Sermon 190630 - The Sabbath - Part 1 of 3

“Is There a Place for Sabbath in the 21st Century?, Part 1”

Dumbarton United Methodist Church



    I grew up in the deep south when Blue Laws were still a thing. Blue laws prohibit various commercial and entertainment businesses from operating on Sundays. Most Blue laws have been repealed in the US though some places continue to ban the sale of alcohol and motor vehicles on Sundays. Alcohol, I kind of see, but not selling cars is beyond me. If a jurisdiction allows the sale of other things on Sunday, why prohibit the sale of cars??? And in the US Blue Laws always seemed inequitable to me — why did they only apply to Sundays? If they were tied into the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy… not everyone recognizes Sunday as Sabbath. When I was in college in Baton Rouge, I worked for a locally owned department store — Goudchaux’s — the store was owned by a Jewish family. At that time stores were still closed on Sunday. And Goudchaux’s would also close for a couple of Jewish holidays — if memory serves, it was usually Rosh Hashanah  and Yom Kippur. The world is a different place than it was 35 years ago. Blue laws are long gone and Sunday is just another day to get done whatever did not get done in the previous 6. And that’s OK. It is not the role of government to enforce religious observances. So what does it mean in the 21st century to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?

    It is one of the 10 commandments. One of the foundational understandings of covenant and community — a commandment to cease doing and simply be. This is such a quaint idea but how can it have any meaning in this day and age? We are a busy people, with more tasks, more meetings, more responsibilities than ever before. I do not know how parents juggle everything these days — jobs and school and after school activities and music lessons and sports practices and doctor’s appointments and homework and meals and laundry and pet care and oil changes for the car and bills paid and the grass mowed and getting groceries and cleaning the gutters and arranging for repairs and the list goes on. The intense busyness of life these days makes me painfully aware, that preaching a sermon on the importance of Sabbath may mean it is simply heard as yet another item to add to the never ending, never completed “To Do List” and thus leave folks feeling even further behind. Certainly the history of Blue Laws and church Sabbath regulations can both contribute to a sense of legalism around Sabbath. And really, who am I, who works every Sunday, doing some of the most intense work of the week, who am I to say anything about Sabbath keeping? In marked contrast to the legalistic approach to Sabbath, in Mark 2:27, Jesus teaches that “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…” This is a reminder that the Sabbath was created not as an obligation to prove one’s devotion to God, rather Sabbath was created for the well-being of people, ordinary people like you and me.

    God loves us, God loves you fully, completely, unconditionally. God longs for each and everyone of us to flourish. God understands the busyness of our lives and the very worthy reasons we are so busy. God gets it and grace abounds. So this sermon series about Sabbath is not meant to add another “Should” to the to do list — not meant to be a scold —- Rather, my hope is that this time exploring Sabbath will be an invitation — an invitation to recognize the beauty of Sabbath, an invitation to find a simple way to recognize Sabbath, an invitation to embrace an immersion into Sabbath keeping, or simply an invitation that may not be possible now but an invitation without expiration date that may be answered at any time — now, next month, next year, after the kids are grown, whenever.

    Kara Root in writing for “Working Preacher” an on-line resource for clergy, reflects on the importance of Sabbath. One of the insights Root shares is how powerful the concept of Sabbath must have been to the Hebrews who had recently escaped the bonds of slavery. The Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt until Moses managed to lead them out of Egypt into the wilderness. In the wilderness as a nomad people they needed help in shaping community and identity, at which time God and Moses held a summit on the mountain and from that experience, the 10 Commandments were given to the people as a way to be in community. Standing alongside the commandments to not kill, not steal, worship only God, is the commandment to observe the Sabbath and to see to it that everyone in the community observes Sabbath. Root says, “The other commandments take the people out of slavery; the Sabbath command takes the slavery out of the people. One day in seven, God says, you stop all work. You do this because you are not to be defined by your output. One day in seven everyone rests, and all distinctions that you erect to define your value and measure your worth disappear — old, young, rich, poor, slave, free, citizen, foreigner — you are all simply and completely human beings, alongside one another, all beloved children of God…  You’ve been delivered from a life of slavery, where your output was the sole measure of your value, and any weakness, otherness or need was a life-threatening deficit.”[1] The Sabbath was created to remind us whose we are — God’s beloved children. The Sabbath was created because we all need rest. How many of us thought this morning’s gospel lesson was a good description of how we feel — Jesus saying, “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens…”???  I’ve felt that way some days. Not quite as heavy burdened since Annual Conference, though still a bit weary. Then Jesus goes onto say “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus is offering to share our load with us. Inviting us to yoke ourselves with God for dealing with all the stuff of life. A yoke is one of those agrarian concepts which is becoming more and more foreign in today’s world. A yoke is simply a way to harness, to connect two creatures together so that together they bear the weight of whatever it is they must pull. Oxen are often ones who are yoked together. When we are “yoked” with Jesus, we have a relationship with God based on trust and understanding that God is with us, at work in persuasive ways for that which is best. A relationship with God helps us weather the difficulties of life.

    At the heart of Sabbath observance, is relationships — our relationship with God, our relationship with loved ones, our relationship with ourself. The Sabbath call to rest, to stop work, is to open up space and time to focus on relationships. Wayne Muller’s book, “Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives” explores how we might reclaim Sabbath in healthy ways. Muller shares some wisdom about Sabbath that he learned from a rabbi when writing, “…the point is the space and time created to say yes to sacred spirituality, sensuality, sexuality, prayer, rest, song, delight. It is not about legalism and legislation, but about joy and the things that grow only in time.”[2] 

    What would it look like to begin to reclaim a little bit of Sabbath for yourself? What might you do once a week to nourish your relationships with God, others, and yourself? Worship is a way to do all three. What are other ways? I suspect most of us will not be able to take a full day to rest every week. What might we do? What would be a ritual that you could do to observe Sabbath? Maybe once a week step away from phone and computer and all screens for an hour? Maybe two?? Maybe once a week one meal could become the designated “family dinner” or “friends dinner” where you gather with folks to share a meal?  Maybe once a week, you set a timer and simply sit quietly and alone for ten minutes? If any of these suggestions are causing feelings of being overwhelmed then ignore them… what other ideas come to mind as possibilities? God knows that we need rest from work, we need rest to flourish. The world does not stop when we stop, the world continues and is just fine for a little while when we rest, when we pause, when we make space to simply be. When we rest, there is room for God to be at work. Over the years there have been times when I’ve been worrying about something, trying to figure it out, trying to get to a solution, and when I finally fall asleep, somehow God works in the resting time and I have awakened with an idea or solution for how to proceed. We need rest and in our rest, God is still at work. Sabbath is a gift to us, may we find ways to accept this gift.

    Poet Wendell Berry writes about Sabbath in this way:

    “Whatever is foreseen in joy

    Must be lived out from day to day.

    Vision held open in the dark

    By our ten thousand days of work.

    Harvest will fill the barn; for that

    The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

    And yet no leaf or grain is filled

    By work of ours; the field is tilled

    And left to grace. That we may reap,

    Great work is done while we’re asleep.

    When we work well, a Sabbath mood

    Rests on our day, and finds it good.”


Rev. Dr. Mary Kay Totty, June 30, 2019


[1] Kara K. Root “Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Matthew 11:28-30” from  accessed on June 17, 2019.

[2] Wayne Muller, “Sabbath”, New York: Bantam Books, 1999, p.30.


Deuteronomy 5:12-15 - Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you

Matthew 11: 28-30 - Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.