First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Rev. Toby Jones, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon & Weekly Bulletin~ August 25, 2019

08-25-2019 Bulletin PDF

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. Title – Double Blessing of Sabbath
    3. Growing up in West Michigan – Apocryphal stories about Sundays
      1. Only McDonalds closed on Sundays in the state,
      2. sprinklers would be turned off,
  • lawn mowers would disappear,
  1. children couldn’t play, all in the interest of maintaining the Sabbath.
  1. Did that enforcement make for a holier day? Didn’t seem to.
    1. It was like shouting at someone to relax. Didn’t work.
  2. Importance of Sabbath
    1. One of the Ten Commandments
      1. 8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11 (CEB)
    2. Sabbath – the first day of rest
      1. Structural norm in Jewish and Christian and Muslim societies for millennia – though on different days and with different understandings
    3. Sabbath as a double reminder of faith, 7th day of creation, and God’s freeing Israelites from slavery
      1. Great Jewish Theologian, Moses Maimonides said “YHWH commanded us to abstain from work on the Sabbath, and to rest, for two purposes; namely, (1) That we might confirm the true theory, that of the Creation, which at once and clearly leads to the theory of the existence of God. (2) That we might remember how kind God had been in freeing us from the burden of the Egyptians – The Sabbath is therefore a double blessing: it gives us correct notions, and also promotes the well-being of our bodies.”
      2. A day of rest
  • A time to gain perspective
  1. In addition to the weekly sabbath, the land was to lay fallow on the seventh year, to recover. Called shǝvi’it, meaning seventh, or Shmita, literally meaning release
  2. We Christians have tended to minimize this second reminder of sabbath, the wider reminder of being releasing from oppression.
  1. Tradition and Liberation in Sabbath Practices
    1. Both scripture readings describe disputes within faith communities about what are the “correct” expression of the sacred sabbath and religious rituals should look like.
      1. Spiritualized or embodied
      2. Focused on self or focused on the community
  • Ritualistic public piety or expression of the kin-dom of God
  1. Isaiah
    1. Coming back from exile. A second exodus. But it didn’t go as expected.
      1. The powerful and religious elite spent the money sent with them from Cyrus to maintain a lavish lifestyle instead of rebuilding Jerusalem, restoring the temple, and feeding the people
      2. There was also a strong fear of foreigners
  • tensions about religious purity between the powerful Israelites who were taken into captivity and came back, and the people who’d stayed behind, and were now called Samaritans
  1. “we are doing the rituals, why isn’t God blessing us?”
  1. Gospel of Luke
    1. Similar tension – should healings be carried out on the sabbath?
    2. Synagogue leader gets kind of a bad rap, he doesn’t object to healing, but sees it as a desecration on the sabbath – work
    3. Jesus sees healing as removal of a burden, not work
      1. Jesus sees it from a different point of view.
      2. Jesus sought the woman out, she did not ask for healing
    4. Kathryn Matthews in the UCC weekly Bible study said the woman was given freedom, “freedom from the little bit of square footage she’s been limited to visually for almost twenty years.”
  2. Piety and Integrity of the sabbath
    1. Both readings are conflicts or tensions over the nature of Sabbath.
    2. Both are discussions taking place within religious communities, with both sides having valid perspectives. Just as we still are today
      1. Not as simple as RIGHT and WRONG
      2. Neither in Isaiah or in Luke are they arguing for getting rid of the holy rituals; fasting or the Sabbath.
  • As it says in Isaiah “honor the sabbath instead of doing things your way,”
  1. Different perspective on what honors the sabbath and God
    1. More focus on public piety or “remembering the reason for the season,” seeking the inner meaning, the integrity of the sabbath.
  2. a regular religious tension that never gets resolved for all time
    1. still wrestling with it today – what is the proper expression of our faith?
    2. what do each of you do after you leave church? What are your plans for today?  Are they all pious and holy? Is coming to church enough?
  • What about where I grew up, where the enforcement of sabbath was a community effort?
  1. Perspective and Points of View in faith
    1. I am not a big fan in mandating religious practices. I prefer that they are so appealing that they draw people in.
    2. I’m a BIG fan of sabbath. Of course, I’m also working today, so by the letter of the law I’m in trouble
    3. Sabbath is one of the gifts of the faith that we have taken for granted
      1. Youth – 7 day a week scheduling. And their parents, and grandparents, and so on.  Life is so busy.
    4. Need a day per week to as Maimondes puts it “promote the well-being of our bodies and develop correct notions
    5. but Sabbath is not just for us, the believers.
      1. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you.
      2. Whether they are of your faith or not. Servants, immigrants. Animals.  The land.
  • So how we honor the Sabbath also needs to take into account others
  1. Sabbath for self, sabbath for others
    1. Is it a sabbath if we make others work so we can enjoy our sabbath?
      1. Oh, they can use another day. Some truth in that. But are we making sure they have enough to actually have a day of rest?
      2. One of the accusations against the rich religious leaders in today’s Isaiah passage is that they spent the money allocated to restore Israel to instead maintain the standard of living they’d become accustomed to in Babylon. Willing to sacrifice spiritual wealth for material comfort
    2. Is it sabbath when others could be released to enjoy it, but we don’t act?
    3. Is it sabbath if we mandate it? REST!  NOW!
  2. Sabbath as freeing!
    1. Sabbath has been conflated with self care, which has also been conflated with the idea of pampering yourself (as a way to sell more products)
    2. Sabbath is more than just spoiling yourself. Don’t forget “getting the correct notions”
    3. Sabbath more than just modern ideas of self-care.
      1. Not about being pampered, but rest and gaining perspective
      2. Freed from slavery – God promises to provide what we need, not what we want.
    4. Correct notions – Gaining wider perspective not inward focused
    5. We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world, the company of those who have known suffering. When it seems that our sorrow is to great to be borne, let us think of the great family of the heavy hearted into which our grief has given us entrance, and inevitably, we will feel about us their arms, their sympathy, their understanding. Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another’s pain, life is not in vain. – Helen Keller
    6. Covenantal care & Community care
      1. Our bonds of faith require us to do unto others as we’d have them do unto us. We are our brother’s keeper.
    7. How can we release others as Jesus released the bent over woman?
  • Freeing work
    1. Part of what we are called to as people of faith is to free others, which includes actual, tangible, physical, reality.
      1. Not just saying, oh you should take a day off. But making sure that such a thing is a possible.
    2. See others:
      1. Spend today looking at the other people you see today. Service workers, other drivers, family, friends. Think about their ability to have a sabbath, and their need for one.
      2. Not about preaching sabbath at them, but helping develop the means to allow them to have one
  • Each person will look differently
  1. Reread the scriptures
  2. Lovingly challenge one another
    1. Part of this freeing work is also having the hard discussions within our families and faith communities to help bring about the freeing nature of Sabbath.
    2. where the spiritual and the embodied are equally valued.
  • Where we rest our bodies and gain correct notions
  1. Because sometimes the bondage we need to be freed of we are unable to free for ourselves. We are like the bent over woman, only looking at “the little bit of square footage we’ve been limited to”
  1. Move us from enforcing sabbath to freeing sabbath.


Isaiah 58:6-14

Today’s reading from Isaiah is written to the Israelites returning to Israel and Judah from captivity in Babylon. They had dreamed of their return home for generations, and the realities of returning to a destroyed homeland were disappointing. 

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
    and you will be healed quickly.
Your own righteousness will walk before you,
    and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.”
If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the finger-pointing, the wicked speech;
10     if you open your heart to the hungry,
    and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,
    your light will shine in the darkness,
    and your gloom will be like the noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually
    and provide for you, even in parched places.
    He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
12 They will rebuild ancient ruins on your account;
    the foundations of generations past you will restore.
You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Livable Streets.

13 If you stop trampling the Sabbath,
    stop doing whatever you want on my holy day,
    and consider the Sabbath a delight,
    sacred to the Lord, honored,
    and honor it instead of doing things your way,
    seeking what you want and doing business as usual,
14     then you will take delight in the Lord.
    I will let you ride on the heights of the earth;
    I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob.
    The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Luke 13:10-17

Today’s gospel reading continues shortly after last week’s gospel reading, where Jesus said “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division.”

10 Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 A woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight. 12 When he saw her, Jesus called her to him and said, “Woman, you are set free from your sickness.” 13 He placed his hands on her and she straightened up at once and praised God.

14 The synagogue leader, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded, “There are six days during which work is permitted. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath day.”

15 The Lord replied, “Hypocrites! Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from its stall and lead it out to get a drink? 16 Then isn’t it necessary that this woman, a daughter of Abraham, bound by Satan for eighteen long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath day?” 17 When he said these things, all his opponents were put to shame, but all those in the crowd rejoiced at all the extraordinary things he was doing.