God’s Misunderstood Commandment

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer…Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller.”  Those words were uttered by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). He excelled as a painter, sculptor, poet, architect, engineer, city planner, scientist, inventor, anatomist, military genius, and philosopher. He knew the value of work, but he also knew the value of rest. When was the last time you relaxed? When was the last time you took a true Sabbath? This takes to our scripture lesson for today.

We find ourselves in the twentieth chapter of Exodus, verses eight through eleven. The main character in the story is Moses. Many consider him the greatest character in the Old Testament. You remember him. He is the one who looked like a young Charlton Heston (1923-2008). He was the one who was born to a Hebrew couple but was raised in the palace of the Egyptian Pharaoh. He was the one who killed the Egyptian solder and ran from the authorities. He was the one who worked for his father-in-law, Jethro, but confronted the Pharaoh. He was the one who commanded the plagues and led the people out of Egypt. He was the one who lifted his arms and parted the Red Sea, allowing the God’s Chosen to pass through safely on dry ground. He was the one who dropped his arms, allowing the water of the Red Sea to destroy the Egyptians. He was the one who led the people in the wilderness. And he was the one who ascended Mount Sinai and interacted with God, Himself.

He was the one who descended Mount Sinai and delivered God’s Ten Commandments to the people. The Ten Commandments would forge the relationship between God and His people. They are central to the ethics of the New Testament and central to the ethics of our laws. They are still relevant to our world today. The first four deal with our relationship with God. The last six deal with our relationships with one another. Our scripture reading is one of the ten commandments: number four. It says: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Listen to what I am about to say. God gave us the fourth commandment because he loves us. He knew we needed to take one day each week to rest physically and recharge ourselves spiritually. The fourth commandment is simple. It is people who have made it very complex. Just think about it for a moment.

Do you know of anyone has restrict the Sabbath? That is what you find in second chapter of Mark. According to the story, Jesus and the disciples are walking through a wheat field. The text says it clearly. It is the Sabbath. As they walked, they picked some heads of grain. I would not call it heavy labor. It is easy to visualize because nothing really happens. No one really cares, except the Pharisees, the experts of the law. They cried, “Foul!” The disciples are not really doing anything wrong. However, the orthodox leaders of the day are right. Technically speaking, the disciples were harvesting on the Sabbath. Technically speaking, they broke the fourth commandment, remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. The leaders knew the law, but they had lost the Spirit of the law. The fourth commandment does not exist to limit our fun. It exists so we can rest physically and recharge ourselves spiritually.

The orthodox leaders of Jesus’s generation were experts at restricting the Sabbath. Did you know there were 1,521 manmade laws protecting the Sabbath during Jesus’s generation? Some, quite frankly, were impossible to keep. Some sound ridiculous to our generation. According to the manmade law, one could not cook a meal, light a fire, look in a mirror, pick up a needle or lift a baby on the Sabbath. According to the manmade law, you could not save a drowning man, shave your face, or take a bath on the Sabbath. According to the manmade law, you could not ride a horse, move a lamp, or take your medicine on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath you could save your ox that had fallen into a hole, but you could not get yourself out of the hole. I could go on, but I won’t. The orthodox leaders of the faith restricted the life out of the Sabbath. The fourth commandment exists so you can physically rest and be spiritually recharged.

Do you know of anyone who has restricted the Sabbath?

During the 1830’s Ohio passed a series of Ohio Blue Laws. They were not unique to Ohio. Many states had such laws. The United States was not unique. Many western countries had such laws. The Blue Laws prevented certain businesses from opening on Sunday. The laws were passed not to promote church attendance. They were passed to promote a day of rest. Officially, the Ohio Blue laws ended in 2019. The loophole in Ohio was businesses were permitted to open to assist travelers. That permitted hotels, restaurants, and drug stores to stay open on Sundays. I remember the only store open in our local plaza on Sundays was the old Gray Drug so my father could buy Sunday edition of the Youngstown Vindicator with all the inserts. If you are older than me then you remember things being restricted on the Sabbath. There was no dancing, card playing, or alcohol sales on Sunday. It was a time for church, prayer, and Bible study. Maybe people went to church in those days because they were simply bored sitting at home? That is not the best reason to go to church. Can I be honest with you? I’m glad those days are over! The manmade rules made the Sabbath too much work. The fourth commandment exists so you can physically rest and be spiritually recharged. Do you remember when the Sabbath was restricted?

Do you know of anyone who has redefined the Sabbath? The word “Sabbath” means ‘seventh day’. The seventh day of the week is Saturday. The Jewish world still observes their Sabbath on Saturday. We observe our Sabbath on Sunday because Jesus was resurrected on Sunday. We worship on Sunday morning because Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday morning. Every Sunday is designed to be a little Easter. For the Christian world, Sunday is a time for Jesus. How much time are you spending with Jesus?

Several years ago, I read an article about a company that was having a horrible problem with drugs. The problem became so great, the company began random drug testing. The CEO of the company said they would test their employees on Monday because people party on the weekend. If you are Jewish, then your Sabbath is Saturday. If you are Christian, then your Sabbath is Sunday. Think about it for just a moment. It is very sad. Those days were designed to be the Lord’s days, but they have become party days.

Do you know of anyone who has redefined the Sabbath? What pops into your mind when I say the word SUNDAY? If you answer church, worship, or God, then you are in the minority. Many people in our land equate Sunday with a day off. You know what I mean. It is a day to get some extra sleep. It is a day to slow down. It is a day to watch football and do what you want. There was a day when church attendance was expected. Now, church attendance is optional. According to the Pew Research group. only 22% of all Americans attend church weekly. If you go to church weekly, then you are in the minority. If you do not believe me then just observe your neighbors. How many of them have decided not to go to church? Everyone believes, they deserve a day off! You really can’t blame them.

To a certain degree you can’t argue with them. They make two very good points. First, we believe in an omnipresent God. In other words, we believe you can experience God anywhere. You can experience God on the beach. You can experience God on the golf course. You can experience God walking in the woods. You can experience God at your favorite fishing hole. You can experience God in your bed. God is everywhere. If God is everywhere, then why go to church? Second, we have a surplus of ugly churches. You have heard the stories. Some professional clergy have done some ugly things. Some lay people have done some ugly things. Every church seems to have their share of ugly politics. When I am really frustrated, it seems like every church has become blind to the primary mission of the church: making disciples for Jesus Christ. However, this is also true.

Even with these imperfections, your best opportunity to experience God is at church. Be honest. Have you ever experienced God at the beach, at the golf course, in the woods, in your boat, or in your bed? I guess you could, but I don’t think so. The best place to experience God is at church. I am convinced only one kind of church will survive in the future. They are not churches that have fine-tuned their fundraising skills. They are the churches where people experience God regularly. When was the last time you experienced God? The fourth commandment exists so you can physically rest and be spiritually recharged.

For nearly twenty-five years, my wife Kathryn owned a cottage at Lakeside on Marblehead peninsula. There was a time when the cottage was the focal point of my family life; however, the times changed. Our children grew up and Lakeside lost her magic for them. We sold our cottage years ago. I would like to say I miss it, but I do not want to lie to you. I never caught the magic of Lakeside. I miss absolutely nothing about it. I always felt like an outsider. I don’t miss the gate fee. (It is now over $30 to get into Lakeside, plus your parking permit.) I don’t miss my neighbors (they were odd, not cool like me J.) I don’t miss the annual repairs. (It was built in 1883 and I am not a handy man.)

The only thing I miss about Lakeside is my annual trip to the cottage to close it up for the winter. I miss those trips. It was like a twenty-four-hour retreat. I was alone and all my neighbors were gone. The place was empty. For once, I did what I wanted to do. After the work was done, I would walk through those historic streets, take a nap and work on my next sermon series. In the evening, I ate at my favorite restaurant and drove to the Confederate Cemetery on Johnson Island. At dusk, I would drive to the Marblehead lighthouse and watch the sun go down. If I close my eyes, I can remember everything. The air was cool, and the water was calm. There were boats in every direction. The sun was brilliant. As it drew closer to the horizon, it generated a million shades of red. I would sit on the rocks in silence until that luminous ball disappeared.

Have you ever thought about a sunset? No two are the same. Every time, I thought about the timelessness of that sunset. It has been setting long before I was born. It will set long past my death. That made me feel small. I felt even smaller when I thought about God, who placed that sun in the sky. I felt humbled when I thought about the vastness of God. Why would he care so much for me? Why would he call me, with all my imperfections, into the ministry? Every time I made that trip to the lighthouse and experienced one more sunset, I was completely at peace with God. I hope I didn’t break the rules. I had my Sabbath in the middle of the week. I miss those trips. I physically rested and I was spiritually recharged. When was the last time you observed a Sabbath? Exodus 20:8 says, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.”

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