Sabbath, rest and you

Published 11:37 am Saturday, August 6, 2016

by Andrew Book

The Old Testament scriptures are filled with concepts and “laws” that sound strange to our minds. If you ever sit down and read through parts of the Old Testament like the book of Leviticus, you will probably get bogged down in instructions from God that make you scratch your head and wonder, “What was God thinking?” Why were the ancient Hebrews not supposed to eat pork and shellfish? Why were they prohibited from wearing clothing made from mixed fibers or eating a piece of beef that had been cooked with the milk from that cow’s mother? The more we learn about the ancient world, the more we come to understand some of these laws that make little sense at first glance.

For example, Biblical scholars how found evidence that other religions in the area boiled the meat of a calf in its mother’s milk as part of a pagan worship service. God wanted to be sure that the Hebrews stayed away from pagan worship, so that practice was forbidden.

While many of the Old Testament laws have been set aside by the church since we understand that Jesus has fulfilled the law, some pieces of Old Testament instructions have been carried over into the life of the church. One of these is the idea of “Sabbath.” Many people today still have the idea that “we are supposed to keep the Sabbath,” but really don’t know what that means beyond going to church on Sunday. It turns out that “going to church” actually has very little to do with the original idea of Sabbath!

Sabbath is one of the oldest instructions in scripture. We first see the idea of Sabbath during the story of creation. God creates for six days, creating humanity on the sixth day, and then God rests and instructs us to rest as well. As a result, the very first day that humans are on earth, God told us to rest! From the beginning, Sabbath was a day of rest.

It was set aside for us to slow down, breathe deeply and find rest. Over the centuries that followed, Jewish teaching begin to set up rules for exactly what it meant to “work” or to “rest” on the Sabbath day. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, there was a very complicated set of laws defining what you could (and could not) do on the Sabbath.

Jesus, however, had a different understanding of what Sabbath was about.

The New Testament book Mark records the story of Jesus walking through grain fields with his disciples who were breaking one of the Sabbath laws by breaking off heads of grain and eating them. The religious leaders chide Jesus for “breaking the Sabbath.” His response, however, brought them back to the true meaning of Sabbath.

He said “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28)! Sabbath, it turns out, is not a law that God laid upon God’s people so we have to do one more thing. Instead, it is a day given as a gift to us because God knows that we need a day of rest.

Beyond a day of rest, the Old Testament tells about God’s desire for entire Sabbath years where both the land and the workers are invited to rest for the entire year.

Scripture promises an abundance in the 6th year so that God’s people could leave the fields fallow for a year — a whole year — of rest both for God’s people and God’s creation.

In our culture today we idolize busyness. We value being overbooked and overstretched as the way to live life to the “fullest,” so the idea of a weekly Sabbath is crazy to most people. The idea of taking an entire year off sounds like pure laziness!

The reality is that we have come to value money so much that the possibility of missing a money making opportunity (or saving simply to take a year of rest!) sounds like an “irresponsible” choice.

However, what if God knows us better than we know ourselves? What if God created us as beings who need a rhythm of rest as part of life? What if our first day being a day of rest was not a coincidence, but, in fact, God wants us to work from a place of rest?

For many Christians, “Sabbath” has been code for “you need to go to worship on Sundays,” but Sabbath is more than just worship. Sabbath is rest. As a pastor (who loves it when people gather for worship on Sunday), I absolutely believe that worship is an important part of Sabbath, but Sabbath is older than Sunday worship. I am not going to try to change your worship attendance in this column, but I am going to encourage you to set aside time for rest.

Maybe an entire day is more than you can devote at this point, but try to set aside three or four good hours. Take time to think about what gives your soul rest and block off time to recognize that you are one of those people who God gave the gift of a Sabbath rest because we need it to thrive!

If you are looking for a place to gather and worship as you rest, we would love to have you join us at Courtland United Methodist Church on Sundays at 11 a.m. Sunday School is at 10. Wherever and however you live your life though, recognize that God wants you to have the gift of a Sabbath rest.

May you find it and enjoy!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or