Confessions: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 103
Purpose: to encourage believers to live deeply as they honor a pattern of Sabbath in their lives.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Nathan Kuperus, Trenton, Ontario
Dear congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Most of us are familiar with the term mid-life crisis. Perhaps some of us have experienced such a mid-life crisis. Often the crisis comes with immense amounts of self doubt, wondering, questioning the path taken in life, feeling like who you are has been decided by others and not by yourself. Not everyone experiences a crisis as they say goodbye to youth and embrace the reality that they are aging, but some do.
An interesting pattern has started to immerge where young people today often go through something like a midlife crisis. It’s so pronounced that it is actually being called the quarter-life crisis.
John is 19 years old. While most of us might be thinking, Oh to be 19 again, John is thinking Oh to be 16 again. Most days he gets up and goes to school. He doesn’t really know why he is still going. Truth is, a college degree won’t even guarantee him getting a job at Walmart much less a position in his field of study and expertise. It drives him crazy knowing that he needs at least one or two years of experience before he will get a job. He’s caught in the vicious catch twenty-two of trying to find employment.
His friends have all moved away. The feeling of inadequacy and purposelessness can’t be ignored no matter how hard he has tried. He wants to have a more meaningful life. But instead he just finds ways to cope with the meaninglessness of his life. TV. Internet. Computer games. Fantasy sports. Anything to help him forget that he doesn’t really like the insecure life he seems to be stuck with. This is the reality of nineteen-year-old John’s quarter-life crisis.
Could we put our own name in there? Do we also live kind of on the surface of really living? Do we move from one type of entertainment or coping mechanism on to the next? The culture in North America today makes us surface dwellers. Surface relationships. Surface intelligence. Surface communication. Becoming jacks-of-all-trades, master of none, we don’t explore the depth of life that God intended to give us. We don’t find time to stop coping with purposelessness, so that we can engage deeply with the Lord of all direction. We don’t find peace enough today to live the deep life every day with the one who was, and is, and is to come.
Is it possible that God knew that we could fall into these sorts of surface patterns in our life? Is it possible that the God who loves us so much has a different plan than for us to get caught in the spiralling problems of self doubt and discontent? In fact, what we find in God’s word is that from the very beginning, God imbedded into the fabric of the universe a pattern that encourages us to escape the shallow and surface sort of life. The pattern of Sabbath, created by God and commanded in the fourth commandment shows us that God wants us to experience life to its fullest. To live deeply.
“Now, how so?” you might ask. “I thought the fourth commandment was about going to church on Sunday?”
Well not quite.
The fourth commandment says, “8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, ?10? but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. ?11? For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Remember the Sabbath day. Keep the Sabbath day. Honor the Sabbath day.
To get at the heart of this command we have to understand that the command is calling us primarily to have a rhythm of Sabbath rest in our life. The command to have a Sabbath day rest every seventh day is closely equated with the command that we hear in Leviticus 25. What does it say there? Let’s look together. It says the land must have a Sabbath year rest every seventh year. And then, the next section of Leviticus 25 says that after a seventh Sabbath year comes the GREAT Sabbath year. This is the Year of Jubilee. It is the economic and social Sabbath year where land and servants are freed and debts are cancelled.
Remembering the Sabbath day is a call to living deeply in the rhythm of Sabbath.
And Sunday is not the new Sabbath for believers. Christ did not institute a new day of Sabbath. Sunday has become the day of worship because believers commemorate the resurrection of Christ. Sunday is not the direct equivalent to the Sabbath. Sunday is the Lord’s Day, not the Sabbath. Sunday is not the Sabbath, but as a church together we have covenanted and agreed to Sabbath together on Sunday!
What we understand from Q and A 103 of the Heidelberg Catechism is that part of this rhythm of Sabbath and deep living is “gospel ministry and education for it” as well as “regular attending the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.”
Living with these practices as part of the regular rhythm of Sabbath in our lives may move us into deeper living and closer fellowship with Jesus Christ. It’s one way that we can avoid falling into the trap of the shallow life. It’s a great way to avoid falling into the electronic gadget filled life that can limit the depth of our relationship with friends, family, ourselves. It can even lead us to live shallower life of commitment to the God who created life. The rhythm of Sabbath can help stave off getting our life into a spiritual rut. Remembering the Sabbath day calls us to the deeper purpose.
Just look at that list of things that we do as we Sabbath together on the Lord’s Day. We look to God’s word for direction and purpose. We acknowledge our brokenness as we approach the Lord’s table and the baptismal font, experiencing God’s grace. We humbly come to God with requests, showing that he through Jesus Christ hears our cries and has the power to change our world. We discipline ourselves to live stewardly by giving away to the ministry of the kingdom through our offerings.
These activities that we practice with a Sabbath rhythm move us beyond our shallow existence toward the depth of living as God’s chosen people in the world. Perhaps there are ways we could further establish this depth in our lives. Wouldn’t it be incredible to celebrate a Sabbath year together at some point? Imagine what that would look like for us?
The very first thing we need to consider as we seek to remember the Sabbath day is that it’s a command that calls us to live deeply in the God-ordained rhythm of rest.
The second point the catechism helps us understand is that Sabbath rhythm helps us establish the rhythm of being free from the power of sin.
Question and Answer 103 continues by saying, “Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways and let the Lord work in me through his Holy Spirit.”
Part of this Sabbath life is the rhythm that is mentioned earlier in the catechism. It’s the rhythm of continually having the old self die away and the new self come to life. As we rest we rest from the shallow life. That includes the sin that so easily holds us back. The true Sabbath, then, is not a day that we honor but a life that we lead continually. We do not take a day off from sinning on Sunday like we might take a day off from work. And in the same way that we are called to be worshippers every day of the week, we are called to be holy every day of the week.
Many elementary school children have dreams of being a star in sports when they get older. Many dream of one day playing on the varsity basketball team or hockey team. You can drive down the road on a warm spring day and see all the kids coming out with the basketballs, no doubt imagining they are Lebron James or Kobe Bryan, draining the last shot as time runs out .
Some high schools will offer camps so these elementary students can hone their abilities a little bit better. One particular camp emphasizes learning the rhythm of the shot in basketball much more than the actual outcome of making the shot or not. At this camp, every day they had all the participants in the camp shoot 36 free throws. By the time the week was done they had shot 180 free throws. On top of that, the participants were also told to go home and while relaxing, or watching TV or whatever, they should lay on their backs with a basketball and just shoot the ball up into the air. Practice the rhythm of the shot. Every day practice the form. Work on the proper form. Make the basket.
Everyday must be a Sabbath of rest from sin. Practice it every single day. Practice the rhythm of not living by sin. But learn the proper form of a deep life. That is life that does the good works that the Holy Spirit moves in us to accomplish acts of kindness, charity, love. Using the gifts of the Spirit to build up Christ’s body and further his kingdom here on earth.
In the second part of the answer of Q&A 103 is what we can highlight as a third point to what we can understand about remembering the Sabbath day. And this can offer us a tremendous amount of encouragement as we might reach the moments of crisis. Mid-life. Quarter-life. During times of self doubt and feeling stuck in a rut. This is what we can understand and take hope in. As we fall into line with the biblical pattern of Sabbath in our lives today we begin to experience already here and now what eternal rest will be. By establishing the rhythm of Sabbath we welcome the fullness of eternity with Christ into our lives right now.
The catechism says, “we rest from our evil ways and let Christ work in us through the Holy Spirit . . .”—and listen to this—“and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath.”
Eternal life right now. Already in this existence. It’s true that at times our lives might feel like anything but a glimpse of paradise, but as we conform our lives to a rhythm of Sabbath will start to establish a rhythm and depth to our lives that goes far beyond the banal existence of life in the blue glare of our TV, computer or Blackberry. When we live out Sabbath rest and depth every day we experience true existence. We experience existence of life in the over-powering shine of the presence of God. In eternity we are told we will have no need of the sun lighting the planet. We will live in the presence of Christ the eternal light.
Right now is an amazing time in the history of the world. We live in the period of time that has seen Christ work miracles and bring flashes of that sort of perfect rest on this planet and left that healing work to his apostles. We live in the period of time that has heard Christ’s voice on the cross shout “It is finished” as he breathed his last as he accomplished the defeat of sin. And we heard Christ’s voice say put your hand in my side and your finger in my hands, stop doubting and believe, as he calls us to believe that he has come to life defeating death once and for all. We live in the period of time when the kingdom of God is here already and still not yet completely. We can experience the beginnings of Sabbath rest today. But the fullness of that Sabbath is yet to come.
In the meantime, what ought we to do? First of all, we can stop putting our focus on Sunday. Sunday is not the Sabbath with the warnings and stipulations like we hear from the Old Testament. Sunday is not the Sabbath. It is the Lord’s Day. Sunday is not the Sabbath, but we do Sabbath together on Sunday. We shouldn’t scorn a neighbour who does yard work on Sunday. We don’t put that person to death for not remembering the Sabbath day. We do encourage each other to spend a day listening to the preaching of God’s word, the public prayers, the offering, and the sacraments. We do encourage each other to establish times to fight against consumerism and the gods that often crowd out our celebration of God our father.
Yet we see that on Sundays we come close to the eternal Sabbath. As Andrew Kuyvenhoven says, “On that day, in our assemblies and in works of mercy and mutual exhortation, we share “in the Holy Spirit,” and we taste “the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age.” (Heb. 6:4-5) And we learn to rest ever better, says the catechism, to “rest from [our] evil ways “every day” of our lives.
People of God remember the Sabbath. Get rid of the shallow common life typified in midlife crises. Instead, live like your life is forever by the power of Christ through his Holy Spirit.
This is God’s will from His word. All God’s people together say, “Amen.”
Order of Worship
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 118:19-24
Opening Song: Psalter Hymnal #428 O Worship the King
God’s Greeting: “Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God the Father, Christ Jesus our Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
Song: Psalter Hymnal #535 Come to the Savior Now
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Exodus 31:12-18
Confessional Reading: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 103 (could be read responsively)
Sermon: “The Lord’s Day and Every Day”
Prayer of Application: “Father in heaven we praise you for the care you have shown to us. You have shown it through Jesus. And you have shown it as you patterned into this world the need for Sabbath rest. Help us, by the power of your Holy Spirit, to live the deep life—the Sabbath life—as we expect the eternal Sabbath that will come at the return of Christ Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.
Song: Singing the New Testament #56 Come to Me, O Weary Traveller (optional tune: PsH 329)
God’s Blessing: May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and remain with you all. Amen.
Song: Sing! A New Creation #39 Agnus Dei
Or Psalter Hymnal #630 By the Sea of Crystal