Headlines from First Thoughts

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sabbath Definitions

I'm preaching a series of messages on Sabbath over the next month. If you announce the topic of Sabbath, suddenly everyone has a definition.

I heard a few comments in the hallway Sunday:

“Dr. Shiell just gave everyone permission to sleep in church.”

“This means I get out of laundry and cooking today.”

“If we’re supposed to keep the Sabbath, where do I put it?”

Part of the fun of Sabbath is dusting off an old treasure, much like finding a gift in the attic left unopened for years. The other part comes in redefining what Sabbath means for our time and our generation. Each generation has had to do so. Much of the furor over the Sabbath in the Pentateuch began over adapting a commandment to a wilderness tribe. When Jesus arrived, the Pharisees were still trying to figure it out and missed the point entirely; and they did not care for his definition too much.

I can tell you what Sabbath is not. It’s not counting footsteps, passing more Blue Laws, or skipping movies. All those things limit the gift to a few simple things we can check off a list and say, “Ok! I got one out of 10 commands right.”

I can’t tell you how to define Sabbath personally. Church staff and others who work on Sunday know that Sabbath goes beyond one day of the week.

Part of the joy of rediscovery comes in studying the concept and redefining it. As you do, several themes of Sabbath should be remembered, observed, and practiced as you find the joy in the gift. (I reserve the right to add to these as we move through the series, and I welcome your additions and comments on these themes.)

Sabbath is a time.

Sabbath brings people together. From creation forward, Sabbath is about reuniting a community-- whether tribe, church, friends, or family.

Sabbath is different than the ordinary routine. We spend most of our time sleeping and working for pay; and if we don’t, someone is providing both for us. The Sabbath breaks whatever makes up the bumping, grinding, and draining parts of your life.

Sabbath points to eternity. One day a week reminds us that this is partly what heaven feels like.

Sabbath is stewardship. It says, “I know God will provide even if I take a break.”

Sabbath is generosity. It extends rest to those worn by the labors of life.

Sabbath is dependence. The world goes on without us because God is in charge.

Sabbath is more than a 24-hour period on a calendar; it’s a lifestyle of finding restful moments throughout the week.

According to Abraham Heschel, the rabbis described Sabbath as a man getting lost in the woods only to find a large palace in the middle of the forest. This month, in the thicket of your schedule, may you find a palace in time.

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