Exodus 20:13-22

Today you’ve heard the ten commandments listed for you twice, the first time as a part of our corporate confession of sins and then in our first reading for the day.  Can you remember the last time you sat down and read through them one by one and contemplated what they mean for you and your life?  For some of us it might even be as far back as our confirmation classes, or Head to the Heart last year for others.  We promise at baptisms that we will teach the children the ten commandments and the creed and the Lord’s prayer, so today is a great chance to hear a little bit more about the ten commandments.  I could spend the next hour and a half delving in to each and every one of them, but to quote one of my favourite country songs, “There’s nothing that’ll test your faith like a long sermon on a pretty Sunday” and today is a pretty Sunday, so I’ll focus on one in particular, remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Throughout history the meaning of the Sabbath and the way it is observed has changed quite dramatically.  When God created the heavens and earth and everything in it, he took six days, and as we read in the creation account, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”  This was the beginning of Sabbath; it was a time of resting and appreciating the work that had been done.  God had no need to rest, God wasn’t tired or weary, he just needed the time to enjoy what he had created.
Later in Exodus we hear God explaining to Moses why the Sabbath is important “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. “ ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. “
This command has some bite, it has been taken further than we heard in our first reading today, there are now consequences to not keeping the Sabbath, if you desecrate it you will be put to death and if you do work you will be cut off from your people.  And in the book of Numbers there is an occurrence of this actually happening, a man who was gathering sticks on the Sabbath is put to death by stoning! 
Then when we get to Isaiah the prophet there is a fairly different emphasis placed on Sabbath, with keeping it comes blessings, “Blessed are those who do this—who hold it fast, those who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keep their hands from doing any evil.” Instead of the emphasis on the negative side we hear the positive, of being blessed by keeping the Sabbath and making in holy to the Lord. And then a little later in chapter 58, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

The prospects are much better for keeping the Sabbath than desecrating it aren’t they?

Then in the New Testament Jesus is accused of doing work on the Sabbath and he is able to justify doing that work.  After he healed a man on the Sabbath, a man who had been lame from birth, Jesus was persecuted by the Jewish leaders.  They were simply following the laws and commands that we have already heard about, they weren’t doing anything against what they had been taught, but Jesus knew that what he was doing was helping and healing and required no more work than his father in heaven was also doing on that day.  He was also accused of working when he rubbed out some grains for food, and told his accusers that it is ok to eat on the Sabbath.

Hence there was another shift in the meaning of Sabbath and the laws that surround it for the new Christian church, they had Jesus example to follow.  They were to cease from their work but it was Ok to eat and to care for their neighbours.

So where are we at with what we believe the Sabbath to be?  We follow the rest of the Christian church who celebrate and worship on Sundays because that is the Lord’s day, the day that Jesus rose from the dead in victory over sin, so for us our day of rest, our Sabbath, is Sunday.  There are of course probably millions of people in the world who say that Sunday is their day of rest, they are tired and need a sleep in, so they don’t make the day holy by attending some kind of worship.  That is missing the mark; it’s taking the second part of God’s command, that of taking a rest; and forgetting the first and perhaps most important aspect of keeping that day holy.

This can be hard even for pastors, I generally labour on the six days and get to the seventh, which for me is a Saturday and I rest, I sleep in, in the summer I might mow the lawn, in the winter I usually run some kids around to their sport just like most of you.  But where is the God time in all of that, we may be refreshed physically to a degree, but what about spiritually, where in your week is there time to stop, to allow God to refresh you, to give you rest, forgiveness, new life?  I headed out into the country for a couple of hours on Tuesday afternoon, I finally reached the end of my tether and needed to shift modes.  I went down to the river and sat on a rock and read the words of Psalm 23, “He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul”, and in those few brief moments God healed me.  As the afternoon progressed he gave me his heavens and his earth to speak to me, he gave me the smell of eucalypts and the smell of the diesel of a truck that passed by, the sounds of birds and other animals, the scurrying of a lizard in the grass near the river.  He gave me the fresh air in my lungs that I so needed to feel and didn’t even realise it.  Every now and then we need to come away with him to a quiet place so that he can give us rest.

But there is also another place to come to and be given rest, we do it on Sundays, our schools do it several times a week in various different ways, it’s called worship.

For many people throughout the Christian church, for those who believe and are baptised, regular worship, spending time with God on his holy day has become less regular than it used to be, there seems to be a sense, as I alluded to last week in my sermon, of putting us as number one and God at number two or lower.  What they fail to realise is that they are in fact putting themselves further down the list, Sabbath rest is for them!  It is where we are strengthened for serving others, for living our lives in the world, for being healed of our hurts and our fears, for being in communion with the body of Christ.  It might not happen in the way that we might like it to, or at the time we might like it to, but in worship today and every time, God is with us to heal us and to grace us with his gifts.

Not remembering the Sabbath day and keeping us holy is detrimental to our spiritual and physical health, we may no longer be stoned to death for gathering sticks on it, but it is there for our blessing and edification.  It’s up to us to keep it, and God does the rest as he gives us rest.