Sabbath of Joy
Our scriptures today are all about Sabbath, which is supposed to mean rest. But “keeping the Sabbath” across generations in the church often turned into grim adherence to strict traditions rather than true rest and refreshment.
It was as if people were supposed to work hard at resting!
We sometimes think of Christianity as hard work—and it undoubtedly is.
We have to work against our old familiar sins and pray for God to help us increase in virtue and generosity.
But at heart, Christianity is not about work.
Suffering and struggle are vital parts of the journey that have their own unique spiritual value, but suffering and struggle and work always lead somewhere else. And that somewhere to which they lead is joy.
The Bible is full of joy.
The entire purpose of the Bible is to communicate the joy of salvation—it even says so: “We are writing these things to you that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4).
The psalmist says of God, “You show me the path of life, in your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11). The opening line of our psalm this morning is, “Sing with joy to God our strength.” (Psalm 81:1)
And Jesus says to us directly of his entire message to us, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11).
The church is a place of joy that encourages the believers and strengthens them to go out and serve in the world.
In Acts we read that “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52).
Paul writes over and over to the congregations of the early church about how their prayers and good works and simple presence as people give him such joy. He tells the believers in Thessalonica, “Yes, you are our glory and joy!”
Paul writes about an upcoming visit to the Romans, “Join me in earnest prayer to God…so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.” (Romans 15:30-33).
That is my prayer for St. Francis this summer as well, that we may abide in joy and take refreshment from one another’s company in this church.
You have worked so hard! I want you to take these summer months to really enjoy church.
There is already a wealth of opportunities to experience and cherish the simple joy of being together as a church, and we’ll explore more if we want to—or not.
The point is not to cram the summer with activities but to take a Sabbath in which we thank God for the many, many blessings bestowed upon us.
I want you to enjoy church this summer for your own sake, because I love you and would like to see you rest and celebrate all the hard work you’ve done.
But I have two other reasons as well. First it is a biblical mandate to express our joy: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the Earth! (Psalm 100:1). “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).
The second reason I’m encouraging you to take joy in the church this summer is a verse in Nehemiah: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Taking a summer Sabbath of Joy is not for the purpose of coddling ourselves and congratulating ourselves on how awesome we are.
It is a season of rest and renewal for a specific purpose: that we might be refreshed and rejuvenated to take our next steps in building the Kingdom of God.
We are recharging our creativity and energy so that come autumn, we are ready to discern and do whatever new things God is calling us to do.
We are taking a Sabbath of Joy in order to be made better servants of God and God’s people.
Life in faith turns in seasons as much as the earth does. As we read in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything.
Now, it is time to bask in the summer sun of being a blessed community, knowing God has brought us through so much and will call us to so much more.
Set your roots deep in the fertile soil of St. Francis community this summer and be nurtured by the gentle summer rain and refreshing warm breeze of the Holy Spirit blowing through this place. I take the words of Paul for myself whenever I think of you and how much you bless me: “I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort…I am overflowing with joy.”
But remember that we are after more than our own enjoyment in this summer Sabbath.
The purpose of this time set aside specifically for rest and renewal is to prepare ourselves for our next season of labor for the Kingdom. Come autumn, we hope to be recharged to answer God’s call to us to serve this community and grow this church.
So how do we do it?
How do we each personally invest in this Sabbath to make the most of it?
In order for our church to achieve meaningful spiritual renewal, each individual person will have to personally engage.
What spiritual practices will you commit to in order to center yourself in God’s revitalizing love?
Here are a few ideas.
Prayer: all spiritual life begins and ends in prayer. It is the lifeblood and the oxygen of our relationship with God.
This summer, experiment with a prayer modality you’ve never tried before.
Try centering prayer—focused on stilling the mind and experiencing God in silence.
Try intercessory prayer—praying for different individuals and groups each day with real attention to your hopes for God’s action in their lives.
Use our spectacular Book of Common Prayer—Morning Prayer on page 79, Noonday Prayer on page 103, Evening Prayer on page 115, or Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families on page 136. If you only have a few minutes, don’t forget the short but beautiful prayers found in the Collects (beginning on page 211) and the Prayers and Thanksgivings (beginning on page 810).
Scripture: we as Christians need to be rooted in God’s word, to soak in the comfort, the challenge, the intriguing nature of the story of God’s people over time.
Pick one book and read it all the way through.
Use a Bible concordance (hard copy or online) and read all the verses on love, or all the verses on mourning, or on laughter or on poverty.
There is a vast array of Bible study resources online—try one of those and work your way through a topic like great women of the Bible or Jesus’ parables.
Invest in scripture—even and especially exploring and articulating why you don’t like parts of it–and you will find new inner growth.
The glory of God in the world: think of all the people who say, “I find God most often when I’m out in nature.” That may be true for you—do it frequently this summer!
But it doesn’t have to be nature.
Think of the times and experiences in your life when you enter into what athletes and artists call “the zone.” You are so engaged in what you’re doing that the rest of the world fades away and you are in a state of flow.
It’s different for each individual—it may be sewing or biking or writing or spending time with grandkids. It may be car repair or gardening or singing or roller derby.
Whatever it is that takes you outside of yourself and more deeply into yourself at the same time–that is an experience of grace.
Take that experience or that hobby or that environment this summer, enter into it prayerfully, and you will find that the Holy Spirit is there with you. These can be powerfully renewing, life-changing experiences.
So I challenge each of you to personally invest in our community Sabbath of Joy.
What will make it truly life-giving for our church will be the ways in which we creatively engage in it not just within the four walls of our church building, but in the heart and mind of each individual member in our everyday lives.
Our texts this morning call us to Sabbath. Let us respond with joy.
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