Optional Reading from the Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 38
Purpose: To encourage listeners to draw “nearer still nearer” to God via “Sabbath Observance”
Sermon prepared by Rev, John Heidinga, Dunnville, Ontario
Keywords: Sunday Observance, rest, relationship with God, faith-building
Dear people of God,
Did you ever forget your wife’s birthday...or your wedding anniversary? You know that’s a big blunder in any marriage. You might get burnt toast and a taste of the silent treatment. Or your wife might say, “It’s okay, forget it happened, I’m a big girl”...but you know that in her heart she’s hurting just a bit. Don’t say to her, “Oh honey, I promised to go golfing with the guys.” Let me give you a hint; that’s not a good move. Of course, if you make a habit of forgetting her birthday, if you never take special time for her...all the flowers from all the stores in town won’t make it up to her.
Sunday is like that. It’s the birthday of the church. Each Sunday is the anniversary of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s not just a holiday--it’s a holy day. It’s the Lord’s Day. It’s special to him. It’s a day God has set aside for us just to be with him – to ask, “Lord, are you really first in my life? Lord, is there anything between you and me? When I’m lonely, busy, bored, stressed, feeling empty, are you the one I seek? Do I love you less today then I did a week ago – or a year ago?” When you skip church and it becomes a habit, don’t think God isn’t hurt.
Sunday is not just about religion. It’s about relationship, the quality of our relationship to God. Think about it: God gave ten commandments to his covenant people. They are so dear to his heart that he wrote them in stone with his own finger. He hand-delivered them centuries ago to Israel from a mountain top. With all the other crucial things he might have stressed, he made “Keeping the Sabbath Day” the fourth commandment. If you or I had made up the list we might have placed Sunday as the last priority in a 1001 things to remember. Yet God made it number four in the top ten things on his heart. For sure it’s important. Alongside of “You shall not steal, murder, or commit adultery,” how does keeping the Sunday come in ahead of those? This is not just an option. These are not just the 10 suggestions. God wants time with us. He wants to share his heart with us. He wants a committed relationship. And if you aren’t committed enough to be present on Sunday when the church meets for worship – when God himself is there in a special way--don’t think it doesn’t matter to God!
Sunday is at the heart of our relationship to God.
Three things stand out here about the Sabbath. Number one: Obedience. We need to keep from trampling with our work boots on the Sabbath. “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath...” says Isaiah 58: 13. Remember Moses and the angel of God in the burning bush. God told Moses to take off his shoes because it was holy ground. (Exodus 3) The same thing is true of the Sabbath. God created the heavens and earth in six days. The seventh day he rested. He made it special, a sacred time, for being together with God. It’s a time to stop our busyness and reflect on the truth – we do not live by “work boots” alone, but by the grace of God. That’s why the Sabbath is holy ground.
Yet the pressure to trample on the Sabbath is always there. Already way back in the days of the Old Testament prophet Amos, merchants would complain, “When will the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?” (Amos 8:5) It wasn’t long before Sabbath shopping was in. They kept trucking loads through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath. As a result those gates were destroyed by fire – the fall of Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 17) Seventy years later, when God finally brought Israel home again to the Promised Land, they still had not learned their lesson. They stood at the city gates all night long itching to get into the city on the Sabbath. (Nehemiah 13:15) Do you remember when the stores were still closed on Sunday? The pressure was always there to open on Sunday. Now they are. If we shop or go to a restaurant on Sunday, we’re no different than Old Testament Israel.
When will we ever learn? Many of us used to have a special room in the house that was set apart. It was the parlour or the living room. It was only for Sundays and special occasions. Maybe some of us still have a special room like that. Imagine if I would trample through that room with muddy boots. It would suggest that I don’t care. It would suggest trampling on the owner of the house. The Sabbath is the same. That’s why keeping the Sabbath was called a sign of the covenant. If you didn’t care enough to honour God on the Sabbath, you wouldn’t care about him the rest of the week either.
Some of us come pretty close to trampling on the Sabbath. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule. The Bible allows for works of necessity: letting your animals drink. Or works of mercy: healing or nursing. Or works of religion: what the pastor does, or volunteering at the Food Bank. In the early church many Christians were slaves in a time when the Romans did not recognise God’s day of rest and worship. So these slaves had to meet before dawn for church. Then they had to go to work! They had no choice. Do we still have a choice? If our job is coming between us and church, maybe we ought to look for another job! So it pays less. Are we going to trust in God, or in our work boots?
What it comes down to is a choice: doing our own thing or God’s thing. Isaiah 58 has a big “IF” in verse 13. Scripture says, “If… you keep from doing as you please on my holy day.” He assumes a choice—and we must choose right. The book of Deuteronomy (in chapter 12) makes the same point: “You are not to do as you please, every one as he sees fit...but you are to seek the place your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. There you are to bring your offerings, your families and rejoice before the Lord your God.” God repeats the same instructions four times in that one chapter. God doesn’t repeat himself for no reason. The point is: Church is important. Worship is important. It’s at the heart of what it means to be the people of God in a secular world.
Chuck Colson tells of a guy, Bill, who went off to college. His high school coach drove hundreds of miles to visit him. He asked Bill if he was going to church. Bill shrugged, “There is no church around.” As he leaned in to say goodbye the coach rolled up his car window catching Bill’s necktie in the door. He drove slowly to a nearby Baptist church, with Bill running beside the car. He made Bill promise to attend that church before he let him go. Bill kept his promise. Years later he wrote how he was literally driven to church. He said he owed it all to a man who drove clear across the country out of concern for his spiritual life! The Apostle urges us in Hebrews 10:25, “Do not neglect to meet together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – all the more as you see the Day approaching.” How far will we go if we sense someone is drifting from church?
People say that church once a Sunday is good enough. How would your wife like it if you said, “I’ll be here for breakfast, but don’t ever expect me to be there for supper with you too. Once is enough!” What does that say about your enjoyment of her company? Some of us come up with any excuse. If we have family or friends over, God gets pushed aside. But Hebrews says, “Do not neglect to meet together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
In Europe, before electricity, people took candles in the pew. If you didn’t come your pew was dark. The more dark pews, the more discouraging for others! But if everybody was there the church was filled with light! Your obedience brings glory to God.
Besides obedience, another thing that stands out about Sabbath is Reverence: Not that church should be seen as a duty or a drag. Listen, Isaiah 58 says, “If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable...” Is church a delight to you? What does it take? Contemporary music, joyful upbeat songs, dancing in the aisle like David danced before the Lord? If that’s a blessing to you—great! Of course those old traditional hymns can be like a cathedral of timeless praise too, you know. Reverent moments of just being quiet in the presence of God touch many people very deeply. But what do both worship experiences have in common? The presence of God! If you’re just “coming to church”, doing your religious bit, then you’re missing out. Worship is about meeting Jesus! As the song says, “I came to Jesus as I was, weary, and worn and sad. I found in him my resting place; he has made me glad!”
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are uptight, burdened and busy, and I will give you rest.” Turn your hands, your palms up in your lap. Think of all the things that weigh on your life: anxieties, pressures, stress, finances, sins, guilt, regrets, things sitting in your hands like heaps of heavy choking sand. Now close your hands and clench your fists, as though you were holding those things tightly. Hang on to them. Squeeze. Feel how tightly you hang on to them. Listen to Jesus invitation: “Cast all your burdens on me...and I will give you rest.” Open you hands; let all those concerns flow out through your fingers. Allow God to lift you up. Just be at peace in his presence.
Remember how God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and made him a living soul? Remember how on Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to his disciples, breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22) It reminds me of the Old Testament when Solomon dedicated the temple. II Chronicles 7:2 says, “…the glory of the Lord filled [the temple]… When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple they knelt with faces to the ground and worshipped.” Is that what you expect when you come to church? Do you expect God’s presence?
Abraham Kuyper, in his devotional book, wrote about worship about a century ago. He said, “To be near God is to be so close that your eye sees, your heart is aware of, your ears hear him, and every cause of separation has been removed.”Church stops being just religion, and becomes a relationship with God.“It is the most intimate fellowship conceivable in heaven and on earth—He your Father, your Shepherd, your bosom friend and your God! A meeting takes place—a moment of such blessedness as can never beexpressed in words... A mystical, most intimate and personal love in your heart....a blessedness that exceeds anything that can be imagined. Then it is so good, Oh! So good—above all things else—to be near to your God.”
And a third thing that stands out about worship: Rejoicing. Isaiah says in verse 14, “Then you will find your joy in the Lord and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Riding on the heights of the land is like a picture of victory—being on top of the world. The New Testament in Colossians 3: 1 talks about “setting our minds on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of power...because our life is now hidden with Christ in God.” We don’t have to be afraid of tornadoes. We don’t have to be afraid of cancer, or any other crisis that hits our family. Every Sunday is a summit meeting with the Commander-in-Chief of the Universe. “This is my Father’s world. Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King, let the heaven ring. God reigns; let earth be glad!”
Sunday worship is like feasting on Jacob’s inheritance. What is that inheritance? Life more abundantly! Think of the Lord’s Supper, tasting his forgiveness and goodness! Imagine: God is like a Father who checks your cupboard and fridge to find out if you have enough to live on. Is your supply of faith running on empty? Are your spirits getting low, your commitment down to the bare shelves? God says, “My daughter, I sense that your relationship with your husband is wearing thin. You need to let me renew your love. My son, I feel you’ve become sour about that struggle in your life. Let me re-supply your hope, refresh your joy.”
Every Sunday, God puts his arm around us, points us to the cross and the resurrection, turns our eyes to heaven and says, “Everything I have is yours. You stand to inherit everything. I love you so much! I have given you my very self.” What more could you want?
GOD CALLS US TO WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship
Silent Prayer Concluded with,“ Lord, Listen To Your Children Praying” PsH # 625
God’s Greeting: “May the grace of Christ our Lord, the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Hoy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
GOD CALLS US TO PRAISE
Opening Song of Praise, “Come, All You People, Praise Our God” PsH #242
GOD DRAWS US NEAR TO HIS ALTAR
Belgic Confession, Article 27
Song: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” PsH #486
GOD SPEAKS TO US THROUGH HIS WORD
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:13-14,
Confessional Reading: Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism
Sermon: “Sunday: Let Your Soul Catch Up With Your Body!”
Prayer of Application: Gracious Father, we thank you for this day of rest and worship. Forgive us for not seeing the importance—and the beauty of this day. We thank you that we may celebrate Christ’s resurrection! May we grow in our relationship with you. Bless us by your Spirit. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.”
Hymn: “It is Good to Sing Your Praises” PsH #171
Optional song, “O Day of Rest and Gladness” From the Blue Psalter Hymnal #321
GOD BLESSES US AS WE LEAVE TO SERVE
Prayer for God’s Blessing, “May the Lord bless and keep us. May the Lord make his face to shine upon us. May the Lord turn his face towards us and give us His peace. Amen.”
Closing Song: “Father, Long Before Creation” PsH #464