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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.
Good Advice for Hard Times
As I started writing this sermon yesterday, given some of the stuff that’s happened around here the last month or so, it hit me that a better title for this sermon would be “Good Advice for Hot Times,” because I’ve got to tell you it’s pretty hot in here this morning. Of course, that’s something you’d expect to hear from that Captain Obvious in those Hotels.com commercials, but what you may not know is that right after the unit that supplies the second floor of the education building was replaced, the compressor on the air conditioner that supplies the sanctuary went bad. And even though they replaced that on Friday, the fan for the cooling tower fried. But regardless of the reasons, let’s face it, we’re having a hot time in the old church this morning, but not the good kind. What I want you to remember, though, is this: Hell is hotter, but less humid.
But I’ll tell you, regardless of the cause, I think the results are usually the same. I mean, whether you’re talking about a sudden change in health or circumstance or maybe some trauma, this kind of business can really hammer us physically, maybe making us feel sick too. And it can certainly impact us emotionally, reshaping both our attitudes and our outlook. And as anyone who’s gone through really hard and challenging times will tell you, it can affect us spiritually, sometimes putting so much stress and strain our faith that it breaks. No, hard times can really mess us up on a lot of levels.
But of course, none of this is actually new and exciting. People have always faced situations that move their stress meters into the red. In fact, we have a perfect example of that in the passage we just read from Isaiah. Now, before we go any farther, there’s something y’all need to know. The book of Isaiah probably isn’t one book by one author. Rather it’s more-likely-than-not three books, written by three different people, at three different times, with the first book, chapters one through thirty-nine, written to the people before Judah was conquered by the Babylonians; the second book, chapters forty through fifty-five, intended to give hope to the people who were in captivity after the conquest; and the third book, chapters fifty-six to sixty-six, directed to those who returned to their devastated country after the Persians had defeated the Babylonians.
And I think that’s something God must have understood, because in these verses we read a little while ago, I believe he gave them some pretty good advice about how they might endure and maybe even overcome what they were facing. And I’ll tell you, it all came down to them doing two things: two things that they were all capable doing and that could strengthen them physically and emotionally and spiritually, because it would shift their attention from what was wrong to how they might respond. I mean, first, God told them to start showing love to others. Again, listen to what he said: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” And then he talked about how, with God’s help, they’d be able to restore both the land and themselves to what they were. And that would happen when they decided to show love to others.
And then, second, they needed to start offering praise to God. This is what he said, “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...” Now I love that, “if you call the sabbath a delight...” I’m telling you, in the midst all this stuff they were facing, if they would stop grumbling and complaining and finger pointing and if they would stop demanding their own way on a day that belonged to God not them and if they could view the sabbath, this wonderful gift of God, as a delight, then their whole attitude would change. And even though the situations they faced may be the same, they’d be able to face them with energy and with optimism and with joy knowing that they weren’t facing this alone. Love others and praise God, that was his advice to his people when they were dealing with hard times.
No going back to the beginning, we’ll get the air conditioning fixed and next Sunday we’ll all be as cool as the other side of the pillow. But even though that’s going to happen, I’m sure all kinds of new situations will arise, and I’m talking about stuff that’s going to hit us physically and emotionally and spiritually. As a matter of fact, those things may hit us every bit as hard as what those Jews who returned from exile experienced when they reentered the land. And for that reason, I believe the words that God had for them are also important for us. You see, right now, we can decide that we’re going to love others and we’re going to praise God. Because, frankly, I believe that’s really good advice for hard times.