"10 Promises of God: Rest"

Isaiah 58:13-14; Luke 4:16-22

Rev. Dr. Lisa Rzepka

Listen       Bulletin

Remember the sabbath day and 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; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:8-11

David / Sarah just read the Fourth Promise ~ written in the words of the prophet Isaiah. There are two notable items about the Fourth Promise, two versions of which are listed in your bulletins;
1. This is the longest promise / command given by God and
2. It is on the same Tablet as the promises about God.

There are two theories about the two tablets – either they are exact copies or one tablet deals with our relationship with God and the other tablet is our relationship with our one another.

Professor Patrick Miller writes that the entirety of the remainder of Scripture can be considered an explanation on the Ten Promises of God. Our next reading is what Professor Miller refers to as the defining text for Jesus and the Sabbath.
Let’s listen again for a Word from God in the gospel according to Luke, chapter 4:16-22.

By claiming the Fourth Promise of Rest, theologian Albert Winn says at least three important things happen in life:

1. Observing the Sabbath will make you stand out from the crowd
2. Sabbath [time] is a festival of freedom
3. Our restless hearts WILL find rest.[1]

Observing the Sabbath will make you stand out from the crowd.

Standing out from the Crowd - Once a woman named Julie moved from rural living to the BIG city. In her adjustment, she started walking to a market downtown every week to get fresh flowers and food for a Sabbath meal. She’d grind her spices by hand, wash her vegetables, and instead of getting prepared food she’d create simple dishes and invite a few friends over for a Sabbath meal. She said it felt sacramental and sacred, the way the food and hands and friendship all work together in the warmth of her kitchen.[2]

Personally, I wanted to have that kind of experience in my neighborhood. After living in our Virginia home for over five years, it occurred to me that I didn’t know my immediate neighbors very well. So, I created an invitation to what I called “Sabbath on the Back Deck.” My intent was to get neighbors together once a month in the late afternoon on a Sunday to share some refreshments and conversation and build community. I explained the concept in the invitation and asked neighbors if they’d be interested in trying it for a few months. I left the invitation in the doors eight of my immediate neighbors on my street. Six households responded and we shared meals and drinks on Sunday afternoons for many more than a few months.

When I ran into one of the neighbors who didn’t respond I asked her if she had gotten my invitation. She said, “yeah, but we’re not into churchy stuff.” While Sabbath does have a churchy ring to it, it is a vital part of life, whether one is religious or not. Sabbath time is time to Reflect on Life and the very essence of being human.[3] Sabbath is about listening to the music of the soul.

Back in 1990, “…AT a private Christian school the religion instructor decided to experiment with periods of silence in his classes…This teacher started with a couple of minutes and slowly increased the time. until his students learned to be comfortable for ten minutes, not doing or saying anything, just being. It was reported that the students were grateful. One said, “it is the only time in my day when I am not expected to ACHIEVE something.”

But – certain parents, were very upset. One said, “It isn’t Christian!” Another said, “I’m not paying all that tuition for my child to sit there and do nothing!” For TEN MINUTES, out of a whole school day. Twenty-nine years later, however, the idea of periods of quiet for school children is still catching on…only now we call it meditation or mindfulness.

People of the Jewish faith have often stood apart from the crowd and for them, Sabbath practice is essential. There is a scene in the movie Fiddler on the Roof when Sabbath comes to a little Jewish village in Czarist Russia. In this village most people struggle to make ends meet, they are suffering from persecution by their Christian neighbors. Yet, On their Sabbath All. Work. Stops. The best linens and dishes are put on the table. Food, all prepared before sunset, is put out. The Sabbath candle is lit. The entire family, young and old gather. The father begins: “Blessed art thou, O Lord, creator of the universe…” The camera pans to the entire village, and in every house, the windows shine with Sabbath candles. These people are RESILIENT – in the midst of their hard lives they are able to laugh and pray, dance and sing by practicing Sabbath.

Which brings us to Winn’s second point -- that Sabbath [time] is a festival of freedom. In our morning gospel reading we heard Jesus went to the synagogue, as was his custom, his Sabbath ritual. He picked up the scroll of Isaiah and told hearers exactly what his mission was in life, “to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim RELEASE to the captives...recovery of sight…and to let the oppressed go free.”

Now, historians can’t really pinpoint the origins of Sabbath practice. Or, whether it was actually universally practiced in ancient Israel. Yet, accounts of the institutionalization of Sabbath in Israel stands alone among all the cultures of the ancient world in its tribute to the dignity of humanity. Sabbath, after all, is not about rest as in retirement.”
Sabbath is about time and who gets it, and how they use it.[4]

The immediate context for Jesus’ statement in Luke is that he was being challenged for healing on the Sabbath. Strict Sabbath observers felt healing to be “work” and that it should wait until the Sabbath was over.

Jesus teaches that mercy comes before sacrifice. And so, essential in sanctifying the Sabbath is well-being. Jesus’ ministry of release includes release from the bonds that hold and oppress human beings, whether it is physical ailments or plucking grains to eat – feeding the hungry.

In the book, “The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart” Benedictine nun Joan Chittister writes that: “Sabbath is the word that demands justice for every living thing…Sabbath is not a day of “rest” because people are tired. It is a day of rest because people are human and ought not to be driven to death, because every living thing requires time to renew itself, if not physically, certainly spiritually; if not spiritually, at least physically. Sabbath confronted two ideas in the ancient world: first, the common understanding that leisure was a privilege only of the gods; and second, that humans were slaves to be used for the sake of the few free men who owned them. The Hebrew Sabbath gave — required — rest for everyone, slave and free, human and animal alike. The Hebrew Sabbath made equals of us all.”[5]

In our relatively gifted lives, Jesus’ release is the offer of freedom and transcendence
from the pull of perceived “need to do’s” of life that threaten to separate us from God.

And, we are mindful that in our covenant with God, with every promise comes a responsibility.

In the promise of rest our responsibility is to consecrate the Sabbath, observe Sabbath time and allow Sabbath time for others. Once, on a rainy Labor Day holiday my sister and I went shopping. The floor supervisor of the big box store we were in wasn’t shy in letting us know that if we hadn’t been there that day, He Would Have Had the Day Off, Too!!! That happened over 25 years ago and I now always think about “do I really need to go to store on the Sabbath or on holidays?” Who am I making work?

Alice Walker says, "Anybody can observe the Sabbath but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week." (Alice Walker, from In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens) As Christians, we make the Sabbath holy by following Jesus in his ministry, a ministry that proclaims, “the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 “The Year of the Lord’s favor” was also known as in Ancient Israel as the Jubilee. Jubilee was THE festival of freedom, a time when debts were forgiven and the enslaved were freed. This Jubilee relates to the second appearance of the Fourth promise in the book of Deuteronomy. If you look at your bulletins where the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages are listed together; notice that the reason for the Promise changed from its first appearance to its second; The first reason for Sabbath is God created in six days, rested on the seventh, and in the image of God, we are to do likewise. In Deuteronomy, the reason for Sabbath is to celebrate freedom, God’s deliverance of the people Israel from their bondage. And, God’s desire is for deliverance of whatever keeps us from a day of thanksgiving and worship.

Our hearts are restless. St. Augustine has a famous prayer that says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee… There is a Jewish rabbinic legend that says that: “When God was giving the Torah to Israel, God said, “My children! If you accept the Torah and observe my [Words], I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious, which I have in my possession. And what, asked Israel, is that precious thing which thou wilt give us if we obey thy Torah?

---The world to come.
---Show us an example of this world to come.
---The Sabbath is an example of the world to come.[6]

Puritan preacher John Eliot wrote a long time ago that “A seventh part of our time is all spent in heaven, when we are duly zealous for and on the Sabbath of God…if thou art a believer, thou art no stranger to heaven while thou livest; and when thou diest, heaven will be no strange place to thee; no, thou hast been there a thousand times before. (Winn, Christian Primer, 218)

What are your Sabbath practices? Can you remember times in life that have felt sacramental…where you have felt the transcendent love of the Divine? Times when you may have gotten goosebumps or felt that life was shimmering and aglow…
What were you doing? Who were you with?
Think about that for a few moments.

In some Jewish homes a spice bag is passed around to remind folks to keep the fragrance of the Sabbath in their nostrils and a cup of wine is passed to keep the flavor of the Sabbath on their lips. As you come forward for communion, there are spices on tables. Pick a leaf and rub it between your fingers and smell the fragrance of Sabbath. Contemplate ways you want to actively practice Sabbath in your life. Maybe write ideas down and share them with someone sitting close to you.

May your Sabbath time from this day forward be intentional and richly blessed. Amen.


[1] Winn, Albert Curry. A Christian Primer: The Prayer, the Creed, the Commandments. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press. 1990.

[2] Muller, Wayne.  Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight, in Our Busy Lives. p. 33

[3] Chittister, Joan. The Ten Commandments: Laws of the Heart. p 38.

[4] Ibid. p. 39.

[5] Ibid. p. 39

[6] Miller, Patrick D. The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.