February 7, 2016
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
This past week rostered leaders in our synod gathered to discuss the meaning of Sabbath and what it means to keep this commandment holy. Ever since Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, people have been committing them to memory. Most of us first learned them in Sunday School, and then confirmation class (as our youth are doing now). But the learning doesn’t end there and we need to keep going back to them because they were given to us not to make our lives hard, but as a gift to keep us focused on God. Keeping the Sabbath holy seems to be a really hard commandment to keep for everyone, and we have to ask ourselves why. Why is it so hard to set aside at least one day a week where our focus is totally on God and who we are in relationship with God?
The common answer seems to be that people are much more busy these days than they used to be. Adults are working long hours, children are involved not only in school activities, but extracurricular sports and involvement in other groups like band, scouting, and other interests. I hear from adults and youth alike that there doesn’t seem to be any down time. People are overworked, overextended, and overtired. It’s leading to burnout, addictions, and physical illness, and it’s leaving little time for gathering to worship God and for receiving God’s gift of Sabbath rest.
But I wonder if things really are that much harder today than they were decades and centuries ago? Today – especially in our country – we have so many modern conveniences that make our lives easier. Instead of washing our clothes by hand, we have washing machines. Rather than having to hang our clothes out on a clothes line, we have dryers – some that even enable your clothes to come out wrinkle free. (I need one of those!) We have access to the internet to get information at our fingertips instead of having to walk or drive to libraries. Cars and public transportation make traveling wherever we go much quicker. And that’s not to mention the countless other modern conveniences that are available to us. For those watching football games today, the tv remote will most likely be the most used modern convenience.
Yet for many in our country, and around the world, these conveniences are not available. And they certainly weren’t available or even a possibility when Jesus lived here on earth. In the middle eastern region where he lived it’s estimated that on average Jesus walked about 20 – 25 miles per day. He and the disciples didn’t have access to modern refrigerators, ovens, or modern indoor plumbing. People worked hard – really hard – to live day to day. Taking a day off as Sabbath was just as much of a big deal as it is today. The difference is not in the amount of time one has, but in prioritizing our time. It’s making a choice to put God first before everything else.
Jesus lived his life as a perfect example of this. He was constantly preaching and teaching. He listened to people, engaged in serious theological conversations with them, was involved in their lives, and made time to be present when something needed to be done, when healing was in order. Yet Jesus’ first priority was to do the will of God and in order to do that Jesus had to be in constant prayer. Jesus had to listen to what the Spirit was calling him to do. He had to listen to what direction the Spirit was moving him to next. He had to listen to make sure he was walking the steps that would lead to God rather than his own way. In order to do that he had to get away, to spend long periods of time in prayer, to enter into Sabbath and keep it holy or wholly with his entire being. Jesus didn’t just think about God, Jesus was in total relationship with God. By keeping Sabbath Jesus was not just focused on God, but he was totally immersed in the presence of God. And that changed him.
That’s what Peter, James, and John saw that day on the mountain when Jesus went up to pray. They saw him changed from the person they were used to being with, transformed into someone they barely recognized, and transfigured into the very image of a light that nearly blinded them. They saw the light of Jesus’ authenticity. In that moment, they saw who Jesus really was. They saw a glimpse of eternity. All of that was a result of Jesus’ communion with God through prayer. Jesus was transfigured through the life-giving power of Sabbath. That is what God intended Sabbath to be for all of us, a life-giving glimpse of eternity.
Maybe that’s why deep down Sabbath is hard for us to keep. We’re blinded by the light of what is revealed to us in our Sabbath time. We’ve forgotten who we really are and we can’t even recognize our authentic selves. We see a glimpse of eternity, a vision of the greatness of God, and instead of reveling in that wonder and majesty we can be overshadowed by the voices of our own inadequacies. But God tells us to go there, to enter into the Sabbath, and to hear the voice of truth, God’s voice, that tells us we too are God’s beloved. And when we stay there long enough to let that fill us up, we can then see ourselves and others in the light of God’s glory. We can then see a glimpse of the vision that God has for all people – a vision of love and peace.
And once you witness and experience that glimpse of eternity, you don’t want it to end. Peter certainly didn’t. He wanted it to last forever. He wanted to freeze that moment -to suspend time – so that he could witness eternity forever. But Sabbath is not meant to be eternity, but only a glimpse, a glimpse that transfigures us into the likeness of God, just like Jesus, so that renewed and strengthened we can show forth the glory of God to others through our true and authentic selves. Sabbath time changes the way we see things. It changes the way we see ourselves and the way we see others. It clears our vision to see from God’s perspective. It opens our ears to hear God’s voice and not the voices of doubt and fear that try to overshadow us. Taking time for Sabbath reveals who we truly are and whose we truly are – beloved children of God, followers of Jesus Christ, and empowered disciples through the Holy Spirit.
This kind of power can’t be contained. It wasn’t meant to be. It was meant to be shared, revealed, and experienced by everyone. People are waiting to experience this glimpse of eternity and we as the church are commanded like Moses to bring it down off the mountain. We’re sent like Jesus to heal the brokenhearted, the poor, the oppressed, and to set the captives free through living lives of love and grace and mercy like Jesus. We bring the glory of the mountaintop, the glory revealed in Sabbath to those who need to experience it.
Today we celebrate Scout Sunday, and give thanks to God for their witness in the world. Scouts see the challenges in our society and promise to do something about them. They promise to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, and clean. They acknowledge that if they respect themselves and their brothers and sisters, and see them as gifts of the goodness of God, they live on a higher plane. They are acknowledging that mountaintop experience. The Scouts live as a group of people committed to being examples of living as God wants them to live through caring for others and God’s creation. They are bringing God’s vision for the world to those around them. And today we are grateful for the Scouts in our community and the charter we have with them, and we are grateful they are with us in worship here today.
What better place to do this than in our weekly worship services where people are longing to experience a glimpse of eternity. We’re all longing to filled with joy; longing to sample a foretaste of the feast to come. Gathered together at God’s table in Holy Communion we can experience that and be forgiven and transformed. That is what our congregational worship can bring to people, a glimpse of eternity to start our week. And we can come back each week to experience it again. We need this week after week because living as Jesus’ disciples isn’t always easy. We, like Jesus, pray to God to direct our steps, yet if we listen carefully our steps, like Jesus’, lead to the cross. That’s not an easy road to travel, but the cross is not the end. The cross leads to resurrection. With a weekly glimpse of eternity through entering into Sabbath, we are transfigured into the likeness of Jesus to walk with grace and light. May we like Jesus keep the Sabbath wholly – with our whole beings – hold that vision of eternity with us in Sabbath moments each day, and be the light of Christ to others. Amen!