Lesson 1: Introduction

Faith, Hope, and Love artI have attended many, many academic talks. An Anglican bishop at a Muhlenberg college commencement gave the best I’ve heard. He argued observing the Sabbath as a way of life enabled Christians to live with integrity in our technological society. In fact, he went on to suggest the Sabbath was the key to healing our society for all people.

He assumed, rightly I think, that technology creates a continually growing environment that forces people to comply with its demands. That growth leads to a global economic system that denigrates religion. You can see this as people attack the effort of some Muslims, and I do not mean extremist militant fundamentalists, to enact some forms of Sharia Law. It comes closer home when some believers try to bring some forms of Torah or Christian teachings into our laws.

So, before we examine biblical texts, let’s look at some central features of the Sabbath Way of Life. Observing the Sabbath primarily means taking time to remember who we are and what we should be doing. It is stopping what we are doing to tell the stories that teach what it is to be human. For Christians, that means pondering what it is to be a child of the loving Father God.

We shall find another characteristic of Sabbath teaching is care for the needy. All the laws remind us to make sure slaves, children, foreigners, animals, and even the land have a Sabbath rest. Special emphasis is made on stopping what we are doing to remember everyone of us is more than what we do. Each is a beloved child.

It is also important to know this observance has changed greatly according to the situation throughout the millennia. Many scholars trace the origin back to Canaanites believing “seven” an evil number and so refraining from work on that day, because it will never be productive. The Hebrews claimed the day was blessed, because God rested on it. So his people should rest from their labors as well, but in order to refresh themselves. The early passages were addressed to agricultural people who were to rest even their land and animals. By the end of the Old Testament the prophets used the teaching to guide urban business people who were to acknowledge worth is more than making money.

Of course, we see another change when Christians changed the day of observance from the period between sunset Friday and Saturday to Sunday, the first day of the week. Indeed, our history evidences continual change as well. As some of you remember from your catechism, Martin Luther thought outward compliance with a particular day was not important at all. He felt the Sabbath meant respecting and living by God’s Word that he felt proclaimed God’s love for us, not a command to recognize a particular day.

Some of us remember the old Blue Laws that passed down to our parents through the English. In their day, it was against public law to open commercial establishments on Sunday. Many went beyond these to household practices that forbade playing cards or board games, reading comic books or frivolous literature, and other such secular activities. It does not take long to recognize it is impossible to return to those Blue Laws. In our technological society, some have to work if others are to rest.

So our task is to consider ways we can observe a Sabbath Way of Life in our time and place. We’ll begin that next week by looking at what the Old Testament commandments really say.

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