Category: Isaiah 55

A Sabbath Rest?

Pentecost 13C
Sunday August 22, 2010.
Ocean Forest

Luke 13: 10-17/ Isaiah 58:9b-14
A Sabbath Rest?

I wrote a short comment for the school newsletter this week on this whole thing of rest with family, self and God. I had an interesting conversation with a mum of two teens as a result of that. I wrote…

“I see lots of people giving up rest in pursuit of endless work for endless gain for some driven goal to get some place “better”. I see parents really missing their kid’s life as they leave home before dark, get home after dark, and then do a million things on the weekend, and hardly ever take a holiday during the year – “because we can’t get away from work”.
I see children becoming young men and women with minimal reference to their parents and nearly all reference to the media and their peers – almost living parallel lives to their folks because their folks have given up on resting with the, just hanging out with them and having a conversation with their kids for the sake of having a conversation with their kids!
Come on, people. Is life lived ignoring regular down time – both in families but also for your own inner spiritual life really that needed or necessary?”

This mum said her and her husband had been thinking about this for the last couple of days. She said that where she works she is under constant pressure to work more hours – and work on the weekend. She is trying to protect her weekends to be with her family. She said she knows of other mums at her work who start at 6.00am who then get the school to which their child goes to call at 9.00am to confirm the child is at school. Mum and Dad are not there for breakfast lunch or after school. She hears stories of kids of the people she work with leaving school at 3.30 and seeing no need to go home, because the house is empty and no one will be home until 5.30-6.00pm anyway, So one kid she knows just rides his bike around and gets into building sites wherever he can for something to do….

We have some very lonely children in our community who have indeed been cut loose far too early. When grade four comes around, children seem to be entrusted with their own upbringing – which will come from their peers and the TV. We wonder why we have issues with families and parenting and marriage and family?!

It was quite amazing to spend some time in the Middle East some years ago and see a culture totally devoted to planned rest – with family, including God. The Sabbath day runs the week and the family rhythm. There are things everyone does on the Sabbath and things you don’t do on the Sabbath. Why is it that the Jewish culture is so resilient an instantly recognizable?

I don’t know if anyone around our community has much sense of planned rest – observance of a regular rest where nothing gets in the way of that rest. Maybe our annual holidays are about that. Maybe trying not to work too much is the best we do.

I see even less people who have much regard for religious observance of a Sabbath day. We play sport, shop, fix things, plan for the working week, just keep working and just about anything else on the weekend – but do we really rest?

We might see a great ally for our busyness in Jesus as Christians. There is no doubt Jesus sets the welfare of individuals above religious observances such as the Sabbath. He says, “the Sabbath was created for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath”. “People come first, not religious observance”, we say. “So, do what you need to do when you need to do it and don’t worry too much about observance of any religious rite or practice”.

For us who are not much into religious observance like Jewish people or Muslim communities etc…, this particular gospel word may not be so confronting to us who keep religious observances to a bare minimum and value a much more relaxed, personally orientated religion and hate using the word, “religion” anyway!

But, there is more to this than we might think. If we listen to both the word from God in Isaiah and the gospel word, we might get confused…

See, the first word from Isaiah urges that God’s people not “trample the Sabbath,” that is, ignore religious observances to pursue their own interests (business, shopping, recreation). God is calling his people to be quite “religious” in terms of observing his call to rest with family, self and Him. Worship, conversation, the rites of the church like absolution, holy communion, baptism, funerals….. These are religious observances that really count when they are needed.

And yet Jesus is also saying that the planned rest and time with God was created for the benefit of human beings, it was not created as a legalistic thing to turn them into robotic slaves of God.

So, to observe or not to observe, that is the question!

What I hear the Spirit saying to us is that what we are free to dispense with down time with God and each other for the sake of others, but we it is not good to dispense with time with God and others in rest for the sake of ourselves and our own well-being.

Yes, we would easily give up the observance of a special day dedicated to God to take a family member to hospital or help someone in need and know that this is what God would have us do, because that is the kind of God he is – a God who sends his Son to directly challenge the warped view that religious observance is to be done at all costs – even at the cost of heart, life and mercy.

But would we see the value of observing a day a week with the Lord in front of our heads and hearts as being very much over and above the income for the mortgage, the house look, sport, shopping and everything else we fill that day with at the drop of a hat?

I am hearing Jesus affirm us for our willingness to be flexible and other-orientated when it comes to trusting that this whole one Sabbath day rest or time with him in the week is to be given up at times for the sake of other people in whatever need. That is Jesus, the Good Samaritan style, living. That is what God is always on about throughout the Bible. Human beings were not created to religiously observe the Sabbath day.

But what I am also being challenged with is the other side of this. That special day of rest in the Lord was created by God for human beings!

Friends, are we throwing out too much planned, even ‘religious’ down time with the Lord alone, with our family and with his people these days?

Why did God rest on the “7th Day” and tell us all about it? Why did God consistently call people back to that special resting with God and family? Why does Jesus both challenge what the leaders of Israel had made it (a huge burden around people’s necks that kept them from knowing God as a kind and loving heavenly Father) and yet say “the Sabbath day was created for God’s creatures”?

Religiously protected and planned rest has to be good for us. God created us and it. He has created a rhythm of faith and life for us with him. Work and Rest. Doing and praying. Receiving and giving. Dying and rising.

I hear the Lord calling us to take responsibility for not “trampling the Sabbath”. We need to make some decisions about our week, our income, our direction and our time in our week – now, not later. God wants to spend some quality time with us alone and in our close circle. We need to spend some quality time with him – even a whole day per week.

And here’s the payoff for committing to God our time and rest within that time.

“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; {14} then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth…” Isaiah 58:13-14

Rest in God brings delight, a new joy to the relationships – just like rest with the kids or your partner or friends regularly. Rest makes for delight and the ability to enjoy life and do well in our relationships and work.

So, what will it be for us – will we be a family and a people in this community who clear space, even religiously, for rest with each other and more importantly, with the Lord in his Word and in his world – for more than an hour or two in a week – but 12 hours per week?
Hear God’s promise if we get quite “religious” or protective about this rest with him….
Isaiah 58:9b-14

The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. {12} Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. Isaiah 58:11-12

And how these streets need to be repaired by joy-filled, life-giving, restful people of God!

saying something

Augsburg Confession Day
June 27th, 2010
Ocean Forest

Something needs to be said
AC VII and Isaiah 55:6

Sometimes something needs to be said about what you believe. You find yourself in situations where you just know that people are either looking to you as the nearest representative of the Christian Faith to say something on an issue or about how God sees things, or, you feel in your conscience that you need to offer a word of truth into a conversation.

In my role as Padre, I get quite a few invites to say something about thing religious or spiritual because people think I am some sort of expert of God! If only they knew the truth! I suspect our teachers here get many moments in which to say something about their faith and their church too.

I remember once a long time ago, long before I was anywhere near being a student of theology or pastor, I had one of those really hard conversations with an old friend around a kitchen table with a few others listening in. He kept pushing me for an affirmation that all roads lead to heaven – all faiths in all deities and gods are in the end the means of finding peace with God. I just could not do that – especially considering those words of Jesus – I am the way, truth and life and no one comes to God the Father except through me….” In the end we had to agree to disagree. It was difficult. Others around the table were not willing to so bold as to offer their opinion!

Not long ago I went to speak to a couple who wanted to talk to me about having their children baptized here. I know them fairly well. I played soccer with the guy for 5 years and got to know his wife through the club. Low and behold, as often happens, they are now “parents of the college”.

They grew up without any meaningful experience of the church and they want to know now. I could feel their hunger for spiritual understanding. I had the opportunity to respond to their questions. Question on whether or not the Bible is really a special “God book” or just a human thing; what is sin and what can God do about the world; what place have little kids got in the church, and so on…. It was great.
Speaking to a senior class at college: They want to know but it is hard for them to ask because of appearances in their peer group. The hunger is there and they are listening, even if they have to make sure that their peers don’t see them listening too much. Things need to be said.

What about you? Had those kind of experiences where you were invited or just felt that it was a moment to say what you believe when it comes to life and God and church?

I reckon it would be most Christian people’s No 2 fear, though. If the No 1 fear of everyone is to speak in public, then for the Christian saying something even mildly definitive about their faith might be close second!

I guess that is because we know from the word, history and from experience that saying something about God and who he is an how he works can cost us – friends, family members, colleagues, status, even livelihood and maybe in extreme situations – our life.

As a result of this fear of saying something when needed, someone suggested that “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering”(Howard Henricks).

It seems worthwhile for us to reflect on that defining moment of the reformation movement when the gathered new community of faith within Mother Church had the guts to say something under extreme threat.

On June 25th, in the fair southern German city of Augsburg, the newly gathered evangelical community still within the Roman Catholic church said something about who they become. The tone of the Augsburg Confession is quite conciliatory and is firmly founded on the established belief of the Christian church. It begins by affirming the bible and the three great universal creeds (Athanasian, Nicene and Apostle’s Creed) and then totally reforms the basic teaching of the church centred around that chief tenant of the Christian Faith – peace with God only by God’s gracious act of love in Jesus Christ, only received by faith in him.

There was still the belief that if this moment could handled with all care in a gracious tone, there would not need to be a parting of ways and a severing of the relationship with Mother Church. If only they could hear us they too might be revolutionized by the grace if God given in Jesus and recovered with a simple but profound faith!

We know the rest. This moment did not become a moment of genuine church-wide reformation around Jesus Christ’s forgiveness. Instead it signaled more mistrust, disunity and in the end a splintering of the Church, both in organizational/institutional terms, but more importantly in faith and practice terms.

And here we are, still splintered and still wondering what we are all doing here together! We have Lutheran, Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Dutch Reformed, Quakers, Church of Christ, a plethora of Pentecostal communities, and so on.

I do believe that we all are God’s church. In fact one the things I am most thankful for in the Augsburg Confession is that it says that “the church is the assembly of God’s holy people in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments administered rightly (according to the gospel). The one holy church will remain forever” (AC VII 1-2).

We take this mean that as far as the gospel in proclaimed and the sacraments administered according to the gospel” there is the one, holy catholic church”. Despite our tendency to alienate and make human lines in the sand about who is in and who is out, the foundational approach the Lutheran church has to other traditions is all about the gospel. Wherever it is preached and God’s sacrament gifts administered, there are my brothers and sisters in this one Church of Jesus.

It even goes on to say that “it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments”. The good news of Jesus which is only to be received by faith, not by earning it in lots of good deeds or intellectual understanding or any other “merit” we might try to put on it, is the point of our unity in Christ.

“It is not necessary that human traditions, rites, or ceremonies instituted by human beings be alike everywhere”, says the AC. (AC VII 3-4)

People can misread that to suggest that rites, and ceremonies are to be done away with and dismissed as useless. That is not the case. The confessors are simply saying that they don’t need to be uniform for me to accept another person as a member of God’s church. These same people spent a whole lot of time reforming rites and ceremonies and liturgies to make them “gospel-centred”, or “evangelical” because they knew that we need ways to gather, words to speak, songs to sing and rituals to enact as we journey together in faith.

So, friends, we come from somewhere and are a part of much bigger story and a global community of huge diversity and this is to be enjoyed! We would be wise to reflect on what we love about our church, our school and what we know fo this bigger story that we are now a part of. Knowing who we are and what we love about our church will surely help us find confidence to truly engage with others and when the time is right – to actually say something of our trust in the our God.

We have no need of being scared of other Christians or other people in general. Yes, we need to be careful with God’s word and how we represent him and his people, but not scared. We are given opportunities to say something and we can take those opportunities – not to judge and condemn people, but to simply bear witness to Jesus, to share how God’s grace in him has revolutionized our life, our view, our direction in life.

The Spirit’s promise is that our words don’t fall to ground without God achieving his intended goal. As the rain of your witnessing words fall into the heart of the one to whom your bear that witness of Jesus, it will yield God’s harvest. So, we really cannot lose when saying something sometimes!