In the silence of our praying place we close the door upon the hectic joys and fears, the accomplishments and anguish of the week we have left behind.
What was but moments ago the substance of our life has become memory; what we did must now be woven into what we are.
On this day we shall not do but be.
We are to walk the path of our humanity, no longer ride unseeing through a world we do not touch and only vaguely sense.
No longer can we tear the world apart to make our fire.
On this day heat and warmth and light must come from deep within ourselves.
The Jewish sabbath begins on a Friday evening, two candles are lit when three stars can be counted in the darkening sky. The two candles represent each of the sabbath commandments in the Torah both of which call us to be more like God. The first represents the creation account in genesis where the world was made in six days and on the seventh God rested. As we are made in God's image we too should rest on the sabbath.
The second candle represents the second sabbath commandment in Deuteronomy 5, as we are made in Gods image we too are free.
8–11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12–15 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
God didn't give this commandment because He was against work. Work was always part of Gods plan for our lives, in the bible it says in proverbs that those who get lazy and choose to sleep instead of working will come to ruin and in 2 Thessalonians, God says that those who do not work will not eat. So God is not against hard work. However, what He is against is when our work consumes our lives. He is against us escaping into work so that we don’t have to face life. He is against us finding our significance and self-worth in our work. He is against us filling our lives so full of work that we don’t have time for Him or for other people.
God knows the dangers of allowing our work life to consume us and in this commandment like any parent protecting his children he seeks to save us from basing our whole lives on our work, from thinking that our jobs are all there is to live for, from putting all our eggs into a basket labelled work. He doesn't want us to think that our work is so important that nothing is too critical or important to put off. He is aware of the dangers that lie ahead for those who tip over the balance of the work life scales. He knows the importance of the sabbath and there should be no exception. Remember the important job that Mary Magdalene and the other women had to do. They needed to prepare the body of Jesus for burial. But as important as that job was, it was more important to them that they obey God. So they waited until after the Sabbath to prepare His body. There can be no more important job than providing salvation for mankind and teaching mankind about God but on the Sabbath and at other times, Jesus took time to stop and rest and we should live by his example.
One of my favourite books is Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, it is the story of how a poor man built himself up to be a rich business man and the mayor of Casterbridge and then lost everything due to poor weather and poor judgement. His crops are ruined and the grain business he owns goes bankrupt. I grew up in Thorner and behind our house was a big field, I used to love it when the farmer cut the wheat or barley and left huge bales in the field which I used to play on. Growing up in a village I knew there was a certain timing for everything that you do as a farmer. You have to plant your crops at a certain time of the year according to the weather and climate and then you harvest those crops at a different time of the year. I remember how I used to look out at the back field in the spring and see the plough churning up the soil and then this was followed by the seed being planted, then I would watch the seeds grow and become golden wheat or barley and I would love to walk through the fields and feel the hairs of the barley brush through my fingers.
As a little girl I would watch the changing seasons and with them watch the crops grow and be harvested. I remember what a big occasion harvest festivals were in the village and even as a child I knew that in farming timing is everything. In the Mayor of Casterbridge, Henchard's timing was wrong and as a result he lost everything, not just financially, he also lost those he held dear. He became ruined and broken because he was head strong and had poor judgement, he didn't trust those around him and he had no faith. He didn't listen to those who cared for him because he thought he knew better. The results were disastrous and his ending was tragic. It could have been so different had he listened and had he trusted.
The israelites were also farmers so imagine how much their faith was being put to the test in the commandment in Exodus 34:21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the ploughing season and harvest you must rest.”
God was testing their faith. He was testing whether their faith was in their own ability to plant their crops in the ground and then harvest them, or was their faith in the one who made the crop grow in the first place? God took the test a step further too because the sabbath laws were not just about the 7th day. There were also about the 7th year. For a six-year period, the Israelites could plant and harvest their fields. But in the 7th year, they were forbidden to plant anything. All that they had to eat was their stores from the previous year and what grew in the fields on its own. This gave the fields a chance to rest which we now know is a good thing. You can overwork a field just like you can overwork a person.
God’s command to not plant the fields was about more than just good farming practices. It was also about faith. God was saying, “Do you have enough faith in me to not even plant your fields once every seven years and see if I will provide for you?” There was one more level to this test of faith. After 49 years – 7 cycles of 7 years – the 50th year was called the Year of Jubilee. Along with other things that the Israelites were required to do to celebrate that year, they once again were forbidden to plant any crops in their fields. So they can’t plant in the 49th year or the 50th year – two consecutive years without planting anything in the field. This was a huge risk, but God made a huge promise in return: (Leviticus 25) You may ask, "What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?" I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in. “You place your faith in me, and I’ll give you an over-abundance – more than you could ever imagine.”
Can you imagine such faith? and can you imagine the rest and peace and relief that it would have been to them to know in their hearts and minds that it was not up to them to provide for their families. It was not their responsibility to protect their families. It was God’s. Can you imagine the freedom that comes with this knowledge? With this faith? To know that God would take this whole burden off their shoulders. That they didn’t have to carry it anymore. That they could have rest, Psalm 81 reads, "I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket." That verse doesn’t say that God made the burden go away. It says that He took it off their shoulders. And where did He place it after He took it off their shoulders? He placed it on His own shoulders. And who Has got the broader shoulders? – you or God?
The problem is that we need a huge amount of faith in God to really believe that He is going to meet all of our needs, to protect us in our darkest storms, and to carry our heaviest of burdens. It can be so hard to believe this when things are hard, when our loads seem too heavy to carry, and yet we still try to carry them on our own we still try to deal with them on our own and as a result we wear ourselves out. In this exhausted state our faith becomes tired too and slowly unravels. Paul, the Apostle said it this way in Corinthians: "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. Where is your faith resting? Is it resting in yourself and your ability, or is it resting in God?
So why on this special day of the week, did God command the Jewish people and all those who lived among them to rest, to put down their tools and leave their work ? Why was it so important that they rest? The word “sabbath” actually means to rest and taking the time to rest was a big part of what this day was all about. Once again the parent knows what the child's body needs. God the creator made our body and He knows just how much work and stress it can handle. He knows that if we don't they take time to rest and recharge our batteries, we will eventually destroy ourselves. He knows that this rest is life giving, soul feeding, it is all the nourishment we need to face the week ahead. This all important rest that he wants for us is so much more than just physical rest, so much more than a nap in front of the TV after Sunday lunch, it's also spiritual and emotional rest. You can take a day off each week and cease from working but your mind can be so full of the stresses of the week that the day provides no refreshment at all. When this happens we find our minds in conflict, we find ourselves constantly fighting with God’s Spirit over who is going to have control of our lives and at these times there is no way to get rest. In Isaiah it says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength’,
for some of us we may feel tired all the time from physical exertion and working our bodies too hard and the simple remedy is to learn how to relax and to sleep. But for others, the heart of their tiredness is stress or fighting over something with God and we all know who has the energy in that fight and who will never tire. Wrestling with situations and problems which we should be giving to Him to carry, trusting in Him to deal with them. This is the most important rest, and at these times we need to put these heavy loads down. These loads we carry bend our backs and turn our eyes to the ground, how can we look up at the light when we are in this position? It is at these times that we need to stop fighting Him and let him have his way and let him give our shoulders the rest they need. Let Him lead us to still cool waters and refresh us because he only seeks to prosper us, because his yoke is light and he wants to take and carry our burdens. He knows you need rest and His way is the way to find life giving rest. It says in Matthew 11:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
God knows that as important as it is for our physical bodies to get rest, and as necessary as it was for us to receive an emotional release, far more important than either one was to receive a release from the contamination of thinking and brooding over the events of the past week, allowing things to eat away at you, allowing them to build up and get on top of you, of allowing them to become insurmountable mountains and the heaviest of loads.
I know that I regularly fall into this trap, I confess that my school life often takes over my church life and home life. I also know the only way that I can receive rest from this stress is through time spent in worship with other believers. The time I spend here in worship with you, my family and in the quiet time I spend with God.
In psalm 62 it says: "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken." "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
These words are powerful and these words will turn these thoughts and pressures on their heels running for the hills. These powerful words are Gods words and are the swords of truth which will protect us at such times in our lives. Remember when Jesus was alone in the wilderness and Satan tested him? What did he use as a weapon? He used the words of God.
We have just got back from our summer holiday in France. I always feel this time is one of healing and genuine rest. There is something very special about France, the people are so laid back and relaxed; they always have time for each other. They stop in the street and they chat and they listen. They don't bustle past one another with a curt hello, they physically stop, kiss each other as a warm greeting and take time with each other. As I wrote this sermon each morning in our little Gite I considered the French way of life, one which we shopaholics find quite frustrating at first because every Sunday everything is closed, apart from the bakery which shuts at lunch, then Monday morning, everything is closed again, and lunch? Between 12 and 2 everything is closed again. Why? Because they see the importance of the sabbath, they see the importance of rest and relaxation, the result is an intoxicating atmosphere which permeates the land, the atmosphere of peace of rest of doing things in their own time. They never seem to be carrying heavy loads. Whilst being in France it brings to mind Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. . .” In all our busyness, we fail to stop and worship God. In all our busyness we fail to stop and take time for those we love to take time to do what we love doing. We don’t take the time to allow Him to heal our spirits and refresh our souls.
People laugh at my obsession with knitting, but after a hard and often stressful day at work I pick up my needles and with every stitch I make I feel the stress leaving me, every stitch in every garment I have ever made is a second of stress relief a moment when I allow my mind to clear and very often the gentle rhythms of my needles allows me to empty my mind of school so that there is space to fill it with God.
According to tradition, when the apostle John was bishop in Ephesus, his hobby was raising pigeons. On one occasion an Ephesian elder passed his house as he returned from hunting. When he saw John playing with one of his birds, he gently chided the old bishop for spending his time so frivolously. John looked at his critic’s bow and remarked that the string was loosened. "Yes," said the huntsman, "I always loosen the string of my bow when it’s not in use. If it always stayed tight, it would lose its rebounding quality and fail me in the hunt." "And I," said John, "am now relaxing the bow of my mind so that I may be better able to shoot the arrows of divine truth."
So in conclusion, What does this command mean in the lives of Gods people today? What does it mean for you and for me? What is the message for us to take home and chew over this week, how can these words and this message move us forward in our walk and bring us closer to Christ?
Well I think the message is that we need to stop rushing and start trusting, we need to start casting those burdens down and trust in God the father to provide. We need to stop fighting with Him and let him pick them up and carry them for us. We need to have faith in our father, even when we don't feel he is there we should be confident that he is and he is ready to carry our burdens. I'm going to leave you with a story.
One night a house caught fire all the family managed to get out of the house apart from the youngest son who was forced to flee to the roof. His helpless family stood on the ground below horrified. His father knew the boy had to jump into his arms to save his life. So with outstretched arms, he called to his son, "Jump! I’ll catch you." But all the boy could see, was flames, smoke, and darkness. The little boy was terrified to leave the roof. But his father kept calling to him: "Jump! I will catch you." The boy protested, "Daddy, how can I jump into your arms? I can’t see you." The father replied, "But I can see you son, and that’s all that matters."
Sometimes in life we need the faith to jump and at these times we need to remember that our Father is always waiting to catch us, because although everything seems dark and clouded and we cant see, he can see us and that's all that matters.
When you live in God, your day begins when you open your eyes, though you have done nothing to open them, and you take your first breath, though there is no reason why this life giving breeze should be given to you and not to some other. In the dark or the light, with a stone slab under your back or a feather topper, your day begins when you let God hold you because you do not have the slightest idea how to hold yourself - when you let God raise you up, when you consent to rest to show you get the point , since that is the last thing you would do if you were running the show yourself. When you live in God, your day begins when you lose yourself long enough for God to find you, and when God finds you, to lose yourself again in praise.