(Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6)
Can any of you name who sang these words and in what movie?
“I'm late, I'm late for
A very important date.
No time to say hello, good-bye,
I'm late, I'm late, I'm late
I'm late and when I wave,
I lose the time I save.
My fuzzy ears and whiskers
Took me too much time to shave.
I run and then I hop, hop, hop,
I wish that I could fly.
There's danger if I dare to
Stop and here's a reason why:
I'm over-due, I'm in a rabbit stew.
Can't even say good-bye,
Hello, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.”
Of course, this is the speech of the White Rabbit in the movie, Alice in Wonderland. He is nervous, harried, and distracted because he is late to his job as herald to the Queen of Hearts. The Queen of Hearts is a tyrant and will execute anyone or anything that annoys her with the command, “Off with his head!”
Every time we see the White Rabbit in the film, he is on edge, because he works for a tyrant who can kill him in a moment’s notice! Poor White Rabbit never gets a Sabbath. He never gets to rest. His ruler (and boss) doesn’t allow it. So he runs about nervously, oblivious to all else but his anxiety and his job.
Blessedly, we don’t have such a ruler. Our ruler is a good and gracious God who set apart for us a day on which to rest: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work” (Deut. 5:13-14). The day of rest is not only a gift; it is a commandment. It is one of the Ten Commandments. Keeping the Sabbath is something we are supposed to do as faithful Christians.
The thing about God’s commandments is that we are supposed to follow them because doing so is good for us. Yes, God’s wants us to obey Him, but the laws he asks us to obey are not capricious. They are laws because obeying them supports our flourishing.
Obeying the commandment to keep the Sabbath reminds us that God freed us from slavery. He freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, and he freed Christians from slavery to sin. We may be afflicted in every way, but we are not crushed; we may be perplexed, but we are not driven to despair; we may be persecuted, but we are not forsaken; we may be struck down, but we are not destroyed, because we are no longer slaves to anything but the freedom we have in Christ (2 Cor. 4:8-9). Keeping the Sabbath reminds us of this reality.
A weekly day of rest is a wonderful thing. Why would we not observe it? What would prevent us from observing it? The White Rabbit provides some answers. Fear can prevent us from observing it. Anxiety can prevent us from observing it. Distraction can prevent us from observing it. All of these mean that we are lacking in faith. When we trust that our God is good and gracious and will supply our need, we don’t have to be fearful. When we trust that our God is merciful and loving and will forgive us, we don’t have to be anxious. When we understand that only God can grant us true peace and joy, we aren’t prey to distractions. When we know our God and trust Him, we are able to keep the Sabbath and enjoy a weekly day of rest.
Another thing that prevents us from observing the Sabbath is the world we live in. Sunday is no longer set apart as a holy day in our culture. There are a few ways we can deal with this fact. One is that we can observe the Sabbath regardless of what the culture is doing on Sunday. This is the way of some Jews, although the Jewish Sabbath is from Friday after sundown to Saturday after sundown. Jesus, however, is Lord of the Sabbath because he is Lord of all that was, is, or will be. Jesus fulfills the law, and it is to Jesus we look to interpret the law in our day and time, for he is the ultimate authority. The final commandment he gave to his disciples was to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). All previous commandments are to be understood and interpreted in the light of love. That is why Jesus’ disciples could pluck the grains of wheat on the Sabbath (Mk 2:23) and why Jesus could heal on the Sabbath (Mk 3:5). When the Pharisees criticized Jesus and the disciples for “working” on the Sabbath, Jesus stated, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). The Sabbath is to support the flourishing of humankind, so eating and healing are allowed.
We can take this understanding and apply it to our lives. Maybe we are able to take a whole day of rest each week; maybe we are not. The thing we can do, however, is have a Sabbath mindset. We can understand that the Lord will provide, so we do not have to work ourselves into the ground. We can balance work with rest so that we are refreshed and renewed, trusting that God will provide what we need. And we can do this without fear or anxiety or distraction. We can do this faithfully, peacefully, and joyfully, because in Christ we are free from sin.
The poor White Rabbit wasn’t blessed with a good and gracious ruler. He was anxious, harried, and distrated, rushing to and fro, oblivious to who and what was around him, because he could be put to death at a moment’s notice by his tyrannical ruler, the Red Queen. We are not White Rabbits, though. We are Christians, and our ruler is a good and gracious God. He has freed us from all that oppresses, allowing us to keep the Sabbath in faith. May we do so. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, June 3, 2018, the Second Sunday After Pentecost.
 White Rabbit. Alice in Wonderland.
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