Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: "On Keeping the Sabbath"
Posted on 03/29/2006 7:00:47 PM PST by sionnsar
From the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama, we have this sermon on keeping the Sabbath, which is part of his series on the Ten Commandments:
Sermon on the Fourth Sunday in Lent (2006)I think this is a well-balanced view of the Sabbath and of the Christian's duties toward keeping that day holy, and I thank Fr. Edwards for this.
Countdown to Godliness
Sermon VII. On Keeping the Sabbath.
God spake these words and said: Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work; thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
The commandment we consider today serves with the one that follows as part of the hinge that connects the first four commandments (which focus on our relationship with God) and the last six (which concern the way we are to live together as Gods people). Here we see that while God commands us to keep the Sabbath to his glory, the reason he does so is for our benefit. The Sabbath is to be kept to the Lord, but at the same time (according to his own words) the Sabbath is made for man.
This is not an easy commandment genuinely to observe. It would not be easy to keep even if we did not live in a time in which increasingly the Lords Day is seen either as just another day of the week or as a part of the expanded, self-focused, secularized Sabbath called the weekend. One reason that the genuine keeping of the Sabbath is difficult is that there are two temptations associated with it. One, to which Ive just referred, is to ignore it. This, it would appear, is what the majority even of professing Christians do.
The other temptation is to become so absorbed in the minutiae of observing it that we forget for whom it is set aside. This temptation is the one to which the Pharisees of Jesus day, the English and American Puritans, and more recent Sabbatarians succumbed.
It is notable that both when the Lords Day is disregarded and when it is obsessively enforced, God is forgotten, but so is man. The failure to keep the Sabbath holy is both disrespectful to God and damaging to man (which, also, is disrespectful to God, for when the image is dishonored, so is he whose image it is).
The keeping of the Sabbath was taken most seriously in Israel. In fact, the penalty for violating it was to be cut off from the people, and that could and sometimes did involve capital punishment. It is noteworthy that the man who was caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36) was stoned to death which, you will remember from last week, is the same punishment decreed for a disrespectful son.
We have difficulty comprehending how important this is because we generally dont think much about just who we are, both as created beings and as created beings called into covenant with the Creator. We do not appreciate our own God-given dignity: God made us in his image; he calls us into his likeness. In other words, we are supposed to be growing up to be like our Father. To be a son, biblically speaking, is not simply a matter of physical generation. It is more importantly and more definitively a matter of moral likeness. Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the Father, must be about his Fathers business; he habitually prefers his Fathers will to his own even unto death; he does only what he sees the Father doing. So are we to do, who have been adopted by God as members of his Son.
It may not be immediately apparent, but the essential reason that we are to observe the Sabbath is that we may become like God himself. If God rests from his labors, then so are we to do if we would be like him. He has set the example for us and his example is a component of the commandment itself: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it. The Lord rested from his labors in creation. If we do not imitate him, then we are saying in effect that we are stronger, more energetic, more important to the maintenance of the world than he is.
It is not by the way to note at this point that the keeping of the Sabbath is not represented as a consequence of our Fall, but as a creation ordinance that, like marriage, has been from the beginning. In fact, one might say it has been from before the beginning.
But what does it mean for God to rest? Is that not something different that what it means for us to rest? Well, yes, but also no. Gods rest and his activity, unlike ours, are a unity. Gods activity both issues from his rest and flows into it. His rest is a way of describing his completeness within himself: God is not going anywhere he is where everything else is going, and when it gets there, it also will be at rest, and not until then will it be at rest. We are called into that rest those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see that we sing about in Hymn 589. [see appended text]
Our rest also involves being complete in ourselves, something that for us as created beings is not possible without God. Since we live in time and space rather than in eternity (which is always and everywhere which comprehends all time and all space within itself), our rest and our work are distinguished, and because our condition is one of being fallen from our originally designed state of innocence and turned away from our intended focus on God who has made us in his image, these aspects tend to appear to us under the form of activity and inactivity. But these are not the true grounds of distinction between work and rest. Both our work and our rest in a fallen world tend to focus on the fulfillment of our own perceived needs. The Sabbath is given for us to refocus on God who is our goal, who defines and enables authentic humanity. Without this refocusing, we are bound to lose in our unrelenting activity not only our energy but any true sense of our identity, our dignity, and our destiny.
It is in this sense that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God directs us to keep the Sabbath holy, and that means that it is not to be a day like every other day, but a day set apart. It is not to be a day like every other day is, but a day like every other day is to become. The Lords Sabbath is given for our good, and this does not only, or even primarily, mean for the recovery our physical strength, but for the remembrance of who we are by the remembrance of Whose we are, by the remembrance that before we belong to ourselves, to our families, or to our friends we belong to him who made us to Him Who Is. He tells us to rest, and the main sense of that is that of resting in Him. How shall we ever really believe that the good order of the world depends on Gods grace and not on our own works if we never stop working for ourselves to pay attention to what he is doing and to let him do his work in and through us?
It is clear that God thinks the keeping of his Sabbath is vitally important for us. It so important that, while he directs that we return to him ten percent of the wealth he has given us, in the Sabbath ordinance he demands over fourteen percent of the time he has given us. One purpose both of the tithe and the Sabbath is to remind us that all of what he gives us wealth or time belongs to him.
Now all of this is important, and I have spent a lot of time trying to make it plain, but my task would remain incomplete if I did not point out at least one way in which it applies to us. To some, this may seem to some meddlesome, though through the nature of the case, probably most of those are not here. However, many of them will read it later, and many of you who are here will have your own occasion to engage with them on it. I speak, of course, about attending worship on the Lords Day. This is something to which all the baptized are duty bound, something that each of us has vowed before God. The Churchs law defines temporal consequences concerning the good standing of her members who default in this matter. These arent nearly as serious, though, as the eternal consequences. It may be irritating to hear that. If so, so be it: Like all priests and pastors, I have obligations to God that are more important than anyones comfort level, mine included.
It is true that there is more to keeping the Sabbath holy than gathering for worship with other believers, but there is certainly not less to it than that. Let it not be said, as so many secularists both within and without the Church have said, that a sometimes a person can worship God better alone in the outdoors than assembled with other believers at his altar. This is only true if he is in effect worshiping some god of nature which is always a convenient cult to start with, since such gods always begin by telling us that what we want to do anyway is the right thing. But there is a cost, for these gods eventually ask us to sacrifice our children. This is not true if the person who says it means the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he has told us how he is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth and assembled together in his Name. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is . [12:23-25]
Of course, there are valid reasons which can excuse a person from being present with the worshiping congregation, but these are limited and involve either circumstances which are genuinely beyond his control (such as serious illness, infirmity, or inability to find transportation), or charitable service and care for those made in Gods image who are sick or otherwise imperiled or who might reasonably become so if he is not there with and for them (and this includes those in the military, or emergency services, or health care workers). However, it is never more important to mow the lawn, or to read the newspaper, or to catch up on our sleep, or to go fishing (or hunting, or golfing) or even to look after our guests than to worship at the Lords altar on the Lords Day. (The excuse of having company for some reason is one that I find especially lame: It raises all sorts of questions, most especially, why not bring them with you. Would it not be a strange sort of hospitality to visit someone who has weekly access to the royal presence and not have him invite you to go with him to see the King? Yet that is what we do if we do not offer our guests the opportunity to come with us to his presence chamber.)
It is to that Presence Chamber that we have come. He who is everywhere and always and to everyone humbles himself to be here and now and with each of us in his infinite fulness. Let us, desiring to put on his holiness, approach the holy things which he offers us in such a way that when we leave this place and this day, we each may carry within us the fulfillment of our desire.
O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be
(O quanta, qualia sunt illa sabbata)
[Italicized verses are not in The Hymnal 1940, number 589]
O what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blessèd ones see;
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones, rest;
God shall be all, and in all ever blessed.
What are the Monarch, His court, and His throne?
What are the peace and the joy that they own?
O that the blessed ones, who in it have share,
All that they feel could as fully declare!
Truly, Jerusalem name we that shore,
City of peace that brings joy evermore;
Wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
Nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.
There, where no troubles distraction can bring,
We the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing;
While for Thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise
Thy blessèd people eternally raise.
There dawns no Sabbath, no Sabbath is oer,
Those Sabbath keepers have one evermore;
One and unending is that triumph song
Which to the angels and us shall belong.
Now, in the meanwhile, with hearts raised on high,
We for that country must yearn and must sigh;
Seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
Through our long exile on Babylons strand.
Low before Him with our praises we fall,
Of Whom, and in Whom, and through Whom are all;
Of Whom, the Father; and in Whom, the Son,
Through Whom, the Spirit, with Them ever One. Amen.
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