Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 9, Year B
June 3, 2018
Lessons: Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23 – 3:6
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people strive to keep sabbath in faithful response to God and as an act of stewardship.
Key Scripture: Then [Jesus] said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God,” we read in the Old Testament lesson for this Sunday. I confess that observing the sabbath has been challenging for me over the years, and until recently I’ve had a tenuous relationship with the whole idea. It’s not that I don’t want to keep the sabbath holy, it’s just that I’m not one naturally inclined to slow down and take it easy. I fret about work left undone, and there never seems to be enough time in the day. In fact, I’ve even been guilty of conflating my work and my recreation. Our culture has for the most part affirmed such behaviors.
My grandparents, however, did their best to keep the sabbath—quite literally. They worked hard all week long, but Sunday was a different rhythm altogether. Sundays on their farm began with worship, after which a gathering of relations, friends, and visitors would commence around a meal featuring fried chicken prepared the day before (“the gospel bird” as my father called it). Dinner was followed by relaxed conversation and copious reminiscing on the wide front porch. We children would play games or run around the yard—careful not to make too much noise or carry on too raucously. I enjoyed those Sunday visits as a child, but by the time I was a teen I began to chafe at being told how to plan part of my precious weekend.
It’s taken me many years, even as a pastor, to fully embrace the concept of sabbath. I have, at long last, come to treasure sabbath, even though I’m still not good at making it happen regularly and still sometimes chafe against the command that I know has been given to me as a gift by God. I am, after all, woefully and willfully human.
A lot of folks I know struggle with this command to take a full stop once each week. Lives are busy. Work happens on Sundays, and so do youth sports events and other appealing activities. Whatever is the modern disciple to do?
First of all, avoid legalism. It’s tempting to be literal and judgmental about how the sabbath is kept. We need look no further than this week’s gospel lesson to see that. The religious leaders of the day seem to have turned God’s gift into a complicated set of rules and regulations about what constitutes work and breaking the law. Jesus heals on the sabbath and his disciples eat—both of which are clear violations. In response, Jesus asks them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”
Ah! Sabbath has as much to do with attitude as it does with ceasing work. God gives us the sabbath for our good, but God also expects us to extend that same good to others. Are we caring for creation, for those who are on the margins, and for those whose livelihood compels them to work in service, retail, medical, or community protection roles? We don’t celebrate sabbath at the expense of others.
Sabbath also involves ceasing, resting, and reveling in God’s love, presence, and good creation. It’s a celebration of goodness and grace all wrapped up in a loving promise that this was created and given for our good. One of the greatest gifts we can give one another as the beloved community is permission to take sabbath, even if we do it in creative and non-traditional ways.
This week invite those with whom you serve to consider what obstacles they face when it comes to sabbath-keeping. Spark some conversation about creative ways to stop, to encounter God in meaningful ways, to celebrate creation, and to care for others. Maybe, just maybe, sabbath begins with the simple act of taking a deep breath of God into our bodies and breathing out the cares and concerns of the world. It could be as simple as that.
If possible set up a prayer station with a display of cracked pots and clay jars to illustrate this week’s epistle lesson from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Make sure that you have some of the pots/jars lit from inside to help people visualize the light of Christ shining through. Invite worshipers to write their prayer petitions on small strips of parchment that can be placed in one of the pots.
If you have an interactive service or longer time together, you may wish to give worshipers the opportunity to create mosaic flower pots—or at least send them home with instructions like these.
Use the passage from Deuteronomy to talk about how sabbath involves resting, remembering, and resisting.
- We rest in God—resting our bodies, our minds, our spirits. It may mean taking a social media fast or a day in creation or spending a day with family in a relaxing and meaningful way.
- We remember—our place in the grand narrative of salvation. We were once slaves to sin, but thanks to Jesus we are made new. We remember that it’s all about God’s action and not our own.
- We resist—Just as God commanded that everyone has rest, we resist the forces and laws and unjust systems that prevent some of our sisters and brothers from being able to take sabbath rest. We find ways to use our hands and voices to work for justice and resist injustice.
Our psalm for today is one that celebrates God’s goodness and reminds us of God’s provision. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it,” sings the psalmist. This psalm reminds us that God cares for us and desires good for us. It also reminds us that we gather each Sunday to worship and celebrate God. We give thanks because God provides for us—in communion, in community, and in every breath we take.
Consider reading a simplified version of this Psalm with the children and giving them rhythm instruments to play along.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Keeping the sabbath is commanded by God for our well-being and good. This makes sabbath-keeping an act of stewardship. We center ourselves in God so that our bodies, spirits, and minds are able to have critical rest and grounding. How will you keep sabbath this week?
Stewardship at Home
How can you craft sabbath time this week? It will look different for different people. If you are single, you might want to take a digital sabbath from your devices and spend time reading a good book about faith and life. A family might choose to take a day apart in a local state park with a picnic, a hike, and games. If you work long hours, consider how you might craft a few blocks of time throughout the week to spend time with God and stop “doing” and begin “being” in the presence of the Divine.
An excellent book about sabbath-keeping is Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. Consider reading this short meditation by Muller.
Photos: TheDaveC, and Britt Selvitelle, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2018, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.