Back at the end of January 2020, a couple of months before the Covid-19 lockdown began here in the UK, I preached a sermon entitled "Sabbath and Time." At the time we were just at the beginning of a series on Sabbath, based in part on Stephen Swodoba's book "Subversive Sabbath". Sadly, I did not prepare a full manuscript, nor do I have an audio recording, but I have included my bullet-point notes below, along with some commentary for clarification.

However, there is a single point that I have been reflecting on during these lockdown days - that the keeping of the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments and, as such, the breaking of the sabbath should be regarded as sin. Now, this might not sound like rocket science, but as I have thought about our attitude towards Sabbath, I've begun to wonder whether or not we actually believe this. In particular, I think of the way that those in full-time ministry, and the churches they serve, treat this. I would go as far to suggest that, of the 10 commandments, this is the only one that is not treated as sin, but rather, at best, a begrudged necessity, and at worst a badge of honour.

How often, particularly during lockdown, have we heard ministers sigh, and comment that this was another 7-day working week? And, on the other side, how many churches place 7-day expectations on their minister's time? But we wouldn't expect, for instance, our minister to commit petty larceny on our behalf. And we would be horrified if our minister sighed and mentioned that this was another week where they had committed adultery. Why do we accept this behaviour when it comes to Sabbath? Because we don't think of it as sin.

Churches - don't expect your ministers to sin in the course of their duties. Ministers - don't allow yourself to be put in a position where you feel you have to sin. Both - hold each other accountable to this.

Some notes:

  1. I am aware that there are differences between the commandments in other ways, whether it's in thinking of them as 2 "tables" or that some are more externalised than others. My argument is somewhat polemic and exaggerrated, but I stand by the premise.
  2. How we work out Sabbath in our culture is a very nuanced issue, particularly for those on strange shift patterns. But treating it as an optional extra - a mark of discipleship more than a moral - seems to be contrary to the way Scripture speaks of it.
  3. Sabbath is about more than rest, but it shouldn't be about less.
  4. The role of the minister is made more difficult by the fact that Sunday is not a Sabbath - it is a day of work, not of rest. But there are 6 other days in the week that can be used.

Sermon notes (and commentary)

  • Intro to Sabbath
  • 10 commandments
    • Each one as failure of the first (Martin Luther)
    • “the fundamental problem in law-breaking is always idolatry. In other words, we never break the other commandments without first breaking the law against idolatry.” (Keller on Luther)
    • Idolatry (This is something I have preached on previously, and I find it a good starting point to thinking about sin in our lives)
  • What is idolatry?
    • Ancient idols
      • Statues
      • Created things
    • Modern idols
      • Celebrities
      • Money and Material things
      • Self?
    • Good things that become gods (I took this from either Keller or Chandler, but it's such a key point)
      • Exercise
      • Family
      • Work
  • Source idols
    • Comfort, Power, Approval, Control (You can find more on this in Tim Keller's "Counterfeit Idols" and in some of Matt Chandler's sermons. I have preached on it in the past in more depth)
    • Comfort
      • Life only has meaning or I only have worth if I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.
    • Approval
      • Life only has meaning or I only have worth if I am loved and respected by (a person)
    • Control
      • Life only has meaning or I only have worth if I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of X.
    • Power
      • Life only has meaning or I only have worth if I have power and influence over others.
  • How do we find the idols in our lives?
    • Money
    • Time
    • Where our thoughts go
    • What things would cause us to lose hope if we lost them
  • Why don’t we Sabbath?
    • Because we are idolatrous
  • Offer hope! (Yes, it actually says this in my original notes)
    • The first step to Sabbath is not better discipline, but repentance (This is so important; so key to the gospel message)
    • Jesus did not merely come to show us an example of how to live a holy life, but to die for our sin because He knew we couldn’t
    • The Holy Spirit does not merely exist as our conscience to point out where we’ve gone wrong, but as our helper that gives us the strength to do what is right

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