A Day Like No Other
October 4, 2015
When I was growing up, both sets of my grandparents lived within five miles of us. This means of course that saw them on a regular basis and that they were very much a part of our weekly lives. This was particularly true with my father’s parents. Any time that my mom and dad went out of town on a weekend, I generally stayed with my Papaw and Mamaw Letson as they were called.
Now, one thing that was unique about them was that they did not go to church. Both of them would end up making professions of faith at the very end of their lives. But, at the time I was a child, faith and regular church going simply were not a part of their existence like it was in our home. So, when I spent the weekend with them, it was a vastly different experience than preparing for a Sunday in our house. I must confess to you, as your pastor, that this is one reason I loved spending the weekend with my grandparents.
On Saturday nights, my grandmother and I would stay up late watching television. And, then, on Sunday morning, I would participate in their weekly Sabbath activity. Every Sunday, throughout my childhood, they went to a place called Lacon, which was a real, bonified, flea market. It was like a prehistoric version of eBay – they had everything at Lacon. In fact, Lacon still exists today with their slogan which I offer with apologies to our English teachers, “if it ain’t been here, it doesn’t exist!”. Lacon had it all! They had live animals, produce, farm implements, books, household goods, toys, clothes, furniture and hundreds of other things in several old buildings and spilling out into small booths outside. It was a grand experience, to ride through the Alabama countryside in my granddad’s baby blue ford pickup sandwiched between my grandparents to spend the better part of the day, lazily going up and down the aisles looking for bargains. Eventually, we would make it back to their house for a nap, a snack and a little more tv. It was paradise. And, yet, even at that early age, I was acutely aware that as wonderful as that sort of day was, something was obviously missing.
The flip side of the coin was Sundays in our home. At our house, Sundays were decidedly church days. This meant that it was a packed day of frenzied, religious activity with Sunday school and Worship in the morning, youth, Training Union or discipleship classes and worship again at night. And, of course, this included committee meetings, after church fellowships and covered dish luncheons sprinkled about for good measure. Often times, Sundays were the busiest, most tiresome day of our week in the midst of my parents’ relentless pursuit of Sabbath keeping. Even, as a young boy, something seemed to be missing in this version of Sunday too.
I offer those two extremes of Sunday life because it seems to me most of us land on one side or the other. Our lives are either completely void of Sunday worship and the call to mark this day as a day for the renewing of our relationship with God, or, our Sunday is so full of religious activity that we miss the call to also view Sunday as a day to renew our physical being through rest. And, yet, if one reads carefully the fourth commandment it is a command to do both. In fact, if you want to be really technical about it, this four-verse command mentions the holiness of the day and thus the element of worship in two of the verses, the first and the last, while the middle two verses deal solely with rest. In other words, the command itself works hard to see both elements of Sabbath keeping as equally important through giving two verses to each.
So, practically speaking, what does this look like in 2015 when even among believers Sunday has a tendency to look like any other day more than at any point in our Christian existence? Let me offer four thoughts that I think should be a measuring rod for all of us each and every week as we seek to be keepers of this fourth commandment.
First, we must do our best to allow Sunday to be different from any other day. One thing that grabs me in this command is that twice, in verse 8 and verse 11, which is to say at the beginning and the end, we are told that the Sabbath is holy. Holiness is not simply something that is sacred or revered but it is also something that is set apart, unique, and different. Sunday should be both. Of course, it is a holy day and thus sacred because it is the day we worship. But it is also a holy day in that it is a different day and unique day. For the Israelites the Sabbath was clearly unique from any other day. Beginning at sundown on the day before until sundown on the Sabbath, which is the way they marked each day rather than midnight-to-midnight as we do, life was lived in a very different way. There was a clear and marked difference between what they did on the Sabbath and what they did on the other six. The pace and the priorities of that day set it apart from the other six each week and this was painfully obvious to everyone.
I think these truth posses a huge question for us. How does Sunday looked different from any other day in our lives? In the way that we spend our day, in the things that we choose to do and in the things that we refuse to do, is it clear to us and to our children that Sunday is different? I honestly believe this is something that we should all work hard on. And, I think this is not only about a devotion to worship and church activities but a commitment to other things that make it a unique day – maybe Sunday is the day that we hold fast to eating a meal slowly and carefully with our family, maybe it’s the day when we intentionally fill our house with Christian music, maybe it is the day when we have two hours of no tv for reading, naps or quiet. What makes Sunday different in your life and house? Is it clear and obvious to you and to your children that this day is completely different from any other day of the week?
Second, Sunday should be a day that we look forward to not a day that we dread. This is something I think we must recover. I don’t know about you, but I have lost sight of the context of the Ten Commandments. Remember, they are given to the children of Israel during their wondering in the wilderness, which is to say between slavery in Egypt and their new life in the Promised Land. Thus, their slave years in Egypt were fresh on their minds. That was a time, when their lives, calendars and days were not their own. In Egypt, they had not control over their days, which at the time were composed by and large of backbreaking work day after day after day. Thus, for God to command them that one-day out of seven was to be day made for their own wellbeing was one of the grandest gifts they could receive. It was a day, just for them – a day to renew mentally, spiritually and physically. In a day, when almost all of us are still off from work on Sunday, we are in danger of squandering this great gift that God is continuing to try to offer to us.
This should be the day that we look forward to more than any other and yet without a doubt we are just trying to get to Friday or Saturday not to Sunday.
When Carl and Suzanne Tolbert were in the process of coming to Laurens, I remember them talking about something in one of our conversations that really caught my attention. They talked about their love for Sundays and how they had raised their boys to be excited when Sunday rolled around each week. Even as a minister, that caught me by surprise and yet the more I read and reflect on this fourth command the more wisdom I see in that approach and the more convinced I am that we must adopt a similar posture. Without question, Sunday is the day we should look forward to the most.
Third, Sunday should be a day where worship is a given not a possibility. When we read the scripture, in both the Old and the New Testament, what we must affirm is that Sabbath keeping was a not up for debate. It wasn’t something up for weekly discussion. This appears to have been equally true in the New Testament as in the Old even when the Sabbath moved from Saturday to Sunday. This happened, of course, as a way for early Christians to distinguish themselves by identifying with Jesus’s resurrection, which took place on Sunday. Thus, they saw Sunday as the day to set aside and to worship as a weekly way of reaffirming the resurrection as the most important event of all time. In the midst of this change, Sabbath keeping though remained a given.
Of course, we live in a different day. Even among the most faithful, each coming Sunday begins the weekly debate as to how we will spend the day. It is no longer a guarantee that we will spend it by keeping the fourth commandment. Certainly, there are some things out of our control. Sometimes we cannot spend the day as we would like – sometimes a historic flood comes our way or illness or acute family needs or completely irregular activities, And yet, while affirming this, we must be careful because it is incredibly easy for the irregular to quickly become a habit. And, it is easy to convince ourselves that what is very much in our control is not. If Sabbath keeping is a weekly debate it should give us great pause.
Finally, Sunday should be a day to rest and renew our bodies and our minds. This is where so many of us in this room break the Sabbath command, as did my parents. It is good intentioned but it is wrong. Our lives are dominated by hurry, by business and by relentless schedules. Sunday should not look this way. And, let me say this too, we must create space for our children to rest on Sundays also. We are letting them down as parents and as grandparents if we don’t get them to church and we are equally letting them down if we don’t get them off their schedules at least one day a week. Likewise, we as a church must work hard at this too so that we aide in making it a day where rest can happen through our own schedule.
Likewise, let me say that rest happens in lots of ways – what happens if Sunday is the day we don’t answer emails, or rest from technology, minimize noise or refuse to get a jump-start on Monday. I am firmly convinced that what we add to our well being by giving our bodies a break will far outpace the detriment created by what we don’t get accomplished.
Albert Switzer said it this way, “Don’t let Sunday be taken from you. If you do, your soul will be an orphan.” Amen.