A Sabbath Rest?


Luke 13: 10-17/ Isaiah 58:9b-14 A Sabbath Rest?

I wrote a short comment for the school newsletter this week on this whole thing of rest with family, self and God. I had an interesting conversation with a mum of two teens as a result of that. I wrote…

“I see lots of people giving up rest in pursuit of endless work for endless gain for some driven goal to get some place “better”. I see parents really missing their kid’s life as they leave home before dark, get home after dark, and then do a million things on the weekend, and hardly ever take a holiday during the year – “because we can’t get away from work”. I see children becoming young men and women with minimal reference to their parents and nearly all reference to the media and their peers – almost living parallel lives to their folks because their folks have given up on resting with the, just hanging out with them and having a conversation with their kids for the sake of having a conversation with their kids! Come on, people. Is life lived ignoring regular down time – both in families but also for your own inner spiritual life really that needed or necessary?”

This mum said her and her husband had been thinking about this for the last couple of days. She said that where she works she is under constant pressure to work more hours – and work on the weekend. She is trying to protect her weekends to be with her family. She said she knows of other mums at her work who start at 6.00am who then get the school to which their child goes to call at 9.00am to confirm the child is at school. Mum and Dad are not there for breakfast lunch or after school. She hears stories of kids of the people she work with leaving school at 3.30 and seeing no need to go home, because the house is empty and no one will be home until 5.30-6.00pm anyway, So one kid she knows just rides his bike around and gets into building sites wherever he can for something to do….

We have some very lonely children in our community who have indeed been cut loose far too early. When grade four comes around, children seem to be entrusted with their own upbringing – which will come from their peers and the TV. We wonder why we have issues with families and parenting and marriage and family?!

It was quite amazing to spend some time in the Middle East some years ago and see a culture totally devoted to planned rest – with family, including God. The Sabbath day runs the week and the family rhythm. There are things everyone does on the Sabbath and things you don’t do on the Sabbath. Why is it that the Jewish culture is so resilient an instantly recognizable?

I don’t know if anyone around our community has much sense of planned rest – observance of a regular rest where nothing gets in the way of that rest. Maybe our annual holidays are about that. Maybe trying not to work too much is the best we do.

I see even less people who have much regard for religious observance of a Sabbath day. We play sport, shop, fix things, plan for the working week, just keep working and just about anything else on the weekend – but do we really rest?

We might see a great ally for our busyness in Jesus as Christians. There is no doubt Jesus sets the welfare of individuals above religious observances such as the Sabbath. He says, “the Sabbath was created for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath”. “People come first, not religious observance”, we say. “So, do what you need to do when you need to do it and don’t worry too much about observance of any religious rite or practice”.

For us who are not much into religious observance like Jewish people or Muslim communities etc…, this particular gospel word may not be so confronting to us who keep religious observances to a bare minimum and value a much more relaxed, personally orientated religion and hate using the word, “religion” anyway!

But, there is more to this than we might think. If we listen to both the word from God in Isaiah and the gospel word, we might get confused…

See, the first word from Isaiah urges that God’s people not “trample the Sabbath,” that is, ignore religious observances to pursue their own interests (business, shopping, recreation). God is calling his people to be quite “religious” in terms of observing his call to rest with family, self and Him. Worship, conversation, the rites of the church like absolution, holy communion, baptism, funerals….. These are religious observances that really count when they are needed.

And yet Jesus is also saying that the planned rest and time with God was created for the benefit of human beings, it was not created as a legalistic thing to turn them into robotic slaves of God.

So, to observe or not to observe, that is the question!

What I hear the Spirit saying to us is that what we are free to dispense with down time with God and each other for the sake of others, but we it is not good to dispense with time with God and others in rest for the sake of ourselves and our own well-being.

Yes, we would easily give up the observance of a special day dedicated to God to take a family member to hospital or help someone in need and know that this is what God would have us do, because that is the kind of God he is – a God who sends his Son to directly challenge the warped view that religious observance is to be done at all costs – even at the cost of heart, life and mercy.

But would we see the value of observing a day a week with the Lord in front of our heads and hearts as being very much over and above the income for the mortgage, the house look, sport, shopping and everything else we fill that day with at the drop of a hat?

I am hearing Jesus affirm us for our willingness to be flexible and other-orientated when it comes to trusting that this whole one Sabbath day rest or time with him in the week is to be given up at times for the sake of other people in whatever need. That is Jesus, the Good Samaritan style, living. That is what God is always on about throughout the Bible. Human beings were not created to religiously observe the Sabbath day.

But what I am also being challenged with is the other side of this. That special day of rest in the Lord was created by God for human beings!

Friends, are we throwing out too much planned, even ‘religious’ down time with the Lord alone, with our family and with his people these days?

Why did God rest on the “7th Day” and tell us all about it? Why did God consistently call people back to that special resting with God and family? Why does Jesus both challenge what the leaders of Israel had made it (a huge burden around people’s necks that kept them from knowing God as a kind and loving heavenly Father) and yet say “the Sabbath day was created for God’s creatures”?

Religiously protected and planned rest has to be good for us. God created us and it. He has created a rhythm of faith and life for us with him. Work and Rest. Doing and praying. Receiving and giving. Dying and rising.

I hear the Lord calling us to take responsibility for not “trampling the Sabbath”. We need to make some decisions about our week, our income, our direction and our time in our week – now, not later. God wants to spend some quality time with us alone and in our close circle. We need to spend some quality time with him – even a whole day per week.

And here’s the payoff for committing to God our time and rest within that time.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; {14} then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth…” Isaiah 58:13-14

Rest in God brings delight, a new joy to the relationships – just like rest with the kids or your partner or friends regularly. Rest makes for delight and the ability to enjoy life and do well in our relationships and work.

So, what will it be for us – will we be a family and a people in this community who clear space, even religiously, for rest with each other and more importantly, with the Lord in his Word and in his world – for more than an hour or two in a week – but 12 hours per week? Hear God’s promise if we get quite “religious” or protective about this rest with him…. Isaiah 58:9b-14

The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. {12} Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:11-12

And how these streets need to be repaired by joy-filled, life-giving, restful people of God! Amen

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