Monday, July 24, 2006

Gifts and Invitations

Exodus 20:8-10a (New International Version)

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

Sabbath: Did God really mean it when he included this commandment with the other nine, along with not coveting, committing murder, or idolatry? And what does it mean to keep it as God intended?

To some Sabbath is interpreted as a day of abstinence from certain activities, while others are considered acceptable - my maternal grandmother grew up in the south of Holland at the turn of the nineteenth century, and remembered knitting endless pairs of socks on Sundays, the only thing she was allowed to do (whenever we don't understand principles, we tend towards prescriptions) - to others it's a day of rest.

Luke 4:16 tells us what it was the habit for Jesus to do on the Sabbath, for it says that on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, "as was his custom." He took the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read from the verses that spoke prophetically of the one who was reading.

"Sabbath keeping" pops up several times in the gospels, with Jesus, who is the "Lord of the Sabbath," being accused of breaking it. Luke 14 starts out by saying that one Sabbath, Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee and that he was being carefully watched. Jesus always seemed to know what others where thinking and took the initiative to ask questions of the experts in the law that no one dared answer, about whether it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath (obviously it was because he did).

Later, during this same visit, Jesus told the parable of the Great Banquet. "Come for everything is now ready," the giver of the banquet declares, and sends out his servants to gather the invited guests. All make excuses:
"I have just bought a field, and must go to see it."
"I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out."
"I just got married, so I can't come."

I wonder if there is a connection between this parable and Jesus' earlier discussion about Sabbath. I wonder if this is the invitation and a gift we often miss. Certainly the excuses sound familiar. Who hasn't felt overwhelmed by the pressures of life and been tempted to allow them to overflow into the day we call the Sabbath?

Simply reflecting on this, I know that I want to honour God by keeping the Sabbath holy (set apart to him). I don't want to get caught up in legalism, but want to heed and accept his kind invitation. If he has prepared a feast, I want to be at it. I want to rest my body, refresh my soul and worship him. And I want to listen to whatever else he says to me about how to do this in a world gone wild with activity.

Prayer: Father, your gifts are good, your commandments are life. Always you call your people to be counter-culture. Give us the courage to step out of the pressure cooker of our lives and into the peace you offer us as a gift. Let us demonstrate honour for you before a watching world, out of joyful obedience.

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