Thoughts on Worship and the Sabbath and wondering why in the world we have such a hard time with these concepts. This message was preached on October 26, 2014 at the Crafton Heights church and was rooted in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Mark 2:23 – 3:6.
William Henry “Bill” Gates is a rich man. His estimated wealth, some $82 billion, equals the annual GDP of Ecuador, and maybe twice as much as that of Croatia. By this rather unique measuring stick, the founder of Microsoft is worth two Latvias, a Cyprus and four or five Malawis. Not bad for a college dropout.
But not only is he rich, he is generous, and you may have heard about the fact that he is on a mission to give away his money before he dies. He better get cracking, though, because even though he’s given away about $35 billion, he keeps getting richer.
I was thinking about Bill Gates as I prepared for this morning’s message because of something he once said that really jolted me: “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”
There it is, church. The man who has more dollar bills in the history of dollar bills has called you out, and said that you’re wasting your time here this morning.
And I’m here to tell you that I agree with him 100%. Worship is a total waste of time, and one of the most inefficient things you could ever do with yourself.
And I’m glad to be doing that with you, beloved.
What are we doing here? What’s the point of all this, anyway? We’re here to worship, I know. But what does that mean?
Worship comes from an Old English word ‘weorthscipe’, which to be honest I’m not really sure how to pronounce because it has a couple of letters in it that no longer exist. That word means ‘condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown’, and came to be understood as a ‘sense of reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being’ about 800 years ago.
We have come to this point in time at this place on the globe in order to testify to the worthiness, dignity, glory, and honor of God. And maybe you know that when we come to worship, the world itself changes (or at least it should).
Here’s what I’m getting at: a few minutes ago, the beautiful Lindsay Frick stood in front of you and led you in a “call to worship”. In that formal language, Lindsay invited you to leave your work and your hobbies behind. She gave you permission – nay, she commanded you – to forget your laundry, your shopping list, the grubs that are destroying your grass. If we are doing it right, I think that means that we’ve turned off our cell phones and put away our watches.
We’ve entered into a different space: a ‘sanctuary’. Here, the seats are designed, not for comfort, but to focus your attention on the center and the front of the room, while being curved so that you can keep an eye on each other, too. There are windows to provide light and ventilation, but they are tinted so as to reduce the distraction that whatever lies on the other side might bring.
We have entered into a different time: it is the ‘service of worship’. We use a different calendar in here than we do outside: look at your bulletin, and you’ll see that we are in the 30th week of “ordinary time”, which started, not on January 1, but on the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, of course, is the season of the year in which the church remembers the intrusion of the Creator into the Creation.
Likewise, our very understanding of ourselves has changed. We are no longer primarily neighbors, teachers, students, retirees, employees, or gardeners. You, together, have been constituted as a congregation. That is to say that you are pilgrims. People who are on the way from where they used to be and heading to where they ought to be; people who are growing from what was into who they were created to be.
Lindsay spoke a call to worship, and if we do it right, then time, space, and your understanding of self has changed. We are different people in a new time and a sacred space. Well done, Lindsay! You didn’t know you had that kind of authority, did you?
Think about it. In Genesis, we learn that we are creatures. There was God, and God alone. And then God made. We dare not confuse the Creator with the creature.
And we are not merely creatures, but creatures who have been placed in time. Do you remember how the story of creation is told? In DAYS. Seven of them, to be exact. Our lives are measured in hours and days and months and years.
And we are not only creatures of time, but creatures who have been given space. Where does the story begin? In a garden. A specific place that is ours.
So when we, the creatures of time and space, set out to recognize the worthiness, dignity, glory, and honor that characterizes God, we do so by entering into this new and different time and space.
I bring this up because this is one of the biggest problems I have with the people who say, “You know, Pastor, I don’t have to come to church to worship. I can worship God on the golf course, or at the lake, or as I run.” No, you can’t.
Look. If you know anything about me at all, you will understand that I have experienced the presence, majesty, beauty and power of God in the solitude of a mountain lake, laying awake at night on the Sahara Desert, watching the flight of a lilac-breasted roller, or bringing in an incredible trout. I get it. I have known God there.
But I have not worshipped God there.
Consider this: I have experienced great joy in my relationship with Sharon McCoy Carver since we were in the 9th grade together at Hanby Jr. High. We have been in many places and celebrated our love together in lots of ways.
But I only got married at 2:30 pm on Sunday May 30, 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 1120 Darley Road Wilmington DE 19703. We do not confuse the reality of being married with the act of becoming married. We do not confuse appreciation of or closeness to God with the communal worship of God.
Our worship is an intentional act by the community – never alone – in a specific place while engaged in specific actions. I do not think that a human being can worship alone – we need the community for that. Worship is a part of the rhythm of creation and the order for which we were born, and we can only do it together.
Unfortunately, we are not very good at understanding this rhythm. We find it easy to forget the intentions for which we are born. One way that I know this is true is because we have neglected the idea of Sabbath.
That’s an old word, of course, and incredibly churchy. Feel free to roll your eyes now if you’d like.
You heard it in Deuteronomy, where we were commanded to observe, remember, and keep one day in seven. No work for your or your servants. No commerce. No production.
Yeah, we’re not very good at remembering, keeping, or observing that kind of stuff, are we?
And I know a lot of you, like me, often hear a lot of talk by people who wish that we’d “get back to basics” and pay more attention to the Ten Commandments. “All this country needs is to get back to the Ten Commandments,” they say. Well, it seems to me that they’re really talking about six or seven of them – many of the folks I hear talking about that are really concerned about who their neighbor is sleeping around with or which political party is lying to us than they are about actually keeping the Sabbath or avoiding covetousness. Christians in America today steamroll the fourth commandment flatter than a pancake at Pamela’s restaurant, and we feel proud about doing so.
We do not stop. We do not rest. We go and go and go.
Why? Because we are good and decent people. We’re not lazy. We are recognizing the truth of what Bill Gates has told us – that rest is not efficient and a total waste of time. And time is money. And we want more money. And so we cannot rest. We have to do more. We have to be more.
Hey, hey, hey, Pastor. That’s not fair! I’m not greedy! It’s not about money! I have a lot to do. Important stuff to do. People are counting on me to get it done. Do you know what would happen if I stopped ________? I mean, I get it, Dave. It must be nice to be you, in control of your own time, managing your own calendar, going fishing whenever you feel like it, but my life isn’t like that. I have to ___________.
Look, it’s not my commandment. I am not giving it to you; I am with you in sitting under it. And from where I sit, it seems as though the command to keep, observe, and remember the Sabbath and to worship is all about trust. We come into this special place and enter this special time and we stop doing anything important. We stop and we rest, and we dare to believe that the world will continue to turn without us. We rest, and in so doing proclaim that God, not us, is in control. We keep Sabbath because we are creatures, not the Creator.
But HOW? What does that look like in 2014?
I’m not entirely sure. And let me clear about the fact that I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I’m having a hard enough time speaking for me right now to presume to speak for you. But this is what I know: if you flinch when you hear me say that Sunday ought to be set aside for worship and rest, then you should probably be asking God, “Lord, what needs to change in my life? And how can I change it?”
People who keep Sabbath well are people who are able to do their homework on Friday or Saturday. People who choose to shop on Tuesday or Friday. People who can turn off their email and resist the temptation to buy or sell on the Lord’s Day. We all have the same 168 hours this week. The 4th commandment reminds us that God seems to care about how we use them. You heard that commandment a few moments ago that talked about your manservant and your maidservant, and you thought, “Hey, that’s not me! I don’t have any servants.” Really? What do you call the people who will bring you your food at the Olive Garden today, or the folks who check you out at the Giant Eagle? They are your servants.
But what about work? What if you have to work on Sunday? I think the first question would be, “Why?” Why do you have to work on Sunday? I know some people who have to work weekends because it’s a second job for them and the family. They need that money to put food on the table. They need that money to educate their children. Or maybe they’ve got jobs that require them to work on Sundays. If that’s the case, then that’s the case.
But I know a whole lot more people who choose to work on Sunday because they’ve got a credit card payment due. People who need to work on Sunday because their cable bill is too high, or their third car needs a new set of tires. And if I am neglecting the Lord on this Sabbath in order to keep my satellite dish payments current, then maybe my priorities are a little out of whack.
Look, I could talk all day about this, but if I did, that would probably be ruining any idea of Sabbath for all of us. Do I have it all figured out? Not by a long shot. But this much I know: the fourth commandment is given to us because God loves us and desires that we might know life in all of its fullness. And we are prone to accepting less than God’s best because we are seduced by a world that wants to tell us that nothing makes us complete and that we are still enslaved in the “kingdom of thingdom.”
The way to get out of this is to waste what the world treasures. In a few weeks, we’ll be talking about money, and how the only way to control its power in our lives is to give it away – to do something utterly wasteful with it like giving it to the church. But that’s a few weeks. Today, I want to encourage you to waste time. To stop producing and enjoy who God is, and how God is, and who and how God is for you.
The Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus used the Sabbath to restore and to feed.
What if he still does that? I mean, what if by showing up here we are putting ourselves in a place and time where what is withered in our own lives might be revitalized? What if in rest, trust, and obedience the muscles that we thought were long-dead, or the faith that we’ve set aside, or the power in which we’ve become afraid to believe – what if those things could be reactivated, much as the man’s arm was in the story you heard a few moments ago?
Bill Gates is right. There are a thousand ways to use this hour more efficiently. But Jesus is righter: it’s not about efficiency. It’s about knowing who we are, and whose we are. Observe. Remember. Keep this day as your time to join with the other pilgrims in pointing to God’s glory. And as you do so, know that you are observed, remembered, and kept eternally. Thanks be to God! Amen.