by Trey H. Little
Gospel: St. Mark 2: 23 - 28
Have you ever heard the saying: “It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one”?
As a preacher, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot of truth to that statement. However, I can also say that I honestly attempt to practice what I preach. You see, contrary to what some think about us preachers—it is not our goal to stand in a pulpit and pontificate about all the things our parishioners are not doing right—or should I say, not living out. But instead, it is our responsibility to proclaim the Word of God and trust the Holy Spirit will do the convicting in all of our hearts.
That’s why I love this quote that is taped here on the pulpit that says, “It would be best for a preacher to fall and break his neck as he mounts the pulpit if he is not going to be the first to follow God in living his own message” (John Calvin).
As we prepare to hear God’s word this morning—I want to confess that this ONE sermon may be the most difficult for me to live out—and my hunch is it may be for you as well. But I will also say that I think this ONE sermon may be one of the most important sermons we should strive to live out. I will attempt to explain.
Turn with me to Mark 2: 23-28.
Every year, our church is asked to fill out various forms whose information is supposed to assist the Presbytery to determine how churches are doing in regards to membership, baptisms, financial giving, missions, etc. There are also a couple of forms that directly address the pastor. One of which I was personally asked to fill out. As I was filling it out a few questions in particular caught my eye. In fact, every year these same questions always get my attention. The questions are: “Did you use all of your study leave?” “Did you use all of your allotted vacation time?” And, “What is your day off?”
At least one reason why they want to know the answers to these questions is because they want to know if pastors are taking care of themselves. The Presbytery requires that all clergy have a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation and 2 weeks of study leave. But also, they expect each pastor to have a designated “day off” each week.
I answered the questions this way: “Did you use all of your study leave? “Yes, I used it for a Doctorate class in August.” “Did you use all of your allotted vacation time?” Again, I answered “Yes.” But to the question, “What is your day off?” I simply wrote: “Friday”—and then put a smiley face—a sarcastic reminder of what a joke my “day off” really is. You see, although I am supposed to take a day off every week; although the Session has approved me taking a day off every week I just don’t do a very good job of it.
I have come to the conclusion that there are a few reasons for this. First, it seems like there is always something that I could be doing here at the church—or at least I think there is. Second, there is always someone I could be visiting. Third, unless I have something very specific planned to do—I don’t do well just “resting.” Finally, what’s the big deal if I don’t take my day off—it’s not like I am breaking the law or anything!
In our sermon text this morning—the Pharisees felt justified to accuse Jesus and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath law. By design, the Sabbath was to be a day of rest; a day that was very significant in the Jewish tradition. And the Pharisees were real sticklers for the observance of the Sabbath as well as obsessive compulsive with various interpretations. The Pharisees were very interested in the outward observance of their understanding of the law. And somehow, down through the years, their understanding of the Sabbath law caused a shift from a day of rest to a day of stress. And the Pharisees were quick to point the finger, as was the case in our text this morning—according to the law; it was unlawful to harvest on the Sabbath.
A quick look at the Old Testament will remind us of the origin of the law. Exodus 20 says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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…” It goes on to say, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
The Lord established a Sabbath “day.” Not a Sabbath “hour.” The Sabbath is not simply about going to church—although I think that worship should be a part of the Sabbath day. But I think the Sabbath—in its most literal translation—is to be a day of rest; a day when we not only rest in the Lord but also a day when we rest from the pressures of work. The Sabbath day should be a day when we reflect on the many blessings in our lives rather than stressing over our many obligations. The Sabbath should be a day when we recognize God’s importance rather than assuming our own importance.
It seems to me that one of the reasons we struggle with observing the Sabbath is because we place way too much importance on ourselves. If I don’t work every day—how will it get done? If I take a day of rest each week then I will just be that much further behind when I go back to work. If I don’t make myself available to my customers 24/7 then they may think I don’t care. If they don’t see me working at the church then they may think I really DO ONLY work one day per week.
Friends, I believe God established the Sabbath day in order that we might rest in His importance. I believe that when we truly honor the Sabbath—when we faithfully observe a day off—we are exhibiting one of the most tangible acts of faithfulness to our Lord. We are obeying His law not our law. We are trusting in His will for our lives not our own. We are expressing our confidence in His power not our own. We are recognizing that if we are not right with Him then there is no way we can get anything else right.
If the Lord came to you today and asked, “What is your day off?” How would you respond? Would it be something like, “Sunday—followed by a little smiley face?”
Friends, we all need rest! It doesn’t matter if you are 4 years old or 64 years old—we all need rest. My daughter Layne is down in Galveston this weekend on a youth retreat—guess what the name of the retreat is—“Spring Sabbath.” I can’t wait to hear about and see the impact the rest made in her life.
I want to encourage us to re-think the Sabbath in our lives. Since we seem to struggle with these words “day off” then I want to suggest that we try the words “day on.” Let the Sabbath be a day ON which we rest in the Lord. Let it be a day ON which we surrender everything to the Lord. It is the day ON which we pray. It is a day ON which we cherish the laughter of our children. It is a day ON which we humble ourselves before our Lord and reflect on His gracious provision in our lives. It is a day ON which we don’t have to please everyone—just The One!
Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even on the Sabbath.”
Do you believe this? If so, then are your actions embodying your belief?
You see, if you think about it, the Sabbath is a gift from God—and any gift from God should be enjoyed now—not later. Because when that day comes—the day ON which the Lord calls us home to be with Him—I don’t think our first words to Him will be: "I sure wish I had just one more day to work.” Nor do I think we will say, “I sure wish I would have spent less time in worship of you.” Instead, I think we will say things such as, “I wish I had taken more long walks with my spouse;" "I wish I had gone fishing more with my kids;" "I wish I had stopped more along the way to listen to You.” In short, “I wish I would have had more “days on.”
I close with this story about some American explorers who went to Africa. They employed some native guides. The first day they rushed to cover as much distance as possible. They did the same thing on the second, third, and every day. On the seventh day they noticed the guides sitting under a tree. "Come on," they shouted, "Let's go." One of the guides replied, "We no go today. We rest today to let our souls catch up with our bodies" (Source Unknown).
“What is your day ON?” That day ON which you will make time for your soul to catch up with your body—trust me, if we do not make the time, both will cease to live.
“What is your day ON? Quite frankly—it’s a question we all need to answer—myself included! But I am convinced, when we can answer that question consistently each week—I think we will begin to see a lot more smiling faces.
Sermons and Bible Commentary/Analysis for the 3rd sunday after Sleebo
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