A Sermon Series on the Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:2, 8-11; Matthew 11:28-30
Rev. Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
January 31, 2021
Do you remember Genesis chapter 1? That may seem an odd question, but stick with me for a moment…
If you can remember back to Genesis 1 and the creation story…One of the most striking features is that orderly rhythm of creation. Each day there is creation, and then the announcement:
“It is good.”
“It is good.”
It is a seven-fold rhythm.
The Genesis account was not written to be a scientific explanation of creation. It was written as a declaration. Declaration by way of musical, cadenced prose… announcing the goodness and beauty and order of creation. All of it was done by God.
And just like in any good piece of music, there is one part of the cadence that serves as the downbeat.
“Six days you shall labor, the seventh is a Sabbath to the Lord.”
Sabbath is the downbeat.
Sabbath is the only aspect of the entire creation account that is designated as “holy.”
And if there were not enough, we can turn through the remainder of Hebrew Scriptures where we see that honoring, remembering, keeping the Sabbath is commanded 150 times. That is more than all the other 9 commandments together.
Sabbath is the downbeat of God’s rhythm in time.
The fourth commandment as we hear articulated in Exodus 20 explicitly links back to the Genesis story so as to remind us of that.
“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.”
Exodus 32 goes so far as to tell us that when God took rest on the Sabbath, “God was refreshed.” The word there literally means “re-souled,” – re-anchored, refreshed, renewed.
Imagine that – God is re-souled on the Sabbath.
And if that isn’t somewhat mind-blowing, think about this also…
We are made in the image of that God – which means we too are made for the gift of this rhythm – this six days of work and this one of… ‘re-souling.’
To the people of God here in Exodus receiving the 10 commandments who have only just been delivered from slavery in Egypt – this is profound. All they had ever known is continual labor, one-day-bleeding-into-the-next slavery.
But now in the wilderness, they taught about God’s design…this gracious rhythm of regular re-souling.
“Our bodies move to a rhythm of work and rest that follows the rhythm originally strummed by God on the waters of creation,” observes theologian Diana Butler Bass.
Sabbath plus six. So simple, right?
I remember being in middle school concert band. (Any of you play in the middle school band or orchestra? What do you recall about the experience?)
60 or so novice musicians playing basic pieces of music so that in a few months loving family members could come and attend our concert.
I play the trumpet, and pretty early on I found that I could play the notes. It really did not take too long to learn how to play a C, then a D, then an E, and so on. I even found I could play recognizable little tunes and fun flourishes with a little practice.
But then in band class, I began to learn about the part I would overlook and not even think about when I was practicing on my own. It was, it is still, the hardest part about music for me.
My awareness of this issue would happen this way: we’d start in on a piece and then Mr. Gaines, our Band Director, would say, “flutes, flutes…slow down.”
And while he is busy trying to get the flutes ’attention, the saxophones are speeding up. “Saxes – slow down. Watch me for the tempo!”
Then, of course, we trumpets start pressing the tempo – and we’re loud – and that brings along the trombones and clarinets. And now Mr. Gaines and frantically moving between the sections, “1, 2, 3, 4 count with me…”
But alas, the drums have gone with the band, too.
There is always hope for the song but… once the drums are racing, the whole thing is just moving irredeemably fast. “Music” is a generous term for that moment. It is a cacophony of noise, racing.
Have you been to or performed in this kind of a 5th grade band concert?
Have you noticed much of life in 21st century America?
Many of us know how to play the basic notes even rich flourishes with our gifts, our abilities…but my sense is that many of us struggle to play the music of our lives in tempo.
A couple of years ago remember talking with a woman in her 50s who works in the Presbyterian offices in Louisville, KY. She was born and raised in Jamaica and came to the states as an adult. She told me how at least every six months she goes back to Jamaica. Actually, she says, “I have to go back every six months.”
And I say, “Oh, family or something that needs to be taken care of?” “Yes. me,” she says.
She goes on to explain that nearly everywhere she goes in the US there is a sense of busy and hurry that is in the air. There is never enough time; there is always so much to be done.
She says, “Honestly, it’s in the air. And you forget you are breathing that kind of air until you get off the plane, and Jamaica has plenty of problems don’t get me wrong…but you breath the air in Jamaica and remember there are different airs than that of hurry.”
To be sure, last March, many felt the very sudden halt of all of that hurry. Some, of course, felt life go into warp speed – frontline healthcare workers, parents now doing school at home while juggling work.
And then others, even if in one sense life has remained slower on the travel or commuting or social engagement front…I sense even so there has been a steady speeding back up happening among many of us (whether externally or internally).
A pastor colleague told our pastor group cohort that I’m in just last week that she was needing to look at medications for high blood pressure that had developed in these recent months.
Others in that same group tried to talk about what they are seeing in themselves or in their congregations as these months wane on. And one way or another all of them talked about the anxiety that seems to be racing through so much of life today.
Anxiety through the TV, anxiety through the internet, anxiety through seeing loved ones fight covid-19 or other illnesses, anxiety about family rifts, anxiety about work and income, anxiety about the nation…a sense of worry, they said, seems to pulse so quickly and readily through the veins of our society – by all accounts, the band had sped up again.
(At least in here, if not externally also)
And this wears deeply upon a people (our bodies, our health, our call as a church to shine forth the peace of Christ)…and yet, what can you do when the whole of the band is racing?
Wasn’t it a remarkable thing, though, three Sundays ago when the downbeat of rest descended from heaven in the form of three or four inches of grace – and a whole bunch of folks throughout Central, TX – including many of us – ceased.
There was very little driving or working and a whole lot of watching the snow or delighting in play in the snow.
It felt like God whispering through creation:
28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Or I like how the Message helps us here this same invitation from Jesus in those verses:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Snow days can be a grace in which we glimpse the regular Sabbath grace for which we are made…but honestly, I think most weeks most of us have very little idea how we can take seriously the gift of 4th commandment regularly.
It’s just too much to given all the work we have, the responsibilities we have…who can really take 24 hours of ceasing from work, of resting?
And I do not want to diminish the very difficult realities some of us face in terms of childcare or multiple jobs and still barely getting by or care of elderly parents or work demands because those play uniquely for each of us in our discernment of honoring this commandment.
And truly, some of us genuinely have no control over taking Sabbath and we’ll talk about that more next week as we consider how we are called, actually, to give Sabbath to one another. But more on that next week…
For today, let’s at least ask the question this way as we wrestle with this command’s implications:
There is surely a cost to receiving the gift of Sabbath…what is the cost of not receiving it?
What is the cost of overlooking or setting aside or not taking seriously the longest, most fully explicated commandment of all 10 commandments?
What is the cost of not living into a day that declares so fully that everything we have and are is by the grace of God in Jesus Christ – it has nothing to do with what we have done or not done?
So much more can be said about the gift of Sabbath, the way it communicates God’s grace in Jesus Christ, the way it radically and profoundly and oftentimes painfully at first – reorients our entire being and brings about a healing, a powerful witness.
But for today, let me ask one more question to help us give honest pause at the feet of God’s word through the 4th commandment:
What does music sound like when there are no rests? Or when the rests are very few, unpredictable, and scattered?
Anytime the band was really starting going off the rails and racing ahead…
Mr. Gaines eventually always went to his default response. He went first to the percussion section and talked directly to them.
We all could overhear it, but Mr. Gaines would look at them and say, “Look, you all are uniquely tasked with keeping the beat. The tempo. And I know you hear those flutes and saxophones and trumpets and all the rest and it’s easy enough to go with them. But if you watch me, and you follow me, the band will figure it out. The song will come together. The song will come alive.”
“Percussion, can you keep your eyes on me and hold the tempo?”
Sabbath, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…
Sabbath, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…
I want to end this sermon by reading Psalm 61 from The Message as a way for us to practice looking direct at the Band Director and so also perhaps briefly taste and see and experience the gift of God’s rest.
There is a moment in the Psalm where the psalmist gives thanks for God always giving ‘breathing room” – and when you hear that, I invite you to think of the gift of Sabbath in particular – this one-in-seven day of rest, of delight, of ceasing, of renewal.
And truly throughout this reading, simply receive the gift of God’s rest. And I’ll add, if you feel comfortable, you may wish to close your eyes so as to hear and receive the truth all the more.
1-2 God, listen to me shout,
bend an ear to my prayer.
When I’m far from anywhere,
down to my last gasp,
I call out, “Guide me
up High Rock Mountain!”
You’ve always given me breathing room,
a place to get away from it all,
A lifetime pass to your safe-house,
an open invitation as your guest.
You’ve always taken me seriously, God,
made me welcome among those who know and love you.
Let the days of the king add up
to years and years of good rule.
Set his throne in the full light of God;
post Steady Love and Good Faith as lookouts,
And I’ll be the poet who sings your glory—
and live what I sing every day.