Summary: The Sabbath is meant to be a day to celebrate God and enjoy life.
The Discipline of Celebration
June 10, 2012
I’d like for you to think for a moment of one of the great celebrations you have been a part of. One of the ones you look back on very fondly, that brings a smile to your face even in the remembrance of it. Take a moment or two and remember it, relive it just a little, bring that memory to the forefront of your mind and hold onto it there. Anyone willing to share?
My premise for this morning’s sermon is simply this: celebration is God’s idea, celebration is one of the defining characteristics of the Kingdom of God, and we need to celebrate more. And I think I figured out where we have gone wrong with the whole idea of celebration: we’ve generally made it a reward centered around us, instead of a regular discipline rooted in our enjoyment of God. We’ll come back and unpack that more in a few moments.
Celebration in Scripture:
There are a lot of places we could go to study celebration in Scripture. I’ve chosen the book of Leviticus – which might surprise some of you who might not have Leviticus jump to mind when we think about Scriptures to read that tell us how to celebrate! But one chapter in particular, 23, does exactly that. It outlines the entire year, in an annual cycle, for God’s people.
Now, it is important to place this in context: this book is rooted in the very early, formative years of the nation of Israel. It is one of the books of Moses, so before the people had entered and settled the Promised Land (though parts were likely added and edited in later years). The book of Leviticus, in particular, is often seen as kind of a manual, especially for the priests, describing how the people of God were to live and to worship. Our chapter for today, 23, is in the middle of a section known as the Holiness code – here is a really simple outline (from Wikipedia):
A. Sacrifice and food (ch.17)
B. Sexual behaviour (ch.18)
C. Neighbourliness (ch.19)
D. Grave crimes (ch. 20)
E. Rules for priests (ch. 21)
F. Rules for eating sacrifices (ch.22)
G. Festivals (ch.23)
H. Rules for the tabernacle (ch.24:1-9)
I. Blasphemy (ch.24:10-23)
J. Sabbatical and Jubilee years (ch.25)
K. Exhortation to obey the law: blessing and curse (ch.26)
Does anything in that outline seem a little out of place? Rules for priests, rules for eating sacrifices, rules for the tabernacle. Missed one! Festivals. Does that seem a little odd, in the middle of a bunch of rules? Let’s have a look; God is teaching us something important here.
The Lord said to Moses, 2 Give the following instructions to the people of Israel. These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as official days for holy assembly.
3 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of complete rest, an official day for holy assembly. It is the Lord’s Sabbath day, and it must be observed wherever you live.
Now, most of us associate the idea of Sabbath with a list of things we are not allowed to do. No working, no shopping, nothing but going to church in the morning and then sitting around with our feet up on the couch all afternoon. This, my friends, is a terrible distortion of the weekly celebration which Scripture calls the Sabbath. At its root, Sabbath is about one whole day per week that is supposed to be different from the other six. It is the day to stop and enjoy: enjoy the results of the work you have done the previous 6 days and how God has blessed that, enjoy this incredible world God has created and given to us, and even more importantly to enjoy God.
When is the last time you did that? When did you last take an entire day to stop and enjoy life?
I can hear the excuses piling up. I hear them because I am saying them!
there is too much to do
that would be lazy
maybe when I retire
I have way too many responsibilities
and so on
And then I wonder why life is dry. Why the joy is lacking. Why it seems there is never enough time to actually stop and enjoy life. Why God seems quiet, or hard to hear. It is because we don’t obey God’s command to take one day each week and set it aside to enjoy life and God.
It is not about abstaining from things like work. Instead, it is about creating space to enjoy life and God. I took a day off this week – an extra one, actually – on Thursday. I worked outside in my yard and garden. Actually, I worked TOO hard outside in my yard and garden – I was exhausted! But something else happened: I put on my headphones and listened to a couple of worship CD’s, and got my hands into the dirt, and tended some young pea shoots, some potato plants, I moved a small apple tree, and so on. And my spirit worshipped the God who created all of this. I felt a longing for Sunday morning, when I would gather with you whom I love and sing songs of worship to the God whom I love, and then head out to picnic together and celebrate.