remember the Sabbath Day, and to keep it holy.
-How do we do that?
-Why do we come?
What does God have in mind?
The readings for this Sunday got me thinking about how and why we keep the Sabbath. I started jotting down ideas as they came to me. I stopped when my list grew to twenty, although surely more can be added. So why are we here?
For starters, we are here to rest in the Lord. Worship is not just one more thing on the “to do list”. God gave us the Sabbath as a day to rest. “Sabbath” literally means “to stop”. We stop doing all our daily duties and routines, and take time for God. Because we trust God to provide for us, we can cease our labors and rest for a while in God’s grace. As we sang in our entrance hymn, here we are “leaning on the everlasting arms, safe and secure from all alarms”.
We’re here to keep faith with God and with one and other. When God calls us, the faithful thing to do is to show up. And since we are joined together as the Body of Christ, we affirm our mutual faith and commitment by our presence. We are carrying on a tradition-in the best sense of that word. We continue to gather as generations have done, down through the centuries.
We are here to connect: with God and with one and other. We give the Lord our undivided attention, so that we might engage, with God, in real time. This is not our only opportunity to connect with God-yet it is an especially holy and dependable occasion to do so. Jesus promises to be present when we gather in his name. Our shared connection with God opens our hearts to renewed relationship with one and other (and with all the saints), Church on earth and the hosts of heaven.
We’re here to be renewed and strengthened. God knows this world can wear a person down. Sunday is an oasis in the desert, a time to recharge depleted batteries. The Holy Spirit actively renews us in faith and hope and love. We are reminded of what truly matters-and what does not-and refreshed with a vision of what God intends life to be.
We come to confess: to confess our sins, and to confess our faith in God. Confession helps us to keep it real, to be honest to God and with ourselves about who we are (and why we NEED to be here). We own our failures, our contradictions, our lack of love-looking to God for mercy. We’re all in the same boat. And we confidently state our faith that God is with us and for us-now & forever.
We are here to be forgiven. We dare to openly admit our guilt because we trust God’s baptismal promise to forgive. The liturgy overflows with the word “mercy”. We receive forgiveness, both early and late: with the absolution that follows our confession-and with Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of
We are here to remember. A good deal of what happens at worship is by way of remembering. We remember who God is: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We remember who we are: children of God, creatures formed in God’s image, saints and sinners, sisters and brothers of Jesus. We remember all that God has done- and all that God has promised to us. We remember the stories of God’s faithful (and sometimes not so faithful) people.
We come to bless and to be blessed. Our psalm today speaks of both ways of blessing: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within us, bless His holy name”. “Bless the Lord O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”. We bless God for God’s goodness to us. And we recount and celebrate those blessings: Forgiveness, health, redemption, mercy, loving kindness, and compassion. Even as we name them, such blessings become vivid and palpable.
We are here to offer thanks and praise. Sunday is a day to celebrate our God! Many years ago I learned an anthem at Junior Choir Camp at Camp Augustana-based on Psalm 92: “It is a good thing to give thanks for the Lord, to sing praises to you holy, O Most High”.In the Bible is titled: “A song for the Sabbath Day”. Quite Right! To recognize God’s gracious blessings is to be moved to joyous gratitude and
We are here to sing. I cannot imagine Sunday morning without singing. My earliest memories of church are not of sermons or creeds or prayers- but of singing the great hymns of our tradition. Hymns set scripture and theology to music, making them even more memorable. Music comes closer than words can to expressing the majesty of God and the durability of faith. Singing is how I pray best.
We are here to listen. More than once, Jesus said, “Let those who have ears hear”. We listen as God speaks to us through scripture, the sermon, the liturgy, anthems, and benediction. We listen to the sacred music of organ, brass, choirs bells, and band. We listen for the Good News as it sounds forth in a variety of ways.
We are here to be fed. Jesus said: “We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. (Matthew 4:4) The Word of God is a rich and hearty feast. Our hungry souls are nourished by God’s wisdom and grace. And then we gather at this table to be fed with the very life of our Lord and Savior. This hymn says it well “Here would I feed upon the bread of God; Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven; Here would I lay aside each earthly load, Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven”. LBW #211.
We are here to pray. To pray is to practice the presence of God- and so we do in many ways. We pray in silence, offering petitions and intercessions known only to God. We pray aloud together for the church, the creation, the world and all in need. We prayer the prayer Jesus taught us to say; a prayer we know by heart.
We come to experience holiness. This is a beautiful and holy space: set apart for worship. It is God’s house. Here we encounter the great and profound mystery of God: the Holy Trinity, one God, in three persons. There are moments when we feel the holy, awesome otherness of God – the God who is a “consuming fire”, the God who also came to us as a baby in a manger, the God who is greater than our hearts – yet in our hearts.
We are here to be healed. Every service is a healing service. God touches what is broken and ill at ease in each of us. By God’s love we are made whole – restored in mind and heart and spirit – and in body, too. Jesus, the Great Physician, heals our worn and tattered souls.
We are here to give. We receive many good things, and in response we make our offerings. Offering is an act of worship. We give out of what God has given us. We give, trusting that God will continue to provide. We give money to support the work of Christ’s church. Most of all, we give ourselves – as Paul encourages us to do: “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service…”. (Romans 12:1).
We are here to be challenged. God gives us not only comfort. The challenge is clear and direct in our First Reading from Isaiah: “Remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the spreading of evil, offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…refrain from pursuing your own interests on my holy day each week”. Our worship ends with a challenging directive: “Go in peace to follow Christ, make disciples, and live the gospel”.
We come to be still. “Be still and know that I am God”, says our creator. We shut out worldly distractions, calm our anxious minds, and focus our hearts on God. We experience the peace that this world cannot give. We find in this time and place the comfort of a true sanctuary.
We are here to glimpse our future. Along with recalling all that God has done, we also look ahead. God grants us a “Foretaste of the feast to come”. However briefly, we experience the serenity, the joy, the beauty that is our heavenly destiny. A glimpse is enough.
We come to be set free. Every Sunday is a little Easter. “On this day, the first day of the week, Christ overcame death and the grave, and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life”. Take this message to heart! Christ liberates us from guilt, from fear and from the power of death. Whatever guilt or fear you are carrying, Christ wants to lift that burden and set you free. The Truth has power to make you free—the Truth that is Jesus Christ.
That’s twenty reasons why I’m here—and I trust they bring you here as well. Your list may include other things—yet for certain, with the psalmist, we can all find good reason to say: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’ ”. (Psalm 122:1)
Thanks be to God.