Monday, August 18, 2008

Keeping the Sabbath

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Bror Erickson

[56:1] Thus says the Lord:"Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed. Isaiah 56:1 (ESV)
[6] "And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—

Keeping the Sabbath and not profaning it, this is what we foreigners, non Israelites, do. This is how we minister to the Lord, and show our love for His name, this is how we are servants to the Lord. We keep his Sabbath, and do not profane it. It is no small thing to do this.
But why do we do this? Because it is here in this tiny house of prayer that God ministers to us. Here he serves us with his grace, His forgiveness. He strengthens our faith, and sustains our faith. Here He feeds us with His word.
Keeping the Sabbath is perhaps the most important aspect of being a Christian. Because this is where God comes to us with His grace, on Sunday morning, here in this sanctuary. And it is here that He offers it to all in this community.
Often times I think we are tempted to see this as one of the lesser commandments. One that isn’t all that important. We look at the other table of the commandments, honoring our parents, not murdering, not committing adultery etc. and we see this one as more or less optional. But it isn’t, it is a command of the Lord like all others, but it is there so that we would be attached to His life line, to His means of Grace. It is there so that His word would be kept alive among us, and that faith would be imparted to us through the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins.
Profaning it, is a matter of treating it like any other day. Not taking his word seriously, sleeping in on Sunday morning, and forsaking the gathering of the Saints. We do not profane it by letting our Children go play with others, or even by going to work on that day. Though if you are purposely asking to work on that day so that you don’t have to go to church that might qualify. Of course one could even profane the Sabbath by going to a Church, where the word of God is not heard, or where false doctrine is knowingly taught. For there God’s name itself is not loved but profaned, and abused.
But on the surface keeping the Sabbath is really a simple thing. It means going to church, going to hear the word of God, going where the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the sacraments are being administered according to Christ’s institution, so that our sins will be forgiven, and yet again our faith is strengthened, and God makes us joyful in his house of prayer. But there is a lot that goes into that. It takes time, money and talent to keep a little house of prayer functioning. It takes offering and sacrifice.

[7] these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples."
It is an amazing thing, that God uses our offerings and our sacrifices acceptable on His altar, to make this a house of prayer for all peoples, including ourselves.
It is a misconception of sacrifice, that it means giving something up. In the Old Testament days of sacrifice were days of feasting. The feasts were in effect dedicated to God, by placing a relatively small portion of the animal on the altar. The rest was eaten. Nowhere is this seen more than in the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, which had to be eaten. The people were not giving anything up. Rather, they were sharing their meal with God, making the meal a sacred meal, that communicated things like the favor of God, grace, and the forgiveness of sins to the people. Through these meals God made the people holy. For only the Holy eat with God, and enter His presence.
Today our sacrifices have very little if anything to do with animals. We have one holy meal, a feast of forgiveness which God imparts to us, through His Son’s Sacrifice. Yet we still do sacrifice, and I would maintain we give nothing up in doing so. We sacrifice from our pay checks, and we sacrifice from our time. I want to give special attention to this aspect of the Christian life today.
I think most of us here today, have come to realize that it takes time and money to run a church. Yet, I think we often forget it. I want to encourage you today though to think about this. We give money to the church, it is not wasted. This is the most central, and needful thing in our lives. Where would we go if we did not have this church here on Sunday morning? How would we keep the Sabbath? Where would we go to have our sins forgiven, and our faith strengthened? When we were done talking to our neighbors about Christ, and sharing our faith with them, where would we take them to have that faith strengthened, and sustained? How about our Children, our Grandchildren? This is why believers gather together to from a congregation, build a Church, and call a pastor. So they have somewhere to go, to hear, to be fed, and someone to go to. Christian faith really can’t be sustained without it. But mortgages, and loans for parking lots, as well as pastor’s need to be paid. So we sacrifice. We give of our paychecks, and God uses that money to insure that we always have a place to come, and hear his word, and be forgiven of our sins, and provide a place for our Children and grandchildren, and the whole community to hear his word, and come to faith with us. It is a glorious thing.
But it doesn’t stop there. No, time, and talent, are needed. I am finding that this may be more needed even than the money we receive in our offerings. Our bills get paid, and for as tiny a congregation as we have we do quite well financially. I know we could do better, but I am often amazed at how well we actually do. I think though we suffer, when it comes to sacrifices of time, and talent. I don’t often know what to do about it. I keep praying for the spiritual gift of administration. It is not my forte. I am much better at preaching the word, teaching and visiting, than I am at administration. So often I feel we are flying by the seat of our pants here, that I become discouraged, as do others here. Our council meetings fall flat, often cancelled due to lack of attendance. Sundays go by, where few if any of our officers are here. There aren’t any ushers, no one to greet visitors. Paper work that needs to be signed sits in mail boxes, because those needed to sign it aren’t here. And I know many work, have obligations to family, and sometimes need a vacation. I myself am taking a vacation in a couple weeks. But it can be frustrating. This is one area where our congregation has a hard time. Organization, and volunteering. Take for example the picture directory. It has gotten nowhere, and is overdue. I’m looking for someone to take over that project. Anyone. Please talk to me after church. Within the next month we have officer elections. I would like to see some new blood. Someone to help with trustee work, someone to help with the treasurer. We need commitment there. It all goes to insuring that we have a house of prayer, where God can make us joyful, where he can feed us with his word and forgive us our sins. A place where the Lord God who has gathered us outcasts of Israel, can gather yet others to him, besides those of us already gathered. Gathered like us to his Son our Lord, who has forgiven our sins with his death and resurrection. That our offerings and sacrifices would be acceptable on his altar, and we would find joy in his house of prayer, joy in that forgiveness, joy in knowing that though we are sinners, and though our works add nothing to the salvation he has revealed to us through His Son on the cross. He finds joy in our work, in our offerings, in our sacrifices, even as we find joy and peace in Him.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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