Good morning and happy Labor Day Weekend! In 1894 Congress established the first Monday of September as Labor Day. It was to be a nationally observed day of rest for the laborers in factories, mines, railroads, banks, etc. A guaranteed day off for everyone!
As well-meaning as the legislation was, not everyone was able to cash in on the benefits. Moms, nurses, policemen, doctors, waitresses were still expected to be on the job. So for all of you who have worked on Labor Day so the rest of us could have a day off – thank you!
Here’s a Bible trivia question for you this morning. What was the first Labor Day? It’s in Genesis 2. “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen 2:2-3
Did God really need a day of rest? Was he tired? Or was something else going on? The word “rest” is Sabbat or Sabbath. It means to cease, stop, take a break. To “be holy” means to be set apart. It’s connected to the word “whole”. Wholeness in life requires a healthy rhythm of both work and rest physically, spiritually, relationally.
So what did God do on that first Sabbath day? Here’s a suggestion. See what you think. Remember God is Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All three were all involved in the work of creation. So on that first Sabbath they rested from their individual labors to hang out together, re-connect, celebrate what they had accomplished. They took time, whatever that means to God, to be with each other, to enjoy each other, to minister to each other.
Fast forward to Exodus 20. The year is around 1450 BC. God has recently rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt and brought them out in the desert. He gathers them at the foot of Mt Sinai and begins to teach them to no longer think like slaves but as free people. That not as easy as you might think!
He gives them 10 commandments to get them started. Do you remember the first three?
1. “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” Why? Because every other “god” is a demon in disguise whose purpose is to enslave us. The Lord is the only one who can set us free. Remember what Jesus said? “If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed!”
2. “You shall not take the name of the Lord you God is vain.” Why? Because pagan religions saw magic, superstition as a way to manipulate these gods. But the living God us to call him by name and talk to him as a child speaks to a loving parent. Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.”
3. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Why? Because our Creator is a God of perfect balance. Melody, harmony, rhythm come from him. When we get out of tempo with him, we fall back into thinking like slaves. And when we think like slaves, that’s what we become.
Errors begin to crop up in our thinking. Let me give you a few: We begin to operate out of the delusion of self-sufficiency rather than dependency on the Lord. We fall into a mindset of scarcity rather than trust in God’s promise to supply all we need from day to day.
When we neglect the Sabbath, we forget that God is our source and our salvation. We get turned in on ourselves. We become selfish and possessive. We compare ourselves to others and either get proud or resentful against those who have more or less than we do.
When we default back into thinking like slaves, life becomes survival. We think we have to do it all ourselves. We burn out, get bitter, develop ulcers, colitis. We say “surely there’s more to life than this!” And there is! It’s called Sabbath keeping. Sabbath keeping puts us back in tune, on pitch, in rhythm with God, with each other, and with the world around us.
What do we mean by Sabbath keeping? Luther puts it this way in his Small Catechism. A catechism is an educational tool that teaches through the use of questions and memorized answers. Luther wrote his Small Catechism to help parents teach faith to their children.
The 3rd commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
What does this mean?
“We are to fear and love God so that we do not neglect his Word and the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it.”
That’s a major reason we set aside time to come here on Sunday morning. Jesus taught us that Sabbath keeping is more than just obeying rules. Five different times in the Gospels Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders for breaking the man-made rules about what you could do and not do on the Sabbath. In each case he’d healed somebody.
Jesus told these guys that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Making sick people whole on the Sabbath was certainly in line with keeping the Sabbath holy. Sabbath keeping is not a law to keep God off your back or other people under control.
Sabbath keeping is about taking time out to enjoy our relationship with God and with each other. Sabbath keeping is a foretaste of heaven. In the same way Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, took a day of rest to reconnect, rejoice, recover after the work of creation so we are to take a weekly day of rest to reconnect, rejoice, recover from our labors. We gather together to listen, encourage, enjoy, pray for one another.
Remember the manna story in the Exodus? The people were to go out on the desert floor and collect this special bread fresh baked from heaven and provided every morning. When Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” he was looking back to the manna!
The people soon learned that this manna was a very special gift. No matter how many people showed up for supper there was always enough. Sounds like what Jesus did with that small boy’s lunch doesn’t it? The people also learned that they couldn’t hoard the manna because by the next day it always went bad. Except on the sixth day when God told them to collect enough for two days.
No bread would be provided on the 7th day – the day when God and man rested. One of the interesting facts about the manna was no matter how many extra people surprised you and showed up at your table on the Sabbath day – God multiplied what you had gathered and there was enough bread for everyone.
The Sabbath was to be a day of hospitality; a day to celebrate God’s abundance with anyone the Lord sends our way. Every stranger was to be included in the family meal. But what about tomorrow? God will provide tomorrow’s bread tomorrow, fresh and abundant!
Sabbath keeping provides us with a peek into what heaven will be like. There will be meaningful work to do, but it won’t be the grind that came with Adam’s curse. Our labor will full of joy and perfectly balanced with rest and celebration!
There’s an old story about a banquet in heaven and a banquet in hell. In each case the table is filled with glorious things. But there’s a problem. In both places the people are unable to bend their arms, they have no elbows.
The people in hell are filled with frustration, anguish, bitterness because they are unable to enjoy the beautiful meal, but in heaven, people are laughing and celebrating as they feed one another. Sabbath keeping always involves sharing of the abundance we’ve been given.
Sabbath keeping is marked by overwhelming gratitude, tears of joy, shouts of thanksgiving at God’s grace for sinners like you and me. True fellowship is found in the fact that we are forgiven, that we are loved, and that makes it possible for us to love and forgive others.
When we forget the Sabbath and start thinking like slaves again we become controlled by scarcity, loneliness, frustration, futility, resentment, depression, guilt, shame, hopelessness. Maybe that’s why the command to keep the Sabbath holy is so important in God’s law!
In a few minutes we are going to celebrate Holy Communion. It’s a meal to remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us and the cost of our salvation. But it’s also a time to look forward to what Jesus called the marriage feast of the Lamb. Now that’s going to be a party!
Our God is a God of melody, harmony, and rhythm. He has placed these rhythms all around us. When we forget these rhythms, we fall back into slavery. Daily devotions, prayer keeps us in rhythm with the heart of God. Jesus did this, why shouldn’t we?
Weekly worship is part of this rhythm. The church retreat and family vacation are rhythms that keep us connected with the Lord and with each other. The tithe we share during our offering is a rhythm of Sabbath keeping. Without it, we lose our tempo, our melody.
I encourage you to take time this week to consider how your Sabbath keeping. Jesus has set you free. Don’t return to a yoke of slavery. The spiritual discipline of Sabbath keeping helps us remember what we so easily forget. It’s God, not us, who is our source - he alone is in first place!
Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!