Thursday, February 04, 2016

Keeping Making the Sabbath Sacred

I grew up in a home where my parents took Sabbath observance quite seriously. Far more seriously than us kids did. So I was rather surprised the Sunday that Dad did construction work. I’d never seen him do anything like that on the Sabbath before. One of Dad’s former co-workers had passed away. The funeral was to be held on a Sunday at a small church belonging to a different denomination in St. George. This man had never been religious, so Dad was rather surprised when the family asked him to be the main and only speaker at the funeral. Although the man lived a non-religious life, he had apparently always respected Dad’s faith.

Dad worked with a lot of handy guys, but many of them were either not LDS or not active in the Church. As Dad was packing to go to St. George, one of his co-workers called and said that the home of the widow was in desperate need of certain repairs. He had arranged to get the materials needed for the repairs, but he wanted all of the guys that came to the funeral to go to the house and do the labor. The only time they could get the materials and the handy workers together was right after the funeral. I watched Dad pack his tools before leaving for St. George.

That Sunday morning Dad stood at a non-LDS pulpit and preached an LDS sermon on the purpose of life, the doctrine of Christ, and the resurrection. He then spent the rest of the day doing construction work, before leaving as late as possible to return home so that he could go to work the next day. During a discussion that evening, some of us kids expressed shock that Dad would work on Sunday. Mom simply asked us what we thought the Savior would have done in the same situation.

In D&C 59:10 we read that the Sabbath is a day appointed to us to rest from our labors. Note that this does not say that the Sabbath is a day to rest from the Lord’s labors, but from our own labors. In Isaiah 58 we read (in v5) that on the Sabbath we are to “undo the heavy burdens” and “break every yoke”, (in v6) feed the hungry, house the homeless and clothe the naked, (in v10) satisfy the afflicted soul, and (in v13) turn away from doing our own pleasure. In time I came to understand that this is what Dad was doing that Sunday when he worked on the widow’s house.

What we do outwardly on the Lord’s Sabbath is important. I think it’s vitally important, because correct outward actions help create ideal circumstances for God, the master potter to mould the clay of our souls. But what we experience inwardly on the Sabbath is far more important than what we do outwardly. It is possible to seemingly do all the right things outwardly without really worshipping God inwardly. That doesn’t mean that we can really worship God while doing the wrong things outwardly. Our outward actions and inner self must be yoked together with God for proper Sabbath worship.

Over the past year our church leaders have placed a great deal of emphasis on properly observing the Sabbath. If you go to the topic index of the October 2015 general conference, you see that five talks directly addressed the subject. But in fact, most of the speakers treated Sabbath worship in one way or another. Those that speak to us in general conference are not assigned topics. They seek revelation and deliver what they feel the Spirit tells them to say. So why do you think that the Lord is having his servants repeatedly invite us to honor the Sabbath Day and keep it holy?

While we are very familiar with the term “keep the Sabbath Day holy,” it makes a greater impact on me when I change the word “keep” to “make,” as in, “make the Sabbath Day holy.” It implies that I need to actively do something rather than just letting something happen. In Exodus 31:13 we read that the Sabbath is a sign of our covenant with God. I need to purposefully show my love for God through the sign of making the Sabbath holy.

In the April 2003 general conference, Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Seventy said, “One may not have the sacred without first sacrificing something for it. There can be no sacredness without personal sacrifice. Sacrifice sanctifies the sacred.” From this I understand that I need to actively turn away from my own pleasure, sacrificing the animal in me each Sabbath to do my part in making the Sabbath holy and sacred.

One way to think about the Sabbath is to regard it the same way we regard going to the Temple. In this respect, the Sabbath is the Temple of our weekly reckoning of time. It doesn’t replace Temple worship. But like going to the Temple, we need to prepare ourselves for the Sabbath. Just as we make the Temple a sacred physical space, we need to make the Sabbath a sacred time space.

What do we hope to gain from making the Sabbath holy? In the October 2015 general conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve said that honoring the Sabbath “will bless and strengthen families, connect us with our Creator, and increase happiness.” It will “separate us from that which is frivolous, inappropriate, or immoral ... allow[ing] us to be in the world but not of the world.” The Sabbath will “be a refuge from the storms of this life.”

Sister Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women General Presidency said, “True worship begins when our hearts are right before the Father and the Son. What is our heart condition today? Paradoxically, in order to have a healed and faithful heart, we must first allow it to break before the Lord. “Ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” the Lord declares (in 3 Nephi 19:20). The result of sacrificing our heart, or our will, to the Lord is that we receive the spiritual guidance we need.”

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve said, “All of us are blessed when the Sabbath is filled with love for the Lord at home and at church. ... And all, young and old, who are carrying heavy burdens will feel the spiritual uplift and comfort that comes from a Sabbath day of devoted contemplation of our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Again in Isaiah 58, we are promised when we make the Sabbath sacred:
  • (v9) “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.”
  • (v10) “... then shall ... thy darkness be as the noonday,” meaning that the darkest hours of your life will be like the brightest hours you would otherwise have without honoring the Sabbath.
  • (v11) “... the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, ... and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”

All of these things sound like blessings I want in my life. But to have them I have to want them more than I want to do my own pleasure on the Sabbath. Some orthodox Jews don’t just “keep” the Sabbath holy, they celebrate the Sabbath and its holiness to the Lord. Maybe we can learn something from them about celebrating sacredness each Sabbath.

I have had many sacred Sabbath experiences. Many of them in this very room. The Spirit has impressed me to speak in closing about a sacred experience that occurred on a Sabbath many years ago, shortly after I was released from the hospital while suffering my first major Multiple Sclerosis attack. I was scared. I didn’t know what life would bring. Would I be able to provide for my family? Would I be able to even walk or talk?

That day our home teachers Steve Stewart and Leland Barker came over. These two humble men hardly knew me. We were fairly new to the ward. But they placed their hands on my head and gave me a priesthood blessing that contained certain promises that continue to grace my life to this day. I will forever be grateful for the way these brethren honored the Sabbath that Sunday by visiting the sick.

I promise that the Lord will amply reward every effort you make to make the Sabbath sacred and holy. If you have questions about how to do that, seek the words of his servants and go to him in prayer. He won’t fail you. I also promise that the Lord will more than compensate you through blessings that will ripple throughout the eternities for any profane thing or activity you sacrifice to more fully worship Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ on the Sabbath.