Welcome to Sabbath 102 – Sabbath for the Community – let’s begin today’s lesson.
As we begin to understand what it means that God created Sabbath not just for the individual but for the community, perhaps it is a good idea for us to briefly recap last week.
Do you remember the story of the man who was born blind? I shared this story at Northlake last week and I will share it again here to help tie the two weeks together. There was a man who was born blind. And on one day, that happened to be the Sabbath – the day set aside for no work, Jesus walked up to the blind man and spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. And then Jesus took the mud and spread it over the man’s eyes and told him to go wash in one of the ritual cleansing pools in Jerusalem. And after the man washed his eyes he could see again. He was healed. And the Pharisees and religious leaders were furious that Jesus did this on the Sabbath, because there is no work allowed on the Sabbath. But in doing it – Jesus didn’t say that the Sabbath wasn’t important, by doing it on the Sabbath Jesus showed the true meaning of Sabbath – that the Sabbath is made for healing. The rest, renewal, and reorientation that comes through Sabbath is like mud spread across our eyes that heals us of our spiritual blindness. Sabbath enables us to see God’s grace working in our lives; to see who God is calling us to be; and to what God is calling us to. As people who are created in the image of the God who rested on the seventh day after doing the work of creation for six days, resting on the Sabbath is a way to reconnect with who were created to be, to meet with our Maker, and to receive the breath of life from God in the mist of God’s presence. It is important that we engage in regular Sabbath rest – because without it we cannot see clearly, if at all.
And so individually, this looks like setting a day aside to intentionally be in God’s presence in order to receive rest, renewal and reorientation. And if we are not at a place in our lives where we are able to set aside a full day for Sabbath – we are intentionally mapping out time each week, where we can to do this. Like Pastor Danny mentioned last week – Sabbath involves saying no to some things so you can say yes to the opportunities God gives you to be with God. There is absolutely no question that for us as individuals this kind of time can be life-transformational. But how does practicing the Sabbath impact the community? And what does it look like for a community – for the body of Christ – to Sabbath together?
Sabbath is inherently both a communal and individual act. After all when Moses first read aloud the Ten Commandments, he read them to a community that would abide in them together. And when he read the Sabbath commandment, it didn’t state, “you as individuals, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” It said, “you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns…remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” After coming down from the top of Mt. Sinai, Moses proclaimed to the people that they had a responsibility to one another, to ensure that everyone within the community of Israel, whomever the community was responsible for including the resident aliens, whether they believed in God or not, was able to participate in the rest that is woven into the very fabric of our being. This communal act of resting was a way that Israel would be a light unto the nations – a way they would embody God’s love – a way they would point people to the One, True God.
Sabbath literally means “to put an end to” or “to rest.” Up to this point, we understand Sabbath “rest” both for individuals and for the community as “putting an end to” movement or work. And this is a significant part of what Scripture indicates it means to practice Sabbath – to rest. And yet, Sabbath goes beyond merely stopping our work. Sabbath for the community also involves “putting an end to” the exploitation of one another and of creation. Author and Columbia theological seminary professor Barbara Brown Taylor points out that every single time Sabbath is mentioned in the first five books of the bible – which represent the foundation of the community of Israel – it limits not only the exhaustion of the self but also the exploitation of others. The most significant form of this aspect of Sabbath for the community is called Jubilee.
As God is narrating the community of Israel’s new way of life through Moses, God says, “you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. Do not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 25:10-12a,17).
If last week our biggest questions were what is Sabbath and why do we need to remember it and keep it holy? This week the biggest questions are, what is Jubilee and why is it important that we celebrate it today?
Jubilee is the celebration of God’s gracious steadfast love and mercy that not only gives us future hope with God but also transforms every aspect of our present life together. The year of Jubilee was a practice that God instituted for the community of Israel as a way of bringing about holistic restoration where there was break down, abuse, and exploitation. Every fifty years, beginning on the Day of Atonement, which was the prime day of remembering God’s love and mercy, the year of Jubilee would begin. And in this year, no one would work the land. There would be complete rest. The community would rely on whatever the ground produced without work. Everyone in the nation of Israel would return to their home and to their family. And this wasn’t like coming home from college or having a family reunion. If you had left your family or your home, you did so out of economic necessity – which means you often sold your family land because you couldn’t afford it, or you left your family to place yourself in indentured servitude or even slavery. And so the year of Jubilee provided you with the gracious and liberating opportunity to go home. Consequently, all debt was forgiven in the year of Jubilee and this came after the Day of Atonement that announced the debt of sin forgiven through ritual sacrifice. All sales and economic practices were to be guided by this principle of Jubilee. God ordered the community not to charge interest on one another, to sell land in accordance with the numbers of harvests before the next Jubilee and no more because in the year of Jubilee the land would be given back to its original owner and so to sell the land for more than its fair share of harvests was to cheat the buyer. In Leviticus 25 we find that God cares deeply about our economic, social, political, individual, social, and spiritual practices. Why? Because these are all different facets of our lives and there is not one aspect or facet of our lives that God does not care about. There is not one part of our life that God does not long to use as a way to bring Him glory – as a way of experiencing His love. And these are all different aspects of our interactions with one another and there is no facet that God doesn’t want us to use to love one another. We have no greater commandment then to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This commandment is infused into the sabbatical practice of Jubilee.
Jubilee is the celebration of God’s gracious steadfast love and mercy that not only gives us future hope with God but also transforms every aspect of our present life together. God institutes Jubilee because God understands that in our human condition – in our bent to sinning – we will be inclined to exploit one another, to take advantage of each other, and push one another down. God even understands that there will be ways that we do this without even knowing that we are doing it. In other words, that our actions can lead to the development of deeply complex systems like poverty which can become like traps that some are born into and never escape. In creating Jubilee, God acknowledges the existence and reality of things like generational poverty and so he provides the gracious opportunity for His children to begin again. With the year of Jubilee, God provides a system of grace and forgiveness to provide Sabbath – to “put an end to” systems of brokenness and sin. It’s not a handout – it’s an opportunity (Christopher Wright, The Mission of God, 297). Jubilee is good news to the poor. It’s release to the captives. It’s recovery of sight to the blind. It’s letting the oppressed go free. It’s the year of the Lord’s favor. This year of Jubilee – the year of the Lord’s favor – was a way of testifying to the community of Israel that one day God will completely and eternally restore their relationship with God; and that all of their needs would be met and fulfilled in God in ways they could never ask for or imagine.
This Sabbath for the community is a beautiful depiction of God’s love and justice carried out through God’s people. And yet, what does this actually look like? How do we celebrate Jubilee in our day and age? It’s not like we can go to our landlord and say, “I know I’m $300 behind in my rent, but it’s the year of jubilee so you think you could let this slide.” And we can’t just forgive massive amounts of debt, like the $18 trillion national debt, or the average household credit card debt of $15k, can we? So, what about the $5 dollars my friend owes me? What does it look like to tell the 2,014 homeless persons here in Charlotte, the 11,448 in NC, and the 610,042 in the US altogether that they can return home and be with their families? How do we go about liberating the 20 million slaves that still exist in the world today and the 14,000 to 17,000 persons that are trafficked into the U.S. ever year? What does it look like to stop charging interest on loans, or homes, or cars? Is that even fair – peoples jobs depend on the revenue made off of that interest. And how are we supposed to just stop farming for a whole year ever seven and fifty years? The farmers won’t be able to make a living – will there be enough food – does this mean we’ll have to lower our standards and share? And let’s not even talk about releasing prisoners. Jubilee!? Is all of this really the kind of stuff that God cares about? Doesn’t God just want us to go to worship, attend bible studies, and pray quietly in our own home? Surely some of this matters, but all of it? How does it all work? It’s so complex. It’s so overwhelming. Supposedly Israel never actually did this so who in the world is able to make any of this stuff actually happen!?
“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. Because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
“And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).
Jesus Christ is the Jubilee.
He is the one who at the same time He forgives us of our debts of sin, leads us in our relationships so that we can forgive our debts to one another – always spiritually, and in many ways physically. Jesus is the one who can bring full restoration to our hearts and lives despite the bottom line of our bank account. He is the one who binds us together as a community with cords that cannot be broken. He is the source of our Sabbath rest, renewal, and reorientation. And He is the assurance of the final and ultimate Jubilee to come where all debts are canceled, prisoners are released, the blind will see, and the oppressed are free – where everyone will return home and to their family – where we will find rest. And Jesus invites us to let the promise of that future Jubilee to guide our thoughts, actions, and interactions here and now.
If we read His words and of His actions, we will see that as the fullness of God – He is concerned with the spiritual and the physical, the individual and the communal, the political and the economic. He does not give a beggar food without at the same time giving him hope. Word and deed are not separated. And when we become a follower of Jesus, when Jesus penetrates our very soul and he ceases to be simply a nice idea or a figure in history, but our hearts and minds are wrapped up in him – we will be unable to separate word and deed as well. And this is why we need Sabbath. We need time to sit in the presence of Christ, to receive His grace, and for Him to spread mud over our eyes so that we can see what it is He is calling us to do. We need time and space with Him so He can give us guidance on how to solve complex problems. And we may not ultimately and fully solve issues – but we can trust that Jesus will lead us into relationships with people so that in our own lives and with our own gifts, we can help others to experience a ray of Jubilee – that comes from the fullness of Jubilee to come. On Sabbath, we open the front doors of our hearts to allow the rushing wind of the Holy Spirit to blow away our divisions, power struggles, and anything else that keeps us from being one in Christ. On Sabbath, we pray the prayer that Jesus himself prayed – “Father…not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
So let us rest in Sabbath together as a community, so that for the community, we can be a taste of home that serves to show the way there.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Sabbath Resistance” Christian Century, May 31st 2005, 35.
 Paraphrase from Tony Campolo, Jubilee, sermon.