2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 4 – B)
June 3, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament text, which was read a few minutes ago.
What would you think if I told you that only twenty-five percent of Christians keep the 5th Commandment; that seventy-five percent of Christians commit murder? Jesus said hatred is murder, so we know the commandments have multiple meanings, but for now, let’s focus on the actual words. If seventy-five percent of Christians regularly, and willingly, committed murder you’d be appalled, right? You’d probably think that maybe they don’t take their faith very seriously? I’m sure you’ll agree when I say there’s no way these numbers accurately reflect how Christians feel about murder. However, they do accurately reveal how Christians feel about the 3rd Commandment to honor the Sabbath Day. It’s true, only twenty-five percent of Christians regularly attend church services. This isn’t good, it’s not good at all, because God didn’t set aside one day a week for Himself, He made the Sabbath for you.
The word Sabbath means “to rest” and when God set aside the Sabbath Day, one reason was for physical rest. We have so many modern conveniences it’s easy to forget the hard work and long hours the people before us had to put in just to survive. God says that no one could work on the Sabbath, not even the slaves or animals. God gave them a time to rest their bodies. We too need a day to rest our bodies, you can’t work non-stop. But while physical rest is important, the focus in this commandment is really on spiritual rest.
We gather on Sunday mornings, or whenever a congregation meets, to spend an hour, or two, if you count Bible class and Sunday school, to rest in the presence of God. We all have heavy burdens brought on by sin, guilt, sickness, sorrow. We all carry the weight of fear, anxiety, and trouble. In worship you give your back-breaking loads to God. Do you remember the account of Mary and Martha? Jesus is visiting, and Martha is bustling all over, trying to get everything done just perfectly. Not Mary, she was content to put busyness to the side and sit with Jesus, and He praised her! He said, “Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Don’t get so wrapped up in the stresses of life you’re one of the seventy-five percent that rarely worship. Here, in this house, Jesus gives you a place to rest at His feet. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The rest you receive is the peace and forgiveness, the hope and joy that come from Him. You take a break from this troubling world by remembering that Christ has already overcome it. It will still be there when you leave, but you leave here blessed with the peace which surpasses everything else in the world, a peace from Christ who has surpassed all things.
In the reading from Deuteronomy, God makes clear that the Sabbath is not just for rest, it’s for remembering. He says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The Jews were called to remember they were once slaves, and that God rescued them from that slavery. Once a week, when they gathered for the Sabbath, they remembered how God displayed His grace by leading them out of Egypt.
We gather on Sundays in order that we might remember how God showed His “mighty hand and an outstretched arm” to us well. We gather in God’s house to remember our deliverance from slavery to sin, the devil, and death. To remember something is more than just bring it to mind. To remember our rescue at the outstretched and nailed hands of Jesus is to hold today and the memory of what God has done for us sacred and holy. Remember how last week I said that holy means “dedicated” or “set apart”? Once a week (although we should do it daily), we dedicate precious time to celebrate God’s grace. We intentionally gather and praise Him for sending His Son to pay the price demanded for our freedom.
Where we are different from the Jews is that worship is not primarily about remembering. If it was, we could remember Jesus wherever we are; instead God commands us to worship. But why? Why does God warn us to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” He doesn’t give us this command to make our lives unbearable or to be difficult. The Law is good and it serves godly purposes for our benefit. We don’t murder, we don’t steal, we don’t lie, and we honor the Sabbath because obedience is for our benefit.
God commands us to worship and it comes with a promise. He tells you to worship because He has something for you – His gifts. It’s here in His House that He gives you what you need to get through the grind of your daily lives. He gives you His Holy Spirit for your daily struggles with Sin, the Devil, this world, and your sinful nature. Here in God’s House you receive Jesus in your ears and on your lips. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, touches you with forgiveness and His strength so that you can stand firm when confronted by sin and sorrow. We aren’t fed by just walking through the door while remaining apathetic towards God’s Word. We come before God with open hearts and minds, focused on receiving His gifts. When we do this, when we come together as God’s people in God’s house, we find what we need.
We gather in the name of the Triune God that is branded on us in our baptisms. You confessed your sins and you’re forgiven through the blood of Jesus when you heard the words of Absolution You hear His Word in the readings and the sermon, which don’t just remind you of what happened in the past, but gives you real things like strength and hope, faith and trust. You receive the gifts of body and blood – the very body and blood given and shed so that you would be rescued and forgiven. When you attend the Divine Service you’re not just being reminded of the grace that God has shown us, you’re actively receiving His life-changing grace. We worship because the Devil’s attacks are never ending, the stresses of this world are constant, and the only way to persevere is to receive the gifts that come to us in the Divine Service through the death and resurrection of His Son.
Now are there valid reasons for missing worship? Of course there are! God knows this, and He isn’t so inflexible that if you must work Sunday mornings you’re damned. But because worship is essential for our Christian lives, barring any special circumstances, God’s people should be in church every week. This is God’s Sabbath and we honor it, we hold it sacred. Things come up. I’m not saying there’s never a good excuse. However, special circumstances are precisely that, special. We must remember that while it’s important for our kids to be involved in various extracurricular activities and while it’s good to have our own hobbies, it’s more important that we and our children spend two hours a week hearing God’s Word and receiving His life-giving gifts. God isn’t commanding us to worship just so we have something to do or because He doesn’t want us to get as much done on our busy weekends. He calls us to worship and receive His gifts because we need what He offers, and it’s not an occasional need either, it’s a constant need that only He can meet.
It doesn’t need to be said that God knows His creation and what we need. He gives us work to do and He gives us time off to rest physically. As hard as we work during the week though, it pales in comparison to the spiritual battles we engage in ever day. God calls us to observe a Sabbath rest and He commands that we keep it holy because it is His day. As Jesus says in the Gospel, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, come receive the gifts that He has for you. Come to rest spiritually, to remember His grace, and most importantly to be forgiven, fed, and strengthened by Him. The Sabbath is God’s Holy Day, and He’s given it to you.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen