“Sabbath for the Rest” – Mark 3:1-6

This was a short sermon (5 minutes) that I wrote for the ACTS D.Min. program in Chicago.  It utilized “incarnational translation” as part of the methodology for the sermon.  


The Pharisees sat in the pews keeping a suspicious eye on Jesus, waiting to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.  Work was strictly prohibited on Sabbath.  The Jewish religious leaders had created numerous laws designed to restrict working on Sabbath.  Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.  Don’t take too many steps on this day.  You can’t prepare meals on this day.  You aren’t allowed to do any manual labor.  It was a long, extensive, exhaustive, comprehensive, encyclopedic list of prohibitions they were required to follow.  The Pharisees prowled around the sanctuary just waiting for Jesus to step one toe out of line and break the Sabbath.

Jesus tells the man with the withered hand to stand where everyone in worship can see him.  As the congregation has gathered in their holy huddle, Jesus asks them an unsettling question: “What’s the whole purpose behind Sabbath?  Is it for doing good or evil, for sustaining life or promoting death?”  The Pharisees believe the Sabbath is about not working.  But Jesus says the Sabbath is about re-defining our work – not simply stopping it.  It’s not only about avoiding evil, but actively doing that which is good – preserving, sustaining, and blessing life for all.

You may have heard the old saying, “We don’t drink, smoke or chew, and we don’t go with girls that do.”  There have been times, we, as Nazarenes, were known for what we didn’t do.  We didn’t play cards.  We didn’t go to movies.  We weren’t allowed to dance.  We didn’t drink alcohol.  I’m not even sure we were allowed to smile.  Somewhere along the way, we rooted our identity in what we were against, but we weren’t sure what we were for.  We can list what we shouldn’t be doing, but we struggle to name what we should be doing.

While we may have avoided doing some harmful things, while we may have insulated ourselves from “a dangerous world out there,” we have also divorced ourselves from God’s Sabbath call.  Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand and upon doing so the man’s hand is healed.  Jesus demonstrates in this healing that the “work” of Sabbath is the work of justice.  It is the work of restoration.  It is the work of renewal.  It is the work of reconciliation.  Sabbath is not only rest – Sabbath is restitution.

We stand at a crossroads in the life of our state and community.  It is a crossroad which recognizes that worship which fails to engage the real issues of this world isn’t really worship.  Our state has experienced a massive shortage in money for budgets.  It was a gross mishandling of money entrusted to them by its citizens.  The result was significant cuts to education, mental health care, and loss of tax breaks for our poorest neighbors.  Simultaneously, huge tax breaks were given to large oil companies.  The disturbing misuse of power and privilege which tramples over the most vulnerable people in our state and in our community is unacceptable and we cannot remain silent.  We cannot remain on the sidelines.

Jesus stands in our midst today, asking us: “Why have we gathered here in worship?  Is it just to avoid being tainted by the world outside?  Is it to build a huge wall of security around ourselves so that we might not concern ourselves with the world’s brokenness?  Or, is it so that we might be empowered to do that which is good, that which is right, that which preserves life?”  Perhaps we have been gathered here in worship to be reminded that God wants to heal our withered hands so that we might be sent back out into the world to work for the good of others.

Sabbath and Carpentry

For the past month I have been working with a friend doing various carpentry jobs around the OKC metro area.  I have done such work before on a limited basis.  So, most of this has been learning new skills and getting to know my friend better.  This has been a wonderful new experience.  On the days that I have worked, I have generally woken up very early and worked long hours (up to 15) those days.  It can be strenuous work physically and it can definitely test your patience when things are not cooperating as you might hope.

However, with that said, working this job and getting to know my friend better has been a wonderful Sabbath.  My primary occupation is a youth pastor and a Master’s student.  This is who I am.  It can become very difficult to live out each of these “jobs.”  Learning a new skill and spending time with a friend that I can discuss difficult issues has allowed me to pause, reflect, and learn.  It has broken my regular rhythms and has become a means of grace.

Odd that I should say something like that about carpentry and working long, hard hours.  As I reflect upon why this is Sabbath-like, I can only come to one conclusion.  Working carpentry with my friend allows me to rest from my typical concerns.  It is therapeutic.  I can rest my mind and find enjoyment in what my hands have made.  It’s not about how much money I can make, but it really has become a way to deepen a relationship that I value and learn new skills that I find interesting.

It is a life-giving endeavor.  It is a way for me to pray and play, yet oddly gives me rest in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life.  Who would have thought that Sabbath can be found in building closets, putting in doors, or trimming out houses.  It’s not primarily about the activities we perform, but rendering our lives open to a fresh touch from God in the midst of the places we find ourselves.

Sabbath and Sickness

I have been sick the past week.  It has been rather inconvenient and miserable.  The misery was compounded by the fact that I became ill during Holy Week.  Of all weeks to be sick during the year, this is by far the most inconvenient.  I had parts in the Seder meal, was designing and setting up the service for Good Friday, needed to participate in our church’s Holy Saturday work-day, and I looked forward to Easter service!  There was so much to do and so little time to do it.

To complicate matters, schoolwork and helping to plan our wedding consumed my energies.  I was staying up late writing papers, getting up early to complete tasks, going to class, attending meetings, and reading books.  To say the least, rest was the last thing I could afford at the moment.  It was an inconvenient thing I pushed to the side so that I could accomplish all that needed to be accomplished.

But, the body has a funny way of reacting to all work and no rest.  There comes a point where it eventually forces you to rest.  Exhaustion takes its toll.  The immune system runs like a beat up Ford Pinto.  Finally, Sabbath is forced upon you.  Many of the tasks that I had planned to accomplish or the things I planned to attend were put on hold.  They did not get accomplished.  Work became secondary.

My body, which God designed, had re-oriented my world.  At first, I was not at all pleased with this situation.  I worried about all of the “dropped” responsibilities I had neglected.  I resented my body’s lack of stamina.  Eventually, however, I came to appreciate the “Sabbath” I had been forced to observe.  The world continued without me, the church did not fail, my work eventually was completed.

My lack of productivity was directly linked to my lack of rest.  But, more than that, the lack of rest atrophied my ability to enjoy life at the moment.  Sickness usually does not come at convenient moments, neither does Sabbath.  There’s always something pulling for our attention.  There’s always something needing to be accomplished.  But, finding the value of rest can make all of the difference in how we truly live, not just exist.