21 August 2022

In today’s readings two significant ideas come together: “Sabbath” and “God’s Kingdom”. A true understanding of Sabbath (which links, of course, with the idea of Jubilee), must lead us into the justice, mercy, equity and inclusivity of God’s reign. In fact, one of the simplest ways to embrace a “Kingdom-lifestyle” is to begin to practice Sabbath well. That is the challenge the Lectionary offers us this week.

Perhaps I can support this with a quote from my book The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship forms us into the people God wants us to be:

A significant part of the practice of Sabbath is aligning ourselves with God’s rhythm. As rhythm organises a piece of music in time according to speed and pattern, so Sabbath organises our lives according to God’s sense of time – God’s tempo and pattern. This is more than simply giving ourselves a breather, or allowing ourselves time to rest so that we can launch back into our busyness with renewed vigour. Sabbath is about learning to recognise the significance of moments in time. It is about learning to recognise God’s tempo and pattern for us, our community and our world, and it is about matching our pace with these eternal rhythms.

May worship lead you into a life of true Sabbath-keeping this week.

Jeremiah 1:4-10: Jeremiah is called by God to be a prophet, but protests that he is too young. God promises to put God’s words into Jeremiah’s mouth.
OR Isaiah 58:9b-14: God promises goodness and honour for God’s people if they will act justly and honour the Sabbath.

Psalm 71:1-6: A prayer for God’s protection and care.
OR Psalm 103:1-8: A song of praise and thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness, healing and goodness.

Hebrews 12:18-29
: Unlike the people of Israel who were afraid of God’s appearing at the mountain, followers of Christ have been invited into God’s grace and the joyous community of worship in Christ. We have received an unshakeable kingdom, and must be careful to listen to Christ’s words, and worship God in thankfulness.

Luke 13:10-17: Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath, incurring the criticism of the synagogue leader. Jesus points out that everyone ‘works’ on the Sabbath, and that it is right and good that she should be freed.

Although it is only specifically mentioned in two of the readings this week, the prominence of the Sabbath in the Gospel reading, and the underlying foundations of a “Sabbath way of life” provide exciting possibilities for worship. Closely aligned with this is the word “kingdom” which comes through in a number of the readings. These two biblical words are closely related. The Sabbath is a foundational element of the whole Jubilee system of justice and equity that God gave to Israel, ensuring sufficient rest, and – arising from the Manna story – discouraging hoarding and accumulation. The Kingdom, as best represented by the “mission statement” of Jesus in Luke 4, is also about Jubilee, about justice and equity, and about ensuring “shalom” (peace and well-being) for all. This is the unshakeable kingdom of the writer of Hebrews. This is the call of Isaiah’s prophecy, and the message of Jeremiah that will bring down unjust kingdoms and build up just ones. This is the prayer and the praise of the Psalms. In healing this crippled woman on the Sabbath, and teaching that mercy is a Sabbath-activity, Jesus embodies the justice, grace and welcome of God’s unshakeable kingdom. The theme, then, this week could be titled “God’s Sabbath Kingdom”.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: In our “time is money” world, Sabbath has lost its essential meaning. It has become nothing more than a “day off” to restore energy to get back into the fray as soon as possible. However, this is far from what the Sabbath was originally intended to be. Rather, the practice of Sabbath – both the Sabbath day, and the Sabbath Year/Jubilee – is about realignment. It is about taking ourselves out of the human system of accumulation, self-protection and self-aggrandisement, and placing ourselves under the influence of God’s rhythms, God’s priorities and God’s direction. It is not about getting back into the fray, but about living with a whole different value system – that of justice, mercy and equity. The call to live God’s Kingdom’s values is a call to live as Sabbath people, and it is this gracious kingdom alone that is unshakeable – unmoved by the temptation to benefit by exploiting others, by the threat of economic collapse, or by the ‘competition’ for resources. When we scratch the surface of our world’s economic systems, we cannot help but see the destructive results of a Sabbathless existence. Exploitation of foreign workers in order to ensure cheap labour for producing everything from chocolate and coffee to cell phones and computers, trade regulations and subsidies that favour the rich and powerful over poor farmers and labourers in third world countries, and political decision making that is more influenced by wealthy donors and lobbyists than by the needs of the most vulnerable all leave suffering in their wake. The drivenness and hyperactivity of those who chase wealth also wreaks havoc on marriages, families and individuals. If our world needs anything in order to become more just and peaceful, it’s a return to the Sabbath-rhythms of God’s reign. This alone will bring healing to the those who have been crippled by the Satan of our broken society.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Jesus spoke about his followers being “in the world but not of it”. This was not a call to “otherworldliness” or to check out of the world as we wait for heaven. It is a reflection of the reality that as individuals and churches we face the daily temptation to adopt the broken values and practices of the world around us. It is a call to live the values and practices of God’s Sabbath Kingdom within the societies and communities in which we find ourselves. It is all too easy for us to become driven by the same idols of success, wealth and convenience that the affluent sections of our global society embrace – and all too many churches and theological systems have done just this. But, if we are to be Sabbath/Kingdom people, we are to step out of this system, embracing rather the rhythms of justice – meaningful work, joyful rest, compassionate service, generous sharing, and a commitment to equity and compassion. In small but powerful ways we can change the world by living these values in our communities – by worshipping in venues of simple reverence; by adopting technology, practices and programs for their usefulness, not their “sexiness” or fashionable-ness; by sharing what we have with the people around us, rather than using our wealth to aggrandise ourselves; by using our influence in society to ensure protection for the most vulnerable and needy among us; and by working for a more equitable society using all the tools at our disposal, from votes to prayer. Who are those who have been crippled by the weight of the world’s unjust and inequitable systems? How can we allow the Sabbath to become a healing and liberating experience for them and us?

Rhythms Of Life
Sabbath People
Weak And Poor God
The Offer, The Longing & The Fear

Hymn Suggestions:
Jesus Calls Us
Dear Lord And Father Of Mankind (I would prefer it if this hymn was more inclusive in its language – perhaps it could be sung as: Dear Lover of all humankind)
I Am Known
What A Friend We Have In Jesus
O Come, And Dwell In Me
King Of The Broken (Link to YouTube video)
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)
Everlasting God (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions:
The Sabbath And The Poor
Missing The Joy
We’re Alright Down Here