June 2, 2024 Sermon

The Rev. Joseph Farnes

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

All Saints, Boise

“Observe the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.”

Deuteronomy is clear: the Sabbath means no work. Not for you, not for your children, not for your employees, not for your animals. No work for slaves, or immigrants, or strangers. No work. And it surprises us – Deuteronomy’s focused not so much about that whole thing about God creating everything in six days and resting on the seventh – but it’s about remembering how the Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt.

          And it lists everyone. No work. It’s not a day off for some, and not for others. It’s not like a bank holiday that only certain businesses and government agencies take off. It’s not like our modern weekends, where only certain places are closed – too bad if you’re a retail worker! And it’s definitely not like holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, where for some reason movie theatres are open for movie premieres. Deuteronomy says that on the Sabbath, there is no work for anyone.

Our modern economy absolutely rejects the Sabbath. Time not working is time and profit wasted. Time not working is for only some, not for all.

          There is no mandated rest: workers are not guaranteed paid sick leave to tend to their health, or vacation time to make life more enjoyable. Parents are not guaranteed paid time off for serious family illness or a new baby – they can take off unpaid time from work, but unpaid work doesn’t pay those medical bills.

Our modern economy is obsessed with constant productivity. Make more money. Monetize your hobbies. Hustle and grind. Maximize. Optimize. Anything less than optimized and maximized is failure. And how can you maximize or optimize when you have the minimum to begin with, and just to survive takes more than you make?

The Sabbath not only proclaims that there is more to life than work and money and productivity. The Sabbath proclaims that everyone has a right to rest. The enslaved man has a right to rest. The worker scrounging for scraps in the face of rising costs just to live… that person, too, has a right to rest.

Deuteronomy proclaims and safeguards that right for all people. We once were enslaved in Egypt, Deuteronomy proclaims, and thus we know what it was like to be told we were too lazy, too unimportant to deserve rest.

In the book of Exodus, 5th chapter, the Pharoah decrees that the enslaved Israelites will no longer be given the straw to use to make bricks. The Israelites will have to gather the straw themselves, and they will still have to make the same number of bricks. And Pharoah and the task-masters scream at the Israelites, “no, you are lazy, lazy, lazy!”

“Lazy, lazy, lazy!” echoes down through the centuries with its slanderous refrain.

And the Sabbath is God’s response. The Sabbath is a sanctuary made from time itself – for one day, no work. It is not a holy place that requires pilgrimage. It is pure gift, to all creatures. The Sabbath is a gift of life.

And this is what Jesus practices and preaches for us. His disciples eat a little nourishment on the Sabbath by taking some grain (and remember, in the Bible, the edges of the field were left for the hungry and needy – you were not allowed to harvest every single grain!). Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath – a gift of life. Jesus looks around, angry at those who would obsess over their particular interpretation of the Sabbath, angry at people who would rather see folks go hungry or unwell instead of embracing the life-giving power of the Sabbath.

We do well to remember that Rabbinic Judaism has always emphasized that life-giving power of the Sabbath. We Christians who observe our day of rest on Sunday in remembrance of the Resurrection of Jesus, we would do well to remember that Jesus broke the powers of death that we may have life – life now, and life everlasting.

We can observe the Sabbath, we can observe the Lord’s Day. It’s a sacred day. It’s not for optimizing your hobbies, or just for getting rest for a workweek ahead. The Lord’s Day is a reminder that all people, all of creation, were made for something greater than the daily grind, and that Sabbath is not just a commandment but a gift.

The Sabbath is a gift of worship. We gather to proclaim the goodness of God, to offer to God the work of our hands.

The Sabbath is a gift of community. We gather – as a community of disciples, inviting everyone to share a place in the kingdom of God.

The Sabbath is a gift of renewal. We are renewed in spirit, brought home to abide in God, to commune with Christ, to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

The Sabbath, the Lord’s Day, however we call it, is holy time. It is a gift of God for the people of God – for everyone. 

Can you imagine if the Roman way of thinking had won out? The Romans had no weekend, no Sabbath. They worked seven days a week!

You might protest: Surely they had holidays. Yes, they did. But Emperor Marcus Aurelius limited them. The Emperor decreed that there had to be at least 230 days of business in a year. The brutal Roman imperial system depended upon at least 230 days of work each year.

Do you know how many work days are in the typical American year? 250. The workaholic Romans worked less than we do.

God has given us the gift of the Sabbath, the gift of rest and renewal, the gift of Christ’s fullness of life. We really, really need it – not just us, but the whole world. “Observe the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Help us, Lord, to keep the Sabbath holy, not just for ourselves, but for all creation. Amen.