Homily on Sabbath Rest and Service

Source: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA

December 14, 2015


On Sunday December 13 His Grace Bishop Daniel of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the United States of America celebrated the feast of St. Andrew at St. Andrew's parish in Los Angeles, CA, delivering the following sermon:

The Sabbath is the day of completion, when creation had been finished and pronounced good, but it is also the day of potential . The Sabbath is therefore a day of blessing, but also a day of promise. It’s a day for remembering that we didn’t make this world, Someone Else did. This world was already here before we entered the picture, and it was already blessed even without our presence. It is a blessed and good thing.

The second lesson of Sabbath is about promise: God made this world and made us to go in it. So now that we’re here, what will we do with that gift? Will we blow it, like Adam and Eve did? Listen then to these words from Isaiah: If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Sometimes the command to honor the Sabbath can indeed seem like a burden. For us moderns so pressed for time, we sometimes need to work on the Sabbath. It may be the only day we have available to get certain chores done. Indeed, the Pharisees had such elaborate rules about the Sabbath precisely because they knew that some work still needed to be done. For example, there were rules about what kind of knot you could tie on the Sabbath – this was precisely to allow you to untie your domestic animals and lead them to water. So the key here is not so much whether we are doing any work or not, but what kind of work. The key here is whether the work we do honors the Sabbath, or more accurately, honors God’s creation of the world or not…

Our Gospel story shows us the nature of the good Sabbath work that honors God. Here is an old woman with a spirit that has crippled her for eighteen years. Eighteen years of being unable to stand up straight. Eighteen years of not being able to look a person in the eye. When the synagogue leader sees Jesus heal this woman, he becomes angry, declaring that healing this woman is a desecration of the Sabbath. He places his Sabbath laws above the needs of this woman...

In healing her, Jesus did not break the Sabbath rules against work. Rather, he did the very best work you can do on the Sabbath. He did work that restored the blessing of creation, that restored the promise that was the woman’s birthright as a child of God. The synagogue leader followed his own interests on the Sabbath by emphasizing his personal piety over the woman’s needs. But Jesus continued the creative and redemptive work of God, and thereby honored the Sabbath. Indeed, freeing people from bondage is what the Sabbath is most about.”

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