The Sabbath is a complex blessing that we as Adventists have been observing for over 150 years, but as the world is catching on to the benefits of the Sabbath new facets of its glory. In this episode of ANN InDepth, series hosts’ Jennifer Stymiest and Sam Neves, speak with Morgan Kochenhower, the pastor at Frederick Adventist Church, to discuss how the Sabbath’s importance is rooted in relationships.
After six days of work, responsibilities, and stress, it can be difficult turning off that portion of our brain to focus on the Sabbath and simply rest. It can prove even more difficult when the Sabbath is seen as a restrictive list of don’ts. Don’t watch TV, don’t listen to secular music, don’t do any work, don’t spend money, etc. For those raised practicing the sabbath, or those who have observed for many years, it is easy to forget its blessing and focus on its legality. Even when we recognize that our minds are not fully focused on worship, our answer is often to “try harder” to get the most out of the Sabbath. However, we were never meant to find this perfect Sabbath rest in our own power. Kochenhower affirms, “it’s not sustainable in your own strength, but it’s abundant in mine”.
God has never given us any gift without the tools to sustain it. Every aspect of the Sabbath: its purpose, the day chosen, how we observe it, is all given with a purpose for our benefit. When caught in our opinions and traditions of what we believe Sabbath “should” be, we run the risk of becoming like the Pharisees who, as Ellen G. White says in her book Desire of Ages, “...lost sight of the significance of the service they performed. They ceased to look beyond the symbol to the thing signified”. In light of our protection of what the Sabbath should be, we also see it as an exclusive practice. As Stymiest points out “in the past 2 to 3 years the christian church has rediscovered the sabbath and its benefits” and as Adventist, we can often shelter our knowledge and century long traditions of the Sabbath as the premier form of worship.
It is necessary to remove our own opinions, and focus on the Sabbath given in Eden, as well as how it was observed during Christ’s time on earth. “Jesus rebalanced what the Sabbath means, that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” Neves explains. Oftentimes we forget that, as modeled in Eden, the Sabbath is a liberating time of worship, not just a hyperfixation on what we “can’t” do. This day was hallowed by God to be a time of celebration and rest. Kochenhower elaborates by speaking to how we must begin to see God as more than just a provider, but as a lover of our souls, someone who longs for a relationship with us; “Sabbath is a day of feasting, not fasting”. Because of the abundant love given by our Lord, we were never meant to keep this blessing to ourselves, but to share it.
Here lies the heart of the Sabbath. God created it to be a day of relationship, a day of connection and vulnerability that allows us to think and act outside ourselves and give out of love and joy. Because it is so relationship focused, we learn that Sabbath is also meant to be a day of reconciliation. Rather than harboring a week or a lifetime's worth of resentment, hurt, or pain we are called to bridge the gaps between relationships with grace and forgiveness. In this way we are liberating ourselves from the weight of guilt or shame. The Sabbath is a day of freedom, a day to enter into mental, emotional, spiritual and physical rest. Yet, just as we must depend on Christ alone to shape our minds for the Sabbath, so we must surrender to Him in order for this reconciliation to occur.
A happy side effect of healing relationships is that we are participating in active ministry. To allow the sabbath to be a day of healing, not just for self but for relationships, is an invitation for others to see the full dimension of Sabbath and act as a form of exaltation to God. God’s grace abounds and overwhelms our differences.
In looking at the Sabbath as more than just a structured day of activities, we learn that it is a complex and unique gift that is meant to be shared. We serve a diverse God who created us to be individuals, therefore, we must each learn for ourselves the ways in which to engage in worship. Embrace the separate dimensions of worship as long as we linger in the goodness and majesty of God. In seeing the Sabbath as a separate day of relationship, to God, to self, and to others, we are looking outside of ourselves, inviting in all of God’s goodness by living the blessings of the day. Kochenhower states “I can worship through how I am pursuing relationships and revealing the love of Jesus”.