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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Serving–The Incompatibility of Old Ways with the New: a Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and Mark

Samuel thought Eli was calling his name, but it was really God. So, the third time, when Samuel went to Eli and said, “Here I am for you called me,” Eli told him to go back and lie down so that when he heard his name called, he could simply stay in place and say to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And the Lord spoke to Samuel. He focused on knowing God and benefitting from that relationship.

In 1809, Hugh Wylie was removed from membership in his local Presbyterian Church in western Pennsylvania. What was his offence? Wylie opened the post office on Sunday and thus violated the fourth commandment.[1]“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lordyour God…”[2]

For the most part, keeping the sabbath has become a non-issue for Christians. Some have never considered the Lord’s Day as a different day; a day specially designed by God to shape our lives. It’s an old way. As followers of Jesus, we regularly violate the fourth commandment. I am not a legalist, yet, as your pastor I can say that disobedience is not good. Maybe if we considered the new way of experiencing sabbath, we’d relish obedience.

Like the Pharisees, we struggle in our religious identity and practice. Judaism is not just a set of beliefs about God, human, and the universe. It is a comprehensive way of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of life: what to do when you wake up in the morning; what you can and cannot eat; what you can and cannot wear; how to groom yourself; how to conduct business; who you can marry; how to observe the high holy days and sabbath; and perhaps most important, how to behave towards God, other people, and animals. The Pharisees were strict.

The Pharisees had witnessed Jesus’ disciples working and Jesus healing on the sabbath. Jesus does not deny that his disciples broke the sabbath by picking grain or he by healing. But, Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”.[3]That is to say that the sabbath was instituted to benefit, not burden us. The Pharisees had shackled themselves and others with a strict system of sabbath observance that completely blurred the original intentions of the day. The sabbath is concerned with humanity’s welfare. Our allegiance then, is not to a legalistic observance of a particular day; rather, our allegiance is to Jesus, “the lord of the sabbath.”

The goal of sabbath observance is to bring us into closer fellowship with God. Jesus was showing with his service to the man with the withered hand, how to do evangelism. Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World writes,

…we live in a culture so saturated with self, in which humans have placed themselves in the center so long, that our natural tendency, even as Christians, is to focus on the human aspects of evangelism and not the divine. Yet it is God who takes the initiative to pursue seekers; it his Spirit that converts; it is his good news that saves. Evangelism is God’s business from start to finish. We get to listen to God and participate in the relationships that God sends our way.[4]

How do you hear God speak and discern the various aspects of God’s call on your life? What should be your response when you hear God say go, love, serve, all the while sharing the good news of Jesus in word and deed?

The way we live in 2018 is certainly different than1809, and that of Samuel’s day. The changes in our culture make sabbath observance more necessary, not less. What do we learn about the importance of sabbath from Jesus? The purpose of sabbath is to love and worship God. Sabbath is not just about a day; it is about balance in your life. Making space for and with God makes sense. Sabbath is for our benefit.

Embrace the new way of understanding and practicing sabbath. Sabbath was not intended to be a rigorous legalistic view of a day of rest, but one where the human spirit can be renewed by enjoying and resting in the goodness of God. As Christians, we are new creations. Sabbath is to reconnect us with that truth. Present the whole of your life before God in gratitude and take great delight. The gift of sabbath, “The Lord’s Day,” is to allow the contemplative side of our humanity to flourish. Because of sabbath, we can say that there is life available. That is, life is far greater than we imagined when we tap into the great abundance of our Creator.[5]My friends, the old way of understanding sabbath is incompatible with the new.

[1]Robert J. Allison, “The Communications Revolution” in Reviews in American History– Volume 24, Number 4, December 1996, 596-600.

[2]Exodus 20:8-10

[3]Mark 2:27

[4]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 11.

[5]Some ideas in this paragraph are gleaned from Don E. Saliers and Nibs Stroupe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 92-97

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