Community: Is Sabbath Kingdom Practice?

In the Table of Inwardness, Calvin Miller stresses the intimacy with God cannot be rushed, that we cannot enjoy the presence of God if we are always looking at our watches. That is why keeping the Sabbath is so important—because on that day we never wear our watches at all…Many of you are probably saying by now, “But that’s impossible! I can’t get through an entire day without wearing my watch. I have too much to do.”… I can promise you that if you develop a lifestyle in which you spend one day as a Sabbath day without wearing a watch, you will be more able to accomplish all that you have to do on the days that you wear one. To keep the Sabbath is not a legalistic duty. Rather, living in accordance with our own natural rhythm gives freedom, the delight of one whole day in every seven set apart as holy. Come with me into the experience of observing the Sabbath, and you will discover for yourself—or rather, in yourself—the meaning of holy time.

~Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Eerdmans, 1999. pp. xii-xiii)

I am told that a day consecrated to God gives form and functionality to the other six days. I hope so. In any case, I have something to learn about resting in the Lord. Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). If that is the case, then we are right in not observing the Sabbath out of legal requirement. But I think I detect Jesus saying that it is a gift. What if observing the Sabbath—giving us a reason to rest—is a gift? I don’t think any of us would argue that we aren’t busy enough—just the opposite. So, if Jesus says that God made the Sabbath for us, maybe it would be beneficial to observe it and remember God’s blessing. Does that make any sense? Perhaps we short-change ourselves by denying a gift that God intended for our pleasure and completion.

Maybe, we evangelicals have dispensed with the Sabbath unnecessarily, even unwisely. We presume Sabbath to be one of those laws that were swept aside by God’s grace—a vestige; an anachronism; cumbersome old baggage interesting as an antique but of little practical value. Moreover, we made it into a principle. What was vivid practice became for us an ambiguous theory about faith and about confidence in our relationship with God. It is almost as though we’ve assumed that to be saved by grace is to thoroughly dispense with anything that was once practiced as law; that rejecting the observance of Sabbath is evidence of living under grace. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that you are struggling with the concept of observing the Sabbath even as you read this. The very thought smacks of legalism and smells of fanaticism.

On the other hand, most of us Christ-followers have no problem with being baptized. Whether we are content with sprinkling, or feel drawn to emersion, we are fairly comfortable with “taking the plunge” as a declaration of our faith in Christ. But after that, then what? Be good. Do good. Don’t lie. Be faithful to your wife. Pray. Read the Bible. Go to church. Wait for the second coming. But if we can be baptized and not be legalists; if we can share the Eucharist—the Lord’s table—and not be legalists; if we can pray the Lord’s Prayer and not be legalists, can we not observe the Sabbath?

Jesus said, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. That, I presume, includes the Sabbath. To fulfill the law is to move beyond mere obedience and into life empowered by the Spirit of God. So, is there anything wrong in observing the Sabbath? I think not, as long as we do so with the understanding that we are not earning our relationship with the Father, but practicing a relationship with him. There is a world of difference—maybe a whole Kingdom.

Those are two ideas I’ve been chewing on: the ideas of Kingdom and practice.

Eventually, we will experience a timeless existence. The temporal/spatial world that we know will merge with the infinite/eternal dimension—a new heaven and a new earth. I try to imagine appointment calendars and time limits in that kind of world. The length of an appointment will no longer limit relationship and the quality of our activity will be of more value than the speed in which we accomplish things. Frankly, that sounds wonderful, but I haven’t a clue about how it might work. And maybe that’s precisely why the Father invites us to a Sabbath rest. Relationship, rest, quality and peace are, as I understand it, attributes of the Sabbath rightly observed. Perhaps in the age of grace, as the Sabbath Commandment is fulfilled in Christ, we are being invited to practice the attributes of the Kingdom in anticipation of “Thy Kingdom come.”

I’ve got more thoughts on this, but why overload a single entry with too much to chew on? I’ll return to this subject very soon, perhaps even tomorrow.

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