“The Sabbath” — Mark 2:23-28

We’ve all heard the classic conundrum … which came first, the chicken … or the egg?   The conundrum being … If the egg came first, how did it come into being without having been laid by a chicken? And if the chicken came first, where is the egg it came from?

What’s this about?  Well, if we take our Old Testament reading for today and our Gospel from Mark and put them together, it seems we have the same kind of conundrum:  what came first:  mankind or the Sabbath?

We know that both are creations of God…  but the question their dual existence poses is … how does God view the establishment of the Sabbath?   And given that … what is our responsibility… even today … toward what we call the Third Commandment, or honoring the Sabbath Day?

Let’s start with the words from Deuteronomy chapter five… we hear God giving His Law to Moses.  God saying, “Observe the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”  And then, we hear Him going on to explain that the seventh day is Sabbath Day to the Lord your God.  A Sabbath Day, or day of rest.

Now, earlier, in the Book of Exodus, as we hear God first giving this Commandment… He says there that as He created the Heavens and the earth and all that is in them in six days and on the seventh day He rested… so mankind should observe that same pattern of work.

Added to that the Hebrew word “Sabbath” implies the concept of refection, or remembering.   And so, here in Deuteronomy, we see that more just than implied:  God instructing the Israelites to remember on each Sabbath what God had done for them ….

Particularly His rescuing them from Slavery in Egypt through the event of the Passover and His bringing them through the Red Sea.  Feeding them with Manna,  “the bread from heaven” on their way to the Promised Land ..

a prefiguring our own reception of the “True Bread from Heaven, Jesus Himself at the Lord’s Supper… on our way to our Promised land.

And so, as the people of God were to reflect on God’s miracle of Salvation on their behalf, they would be then comforted knowing that the same God was with them even then, in their own time.

In a lot of ways, the Sabbath, as we hear it described here, embodies what is reflected in our School’s theme for this past year… Pause, reflect, and yield.  To set aside a time to give thanks and praise and honor to God … who created you and who redeemed you.

Now, let’s fast-forward about 1500 years from the days of Moses to Jesus’ time.  The Pharisees of that age taught:  You want to be on good terms with God?  Well, do what He says.   And what He says is, “Observe the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”

So, what does it mean to keep it holy?

Well, the Pharisees and those who had access to the Word of God tried their best to put “keep the Sabbath Day holy” in layman’s terms.

And to do so, they did what we have a tendency to do, humanly speaking, and that was to put a fence around the restriction.

The Scriptures simply say, don’t do your work.  So … do you let every Joshua, Nathaniel, and Sarah define for themselves what “not doing their work” means?

Of course not.  Because, what’s at stake is the honor of God.  So the Jewish leaders made rules about work …. what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath … and if you wanted to be seen as a faithful Jew, you followed those rules… even though they were not specifically given by God through Moses.

Those Sabbath rules are still observed by Orthodox Jews today.  Go to Chicago.  At Sundown on Friday, which is the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, orthodox Jews can be seen exiting city busses if they have not yet reached their destination.

Why?  Because to ride any kind of conveyance on the Sabbath was and is forbidden.

That brings is to the case in point in Mark’s Gospel for today. There we see the Disciples picking grain as they walked down a path that took them through a ripe field.

Now, the Rabbi’s rules allowed people to pick grain from ripe fields for themselves… even on the Sabbath.  Their being allowed to do so was deemed an expression of care and love by the farmer who owned the field for those weary travelers who might come through it.

But … what we see the Pharisees getting so upset about in the Gospel … And what they felt God’s honor was being jeopardized by … is the fact that the Disciples, after picking the grain, then ground it in their hands to extract the kernel so it could be eaten.

Picking the grain was OK … but the grinding of grain was one of those items expressly forbidden by the Rabbi’s and the elders as work that was not to be done on the Sabbath.

But really … the Pharisees’ criticism wasn’t so much of the Disciples as it was of Jesus who was letting them do it.  There was plenty of what we could call “professional jealousy” going on among the Pharisees over against Jesus.

This itinerant carpenter’s son from the stix… never paid his dues by going through the tough years of rabbinical training.   And yet, all the people were flocking after Him and hanging on His every word while those who maintained a piety that Jesus never came close to were being shunn

They were jealous, and they were looking for just such an opportunity to discredit this populous-proclaimed prophet.

And Jesus, knowing all this… for their sakes and for the sakes of His disciples, pressed the issue, asking them  Who or what came first … the Man or the Sabbath?

The truth behind that question is this:  God created mankind as the pinnacle of His creation.  Then God set Mankind over it.   As proof of that, Adam was given the right, the honor and the privilege to name the other creatures of God’s creation, to determine what things were to be called.

Then, God established the Sabbath.  And as we said, that established a seven-day cycle that had its roots in the creation week, but, yet also, note this … this Sabbath came after man’s fall into sin … and so in establishing the Sabbath we see God’s looking out for the care of mankind’s soul.

Anyone who’s had the experience of working week in and week out without a break can tell you how lost the days can become.  So, from just a practical standpoint, the Sabbath does have a soul-care function …

But beyond that, God also designed mankind not to live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Mankind’s Spiritual nature is much like our physical nature:  it needs constant refreshment… our souls need nourishment, just as our bodies need what grinding grain has to offer.

It’s no coincidence that the point of contention here in the Gospel between the Pharisees and Jesus was over food … you could even say over God’s provision of the bread from heaven …with both the physical and spiritual needs being intertwined.

The Pharisees would deny food for the stomachs of the disciples for the sake of the Sabbath … when the Sabbath itself was for the sake of food for their souls.

And specifically to that point, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of David and his men being fed with the ceremonial bread from the temple … another time when the need of people was seen as a higher good (the law of love) than the ceremonial rule surrounding that food.

So, now.  We’ve fast-forwarded 1500 years, let’s go another 2000, plus or minus, shall we?

That takes us to today … Today… on a Sunday, the first day of the week by Jewish reckoning.    Not a traditional Jewish Sabbath Day, from Sundown Friday through Sundown Saturday.

But, do you know what happened by jumping ahead 2000 years from the time of our Gospel?   We’ve sped right through Jesus’ death on the Cross, His Resurrection and Ascension.

Now.  Did all that cause the Law change?  Do the Ten Commandments no longer count?  NO, The Ten Commandment still reflect God’s desires for us … they still tell us how we are to Love God and Love one another.

So why aren’t we sitting here on Saturday?  It’s because Jesus’ life death and resurrection put an end to the ceremonial part of law … the do’s and don’ts about what to eat, and what not to eat … about what is clean and unclean … even about people, gentiles, like you and me.

In the Old Testament, God said: “Worship … on the Sabbath.”  Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law for us … erased those last three words.  In the New Testament, God says simply:  “Worship.”

In fact, just to make sure we heard that correctly, St. Paul says to us in the book of Colossians:

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to religious festivals, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come, the reality, however, is found in Christ.”  (Col 2:16-17)

Now, we might not be fully comfortable with that.  That’s because by our human nature … all of us are legalists.  That means that we tend to think that the purpose of God’s Law is to show us how we can put ourselves in a better relationship with Him.

We like to depend on Jesus for our salvation, but then we like to see our own works, our own keeping of the Law, earning us brownie points in God’s great ledger.

One way we may try to do that is turning our Sunday into a New Testament Sabbath.   We make up rules about what we can and can’t do on that day…

If God is central and praised in that, then fine …but we have to be careful to avoid being caught up in Old Testament thinking.  Jesus fulfilled the Law for us … He is OUR perfect obedience, our works add nothing to that perfection.

Demanding that we keep the Sabbath Day as in Old Testament times is like also demanding that we follow all the circumcision ordinances of the Old Testament as well.

So, when God says keeping the Sabbath means being Worshipful, another Old Testament idea we have to get over is that Worship is something that only occurs on a certain day in a certain place by doing certain things.

Look at Roman’s, Chapter 12, verse one:  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasant to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.”

When God says in the New Testament, “Worship!”  He’s speaking about our whole lives.  Whatever we think or say or do… is a reflection of our worship of Him.  That means we can Sing his praise … everyday.  Hear His word … everyday.

Yet, God has also established His Church for the growth of His Kingdom … and out of Christian Freedom and in honor of our Lord’s Resurrection … the New Testament church generally gathers for communal worship on Sunday.

But worshipping as a church on Monday or Thursday or Saturday makes no difference, because the reason we gather is not to keep the Law …not to be obedient … but we gather because the love of God in our hearts compels us to.

Legalists that we are, though, we tend to want to make rules about church attendance.  But doing that turns our attendance into a keeping of the Law. Christians … filled with God’s spirit … want to worship.

They want to thank God for what He has done for them and to be filled with His Spirit and strengthened to live for Him.

So, when Christians are not in worship …  that’s not time for other Christians to judge them … to hit them over the head with the Law … But instead it’s time to care for them, to stand by them, and pray for them that the Spirit of God would so again fill their hearts.

In a world governed by love, not Law … Jesus words to the woman at the well in John Chapter 4 apply:  He said :  “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem …

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is Spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Jesus spoke the truth … the Sabbath was made for man.  And by example He showed us how the Law of Love applies … if love means grinding grain, pulling a donkey out of a ditch, healing a man with a withered arm … or remembering and praising God for all He has done … and having Him fill our hearts with His love.  That’s what observing the Sabbath is.

It’s Loving Him and Loving one another.

In Him,  Amen