The Scary-Good Gift of Sabbath

Mark 2:23-28

When I was still a teenager, I bought my first car. It was a year older than I was and it was a red Audi roadster with an manual transmission. I fell in love. I ran out of a gas, got in a fender bender, and got my first (and only!) speeding ticket in that car. But also I kissed Kaylee, I road-tripped across the US and Canada. I had bought the car in BC and driven it all the way to Boston, MA. I was driving some open stretch of road when I thought, “life is good! How long can this last?” The urban dictionary calls that feeling, “scary good.” Some idea or experience that’s so good—that you immediately begin to worry that about failure or success, about losing it, or destroying it. Scary good is someone who gets a toy as a gift and is so excited about it and so certain that it’s going to be valuable some day—that they never take it out of the box. They don’t play with it because they’re worried that it’s going to lose its value.

I want to suggest this morning, that Sabbath is God’s “scary good” gift to humanity. We all have some idea of a good life—and at the same time, we are all burdened down with worries and cares and responsibilities—the idea that we could even be allowed to completely step aside and leave work and responsibilities undone for a whole day. It simply seems unrealistic. Too good to be true. So we add in shopping, we do a little extra work. We quick finish up our homework! We are SCARED of this gift and unable or unwilling to fully accept it. We leave God’s gift of Sabbath wrapped up in a box—like a beautiful gift or toy that we will look at, but never play with.

Why Are We Afraid of Sabbath?

Back to my car, on that same roadtrip to the east coast, I was now driving down the highway, heading home, and I shifted from 4th gear to 5th gear and SOMEHOW managed to stall it. I think I might have accidentally slipped it into 3rd gear, because the car lurched! I pulled off the road, caught my breath, and restarted the car. Only, after the car stalled, the speedometer was stuck in the forward position! It was no good to me. 

Obviously every analogy has its limits, and I’m going to stretch this one to its breaking point. I want to suggest to you that you have an internal speedometer. Your body, your mind, your complex physiology that makes you human is able to gauge how fast you can go and for how long. And then need to take a break. You need to reset everything to zero. That’s why we need sleep every night before beginning again the next day. How’s that for oversimplifying our complex biology? But here’s my point: if you go and go and go without stopping; if you push it until you stall out, you will lose track of the ability to gauge what is healthy and normal behaviour. What’s more, we become so familiar with “going-going-going” (with all we can do in our own strength) that we become afraid of stopping. 

We are afraid of resting and of needing to trust God to provide when we are no longer moving full steam ahead. In other words, we are proud. We are working for and longing for our own personal honour. We do not trust others to work for our benefit because we have experienced, in our broken world, that others too are selfish. Others give gifts for their own personal advancement. We learn through painful experience that we cannot entrust our wellbeing to anyone else—especially not someone outside of our family or close friends group.

This is why the gospel is so scary for us—so scandalous to us! Jesus says, “the Sabbath was made for man—for humanity” and we are not sure we can allow ourselves to believe or to accept such a great gift. It seems too good to be true.

Werner Mischke, in his book “The Global Gospel,” suggests that Christians from the West “…should be trained to recognize their Western ‘powerboat mindset’ of high control.” 

What is the powerboat mindset? It’s going far fast, and being in complete control. 

“A powerboat mindset for mission implies reliance on expensive structures, technology, and “missions machinery.” Money makes “mission” go fast. And there is tremendous pressure on people for results and the measurement of outcomes in order to maintain funding.”

Mischke, Werner. The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World . Mission ONE. Kindle Edition.

Mischke suggests a new way of thinking for Christians:

They should transition to a more vulnerable “sailboat mindset” of high trust. This will help them to (1) better cooperate with the wind of God, the Holy Spirit, (2) better navigate the currents, waves, and storms of cross-cultural ministry and partnerships, (3) serve more effectively in their communities, and (4) honorably collaborate with their cross-cultural partners.

Mischke, Werner. The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World . Mission ONE. Kindle Edition.

There is a lot more to Mischke’s words than we can unpack in today’s message; but I want to focus on only one part as we go forward: cooperating with the Holy Spirit and collaborating with cross-cultural partners. How do we cooperate and collaborate? We listen.

Listening: the Joy and Witness of Sabbath Observance

Werner Mischke again reminds us of the importance of listening!

It is easy to forget the weight that Jesus placed on listening and truly hearing: He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Mat 11:15). My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:27). And the admonition from James cannot be over-emphasized: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). This is why great servants of God are great listeners. They regularly take time to listen to God in periods of silence, prayer, and Scripture reading. They listen well to their friends, and if married, to their spouses. They bend their ear to the wisdom of others in the body of Christ. And in our multicultural faith community, this increasingly includes believers from other cultures. They practice the discipline of listening.

Mischke, Werner. The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World . Mission ONE. Kindle Edition.

The Bible talks repeatedly about listening—both listening to God and listening to one another. And this is God’s purpose for Sabbath for us. In our broken world, the “scary gift” of Sabbath counters the pressure all of us feel to work on and exist for only ourselves! Sabbath is specifically for listening to God and listening to others. The Old Testament Law describes Sabbath this way: 

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deut 5:13-15)

The purpose of Sabbath is that you may rest, that others may rest as you do, and that we would remember God’s power, God’s gift of deliverance. Why? So that we are reminded every week that we can depend on God.

When we experience that we can depend on God, our lives become better! Don’t you see? Trying to force someone to “observe the Sabbath” will lead to the opposite of the result that God intends. Just as trying to force anyone to obey the laws of God will lead to anger, resentment, hurt, and alienation. All of God’s commandments, including his instructions to rest (4th commandment) are invitations to experience a better life when we are obedient to them.

Do you want a better life? Do you want an enviable life? Do you want a life that is “scary good”? Take a break from your work. Commit on Sundays to something very simple. Each week, commit to do nothing that you know to be work. This does not mean that you cannot do anything and that you need to twiddle your thumbs and sit around. If you are a part of a family and one of you always cooks; offer to cook for your spouse or parent and give him or her a break. If you are always on your computer for work, and answering emails late into the night, leave your laptop lid shut. Listen to the noise of the room around you. Who else is there? Who else is outside? Dust off your Bible and wonder what God might want to say to you personally. Commit to do nothing that you know to be work one day each week is the beginning of Sabbath observance. It is one of the first ways you can test and see whether God really will provide for you! Whether he really will speak to you; and whether you really can allow your priorities and work to drop, in order to attend to others. 

Sabbath in an invitation to listen to God and to be drawn into deeper relationship with him. When Jesus is accused of misusing the Sabbath, he references one of the most controversial passages in the Old Testament: when King David, not a priest, “entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” (Mk 2:26). Like that consecrated bread, the Sabbath is God’s gift to sustain us! 

If you still don’t believe me, you must try it for yourself and test God’s words for yourself. Don’t go home and do the same old thing! Don’t go home and learn nothing, do nothing, and forget these words! If you do that, you will be inoculating yourself against God’s word. You will make it easier, week after week, to hear what God is saying, then to ignore it and go your own way once again. Take a step of faith and test the words of God to see if Sabbath really will be God’s gift to you.

While you consider what you will do as a result of this sermon, allow me to close with one more story. 

When I was in high school, my family and I were invited to the retirement party of one of the farmers in our church. Cor and Lia Smit had a farm just outside town and had planted and harvested crops for their entire lives together. I was an awkward kid, and so I didn’t talk to anyone. I looked out over past their red barn, with peeling and faded paint. And I looked out over their fields. It was spring and things were starting to grow. As I wandering around the plastic tables listening in on conversations, I heard the Smit’s neighbour talking with Cor. He said, “you know all these years, we have both been farming next door to one another. And I noticed that I worked every day of the week—but that on Sundays, your fields were always empty and your tractors were always quiet. And it’s strange—it strikes me that I’m no better off than you, even though I worked an extra day every week for all my working life. Maybe you’re even a little better off than me!” 

This is what I mean when I say that Sabbath is God’s scary good gift to us. It seems too good to be true. It’s weird and doesn’t make any sense when you do the math; yet when we set aside time to listen to God and to listen to others; it not only feeds our souls, it not only sustains us for the week to come—it also becomes attractive and interesting to others! They see God’s provision, which they cannot understand and they are amazed and confused by it.

So how are you going to rest this week? And what might God do with it? When you commit yourself to following Jesus, you will be amazed with the results God has for you.

Let’s pray.

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