Lesson 5: God’s Word

Closed on SundayIf you ask Christians my age to identify big changes that affected the Church in their life times, I bet most would mention elimination of the Blue Laws. Just about all of us remember with warmth when civil law prohibited business on Sunday and families used the day to practice their values.

Of course, we got away with that because most of us lived very simple lifestyles in exclusively Christian communities. Today, the mobility of our technological society places us in pluralistic neighborhoods and society’s complexity means some must work if others are to rest.

Too often we throw up our hands and moan there is nothing we can do. There is no way we can force people to come to church, if they can shop at Wal-Mart Sunday morning. At least I hear that kind of fatalism all the time.

We should remember problems concerning observing special days are nothing new. The first Christians had to change the day. They started as a Jewish sect that set aside the Sabbath to remember their heritage and Sunday to celebrate the Resurrection. When they were prevented from worshiping in the synagogues and temple, they dropped the Sabbath and made Sunday their holy day. Circumstances demanded a change. They justified this by claiming every day is a holy day.

Jump ahead to the 16th century and you see Martin Luther doing the same. Many of us studied his Small Catechism without noticing his explanation to the commandment, “Observe the Sabbath,” had nothing about a special day. It focuses on the Word, rather than the time. “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise his Word and the preaching of the same, but deem it holy and gladly hear and learn it.”

His Large Catechism, meant for adult instruction, explains his reasoning. He believed Christ’s redemption not only makes all days sacred but also frees us from any external observance. The heart of the Word is teaching God’s love rather than commanding works.

However, Luther goes on, it makes sense to set aside a day to give order. It should be seen as benefitting our bodily needs rather than our salvation. We all need rest. He further suggests retaining a special time, so that we can be sure the common people, youth, and the poor, get their rest as well. And finally, the day would enable a regular gathering of the community to “diligently devote themselves to God’s Word, so that all their conduct and life may be regulated by it.” Again he emphasizes the gathering would facilitate making sure the common people had an opportunity to worship as well.

Luther is prioritizing all the classic elements of Sabbath observance we have mentioned in our study: rest, worship, and care for the needy. I think this provides decent guidelines for our observation of Sabbath lifestyles. Even our secular society acknowledges the first. People say they need the day to sleep in and refresh from the demands of the workweek. However, they use this as an excuse to justify not worshiping, the second essential. One of the ways the Church is trying to compensate for this is offering opportunities for worship that go beyond Sunday mornings. A Sabbath lifestyle calls all of us to a worship that uses rest to remember who we are and what we are to be doing. But I think it is the third that really deserves acknowledgement. The life style inherently includes making sure the needy have the same humane opportunities.

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