First Mennonite Church
October 2, 2016
Worship, Rest and Witness
Text: Matthew 11:28-30
If you were to do a mental list of everything you did this week, how long would that list be? Your list might include home chores, which itself is a long list of activities. In your list you would have: exercising, doing yard work, reading and sending email, going to the doctor, visiting with friends, watching the news, and the list could go and on and besides all that and more, your regular job. It is no wonder why so often we feel exhausted and fatigued. Many begin their day very early and many end their day very late at night. Often in the morning we feel we did not get enough sleep.
Do you feel rested this morning? I hope we all do and that this hour together we all get to experience the resting reserved for those who enter the presence of God. We all need physical rest either at the end of a long day of work or periods interspersed throughout a grueling workday.
Is there something you know is waiting for you to do or finish doing? I am sure we all have something waiting for us to do or to finish. As my wise dear friend Bud says, “It is always, something.” It is that unfinished task, it is that other tempting activity that have many people not only enslaved to an existence of doing, but also to spiritual short-sightedness in which the person of God never comes into their vision. Busyness represents a danger the Christian must be wary about. For many, Sunday is their only “free day.” And there are so many activities that vie to occupy any free time or day we might have.
God is portrayed in Genesis as the first practitioner of taking time to rest. Genesis two, verses one, two and three read:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
The work of creation includes the seventh day. And what is so amazing is that God’s work of creation was not complete, but until he had a day of resting. This indicates that resting is part of the whole of God’s creative design for the world—for us humans. Resting is part of God’s design for life. What is more is that God blessed and sanctified the seventh day when he rested. It will surprise us that in verse 28, God blessed the man and woman he created; but when God finished his day of rest, he blessed and sanctified it. God blessed the world and blessed humanity in the beginning. But God also blessed and sanctified a time, a space in time, which Jesus said was created for man (Mark 2:27).
The reason God established a holy Sabbath, a space in time dedicated to rest, goes contrary to any other legalistic reason one might advocate for it. There are many who advocate for a day of rest—a Sabbath, and they are not necessarily Seventh Day Adventists. Many have discovered not only the great physical, emotional, and social benefits of taking time to rest. But when we discover the relationship between worshipping and resting as an act of trust in God and gratitude to God we discover the gem of truth Jesus said when he claimed that “The son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath.”
My dear friends, for many people and sometimes for nominal Christians too, the Sunday worship service is considered a discretionary activity just as is going to the Friday games or taking a time for a prolonged breakfast. For many attending the worship service is at the bottom of their to-do list which they can live without. But when we confess Jesus as Lord and not only Lord of the Sabbath, worshipping on Sunday becomes confession, a testimony of not only his Lordship over the Sabbath but primarily as our Lord and Master. The Exodus story best illustrates that relationship between worship and resting as an act of trust and gratitude to God.
When the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptian Pharaoh, God intervened on their behalf to deliver them. The Egyptian Pharaoh realized that the plentiful children of Jacob could best be used for national security. The Israelites could secure food by working in the fields and they could be a good source of nation building by producing construction materials. Pharaoh imposed on them heavy quotas of production. The Israelites did not have free time; they did not observe a holy Sabbath for their God.
That is why upon their deliverance God commanded them to observe the Sabbath. They were reminded of their slavery. It is not the will of God to attain personal security through personal enslavement. It is not the will of God to attain national security by enslaving others either. Yet the most common form of enslavement occurs at the personal level—self-enslavement. We live in a society where identity and worthiness are defined by the type of job we do, the money we make and the things we can acquire. TV ads, printed and all types of media ads have as their goal to keep us chasing after a false self-worthiness. Some of the things they offer seem harmless and even sound beneficial to health. The spa treatments, the exotic vacations, the safe luxury cars, and so on. In pursuit of these things, comforts, and personal benefits people enslave themselves to work and work and work. There is not time to rest. There is no time for God.
Today I am not asking that we should embrace the Jewish practice of Sabbath observance nor a central doctrine of the Seventh Day Adventists. Yet, I would like to encourage you that by practicing the observation for a time to gather to worship, the arteries of your soul are reset and normalized. Your soul gets the refreshment only God can provide in a time of rushing and hectic living.
To practice a time of rest means to imitate the Creator God. God did not lament and say, “If I had only not taken time to rest maybe Adam and Eve would not have disobeyed me. If only I had not taken a break sin would not have entered the world.” God wants to teach us that no matter how much we worry we cannot add to our stature an inch, as Jesus says. On the contrary, sometimes our lack of rest has been the reason we have trouble. You surely remember the day you were away from home and then you began trying to remember if you turned off the burner of the stove. Or, you suddenly realized that forgetting where you placed your house or car key was due to your overwhelmed and exhausted mind.
Again, by taking time to rest we give witness of our willingness to embrace the cycle of God’s order for his creation. By taking time to rest we openly admit we are not better than God. No matter how much we give of ourselves to something, our job, personal care, to a good cause, we will never feel confident it is ever enough. No matter how much work we do, how much income we have, or how much we take care of ourselves, we will never feel we do enough.
On the other hand, by taking time to honor God we can rest secure that the God who watches over the birds of the air and no one of them falls to the ground without his acknowledgement is the God who takes care of us. By taking time to acknowledge God, by setting apart (making holy) a day or some time in the day, the God who dresses the lilies will also see that we have enough. But more importantly, by taking time out to rest before God we declare that our lives belong to God and that we are not our own.
When we recognize that God sanctified a space in time—he called the holy Sabbath, we can say with the psalmist,
“There are terrors all around me.
They seek to destroy me.
But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
My times are in your hand. . .” (Psalm 31:13-15).
Let us hear Jesus’ invitation once more:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”