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Sacred Gifts and Holy Gatherings
Unit 1: What We Bring to God
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 6, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson scripture: Exodus 20:8-11; 31:12-17
The theme of the lessons we begin today is different! The focus is on holy celebrations in the Jewish tradition and their meaning for Christians today. Jesus participated in these Jewish traditions and gave us all the true meaning of them that adds rich dimensions to our faith journey.
We begin with the Fourth Commandment, Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” The word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to stop” or “to rest.” Earlier, in Exodus 16, the people wandering in the wilderness have been collecting manna only enough for one day at a time (daily bread!) and are surprised to collect twice as much on one day. In asking Moses “what’s up?” he responds, “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.” God provides what they need.
Our first understanding of this day of rest is another sign of God’s gracious nature to give what we need – not just the food, but the rest! The second is: this day is to be different! Not like the other days of the week. Urged to remember God’s good Creation, God rested on the seventh day, after seeing all created things, and blessed them by calling everything good! After all, God is God, and we are part of that good creation. As God’s children, we are to remember and mark the day with rest and re-creation.
The second scripture for today is Exodus 31:12-17. The reason for the Sabbath here is as a mark of holiness. Remember holiness is the way God’s people live to give God glory, not to be better than someone else! There is a disturbing reference in this passage about the penalty of death to anyone who profanes the Sabbath! We need to know in this verse “profane” is the opposite of “sanctify.” The people of God have been sanctified and observe the Sabbath as a sign of fidelity to their covenant with God. When one is profane and does not keep the Sabbath, one is declaring: “I am no child of God for there is no God!”
Another reference is Leviticus 23:3 the Lord said to Moses…“There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.” The work prohibited on the Sabbath was initially agricultural, but soon encompassed buying and selling, occupations, and household labor. In this same passage, in verse 8, the community is enjoined to gather in a sacred assembly on the Sabbath – in other words, worship!
In Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the reason for the Sabbath is not the rest of God after creation, but the Exodus! The act of God in freeing the Hebrews from bondage and slave labor in Egypt is the prelude to the Covenant stated in the Ten Commandments on Sinai. This enslaved people are to be free to live in a way that honors the One who freed them. Every week they are to rest, to gather to worship, and to remember how great God is!
In the New Testament, Jesus has conflict with the Pharisees over the way to keep the Sabbath. In Matthew 12: 1-14, the disciples of Jesus are accused of breaking the Sabbath when they gather and eat grain walking through the fields. Jesus meets the accusers with scriptural references to what David did when hungry and what the priests in the Temple do often! In stunning fashion, he then declares there is something far more significant here than Sabbath keeping. All the Law (including Sabbath) is under the higher standard of God’s love. “If you understood I desire mercy and not sacrifice you would not be so judgmental of the innocent.” He then emphasizes, using his favorite reference to himself, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
From that confrontation Jesus goes to the synagogue and again violates, by Pharisaical standards, the Sabbath by healing a lame man. For Jesus, human need is greater than legality. After these two examples of feeding and healing, two primary human needs, the Pharisees begin their plot to eliminate this disturbing voice!
With this examination of scripture, both Old and New Testament, how does Sabbath observance apply to us 21st century Christians? Remember the Christian’s Sabbath is Sunday not Saturday. You know, we hope, very soon in the Christian community, Sunday became the Lord’s Day – the day of resurrection – and rest and worship shifted from Saturday to Sunday. Again, the resurrection of Jesus is the reason we are Christian at all! With Paul we say “If Christ be not raised from the dead then our faith is in vain and we of all people are most to be pitied.” So let’s not argue about which day is the Sabbath! The reason to have such a day still holds and is still valid for people of faith.
We like what one author writes: “The will of God for Israel is a ‘discipline of dailyness.’” At its most basic, the Fourth Commandment brings order and rhythm to life. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is a time for everything…under heaven.” Our lives need the pattern of work and rest. The pattern is built into the very fabric of creation itself.
Farmers learned the hard way to let fields lie fallow periodically. You can’t work all the time! The earth itself needs rest! Beyond the practical, there are major dimensions of faith at stake in Sabbath.
The covenant God has made with human beings requires response on our part. God created life, gave every good and perfect gift to sustain life, and, in Jesus, offers eternal life. Life is a gift from God and we, the children of God, can respond in gratitude by living like God has shown is the best way to live! Created in the divine image, we live a covenant-centered life by keeping the Commandment, not as a rule to be obeyed but as the way to really live!
This covenant is described as an agreement, contract, or promise. We believe God’s covenant with us is basically a relationship. In this relationship, God has loved us, and given Himself for us. We identify Whose we are by living in a way that other people can see and recognize God’s gracious love at work in us.
One of our favorite movies is “Chariots of Fire.” The gripping story tells of the British Olympic team and their preparation and participation in the 1924 Olympics, the first after World War I. One of the major characters is Eric Liddell, the Flying Scotsman. One of the preliminary heats of his race was to be run on Sunday. He refused to compete on the Lord’s Day. No amount of urging or persuasion from the esteemed British Olympic Committee changed his mind. Finally, he was able to swap races with another team member and went on to win a gold medal. His Christian witness not to run on the Sabbath made news around the world. Later, Liddell became a Presbyterian missionary in China and was killed by the Japanese during the war.
So may it be for all of us! How we rest and observe the Sabbath is one of the crucial ways we make visible our dependence and trust of the God of Sinai and Calvary.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.