Summary: Fall 1987: Sabbath is about far more than doing whatever you feel like doing. It is a chance to be authentic, in relationship with God, and it is meant to be a delight and not a burden.
Be honest now. This morning when the alarm rang or when your wife nudged you in the ribs; when your mom screamed something about being late -- what was your reaction? What did you feel about getting up and going to church? I asked you to be honest – but not necessarily out loud!
Now thus far this morning no one has come running up to me to say, “Pastor, I could just hardly wait for Sunday morning to roll around so I could get here.” And no one has said, “You know you preached part one of a two part message last week and I have been wondering all week what you planned to do with the rest of Isaiah 58!” No one at all.
However, a good many of you last week, when I was talking to you about our going to two services this Sunday and when I was emphasizing trying to finish the early service in time to get Sunday School starting at ten o’clock – quite a few of you grinned from ear to ear when I offered the opinion that that might mean shorter sermons. Somehow, you see, there are some feelings coming out about Sunday and about worship that are beginning to tell. There are some attitudes and some understandings about worship that lie deep down in us, and they come out in all sorts of ways.
Maybe this morning we need to clarify for ourselves something about the Biblical understanding of what the day of rest and worship means. Maybe the prophet can help us get a handle on how we can best view this thing that happens every seven days, whether we want it to or not -- and believe me, pastors above all others recognize that the Lord made a Sabbath in every single week, without exception. As we used to say in the kids' game we played, "Ready or not, here I come."
Sabbath: what is it and what does it mean? Is there a better way to do Sabbath than what we have trained ourselves to do? I want us to hear the prophet of Judah's return. If you were here last week you'll remember that this prophet, the prophet who is responsible for the last ten or so chapters of the book of Isaiah – this prophet, sometimes called by the scholars Trito-Isaiah or Third Isaiah – the prophet of the return, we called him, because he spoke to Judah an the sixth century before Christ, addressing their needs at a time in their national life when they had overcome their sense of defeat and despair. They had come back after a fashion following their long exile in Babylon, and they were waving the flag and indulging themselves and going great guns in lots of ways; but as we saw last week, the great prophet of the return in the first part of his great justice chapter cries out against self-indulgent, entertainment religion, and says, it is only when you pour yourself out for the needy and only when you commit yourself to justice and compassion for the oppressed, only then when God becomes real to you.
But now this same great prophet sees the other side of that coin. For him, there is a rigidity as well as a self-indulgence that is developing in the nation's life. Not only are they pursuing their own pleasures, but they are building up guilt and building up laws and regulations and burdens. Not only are they devotees of feel-good religion, as we saw last week, but they at one and the same time are starting to lost their spontaneity. They are piling up a mountain of laws and rules and negatives, especially about the day and style of worship. And so the prophet of the return cries out to Judah about her way of handling and thinking and feeling about Sabbath, and he will help us today to rediscover the Sabbath, to re discover the value of the day of rest and worship.
You know, we are in a fascinating place to rediscover the meaning of Sabbath. Had you really looked at and thought about this community, right around the church? Sabbath is a significant issue and concern here. For one thing, this used to be a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Synagogues still dot the landscape, and several buildings which are no Christian churches, when you look at them carefully, still carry the marks of domes and Stars of David and Hebrew inscriptions that will remind you that at one time these walks were filled with t he sons and daughters of Israel, making their way to worship on the Sabbath. In their own way they were hearing the word of this prophet, Honor the Sabbath.
And then there is the significant presence of the Seventh-Day Adventist church. With their world headquarters just a few blocks from here, with hundreds of their members living all around this area, with large and wealthy and prestigious churches of that communion all around us … well, we have a constant reminder that these folks believe they have, quite literally, rediscovered the Sabbath. Seventh-Day Adventists, as I assume you know, believe that God never in any way modified his command to honor the seventh-day, Sabbath, Saturday, and so insist on worshipping on that day, Sabbath. And if you drive down the trail of churches we call 16th Street you will see a Seventh-Day Baptist Church, folks rather like us, holding Baptist beliefs, doing Baptist things, but also insisting that the proper, Biblical day of worship is the Sabbath, the seventh.