Scripture: Zechariah 8:1-8
Today we come to the end of our series on Sabbath, and you may ask yourselves ‘now what?’ What does the practice of Sabbath have to do with my daily life? What hope can resting and pausing offer me in a world that moves so quickly that if you stop and pause you’ll be left in the dust? What can we possibly hope to accomplish as a congregation by intentionally resting for one whole year?
To begin to answer those questions, I want to talk to you about a park.
Some of the most enduring and profoundest memories I have of my childhood took place in a park. The freedom to explore and play, time spent with my parents, my sisters, my friends, exhausting myself climbing, or swinging or playing some imaginary game – parents and grandparents sitting on benches chatting, or pushing their little ones on the swings. The same is true when it comes to the memories I cherish with my own children – the first time I pushed my daughter in a swing, the shoes filled with sand, races down slides. Simple, innocent times filled with joy – memories which will endure far longer.
There is something magical about the park, a place where children and adults come together and play, a place where we can enjoy the fresh air of God’s good creation, a place where imaginations can blossom and flourish. A place, especially for children, of boundless possibility and hope.
It is this simple image, of a city park, that the prophet Zechariah uses to describe the kingdom of God and to bring hope to the people of Israel, as we heard in our reading this morning.
At the time of Zechariah’s prophecy the people of Israel were beyond discouraged, in fact many had probably entered into despair – they had come back from their Exile in Babylon with great hope for a brighter future, they had plans to rebuild the temple and looked forward to a spiritual renewal promised by earlier prophets. But alas none of this had happened – the temple rebuilding effort languished, Jewish sovereignty had not been restored and the moral reformation of the nation had not occurred. And so many believed that God was absent from Israel.
Zechariah declared to the people otherwise: God was here in their midst, the temple would be rebuilt, he called them to return to God, he called them to repentance and renewed faithfulness to the covenant and he envisioned the coming of God’s Kingdom – in fact Zechariah was so intoxicated with the coming of God’s Kingdom that it is the central message of his whole prophetic work.
And his vision of the Kingdom is not some magnificent ethereal Kingdom or a distant heaven in the sky, but rather as Old Testament scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier writes: “the Kingdom of God, will be like a public park, where the elderly can sit together and talk and bask in the sun, and little children can play in contentment and safety with nothing to threaten them.” (Nahum-Malachi: Interpretation Series p. 136).
Zechariah’s vision for the everlasting Kingdom of God is none other than what amounts to an eternal Sabbath – a time and place set apart, a time and place hallowed by God for delight and rest – this public park, or perhaps more appropriate this new divine Garden is the fulfillment of God’s creation. Sabbath which brings rest and renewal; Sabbath which brings liberation; Sabbath which brings healing and restoration; Sabbath which is God’s gift woven into the fabric of Creation; Sabbath which is part of the very life of God.
It is as if Sabbath is the ultimate end of all creation and has been since the very beginning – after all, if we recall the Genesis creation story, humanity’s first full day of existence is on the Sabbath day, not as a reward for a hard week of work, but as a sheer gift of God, rooted in God’s goodness and love. In fact it wasn’t until the Fall and their expulsion from Eden that Adam and Eve have to do any work.
Sabbath, resting and delighting in God and in God’s creation is our purpose as human beings. It is the eternal purpose of the church and of the world.
For the moment we still need to work, we still deal with brokenness and the sinfulness of the world, but there will come a time when we do return to God’s intended purpose for us – God has made sure of that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the powers of this world cannot hold us back from our rest and delight in God. There will come a time when God’s kingdom is made a reality on earth as it is in heaven, there will come a time when we can truly rest and delight in the midst of God’s presence. There will come a time when all the fears and anxieties, the busyness, the overwork, the exhaustion of this world, will be no more. That is the hope Zechariah pointed to. That is the hope that Jesus has opened up for us.
So for the moment we practice, for the moment we get to experience moments of Sabbath rest and delight, we get to live out the hope of our eternal existence when we take our Sabbath rest, when we take moments to delight in God’s creation, when we delight in our family and friends, when we delight in the God who loves us for who we are.
Think of your Sabbath time as little tastes of God’s Kingdom, as little tastes of the divine life that we all get to experience each and every week, each and every day as we take moments to pause, rest and delight in the small Sabbath moments we experience. Maybe as you take time to practice Sabbath this year you will regain some hope: regain hope for a future that isn’t full of anxiety, full of busyness, full of exhaustion. Perhaps as you take time to intentionally take Sabbath and relearn the rhythms of rest and restoration you will find delight in the simple things of life.
As a church, Sabbath maybe has the opportunity to give us hope again as well. Perhaps Sabbath will allows us to delight in the company of our God and of one another.
If you and I are honest with ourselves, for too many years (perhaps our whole life as Grace) we have been working hard to avoid another amalgamation, working hard to avoid the pain of change and losing what we have, even if it wasn’t what we remembered. We have believed that the more work we do, the harder the try the more successful l we will be. We have been trying to outrun our fear, we have been trying to outrun a vision of failure and despair and in the process we have exhausted ourselves, we have about near burned out.
But God gives us hope – God gives us Zechariah’s vision of the park where we are unencumbered by the anxieties and fears of the world, God gives us the eternal Sabbath something that we get to taste each and every week. Something we as a congregation get to taste this year as we take a Sabbath from our frenetic work. As we pause from the expectations, from the overwork and the activities that drain us, God offers us a vision of hope, he offers us the opportunity to delight in each other’s company, to truly find joy in the worship, in the service and in the life of the Gospel.
Pausing, and learning that God is enough might just open up for us a different future, might just open for us hope of the goodness and mercy of God here at Grace Church. Let us step out in faith, let us enter into Sabbath with joy and wonder, who knows what God has in store for us if we do?
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