Like I said at the beginning of the service, this morning we are doing things a little bit differently. And I want to talk about the world that we live in, which isn't all that different—we do that here in Room211 all the time. But there is something specific that I want to say about our world.
It's loud. Horrendously loud. Consistently loud. Overwhelmingly loud. Think about all the noise in your life. All of the big noises that you hear, from the construction machinery doing work outside your office all day to the bellow of the fire truck as it rushes out on its emergency call. Think about the little noises you hear, the whirring of the tiny fans in your computer, the chirping of crickets in the evening, the hums and beeps and boops of electronic devices. Even this room here is full of all kinds of little noises: kids talking, lights whirring, coffee being slurped, parents whispering. There is a lot of noise going on in our lives!
And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Normally in here on a Sunday morning, it's loud—we make a joyful noise to the Lord maxing out at about 100 decibels—sometimes you need a pair of earplugs to give your ears a break—and I just hope you take them out when it comes time for the sermon. And our loud music and atmosphere is fun and exciting; many of you are probably here because of that very atmosphere and energy we create. Noise can be a good thing.
But with all of that noise usually comes a lot of activity. Not only is this world that we live in loud, it is also busy. Those noises drive us to check this email, remind us of this task, disturb us out of our sleep and distract us from our duties. We live in a world where things are open 24 hours a day, where we can work from home, remotely access computers from the road. We are expected to be busy at all times, accessible whenever and wherever our bosses or customers need us. Busy, busy, busy.
But that is not always a good thing. We are creatures designed not only to work, but to rest as well. In the book of Genesis, we see God setting up the world in this way at the very beginning of time:
Genesis 2:2-3 - By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
God takes the seventh day and makes it holy, He sets it apart from all the other days to be different. This seventh day isn't going to be like the others; it will be a day of rest. In doing this, God sets up a pattern here for all of creation and we see it all around us. (PICTURE OF SEASONS IN NATURE) We can see it in the seasons that change, each one allowing some life to rest and others to flourish. (PICTURE OR DORMANT FIELD) We see it in the fields as farmers leave some fields in fallow to rest them so that they can be more productive. (PICTURE OF WILDLIFE) We see this pattern of rest in the way that plants and insects and animal behave and migrate and hibernate. The whole world is designed for this rhythm.
Work and rest. Rest and work. Back and forth. You spend too much time in one or the other, you start to feel off. The summer that just won't go away when you are ready for pumpkin flavored things. The winter that holds on until April or even May. Too much time spent in the office or too long of a vacation; when you find yourself yearning for a return to your normal routine. There's a rhythm to life in this world that was created by God in the very beginning.
Not only does God establish the whole of creation in this pattern, He also gives his people special instructions for the way they are supposed to treat this day of rest.
Exodus 35:1-2 - Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: 2 For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.
Whoa! That seems a bit intense, don't you think? Working on the Sabbath is grounds for the death penalty?! What is God thinking here? Why is He being so strict about what seems like such a little thing?
But God doesn't assign this penalty to breaking the Sabbath because he is strict. He doesn't do it to scare people into sitting alone in a dark room, afraid to lift a finger because it might be considered "work" on the Sabbath. That's not the point. God assigns such a harsh penalty to breaking the Sabbath because that penalty describes the consequence of the action. If all you ever do is work and never take any time for yourself, how will you end up? Dead. Emotionally, spiritually, physically. Pick one. Pick two. Pick them all. All work and no play don't make Jack a dull boy, it makes him a dead one.
God wants His people—us—to take a break. Not just to appease Him, but for our own good. We need that break. That's why He's given it to us. Look at what Jesus says about the Sabbath:
Mark 2:23-27 - One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Jesus echoes this very thing: the rule is not the important thing here. God didn't create us so that we could keep the Sabbath, He created the Sabbath for us, for our enjoyment, to meet our needs. That is why the Sabbath is so important—not because God needs it, but because we need it.
And we see Jesus doing this very thing in the Scriptures.
ALL VERSES ON ONE SCREEN
Mark 1:35 - And early in the morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.
Matthew 14:23 - After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
Mark 6:46 - And after bidding them farewell, he departed to the mountain to pray.
Luke 5:16 - But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
Time and time again, Jesus goes away from the crowds, away from his disciples to take a break, to rest from His work and pray. He keeps a Sabbath, a time of rest, setting that example for His people to follow.
But keeping a Sabbath, a time of no work, is hard, maybe doubly so in our day and age. This thing is in my pocket all the time, dinging and ringing and chiming and vibrating and reminding of all of the things that I have to do for work at all hours of the day and night. And even when we do take a break, how often is it actually a break? There's always something that needs doing on the weekends. There's always something going on that we need to get to. There's always twice as much work to do before you take a vacation and three times as much piled up when you get back. There's always, always, always an excuse not to take a Sabbath, not to rest.
But God's command to us is this: remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, keep it set apart. To rest in a world that seems bent on never taking a break. So what do we do?
Well, to start, we do stuff like what we are doing here this morning. Break out of our routine. Tone things down and rest. Just little kinds of things. Allow God to break into our lives by making time in our day for Him. 2 minutes here, 5 minutes there. Little things that allow us take a Sabbath, to rest and listen to God.
Because we often think that God does all of His work in big and powerful ways. But that is not always the case. When the prophet Elijah was hoping to hear from God, He went out to a mountain all alone, in order to hear from God to help him in the predicament he was in.
1 Kings 19:11-13 - And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.[a] 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
God wasn't in the big wind or the earthquake or in the fire. He wasn't in any of those loud things; He was in the low whisper. But if all we can ever hear are the loud noises, how will we hear God? If we take no time for a break, take no time to be quiet, to be still, to unplug, how will we hear the voice of God calling to us?
Now, does God use big, loud noises and events to get our attention? You bet! Some of us need God to beat us over the head sometimes and He does that. But more often than not, God speaks in the low whisper of His Word in our hearts.
And so we are going to try something this morning. Have any of you hear of the song 4'33"? I see some nods, more puzzled looks, so I'll give you a rundown. 4'33" is a performance piece for the symphony orchestra composed by John Cage. It consists of the entire orchestra, concert hall, and audience spending 4'33" in silence. Yep, silence. I don’t get how spending that time in silence is music, but apparently it's a big deal in some music circles.
Even if I don’t get the concept of the piece, I like the idea of spending some time being silent before God. And so I want to do that this morning. We are going to take 4'33" to be still before God. To just be silent and listen. Now, some of you are very worried about this. Four and a half minutes of silence? It's okay. We aren't going to be completely silent. Someone will cough, a child will make a noise—it happens. Parents with small children, we understand. Don't stress about it. But this isn't a contest to see if we can do it; I want to help you practice this idea of rest, of Sabbath, of being still. I'm going to time us, so don't you worry about it. And have a good attitude about this. What good does it do anyone for you to sit there in your seat like this, counting down in your head? Give it a try be silent before God and reflect on His Word. I'm going to put our theme verse for today up here on the screen so that you can reflect on it during this time and we are going to spend the next 4'33" in silence before God.
Psalm 46:10 - He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
This is for you. This stillness, this rest, this quiet, is for you. It's to help you in your relationship with God, to make it stronger, to make it easier for you to hear the low whisper of God's voice in a world that is utterly loud.
Now we aren't perfect in doing this. Our minds wandered while we sat here. Someone was thinking about their fantasy football team. Come on, fess up. We aren't perfect; we're sinners. Even Jesus' disciples couldn’t do this right; Jesus asked them to pray for an hour while he was in the garden, he comes back and they're asleep. We're not perfect. But Jesus was. He was perfect so we don't have to be. His sacrifice takes the place of our shortcomings and restores us with God.
But God still wants us to do Sabbath, to do rest. So practice this. I want you to do it this week. Take a step to unplug and go. It might be 5 minutes, it might be 5 hours, it might be 5 days, I don't care and neither does God. Start somewhere and don’t look back. Start to build that time into your schedule. Time to refresh. Time to renew your heart. Time to be still before God. Because without it, we are out of whack, we are out of balance, we are not living in the rhythm that God has set up for this world. We are missing out on something that God wants us to have.
Isaiah 56:13-14 - “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Joy. That's what God wants to give us in giving us rest, in giving us a Sabbath. Joy that can only be found in him. That is something worth having and something worth celebrating. Let's stand.