Sabbath Humility

Text: Luke 14:1-11

In our readings this week, we seem to have two streams of thought going on. The first stream we heard in the Old Testament reading, in St. Paul, and the second half of the Gospel text. The word that comes to mind in all three readings is humility. Our Lord encourages us to live in humility toward Him and our neighbor; that we not think only of ourselves, but look to the good of those whom the Lord places in our lives. The second stream of thought that comes up this week concerns the Sabbath. We heard in the text how our Lord healed a man on the Sabbath – demonstrating, again, the true purpose of the Sabbath.

It seems that these are two different streams of thought and perhaps we shouldn’t try to meld them into one sermon. I went back and forth on which part of the Gospel I’d like us to focus on this year; but I do think there is a connection between the two thoughts. I think it’s this: a right understanding of the Sabbath will lead us to live in love and humility toward others. You see, the Sabbath is not about doing no work. The Lord provides us the Sabbath so that we have time to rest, reflect, and receive the benefits of His work for us. In humility, Christ did not count His equality with God as something to be doted upon. Instead, He emptied Himself to bear our sins and make the payment on our behalf. When we understand that the Sabbath is for us to receive the benefits of Christ’s humility, how can we not, then, aspire to share in that humility in our lives here on earth?

I.

Let’s pause for a moment, though, and reflect, again, on the Sabbath. This past Lent, we had the opportunity to study our Lord’s Ten Commandments and we spent a Sunday on the Third Commandment. But, that was a little while ago. The Sabbath, as you know, is the day set aside by God as a day of rest. In fact, the Hebrew word means, “rest.” This day was not given by God on Mt. Sinai, when He delivered the Ten Commandments, but it actually predates the Commandments. The Sabbath was given by God in the week of Creation. In Genesis 2, the Holy Spirit says, “On the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3, English Standard Version) God did not rest on the seventh day because He was fatigued from His work, but to reflect on His good work of creation and to delight in it. God first gave the Sabbath on the seventh day of creation. Only later did it become codified in the Ten Commandments on Sinai.

God commanded the observance of the Sabbath in the Third Commandment. He said,

Remember the Sabbath day, to 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…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-9, 11

God insisted that His people observe the Sabbath so that they would have a day of rest. Our God knows that life in the fallen creation is hard and full of labor and that we don’t always take time to get the rest we need. Therefore, He made the Sabbath a commandment. His people were to rest from all their work on the seventh day for this purpose: that, as God rested and reflected on all His work, so His people would pause to reflect on His work, receive His benefits, and live in love toward their neighbor.

II.

Whenever God gives something good, however, man usually finds a way to ruin it. It happened in the Garden of Eden and it happened with the Sabbath. This is what’s going on in the Gospel text. Our Lord was invited to dine in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, so He went. Now, this dinner was on the Sabbath. There was a man among them suffering from dropsy, a debilitating swelling of body parts. Our Lord then asked the lawyers and Pharisees whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not. He didn’t ask because He didn’t know, but to point out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and lawyers. By their time, they had corrupted the Sabbath and lost its true meaning. Instead of the Sabbath being a gift of God to His people, they turned their observance of the Sabbath into work for God. And it was quite a strenuous work, doing no work. They believed that they honored God’s Commandment by doing nothing on the Sabbath; no walking, no cooking, no lifting of anything. That’s what the Sabbath meant to them. Instead of being a day given by God to reflect on and receive His blessings, they made the Sabbath about them – them doing no work.

Now, lest we heap it all on them, we must confess that we have a share in this load of sin. We also take the good thing that God gives and reshape it in our image. And we do it, first, but cutting God out of the Sabbath; that is, Sunday. When Sunday rolls around and we want to sleep in, we sleep in. If we want to fish, we fish. If we want to attend sports, we do it. If we plain don’t want to go to church, we don’t. In all of this, we act as if this is the reason why God gave us Sundays at all – for us to do what we feel like. We also corrupt the Commandment when we do come to church and then tune out. Even crasser still, is the idea that we earn something in God’s eyes by coming to the worship service. Sometimes we act as if attending the Divine Service is just another box to check for us to count as good Christians. Now, we’ve come full-circle; because that’s how the Pharisees looked at the Sabbath.

III.

Our Lord asked the lawyers and Pharisees if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, but they kept silent. They weren’t even able to string two words together. Our Lord took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away. Thereby, Jesus demonstrated for us, again, the true meaning and purpose of the Sabbath. God calls us to observe this time of rest so that we might receive the blessings and benefits of Christ’s work for us. This how the early church understood it. All throughout the Book of Acts, we hear how the Apostles gathered on the “Lord’s Day,” Sunday. In a way, the man in the Gospel suffering from dropsy is a good picture of ourselves. Dropsy was a swelling which rendered one unclean. Sin is a disgusting swelling of the heart and mind that renders us unclean before God.

The Scriptures say, though, that Christ bears our infirmities. We saw this in an immediate sense in the Gospel, but we see it to an even greater extent in the cross. Christ properly and fully observed the Sabbath. And, yet, He took our failures to do so upon Himself on the cross. By His death, He atoned for our failures to love and honor God. By His rest in the tomb, He fulfilled the Sabbath. Just as the Father rested from His work on the seventh day, so the Son, from His. Now, He gives us this day and time for us to rest. In our busy and stressful lives, He gives us this time to pause. In this hour He comes to us. He takes our burdens and makes them His own. He gives us His righteousness and makes it our own. Worldly comforts come and go, but here Christ gives us a rest and refreshment that lasts unto eternal life. 

There’s a word for this, to describe how our Lord behaves toward us. Well, there’s many; but the word today is humility. St. Paul said in the Epistle, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph. 4:1-2) He recalled to the Ephesians that our Lord has borne our burdens with patience, love, and gentleness. He did not cast us away for our sins but, in humility, counted us as more important than Himself – even to death. Here in this hour He gives us all the fruits of His cross. This is what the Sabbath is for. And maybe, now that we know what the Sabbath is for, we can live humbly toward our neighbor as Christ is toward us. God grant this unto us all. Amen.

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