Dr. Jacobson further expands the participants awareness that keeping the sabbath entails being generous. He writes:
"God invites us ... not to live in fear, but in trust ... God intrudes into our fear and offers us another way to live -- in trust of God's abundance. A way that trusts this word from God: Enough.
"Generosity is a part of all of the Sabbath laws ... observing Sabbath means opening our hands to help our neighbors .... God ... intrudes into the bondage of our lives ... We ... are most in bondage to our stuff. A friend's grandmother used to say, "Possessions are their own punishment."
-- Rolf Jacobson
Living in God's Abundant Grace: Sabbath as a Source for an Abundant Life, Session 3
Sabbath: God's Sufficiency and Our Generosity
Goal: For learners to see the connection between God's Sabbath and our generosity.
How to use this guide
This leader's guide is a road map that traces the red thread of generosity through the Sabbath laws. In what follows, you will find:
- Lesson outline
- Key texts identified
- Learning objectives for each text
- Background information about each text
- Sample mini-lecture components related to some texts (emphasis on "sample")
- Sample discussion questions (emphasis on "sample")
You will not find step-by-step instructions on what to say or do with each text, such as "have participants open their Bibles and ask for a volunteer to read ... " That will be left up to your own intelligence and creativity. One hint, however: The less that students hear your voice and their more they use their own tongues and brains to read texts and make connections, the better.
I. Gathering and introducing the topic
- Open with prayer
- Ask the group to reflect on: "What have we learned so far?" Ask if there are any questions from session 1 or 2.
Hint: Here are some things emphasized in the first two sessions.
- God's work through the Sabbath is consistent with how God normally works, coming to us from outside of ourselves, intruding graciously into our bondage.
- Sabbath worship is something that God does for us, not something that we do for God. God regularized the intrusion of the Sabbath in order to have a regular worship time in which to work on us.
- The Sabbath is more than just a day a week, it is a principle and it is about justice
- The sabbatical principle includes God's intrusion into the bondage of life on earth
- The sabbatical principle is about who God is: God is a liberator, one who frees us and blesses us
II. First text
Exodus 16:1-26 "The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, 'If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.' 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, 'I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.' 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, 'In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?' 8 And Moses said, 'When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him -- what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.' 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.' 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12 'I have heard the complaining of the Israelites'; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.'" 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, "Let no one leave any of it over until morning." 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.'" 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.'"
<>b>Objective: To help learners see the connection between the Sabbath and God's abundance; to help learners learn to live in trust rather than in fear.
Most of us live in fear most of the time. Fear may not rule our every thought or guide every movement of our hands. We may not even know we are afraid or living in fear. But at some level, fear is a factor. We don't do some things that we want to do because we are afraid. We don't let our kids do things that we should let them do, because we are afraid. We are not as generous or kind as we should be, because fear stops us from giving all we can or our hearts or from our wallets.
The Israelites had good reason to trust God. They had been slaves in Egypt but had seen God do might things for them. God had sent Moses and Aaron, and along with Moses and Aaron, God had sent powerful plagues to help loosen Pharaoh's iron grip: darkness, frogs, blood, gnats, the angel of death. God had opened the sea in front of the people so that they could escape Pharaoh's revenge. God had led them by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. When thirst threatened them, God had provided water.
So what did the people do when they got hungry? They lived out of fear rather than out of trust. They complained that God just wanted to kill them by starvation. We human beings do live out of fear.
So God gave them bread from heaven called "manna." Each day the manna came down and the people gathered it, ate it and did not starve. And God said this, "I want you to learn a new word: 'Enough.' I will give you enough. I will take care of you out of my abundance. So, each day you only are to gather enough for you and your family. Whether you gather more than you need or less, it will be enough." But people live out of fear. Some gathered more than their share and some less, but when they looked, they all had "enough."
And God said, "Eat what you have and don't save any. If you try to save it, it will be rotten. Trust me, I will provide more for you tomorrow." But people live out of fear. Some tried to save some for later, being afraid that there would not be enough later, but what they saved went rotten.
And God said, "As long as you are with me, you will get to rest on every seventh day. No exceptions. Everyone rests. So, in addition to the miracle of giving you manna each day, on the seventh day, I add a miracle so that the manna will not go rotten for two days."
What does it mean to live in the love of God, to dwell all of our days in the shadow of the Savior? It means, among other things, that we trust in a God who cares for us, who gives us enough, who is abundant in his gifts. God has said this to us: "I will give you enough, as much as you need." Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, though, and sometimes we want more than enough. And should we be surprised when it goes rotten? And we live in fear. Instead of sharing with our neighbors out of the abundance that God has given to us, we horde our small stack of coins and live in fear.
But God invites us to live differently. To live in God's abundance. Not to live in fear, but in trust. When God intrudes into our lives, it is strange to say, one of the things God does is intrude into our fear and offer us another way to live -- one that is not in fear, but in trust of God's abundance. A way that trusts this word from God: Enough.
In what ways are we like the Israelites who tried to gather too much? In what ways are we like those who tried to keep some manna for later? In what ways does what we have go rotten when we live in fear and try to too much?
II. The Red Thread -- Tracing the Thread of Generosity Through the Sabbath Laws
Objective: To help learners see that generosity is a part of all of the Sabbath laws and that observing Sabbath means opening our hands to help our neighbors.
Sample mini lecture:
Now, I would like to go back with you and look at an aspect of these Sabbath laws that we have not looked at yet. This aspect has been hinted at now and then, but the hope is that by looking at many of the texts at the same time, you will be able to see this aspect more clearly than if we had talked about it a little bit here and a little bit there. This aspect is generosity. Part of the issue of what it means to observe Sabbath is to be generous. Consider again some of the laws that we have looked at so far, and look at the highlighted parts:
- From Exodus 20 (The 10 Commandments): "But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work -- you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns."
- From Exodus 23:12-17: "You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. No one shall appear before me empty-handed."
- From Deuteronomy 15:14-17: "Provide liberally out of your flock, your threshing floor, and your wine press, thus giving to him some of the bounty with which the LORD your God has blessed you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; for this reason I lay this command upon you today. But if he says to you, "I will not go out from you," because he loves you and your household, since he is well off with you, then you shall take an awl and thrust it through his earlobe into the door, and he shall be your slave forever. You shall do the same with regard to your female slave. Do not consider it a hardship when you send them out from you free persons, because for six years they have given you services worth the wages of hired laborers; and the LORD your God will bless you in all that you do."
- From Exodus 23:10-11: "For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.
- From Deuteronomy 15:1-16: "If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Be careful that you do not entertain a mean thought, thinking, "The seventh year, the year of remission, is near," and therefore view your needy neighbor with hostility and give nothing; your neighbor might cry to the LORD against you, and you would incur guilt. Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."
It should be clear in all of these texts, that generosity is a part of God's Sabbath intrusion. In the Old Testament, the foundation of Christian generosity and charity is the Sabbath commandment. The connection has to do with how God frees us from those things that keep us in bondage. God's way is to intrude into the bondage of our lives, as we have seen over and over again. One of the things that we are most in bondage to is our stuff. A friend's grandmother used to say, "Possessions are their own punishment." Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, "A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need." To have a god is nothing else than to trust in and believe him with our whole heart." Luther also wrote that "money ... is the most common idol on earth." God comes into our lives and says, "Christ is raised from the dead, your sins are forgiven, you no longer need to seek the living amongst the dead or serve the false god of money. Let go, quit living in fear, live in my abundance."
A friend of mine once said, "I used to give to the poor because I thought they could not live without my giving. Now I give because I have learned that I cannot live without my giving." She had learned that living in trust rather than fear is freedom. She had learned to live in God's Sabbath. She had learned that, yes, we serve the poor and serve justice when we give. But even more than that, she had learned how a free person lives.
Have you ever connected the idea of keeping the Sabbath with generosity? Why are the ideas of worship and rest so connected to Christian generosity? In what ways do our possessions possess us?
Permission granted by Centered Life Learning and Stewardship In the 21st Century, Luther Seminary, for use in congregations.
Click on the following for other sessions:
Sabbath: God's Gracious Intrusion and the Principle of Time with God, Session 1
Sabbath: God's Gracious Intrusion and the Principle of Justice, Session 2
Rev. Dr. Rolf Jacobson is an assistant professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary.