Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sabbath Revolution (Isaiah 56 & 58)

Let’s step back in time 500 years to the year 1512.  Look up with me into the sky?  What do you see?  You see the sun moving across the sky, from east to west.  Move 12 hours forward to night time.  What do you see now?  You see the stars and planets moving across the sky, again from east to west.  What is the most stable, most durable, least movable, physical thing you know?  The earth.  It was patently obvious to everyone 500 years ago that the earth is the stable center of the universe, and the sun, the moon, and all the stars and planets revolve around the earth.  This was so obvious that there was no argument.  Just look up.  How could it be any other way?
Then, there was this pesky astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus.  He looked up and looked up and looked up, and he just couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing.  The patterns of movement for the sun, the planets, and the stars just didn’t make sense.  Finally, just before he died in 1543, he published an “earth shattering” book called: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.  He argued that the whole world had been wrong.  
Even though we can look “up” and see what seems like the sun moving, it isn’t.  We’re the ones moving.  The earth and all the planets actually revolve around the sun.  It’s like when you’re sailing down a river and the trees on the bank look like they’re moving.  This started the Copernican Revolution which completely changed not only our understanding of astronomy but also our understanding of the world and our place in it.  Copernicus was one of the chief sparks of the scientific revolution that is still happening today.
But what most people don’t know is that Copernicus was not the first person to propose this theory.  Someone else beat him to it - by almost 2,000 years.  In the 3rd century BC, Aristarchus, an ancient Greek astronomer, suggested that the sun is fixed and earth is one of many planets revolving around the sun.  Almost without exception, he was shamed and condemned for promoting scientific foolishness and theological heresy.  What would have happened if people had doubted what seemed “obvious” to “everyone” to consider the possibility that the universe might work in more mysterious ways?  How would our world be different?
Let me describe another prevailing world-view.  More work = more productivity.  More activity = more happiness.  More study time = better grades.  Better grades = a better life.  More status = more satisfaction.  More success = a better life.  More stuff = a better life.  More pleasurable experiences = a better life.  Basically, quantity = quality.   Success, status, stuff, and pleasure are the keys to a good life.  And the more the better.  This is the prevailing view of our world.  It is “obvious.”  Just look up.  Just look at the stars and the rich people and the geniuses.  They’ve got it made.  It’s obvious.  

And it seems that “everybody” agrees.  There may be a few naysayers out there who challenge the prevailing view, but it seems that these critics widely disregarded as weirdos, tree-huggers, or Puritans.  
But what happens when the “obvious” is incorrect?  What happens when “everybody” is wrong?
The ancient world disregarded Arstarchus’s discovery that the earth revolves around the sun.  Then, we paid the price.  For 1800 years we had bad science and the wasted efforts of brilliant minds that could have been solving real problems instead of working within a warped system of reality.  
The modern world has disregarded another source of ancient wisdom: the Bible and the Sabbath day.  For the past month, as we study the Sabbath, we’ve seen again and again that the Bible refutes the quantity = quality myth.  More does not always mean better.  Sometimes, the best way to better is through the path of less.  Sometimes, the best way to increase our productivity is to stop producing.  The best way to improve ourselves is to remember that our selves are not the center of the universe.  
The Bible says: 
  • If you want to go farther, then stop moving.
  • If you want to do more, then stop doing.
  • If you want to be more, then just be now.
For one day a week, just stop everything else and rest in God’s presence.  Let God soak you, and that will change everything else.  Listen to what God says through the prophet Isaiah:

56:1  This is what the Lord says: “Be just and fair to all. Do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you  and to display my righteousness among you.
Blessed are all those who are careful to do this.  Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong.
“Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say,    ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’
For this is what the Lord says:I will bless those eunuchs    who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me    and commit their lives to me.
I will give them — within the walls of my house — a memorial and a name    far greater than sons and daughters could give.  For the name I give them is an everlasting one.    It will never disappear!
“I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest,   and who hold fast to my covenant.
I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem  and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer.  I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices,    because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.
For the Sovereign Lord, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too,    besides my people Israel.”

58:10 Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble.  Then your light will shine out from the darkness,    and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,    giving you water when you are dry    and restoring your strength.  You will be like a well-watered garden,  like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.  Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls    and a restorer of homes.
13 “Keep the Sabbath day holy.     Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath  and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.  Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,    and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.

14 Then the Lord will be your delight.    I will give you great honor and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.     I, the Lord, have spoken!”

Sabbath is the path of blessing.  Sabbath is central to living in God’s presence.  Notice how God links Sabbath with other basic ethical commands.  Keep the Sabbath and don’t do evil.  Keep the Sabbath and feed the hungry.  Sabbath is a basic practice of God’s people.  
These Isaiah passages have two basic points.  1) Sabbath connects us with God.  2) Experiencing God brings blessings.  Isaiah 58 has this interesting train of logic: if you delight in the Sabbath, then God will be your delight, and then God will satisfy you.  We don’t practice the Sabbath to get God’s blessings.  That is using God.  We practice the Sabbath to be close to God.  But, when we get close to God, blessings follow.  
Look at the eunuchs and foreigners in chapter 56.  They were excluded from the Temple because of some Old Testament laws.  They could never have Israelite children.  They had no future in Israel, no hope of blessing from God or God’s people.  But, they were so captivated by God’s goodness and beauty that they still “keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me    and commit their lives to me ... and ... commit themselves to the Lord ... serve him and love his name ... worship him ...    and who hold fast to my covenant.”  They had no hope for blessing in this life, but they were exceedingly faithful simply out of love for God.  
Are you willing to be faithful to God no matter the results?  Are you willing to be faithful even if the blessings dry up?  Faithfulness leads to blessings - in one way or another.  But those blessings are not always obvious or immediate.  Are you willing to wait?  Are you willing to persevere?  Are you willing to be faithful even when there are no good results that you can see?
God promises that even if this world counts you out, he’ll count you in.  This world may reject you as a failure and an outcast.  God will welcome you as a child of grace and blessing.  You may be faithful and true, but you may be treated as fool and a failure.  That is entirely possible.  There are no guarantees.  God asks for our faithfulness despite the results.  Are you so deeply in love with God that you commit yourself in service to him, no matter what happens and no matter what others will say?  
Then, God will bless you.  I cannot offer you any timelines or maps of when or how.  It may not be today, or tomorrow or even in this lifetime, but God will bless you for being faithful.  Or, more correctly, it’s not so much that God will give you a reward for being faithful - like a dog getting a treat from his master.  Good boy!  Sit!  Stay!  Good boy!  Pant, pant, pant.  God doesn’t work like that.  It’s more that being faithful connects you to God, and God is the essence of life and blessing.  So being connected with God infuses our life with more of God’s grace and life and blessing.
Listen to the blessings God promises here for those who keep the Sabbath and commit themselves to God.  
  • Legacy - We will have personal value that lasts for generations (56:5)
  • Joy - We will experience deep, abiding joy and delight in God’s presence (56:7, 58:14)
  • Acceptance - We will truly belong; we will be accepted for who we really are, not for who we are pretending to be or trying to be (56:8).
  • Perseverance - When others run out of strength, we will still be strong.  We will be like a well-watered garden (58:11).
  • Significance - We will do work that makes a difference in our world.  We won’t just spin our wheels (58:12).
  • Honor - Eventually, others will look at us with respect for living well (58:14).
  • Satisfaction - We will look back on our lives and the many blessings we’ve lived and be satisfied (58:14).  

Some of you may have heard of A. J. Jacobs.  He became famous a few years back for writing a book called A Year of Living Biblically, documenting his attempt to spend an entire year obeying every single command in the Bible literally - very literally.  Some of his funnier acts of obedience involved not cutting his beard for a full year and throwing pebbles (or little stones) at an adulterer in the city park.  However, when a reporter asked him which of the Biblical commands he will keep doing after the experiment, he listed Sabbath right of the top.  In fact, on his website, Sabbath was first on his list of “most unexpectedly wise and life-enhancing rules.”  Listen to what he says:  “As a workaholic (I check my emails in the middle of movies), I learned the beauty of an enforced pause in the week. No cell phones, no messages, no thinking about deadlines. It was a bizarre and glorious feeling. As one famous rabbi called it, the sabbath is a ‘sanctuary in time.’”
  Now, this guy is not a Christian and not even sure about God in general, but he said that keeping the Sabbath had revolutionized his family life and had become a much looked forward to time of relaxation and enjoyment of each other each week.  He said it had made a tremendous difference in their wellbeing as well as in their zest for life. 

Sabbath is the path to blessing.  Sabbath connects us with God - the Blessed One, the Author of Life, the Foundation of Being.  So when we connect with God, we experience more blessing, life, and just more of reality.

But Sabbath practice cannot become a legalistic code for us.  That is a dead-end road.  The New Testament tells us that the Law is like a guardian or a leash that keeps us on the right path.  But now Christ has cut the leash.  We are free.  We are no longer bound by the law, but that doesn’t mean we are lawless.  (See Galatians 3-4.)  Maybe this story will help.
An old preacher often took his dog for walks in the park, and his dog was always pulling at the leash trying to go faster, trying to get away.  For months, the preacher just held on to the leash and kept him close.  Finally, on one beautiful day, the preacher said to himself, “You know I’ve spent a lot of time with this dog.  We have a really good relationship.  I think I can really trust him.”  So he bent down and took the leash off.
ZOOM!  The dog was off!  Running into the woods.  Pretty soon, the preacher couldn’t see him.  Then after a minute, ZOOM!, the dog came back the other way and passed the preacher.  Then after another minute or so, the dog slowed down and came back and stayed along the preacher’s side for the rest of the walk.  From then on, there were no more leashes when they went to the park.  The preacher knew he could trust the dog to choose faithfulness.  The preacher knew that the dog loved him enough to stay by his side.
This is kind of like our relationship with God now.  God has cut the leash on some of the old rules.  There is no more legalism.  It’s all about relationship now.  We are free but true freedom and peace come from walking humbly with our God.  
Hebrews 4 has this obscure little phrase in a difficult passage:
So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God.  For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. (4:9-10)
OK, so there’s this special Sabbath rest, similar to God’s rest after creation, and it’s available to us.   
Later, in the book of Hebrews, the author explains that this rest is a spiritual rest through Christ.  Christ makes us right with God.  Christ gives meaning to our lives.  Christ gives us value.  
But back in chapter 4, the author takes a scary turn: 
So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.  For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. (4:11-13)  
Beware!  There is this beautiful Sabbath rest, but we can miss it!  God knows our hearts, our inmost thoughts and desires.  He knows what we really want and what we are really trusting in.  
Oh, man, this sounds like trouble.  But then we get hope.   
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
OK, I know this whole Sabbath thing is hard for a lot of us.  It is like a Copernican Revolution for Korea.  Sabbath goes against so much of our competitive and consumer-based cultures.  It’s counter-intuitive for us.  But it’s true.  
We need this Sabbath Revolution.  Like I said a few weeks ago, we are literally killing our kids with this non-stop studying.  We’re killing our kids, and we’re killing ourselves.  We’re living like slaves and then wondering why our lives are so crappy.  Take a day, and rest.  Take a day and rest and refocus your life on God.  I know it’s hard, but this could be your path out of slavery.  This could be a revolutionary step for you and your kids and your grandkids.  Do you want to be free?  Do you want to be truly free?
If you are struggling with Sabbath, trust in Jesus.  Jesus understands our weaknesses.  Jesus understands our temptations and our tests.  Yes, Jesus even understands the KSAT.   Trust Jesus, and come boldly to the throne of grace, and you will receive mercy and find grace to help you when you need it most!  The Sabbath is the path of blessing.  Practicing the Sabbath well is one of the best ways to live in the grace of God.  
It’s not about us.  It is about God.

Reflection Questions:   Take time to answer these questions in writing.
  1. Throughout our Sabbath series, what has been most meaningful for you personally?
  2. What is one surprising thing you have learned during our series on the Sabbath?
  3. Do you want to change the way you practice the Sabbath? How?
  4. What other questions do you have about the Sabbath?  [Please write these on the Talk Back card in the bulletin and drop it in the offering basket.]

Turn to your neighbor and answer one of these questions.  (Which question you answer is your choice.)
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