Eleventh Weekend after Pentecost
August 25, 2019 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Isaiah 58:9-14
Well, for those of you new to worshiping with us--welcome! We are glad you are here. And for those of you that took the summer off--welcome back! You know, it's funny, we have we have a whole bunch of different people that come on the weekends here and summer, you know, we got folks that are here every week, no matter what. They come to all the stuff that we do. And we got folks that come every now and then. There's folks that come just Christmas and Easter, and maybe even just Christmas. I read an "Onion" headline. If those who are not familiar with "The Onion," it's a newspaper that intentionally puts out fake news to be funny. And one of the headlines that they wrote was "Woman Obsessed with Christmas actually worships Christ every week." And that was pretty good.
So whether you're a frequenter of coming to worship or whether you're one of those every-now-and-then folks, this is a good place to be. It's a good place to be because it allows us to think about who we are in Christ and what that message means for us in our daily lives. And we're really no different than than people that have come before us. This is a text I'm going to focus on is in Isaiah here. That was the first reading you heard today. And this part of Isaiah is, it's called the third Isaiah. It's this this specific block of Isaiah that's dedicated to the ancient Israelites returning from exile. The Israelites had a charge from God. They were the chosen people because they had a task to perform. And that was to proclaim the One True God to the nations, a God that was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
And instead, the ancient Israelites said, that sounds well and good and all-- but these other nations are doing stuff that makes sense to us to let's be like all the other nations. And that just seems like it would be easier. And so that's what they did. And they quickly fell into the trap that other nations have, where it very much became more: "What's in it for me? What's at stake for me? How can I get something out of this? Which God, can I please in order to get what I want?" And before long, Israel fell. And they fell to larger powers than them. They had the Assyrian kingdom that in its prominence came and they took the northern part of Israel away. And then they had the Babylonians who rose to power and came in and swept all the way through and took the southern kingdom away.
And the leaders were exiled to these nations so that they could be put to work for them. And then the folks who weren't kings or princes or anything like that, they got to stay--there would be folks like you and me most likely--they got to stay and work the fields. And just like that Who song: "Here comes the new boss. Same as the old boss," right? But then they had this opportunity. They had this opportunity to restore, to rebuild. King Cyrus of Persia sweeps through and the Persians take over everything. And now it's the Persian Empire instead of the Assyrian or the Babylonian Empire. And the difference is King Cyrus says, "I tell you what. We're gonna send you guys back to your homeland. We're going to allow you to rebuild that temple, make it look just as good as it did before, if not better. Worship your own God, just so long as the tax money comes our way." So they did that. And just like any any new opportunity--football season starting--so we all think this could be the year, right? Any new opportunity.
We always have this ideal of what we can accomplish, what we want to do. And it was true for them, too. This is now the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when they're governing, and the head priest and working on building this temple.
But the elites, they started doing what a lot of people in power do. They fall into corruption. There's that temptation there. And a lot of them fell into that. So money started getting off of the table. Food started getting taken off of the table. The resources that Persia sent for the sake of rebuilding the kingdom started just going to the people in power.
And we talk about, though, the 1 percent divide. This was even sharper, it's the point one percent more likely. Very few elites at the top and all these people working on the bottom struggling and then the fingers start pointing, the elites blaming the common folk for not doing enough work. The common folk blaming the elites for stealing off the top. And around and around it goes, and they had this opportunity and they were excited. We're gonna do it right this time. We're gonna do it better. But their own humanity got the better of them.
It's like Josh and his example today about trying to do that hovercraft without the wind beneath it.
And so it quickly fell into turmoil. And just like it was before it is now. There's this pattern in our humanity that keeps us going in this direction. Maybe it's fear of death. I don't know. But we keep operating under, "what's in it for me. What can I get out of this?" And in the midst of that. God speaks through the prophet. And reminds them to keep the Sabbath holy. Stop blaming each other, take the yoke, take this burden off of you, of trying to do it on your own. Stop pointing the finger. Stop speaking evil of one another.
Look outside of yourself. Keep the Sabbath holy. Now when I say keep the Sabbath holy, what does that sound like? That sounds like work, right? That sounds like just another thing to do in our busy schedule. Fine. I'll come to worship. Keep the Sabbath holy. Check the box. It does, it sounds like a burden. After all, God created the world in six days. Genesis said, and then on the seventh, God rested. And therefore, we need to make the Sabbath holy.
Almost sounds like God needs us here to worship him so that God can feel better about himself. But that's not what's going on here. God is eternal. God creates out of ease. It's not a burden to God to create. The resting wasn't because God got tired or something like that.
It's a reveling ... a reveling in God's handiwork. Remember on the sixth day, God declared it very good. It takes intentional time to enjoy what God had made. The Sabbath is true for you and me, too. We need to keep it holy. Not for God's sake, but for ourselves to make it holy is to set it apart, make it unique from everything else. You and I in our busy daily lives, we have so much going on. Sometimes it is hard to come here. Sometimes it does feel like a burden to wake up early on a Sunday morning and come to worship.
If it is a burden, we have the Saturday evening service and the Wednesday evening service as well!
But it can feel like it's something extra to do for somebody else to make somebody else approve. Sabbath was created for you and for me, for our benefit, and in turn was created for the benefit of the whole world.