Sabbath Grace – Aug. 28, 2019

Sabbath Grace

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 7-11 and Luke 15:11-32

August 28, 2019

Main Idea: The Sabbath changes the world.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

For 3 Sundays we are exploring what Sabbath is and how we can experience it.  The Sabbath is a gift from God to us, that frankly we are not very good at receiving. The first week we affirmed that the Sabbath gives us rest.  Last week we dug deeper into what Sabbath life means, and how Sabbath rest impacts all aspects of our lives.  This week we will move beyond our personal experiences of Sabbath to explore how Sabbath Grace can change the world.

Our Old Testament Scripture comes from the book of Deuteronomy which is comprised of laws and regulations about how the people of Israel were to live together. They had been freed from slavery.  They had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. And now they had settled down and established communities. They had choices to make about how they would care for one another.  God gave them laws which emphasized their community bonds and the need to care for the vulnerable. The understanding of the Sabbath evolved to include more than just one day of rest a week.  As farmers, the people saw the value of letting their fields lie fallow one year out of seven and as a society, they recognized the value of resetting the community every seven years by observing a Sabbath year. 

Today’s text concerns this Sabbath year.  In the seventh year, all debts were to be erased. Bonded servants were to be set free and everyone was to remember that they all had been freed from bondage by God.  Just as the weekly Sabbath served to remind the people of their dependence on God, so the Sabbath year required deep trust in God and commitment to the value of all people.  This obviously wasn’t easy, as the text preemptively commands against being “hard-hearted or tight-fisted towards your needy neighbor.”  It would be easy to lend money at year 1 when you could be sure to get it back, but at year 6 1/2? Not so much.  “Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, ‘The seventh year, the year of remission, is near’, and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.” (15:9)  “Don’t even think about it.”

The text continues, “Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” (15:10-11).

So, what is the connection between the Sabbath and caring for our neighbors? Because obviously, “opening our hands to the poor and needy” is important.  But how is it connected to resting on the Sabbath? “Sabbath rest is God’s distinctive mark, a deep symbol of Israel’s intimate relationship with the one who frees rather than enslaves, who offers lavish blessing rather than endless toil.” (Richard Lowery, Sabbath, a Little Jubilee ,  When we observe the Sabbath, we enacts God’s vision for the world, where everyone has value, everyone has what they need, and everyone has the opportunity to flourish.  This is the connection.

The Sabbath is not just for personal rejuvenation, a quiet day among hectic ones, a sacred day among secular ones.  The Sabbath is for communal reorientation. It moves our preoccupation from “What I need, What I want” to an appreciation of God’s care for everybody (and all of creation). “The goal of sabbath teaching and law is to properly orient human desire….To observe the sabbath is not to take flight from the frantic and anxious character of our world. It is rather to acquire the perspective that will then permeate our every thought and action with the vision of God’s peace and joy.” (Norman Wirzba, Imagine a Sabbath Economy,

So, on this three week Sabbath course, we first recognized our need for Sabbath rest, then we were given suggestions for how to live a Sabbath life. This morning we will explore how to share Sabbath grace with the world. This is where things may get dicey as our society wants us to keep our personal beliefs, just that, personal.  But as a wise person once said, “Faith is always personal but never private”. What we believe must impact what we do, and our faith must take precedent over our political leanings.

Sabbath Grace gives us a clear eyed view of our societal disfunctions so that, not only can we can resist the lure of more stuff, more money, more status, but we can work to change the systems that prevent people from having what they need.  We slow down, we see others, we make decisions that help others rest and be valued; such as raising the minimum wage to a living wage and supporting workers’ rights more than profits.  Some may call this socialism, and maybe it is, but it is certainly biblical.  Recognizing those who right now cannot rest, and working so that they can rest in the future is to live out Sabbath Grace.

Sabbath Grace gives us power.  True power does not need to be hoarded or defended.  It is confident enough to share. Like love, grace given to others does not diminish the grace we receive, in fact the opposite is true. Grace shared, power shared, increases the grace and power available to us.  Living in the confidence of God’s love, we do not need to strive for power or influence.  We have all that we need!   We can rest in God, knowing that others are resting as well.

Sabbath Grace leads to flourishing. It is a paradox that choosing to live simply leads to abundance; not an abundance of stuff, but an abundance of experience, an abundance of blessings, an abundance of life. Think about how calm and happy you feel when your house is clean and everything is put away.  Our clamoring for more and more leads to chaos and bitter disputes.  For example, there is more than enough food to feed all the people in the world but 30-40% of that food is wasted and developed countries take advantage of poorer ones with the end result that 1 billion people go to bed hungry everyday. ( We do not have a shortage of food in our world, we have a shortage of sharing and caring.  Sabbath Grace leads us to live simply so that others can simply live. (to quote the bumper sticker!) 

The Sabbath is not mentioned in the parable of the Prodigal Son but the story is filled with Sabbath Grace.  According to societal rules the younger son who leaves is not entitled to anything more from his family.  His elder brother points this out while also complaining to their father about his own perceived mistreatment.  “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” (Luke 15:29).  Neither brother understands that there is no need to earn their worth or their father’s love. The younger brother feels unworthy and the older brother feels threatened by their father’s mercy.  He thinks it is intrinsically unfair.  But God’s love is poured over both of them. Both are welcomed in. Both are given provisions and rest.  Both are invited to life lived with Sabbath Grace.

“Sabbath, a foretaste of the world as it should be, calls us to claim the power and accept the responsibility to make the world better. It calls us to examine the way we live, to make decisions that promote dignity, freedom, well-being, and life-giving power for all God’s people.” (Richard Lowery, Sabbath, a Little Jubilee, As we move into the busy fall season, let us practice Sabbath in ways large and small.  Let us observe the Sabbath in our individual and community lives. Let us honor our work and our rest as gifts from God. Let us use our Sabbath understanding to advocate for, and work for all people, all creation. 

Let us pray,

God of the Sabbath, we praise you and thank you for the gifts of creation and time, and especially for the gift of the Sabbath.  Remind us to slow down and appreciate this gift.  Empower us to work toward a world where all are able to rest and work with dignity.  Amen.