Sabbath: Genesis 1
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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Thank you, Gill, for leading us in our time this morning so far. Summertime, that’s a traditional occasion for maybe a fortnight away from work to go to the beach, fly abroad somewhere hot, visit friends, to relax and get off the world for a little while. Doesn’t that sound like a long far-flung dream?
Over the last couple of months or more, it seems that the news has become obsessed with whether or not we can take foreign holidays. Which countries are safe to go to, which places can I come back from without having to isolate? How much it will cost for me to go into 10 days isolation in a red-list hotel? It saddens me that there seems to be a fair bit of self-centredness about this. Surely staying–this is my own viewpoint of course–surely staying in your own country for a holiday will benefit the holiday industry a lot more after the time that we’ve had.
Thinking a bit more, why would I want to take a very transmissible condition like COVID to another country just so that I can have a few days in the sun? After all, none of this would be an option had we not had a vaccine that keeps so many of us safe. I know that a lot of people keep ribbing me for taking time off, but as, Gareth, my line manager, keeps reminding me, annual leave is there to be taken and to be enjoyed. I know that over the last year or so, I’ve been absolutely awful at taking my holidays. I’m very grateful for the leaders who keep reminding me to take time off because it’s really, really important.
It is that after next week’s service, I shall be off to Wales with a few friends, via Gillingham for a day. Then I shall be back for a week and then I’ll be volunteering at a Christian youth camp for six days after the service on the 22nd of August, returning in time for the following Sunday on the 29th. Summertime, that time to relax, that time for a holiday. The Jews have a word for it, it’s called Sabbath.
Sabbath is used of God when He rests from making the whole of creation. It’s required of God in the 10 commandments where you read earlier from Genesis chapter one, right at the end to Genesis chapter two, I’ll just remind us of how Gill read it. God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day, thus, the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day, God had finished the work He’d been doing. On the seventh day, He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day, made it holy because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.
Sabbath is needed by and for the whole world in order that creation in its entirety functions at its very best. In this weird in-between time when schools are off and we don’t necessarily know what’s going to occur with COVID numbers.
Maybe August is a good time for us to reflect upon the importance of Sabbath. The plan for our Sunday meetings during August is to have a look at some of the stuff that springs from Sabbath, for me to perhaps bring up a short thought and then either in groups here at the church or via zoom, perhaps in a breakout room, there’s only a few in zoom today, a chance to talk about themes that might have come up in this introduction. I didn’t actually tell the techie group about that today. We may see how that goes.
Anyway, we’ll see that in a moment. A chance to talk about those sorts of things that I bring up in this preamble, in essence, for you to discuss, for us to discuss with one another to get to know one another again after a long time apart. To think about Sabbath.
In the creation poem in Genesis, we have this rather interesting account of God resting from the work of creating. If creating the universe was a human activity, you can imagine how physically tiring it would be for all of us, all that designing, that planning, that thinking of everything that needed to be in place before putting it into action, ensuring things occurred in the correct ways in the right places. Goodness me, it would take ages. Wouldn’t it?
Because the Lord is God and He’s outside space and time, I guess it would be a mere flick of the switch or a bat of an eyelid to involve the whole of creation coming into being, or perhaps if you want to see it from a more scientific viewpoint, creating whatever was in the big bang 13.8 billion years ago, so that everything that was ever needed emerged from a singularity, whatever that is, a point of indefinite density and gravity. How amazing?
How amazing that everything that was ever created was somehow created in this spot for scientists. If it was me doing all of that, I think I would need a very long holiday. Yet from what we experience of God in the Old and the New Testaments, this is a God who never sleeps nor slumbers, as Psalm, I think it’s 103 reminds us. The God who never stops working as Jesus tells us in John chapter five, the God who is always alert, the God who continues to make mercies new every morning.
Curiously in Genesis chapter two here, we read that God rested. We often think that God rests because it gives us a great model to take time off to have that holiday. In the context of Genesis one and two, not a lot of history has really occurred yet. How’s that? Certainly, God hasn’t instituted the 10 commandments where the command to take a day off in every seven is made. We’re simply told that God enjoyed the rest because all was done so far as creation was concerned. There was nothing more to be done and so working had ceased. All was complete, and God was celebrating His Sabbath.
Now, recently Alan and Margaret were doing a tidy up of some old books and they gave me some theological tomes to look through, to decide what to do with. Amongst them was a commentary of Genesis and Exodus presented to Ms. H. Western, I think, for regular attendance of the gospel hall Warrington women’s Bible class 1961. I was intrigued to read this about the first Sabbath. This is the only Sabbath which God ever celebrated so far as the inspired record, I guess the Bible, instructs us.
After this, we read of God’s commanding man to keep the Sabbath and man utterly failing to do so, but we never again read the words, God rested. The Sabbath, it continues, could only be celebrated when there was really nothing to be done. It could only be celebrated amidst an undefiled creation, a creation on which no spot of sin could be discerned. God can have no rest where there’s sin. One only has to look in order to learn the total impossibility of God’s enjoying a rest in creation now.
Now, I’d never really considered until then that God hadn’t Sabbath-ed since that day. The world continued and continues to unfold. The beautiful garden of Eden soon became a place that had to be protected from humans as they turned away from God. God’s work became harder as we read through the Hebrew scriptures how time and again, God kept on calling His people back and time and time again, God’s people rejected the love that was being offered.
Genesis 1 simply speaks of God stopping the first time, and perhaps the only time ever. It made the seventh day special, a day worth marking. John Goldingay remarks that’s it’s an unusual thing that God does, blessing a particular day because he says, one doesn’t normally bless inanimate objects although I have observed a Bishop blessing a coffee counter before but that’s another story.
When a human blesses God as in Psalm 103 or Psalm 104 or the song, Bless the Lord oh my soul, bless His holy name. The word normally means to praise. The idea is that God praises day seven because it marks the completion of the work of creation. There is no reference in the Genesis account of creation about humanity following God’s example of stopping work. The seventh day is holy. It’s a holy day which is where we get the word holiday from. All that said, God didn’t take a day off because He was weary. It seems that it became a pattern for humans to follow.
A few weeks ago, I talked about my passion and perhaps the vision of our church to make the community liveable again. We can only make communities liveable again if we’re involved but we also need to take steps to rest and to listen and to understand where God wants us and where He leads us. The gospel tells us that Jesus often went away to quiet places to pray. He had a habit of working and withdrawing of working and withdrawing. He had a habit of doing this. Jesus knew what it was to be human and yet to follow God’s pattern.
The key to a decent Sabbath is this, that we become more human if we follow God’s pattern. We become more human when we follow God’s pattern.
I’ve got a couple of books at home that talk about being human. You’ll know, Steve Chalke, who I talk about fairly regularly perhaps to the point of boredom, I don’t know. He’s written a book called Being Human and it’s really his life story about where God wanted him.
He was a 14 year old coming to a youth club and then he decided that actually, yes, he wanted to make a difference in the world. He wanted to make a place where young people could be safe. He wanted to open a hospital. He wanted to open a school. Over years, this happened. We become more human if we follow God’s pattern. What a challenge that is to us all if as we are created in the image of God, we’re called to reflect God, it makes sense to follow His pattern. I’m reminded of a Bible verse that I had to learn in order to gain my Boys’ Brigade lapel badge when I was 11.
It was Luke 2:52. Does anybody know Luke 2:52? Just by hand? No. “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and humanity.” Luke 2:52. I got my little boys brigade lapel for that. Jesus had a pattern to live by. He was human. He grew physically and emotionally. He grew spiritually and in all ways with people socially. Jesus had a pattern to live by. Now, those of you who stick or knit will know how important it is to follow a pattern in order to get that jumper to look like a jumper or that thing to look like a thing. We become more human when we follow God’s pattern.
We may give thanks that God rested because He chose to. As we explore the idea of Sabbath during our August services, may we appreciate its importance in our own spiritual lives and become spiritually healthier as a result. As we contemplate holidays, may we remember we only have holidays because of Holy days and that the best way to be human is to follow God’s pattern.
I was going to break us out into smaller groups but I think that’s probably enough for us for this morning. Perhaps next week there’ll be more opportunities for us to turn in small groups and for us to discuss some of the things that I’ll be presenting in terms of our Summer series on the Sabbath. God bless us as we think and as we reflect upon those words today.
References and sources
Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.
Goldingay, John. Genesis for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1–16. Old Testament for Everyone. Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2010.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.