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The Second Sunday after Pentecost, 2 June 24

A Sermon on Deuteronomy 5:12-15 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

Deuteronomy 5:12-15  English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

12 “‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

As we look closer at keeping the Sabbath, I want you to think about how you are living today.


5:12 “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”

In my childhood in northeast Texas, blue laws prevented anyone from shopping on Sunday. A couple of cafes and restaurants were open, so that Mama could have a day off. The American Theater (where movies could be seen in the afternoon and evening) was also open along with the state park. So, no groceries, no clothing, no school supplies, no last minute purchases of any kind. If you didn’t plan ahead on Saturday, you were out of luck unless you could borrow from a neighbor. The town and county were dry, so alcohol could never be bought. There were no local sporting events although the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Texans (who later became the Kansas City Chiefs) were on television after church was over. So, Sunday was church day even if you didn’t go to church. But if you didn’t go to church, people thought you were a Communist.

Once I started school, I discovered that the churches that some kids attended never allowed them to go to movies, play cards, or go to dances. The girls couldn’t wear makeup, shorts, or jeans. Many of the local preachers were opposed to rock and roll, and it didn’t matter that Elvis had put out albums of gospel music. For some churches, men playing golf and children and youth swimming on Sunday afternoons put them all on the slippery slope to damnation.

When the first convenience store opened in 1967, (24/7/365!), there were not a few folks who were quite certain the Lord would return in glory momentarily to smite Sabbath breakers. In short, keeping the Sabbath holy in northeast Texas meant Sunday was not like the other days of the week. You might go to Mama ‘n ‘ems (Mama and them’s) for Sunday dinner and time with your extended family, but only those providing essential services (including preachers) worked.

With a Lutheran Mama from Philadelphia, a Baptist Daddy from Ft. Worth, and Roman Catholic relatives from Dallas and Fort Worth, I always lived in a kind of cultural schizophrenia. From an early age, I understood the differences. While everybody loved Jesus, we didn’t agree on much else. In high school I went to Sunday night church activities with others, because that’s where the girls were. There weren’t many Lutheran youth. So, even though Lutherans were not strict about what you could and could not do on Sundays after worship, nevertheless, I felt a profound sense of loss as Sunday increasingly became just another day. When Laura and I moved to Wilmington twenty years ago, I was shocked that so many of our families were involved in team sports even on Sunday mornings. Even in liberal Austin from which we had moved, Sunday mornings were not yet cluttered with team sports competing against the services of God’s house.

With that rather long preface, it is important to remember that Martin Luther’s treatment of the Sabbath has nothing to do with the day of the week or restricting what can be done on the Lord’s day. Rather, Sabbath keeping has everything to do with being in worship to gladly hear and learn God’s Word through preaching. After the services of God’s house, Luther preferred a good meal at home accompanied by good Wittenberg beer and good conversation. He remarked that then the preached Word of God was working on the hearts and minds of those who had heard it.

So, how do you keep the Sabbath day holy, that is, a day set apart for God’s purposes?


5:14 “but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…”

We should remember that God gave the commandments only to His people, Israel, at Sinai when He made covenant with them by grace. Yet, for the first fifteen hundred years of the Church, the Ten Commandments were, with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, the essential Catechism (book of instruction) for Christians. Martin Luther divides the commandments into two tables: three concerning love of God and seven concerning love of neighbor. As one delves into Luther’s Large Catechism written for pastors, one sees the first commandment says it all while the other nine provide commentary on what it means to fear, love, and trust God above all else. Everyone has some kind of god. But is that god to which a person’s heart clings, in fact, the real God?

Why does God want His baptized people to keep the Sabbath? Luther explains that the Lord God wants to give us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. God hates sin but God loves sinners. Our heavenly Father wants to drown that old sinner in each person in baptismal waters by joining us to the death and resurrection of His beloved Son Jesus. When we do not despise the preaching of God’s Word but gladly hear and learn it, God can put to death the rebellious spirit at work in our bodies. He can make us God-trusters who look to the saving death of His Son Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Apart from Jesus we are lost and condemned creatures in need of rescue from the Egypt of our sins. But God wants none to be lost, all to be found, all to know His grace, mercy, and peace. Despising biblical preaching and remaining unwilling to hear it leads to callous disregard for the gifts of God and a misplaced trust in other gods that cannot save us.

It is a great irony that treating Sabbath-keeping as a kind of strait jacket actually results in what communications professor Neil Postman once described as “amusing ourselves to death.” By that he meant mindlessly sitting for hours in front of screens while real life goes on around us. He meant more than that, but, in effect, he meant that entertainment is for many the new bread and circuses that distract from our own demise and that of the world around us.

So, what or whom is God’s greatest competitor for your attention? Where does your time go?


5:15 “… and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand…”

Having grown up religiously weird, I have understood most of my life that a goodly number of Christians have no regard for the holy mysteries, that is, the sacraments. After five hundred years of anti-sacramental protestant preaching and the rationalism and anti-Catholicism that lies behind it, many Christians, including not a few whom I love dearly, simply do not believe that God’s Word is joined to earthly stuff. The serious problem behind that, as Martin Luther quickly recognized, is that if God’s Word is not joined to earthly stuff, then Jesus cannot be both truly God and truly human, and there can be no salvation. Of course, John’s Gospel makes clear that the Word that was with God and was God became flesh and tabernacled among us (1:1, 14). Paul’s letter to the Colossians makes clear that Jesus is the image (the icon) of the invisible God (1:15). Indeed, the early Church insisted that religious art (including icons and crucifixes) is not the same as the graven images of Israel’s neighbors. God has made Himself visible in His Son Jesus.

But, when folks have been told repeatedly that Baptism means nothing, and the Lord’s Supper with it, then that preaching becomes a kind of Gnosticism, that raises the spiritual above the material. So, protestant worship of that kind becomes devoid of mystery and actually makes Neil Postman’s argument in 1985 all the more prophetic. People flock to preachers and musicians on big and little screens who entertain consumers to death with three ways to make your life better while touching you emotionally with danceable tunes. And some anxious Lutherans-in-name-only are seduced by the success of cross-less preaching and worship devoid of mystery. I recently watched with sadness a portion of a service from one of my former congregations in which a pastor without a robe and gifted but intrusive musical entertainers, constantly appearing on screens, lifelessly attempted to be relevant while obscuring the cross of Christ and His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. I could not help but think of H. Richard Niebuhr’s famous description of the early 20th century liberal social gospel as: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross” (The Kingdom of God in America). To reduce Holy Trinity Sunday to that is moribund.

On the contrary, the Lord God has commanded us to gather to hear His Word and share in His Holy Supper as the early Christians did (Acts 2:37; 2:42), so that He can deliver sinners from sin, death, and the devil by joining us in the water of Holy Baptism to the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. At His altar, Christ gives us His own Body and Blood in earthly stuff of bread and wine, so that we who have chased after other gods, which can only leave us despairing, may be brought out of the Egypt of our sins into the joy and freedom of the eternal life and love that the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has always shared. Receiving the forgiveness of sins (the Holy Keys), we have eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ, who has opened to us the gate to Paradise. “Now no more can death appall, now no more the grave enthrall” (“At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing,” stanza 6, Lutheran Book of Worship #210). In Him, the saints shall rise!

Where else can you be drawn from death to life? Where else can the soul-numbing blather on the screens and the mind-deadening, hard-driving guitar riffs in your ears give way to the mystery of the Word made flesh for us and our salvation? Where else can you lose your life only to find it?

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA

Bulletin insert

Holy Keys: Holy Day


Work in us a perpetual reverence and love for you, O Lord. Because those who have come to love your ways are never disappointed in the way you guide. Through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Deuteronomy 5:12 “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord… God commanded you.”

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary states: “The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy did not mean the other days of the week and their activities were unholy. The Sabbath was to remind Israel that human beings were dependent on God and that they have strong tendencies to exalt themselves and their accomplishments, to turn them into gods even – to borrow an OT expression. In today’s terms, we might say that our pursuits become addictions. The Sabbath enforced a day of rest and worship in the weekly cycle to keep their focus on the Lord rather than on themselves and their accomplishments. Sunday, as the Lord’s Day, can help Christians set boundaries on who and what we worship and make the god of our lives” (242).

Deuteronomy 5:12ff. “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord… commanded you.”

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary states: “These verses contain the positive command to regard the Sabbath as holy – separated for God’s purposes… The Lord did so at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:8-11)” (242).

Deuteronomy 5:14 “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord… On it you shall not do any work,”

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary states: “… The primary significance of the Sabbath was that it belonged to the Lord… On this Lord’s day, the Israelites were to rest from work and celebrate God’s good gifts.” (242).

Deuteronomy 5:15 “You shall remember that you were a slave… the Lord…God brought you out”

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary states: “The Israelites were to remember Israel’s past oppression and celebrate their current freedom. Christians differ as to how this commandment relates to believers in Jesus Christ. The Sabbath was Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Christians generally worship God on Sunday, the first day of the week, because it was on a Sunday that the Lord rose from the dead. Even so, Christians follow the principle of this command. They dedicate time to the Lord by resting, by praising Him for His blessings, and by remembering His saving acts written in the Bible” (242).


  1. Are hearing God’s Word and receiving His Supper the foundation of my week?
  2. At the end of my life, will I wish I had spent less time in God’s house?


Table of Duties

Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service

To Husbands

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7).

“Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” (Colossians 3:19).

To Wives

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22).

“For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” (1 Peter 3:5-6) (Luther’s Small Catechism).


  1. Pray for every unbaptized child, youth, and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
  2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
  3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the responsibilities of being a husband and a wife. The roles are not interchangeable even though both are children of God and mated for life. If there are children in the household, talk with them about the importance of practicing the Christian faith together: praying daily, worshiping weekly, reading the Bible, et cetera.
  4. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. See p.189 in the front of the LBW (Year Two, Week of Pentecost 2).
  5. If you are interested in learning more about how Lutherans practice the Christian faith, you are invited to attend the next New Disciples Class on Saturday, August 24, from 9am – 12pm. in the church library. To register, please phone 910-791-4582 x 100 or email Donna at

For Husbands and Wives

Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”