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We Need a Little Sabbath

St. John’s Lutheran Church
2 June 2024 + Lectionary 9b
Mark 2:23–3:6; Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Rev. Josh Evans

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“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it boring.”

That’s how Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor recalls her childhood religious experience of “sabbath” – a day defined by “could nots”: you could not wear blue jeans, you could not play ball, you could not ride bikes, you could not go to the movies.

In Taylor’s memory and for many of us growing up, the Christian sabbath was a day for church – for worship and Sunday School, coffee hour and potlucks, Bible study and youth group – and for little more.

It’s hardly breaking news that such a sabbath observance is fleeting. For better or worse, Sunday mornings are no longer “sacred” in the way they once were. Truthfully, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to find any time on any day that we can set aside for “sabbath.”

We live in a non-stop world that demands much from us, with multiple things competing for our time and attention nearly 24/7: work and school, the news and social media feeds, sports and extracurriculars, vacations and summer camps … the list goes on.

The idea of stopping all work, all obligations, is radically countercultural. It might even seem impossible – particularly for those who work two, or even three, jobs just to make ends meet.

There is so much going on, so much that competes for our time and attention, so much that absorbs and drains us … we could all use a little sabbath.

But I don’t mean “church” – as much as I love to see your faces here every week, and pray and sing and break bread with you all every Sunday.

First of all: It’s important to remember that sabbath is not a Christian concept – but much older. It’s also not, historically speaking, Sunday. For early Christians, who would have also very much still considered themselves Jewish, the observance of sabbath and the Lord’s Day (Sunday) would have been two different things entirely.

With its roots in the creation story in Genesis and the giving of the law to the Israelites after their exodus and liberation from Egypt, sabbath is about personal rest and rest for the entire community – for parents and their children, for their slaves, for the foreigners living in their town, even for their animals.

In its earliest biblical context, sabbath is radically expansive – concerned for the rest, life, and well-being of everyone and everything.

If sabbath were only concerned with refraining from work and focusing on ritual observance (“going to church”), as we often think of it, the scenes in Mark’s gospel would have looked very differently: absolutely no grain plucking or withered hand healing. End of story.

But that’s not what happens.

The disciples are hungry, and they eat, physically nourishing and giving life to their bodies. The man’s withered hand, while not an immediately life-threatening condition, deprives him of being able to work in his society, and Jesus heals him, restoring to him the ability to live and thrive.

These actions, far from breaking sabbath law, are the very embodiment of it: promoting life, restoring wholeness, proclaiming liberation.

That kind of sabbath-keeping is also risky business. We’re barely three chapters into Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel, and already the authorities are plotting to destroy Jesus. Already this is the beginning of the end – the way toward the cross – in Mark’s gospel.

Mark makes it clear that Jesus’s announcement of the reign of God, his agenda of proclaiming sabbath rest and liberation for all people, is exactly the kind of thing that will get him killed.

Following in the way of Jesus, the way of the biblical prophets, the way of our contemporary activists and martyrs, we know that proclaiming sabbath rest and liberation and justice isn’t always the most popular or well-received message. Going to those who suffer, proclaiming good news and liberation, is risky but necessary business.

And that’s exactly where Jesus goes and what Jesus does.

In two back-to-back scenes, Jesus centers the experience of those who are in need of sabbath liberation: those who are hungry and those who are in need of healing and restoration to community. Time and again, Jesus’ ministry takes him to the same place: to the oppressed and marginalized. Time and again, Jesus heals and offers life and wholeness.

There is so much going on, so much that weighs on God’s people, so much that oppresses them and cuts them off from community…

Into the midst of it all, Jesus’ sabbath practice is less concerned with avoiding work or fulfilling ritual observance than it is with giving life.

Like the God who gave the sabbath to the ancient Israelites on the heels of their liberation from Egypt, Jesus, too, is committed to liberation, to exposing and undoing oppressive systems that undermine life at every turn, and instead to preserving life.

There is so much going on, we could all use a little sabbath.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy – a day set apart for life, for healing, for wholeness, a day to remember who we are and whose we are.


There is so much going on, so much that competes for our time and attention, so much that absorbs and drains us … we could all use a little sabbath.

It’s not so much about coming to church to check a box.

It’s about being grounded in God’s Word here in order to proclaim and embody God’s Word out there –

a Word that proclaims good news and liberation, a Word that proclaims welcome and affirmation to our LGBTQIA+ siblings during Pride and every month, a Word that offers another way in a world that absorbs and drains us, a Word that offers us sabbath healing and hope.


We come into this space from many places, from many responsibilities, from many demands.

We come into this space to observe the sabbath in a particular way.

Here, we are centered around God’s Word and Meal of love and liberation. Here, we receive God’s word of promise. Here, we taste and see that God is good.

And from here, we are sent back into the world – renewed, recharged, refreshed, to serve a world so desperately in need of that same good news.

From here, we are sent to proclaim and observe sabbath in a multitude of ways.

And if it gets us in a little holy trouble, then we’re in good company with the one by whose example we live.

Here we are given life, and from here we go forth to proclaim and to share that life.

Remember the sabbath – and keep it radical.

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