Scripture and the Sabbath
23 Jesus went through the wheat fields on the Sabbath. As the disciples made their way, they were picking the heads of wheat. 24 The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! Why are they breaking the Sabbath law?”
25 He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was in need, when he and those with him were hungry? 26 During the time when Abiathar was high priest, David went into God’s house and ate the bread of the presence, which only the priests were allowed to eat. He also gave bread to those who were with him.” 27 Then he said, “The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Thoughts on the passage:
Most of us probably feel like there is just not enough time in our lives. The conversation around the office this last week was where did February go. Our instinct is to blame it on the fact that there are only 28 days in the month, but even if we had 30 or 31 days, I still think we would be wishing we had more time. Between our jobs, our families, and all the little things we need to do, there just never feels like there is enough time. For that reason, it can maybe feel a little overwhelming to hear that our time is one of the greatest gifts we can give. It might be a great gift, but most of us are probably feeling like we do not have more time to give, to our spouse, to our family, to our job, to our church, or even to God.
Fortunately, this sermon does not have to be an exercise in guilt and shame as we all feel bad for not being able to show our love because we do not have enough time as it is. When Gary Chapman talks about time in his book “The Five Love Languages” he does not simply use the word time, he adds a modifier, “quality time.” When it comes to express our love, what we need is not more time, we just need to make our time quality time. Whether it is time with God, time with our spouse, or time with friends, what is more important is the quality, not the quantity of time that we offer.
In our texts today, we see a powerful reminder of that, both in the initial law about observing the Sabbath, which is enshrined as the fourth commandment, but also in how Jesus talks about what it means to honor the Sabbath. The value of quality over quantity can be seen first and foremost in the fact that God does not demand the most time, asking for just one day in seven, but is more concerned with what we do with that time. The value is less about the amount of time and more about the quality of that time. God wants to make sure that we take time to stop, rest and to build on our relationship with God. Productivity is good, but equally important are relationships, with each other and with the divine.
Unfortunately, the simple law to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy became an invitation for legalism. Over the years, learned rabbis spent a great deal of time pondering the meaning of Sabbath and created elaborate rules for what it means to not work and to keep the Sabbath holy. What started out as a simple command became something much more, so much that be Jesus’ day the very act of picking some wheat from the field while walking was considered too much work. Jesus tries to point us back to what is really going on here. The command to honor the Sabbath was not meant as a way to create more rules and structures to our lives, rather it was meant as an invitation for us to take the time to build on our relationship with God and to rest from the work that we do.
“We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to solve.” These are words of advice that Chapman offers as he talks about the importance of quality time. Relationships are not like a game, where the right amount of actions over the right amount of time will lead to a high score and the end of the game. The right actions over time are good, but the point is to continue to grow in knowledge and love. One of the ways that we can do this is through the ways we spend our time.
One of the points that I think Jesus is trying to make about Sabbath is that it can look different too. When he says, “the Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath,” he is pointing this out. Sabbath is not a concrete set of actions we all have to do. The point of Sabbath is for us to spend quality time with God. Quality time looks differently for each of us. For some, quality time might mean spending time in prayer and contemplation. For others, quality time might be singing songs of praise and worship. For still others it might come through acts of service like the Community Meal or Family Promise. It is different because we are all different.
No where is this more obvious than how Marianne and I talk to our parents. Each of us values our relationship with our parents and so we take the time to call and talk to them at least once a week. The nature of the conversations however is very different. Often when I hang up, Marianne’s first question is something like, “how is your dad?” Invariably I do not have an answer. My dad and I can spend a great deal of time talking on the phone, and I would call it quality time, but it is usually not about how we are doing. We might cover what we are doing, but topics might also range from politics to computer games, or all sorts of other things. The way that my dad and I do quality time is by doing. We play disc golf together or we play games together. We do things. The way that my mom and I do quality time is by talking about things, church, life, whatever. Quality time looks different in different relationships.
The important thing is the self-awareness of knowing what we need and the social awareness to know what others need. These things together make it possible to communicate our love through quality time. We have to think about what a meaningful way to spend that time is and we need to remember that it will vary. The ways that we connect to God are different and the ways we connect to each other are also different. Some people love romantic meals and long walks on the beach and others want something more active.
There is another part of the Sabbath to remember, it is not just what we want that counts. The Sabbath is created to help us improve our relationship with God, but it is also about self-care. We are supposed to take time to rest, because otherwise we will not have the energy to do the work on the other six days. We can say we do not need a break or that we are not tired, but that only reminds me of what my children tell me at 9:30 at night, they claim to not be tired, but their body language is saying something different. The point of the Sabbath is to force us to rest and care for ourselves.
The same is true with quality time in a relationship. The value is to force us to stop and spend the time with someone and cultivate those deeper relationships. It takes time to build a relationship. It takes time to develop the trust and love that makes a relationship work. If we are not careful we can dismiss it and rush ahead and our relationship will lack the structure that makes it succeed.
Bishop Sally Dyck made an observation once, when she looked at the appointments she had made while the Bishop of Minnesota. She was surprised that many that seemed like such good matches on paper had not worked out. When she looked into it a little, she learned something. It seemed like in churches where there were funerals early in a new appointment, the pastor tended to do better. As I reflected on this chapter I was reminded of this observation. It is easier to think of being a pastor in terms of the job that needs to be done: the sermons to be preached, the need to grow the church, and all the details. What gets forgotten is that being a pastor is not really a job, it is a relationship. For all the sorrow that they bring, funerals give a pastor a chance to build a relationship with people. It is just one way a pastor does it, but the reality is that the role of the pastor is not to accomplish a task but to build a relationship with a community and through that relationship help a community grow in its relationship with God.
Relationships take work and they take time. It does not matter if we are in church every week if we are not using that time to connect with God and grow in our faith. It does not matter if we take our spouse on a date every night of the week if we spend the whole time on our smart phones. The importance of that time is not the quantity, it is the quality. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can tell you why to do it. People need to know that they matter, and when we spend quality time with them, then they feel valued and they feel loved. Our relationship to God matters, and when we spend quality time with God, that relationship can grow. I try and tell you every week that God loves you, but the way you really know it is the quality time you spend with God. That is the reason for the Sabbath, and that is how we grow in our faith and transform the world.
Questions to Ponder:
What does Quality Time look like to you?
What does it mean to you to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy?
When was there a time when you have struggled to make quality time in your relationships?
Who is someone you know who is good at making time for the people and things that matter to them?
God, there is never enough time for all that we long to do. Even in the midst of frantic and hurried lives, help us to pause and spend the time with those who matter most to us. Help us to remember the importance of relationships in our lives. Help us to listen to our needs and the needs of those we love. Help us also to stop and listen to the ways that you are speaking and seeking to tell us of your love. Amen