Cliff Wall, pastor of the Puett United Methodist Church, sent us a wonderful sermon on Sabbath keeping. He graciously answered our questions regarding his family’s sabbath-lifestyle.
My wife, Christi, and I have 4 children and one on the way. I have pastored a rural United Methodist church in Dallas, North Carolina since 2012. I have been in pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church since 2008. I received an MDiv from Duke Divinity School in 2012. I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love!
Have you always been a Sabbath keeper? If not, when did you start keeping the Sabbath?
I grew up in a church-going family. My father was born in 1928; my mother in 1935. They were both raised in a culture that very much honored a Sunday Sabbath. My parents owned a small country store and never opened on Sundays. So during my childhood Sundays were certainly not an ordinary day.
Early on it was a quiet day of rest and a time to visit with friends and family after Sunday morning worship at the country United Methodist church just a mile up the road from where we lived. For children in the community it also was very much a “Sunday Fun Day” when we got together to play. Once I got a little older though, I recall a gradual shift. Larger grocery stores began to open in nearby small towns along with fast food restaurants. Pretty soon going out to eat and grocery shopping after church became a weekly routine for my family. After that there was still mid afternoon naps for my folks and play time for me and other kids in the neighborhood. When I got more into sports it was also a day when some friends and I would watch some football or basketball on TV. Sunday evenings, however, often found me scrambling to complete homework assignments before going back to school on Monday. Sundays were definitely different, but I can’t really say that we were consciously observing Sabbath. As I got more involved in sports, especially basketball, as a teenager, Sunday just became another day for me to work on my game and just hang out with friends.
In college I got involved with a non-denominational Christian group that taught Sabbath freedom, for them meaning that the law, including the Sabbath law, came to an end in Christ and we no longer needed to observe it. This way of thinking definitely led me to believe that it really didn’t matter what Christians did on any particular day. While I was working on a Master’s degree I worked in a retail store part-time. I worked Sundays quite regularly and never really thought much about it. Sunday was still a day for attending a morning worship service, but nothing more than that.
As a student pastor at Duke Divinity School the demands of school and church made it seem almost impossible to find time off, but I really still didn’t think about it in terms of observing Sabbath at first. At Conference and Divinity School seminars the importance of Sabbath was discussed, but usually in terms of self-care (i.e. just taking a day off). I did get into the habit of taking Mondays off, at least most of the day, really just out of sheer exhaustion. At that time, however, I did begin to sense in my spirit that there was more to Sabbath than that.
Intuitively, my family and I no longer went out to eat after church, as is the custom of many a good Methodist. Sundays became more of a day to be at home rather than out and about running errands. Still, in the back of my mind though I sort of still viewed the freedom we have in Christ as a license to ignore Sabbath if we wanted, although I knew it really wasn’t wise to do so. It was the teaching of Dr. Sleeth that really helped me to think about Sabbath keeping in a greater light.
I had already been seeing more and more in Scripture that the freedom we have in Christ is a freedom to do what we ought rather than what we want; and that through faith in Christ we are empowered by the Spirit to live into the spirit and intent of the law (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:22-23). I was already sensing how this pertained to Sabbath, but Dr. and Mrs. Sleeth helped to bring it more into focus. I guess the way I would put it now is that although in Christ we have freedom from a particular form of Sabbath; we also, in Him, have a freedom for the heart and intent of Sabbath. Since I first made the Sabbath covenant with the Sleeths last year, I have learned better what I need to do to truly find refreshment and rest in the Lord once a week.
For me I became aware that, while I was technically ceasing and desisting from official church responsibilities, I was still wearying myself at times with my own personal studies and reading. I have also learned that if I am truly to find rest that I need to resist the endless trail of links to online articles and cyber debates over controversial issues on my day of rest. I also realized that I need to avoid the news, especially of the political variety. In short, I have a better idea how to set a day apart to truly fellowship with the Lord and find rest and refreshment in my God. Not that I always succeed in avoiding the unnecessary distractions, but I am in a much better position this year than last for sure. For that, I am thankful.
What made you decide to share the Sabbath message with your congregation?
It occurred to me that the gradual Sabbath neglect among Christians that began many years ago may have in fact been a gateway to more and more neglect of many of the other laws of God in the Church and the wider culture.
Recently some folks were upset to learn that some stores would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Some of the complaints were that it would keep some people from being able to spend time with family. I understand because I worked in retail for years and even though I technically had Thanksgiving Day off I usually had to work the day before and most certainly the day after. Consequently, at a time when my wife and I lived a couple of hours away from my folks, it was quite burdensome to get home just for one day. At least we could count on having Thanksgiving Day off, but for many in retail today they can’t even count on that. Many, including me, lament that; but it dawned on me that this was just the end of a slippery slope that began with the gradual encroachment and erosion of what used to be a special day every week in our culture, Sunday.
At any rate, it seems to me that the same gateway that may have led to greater neglect of God’s laws in other regards may also be the same gateway back to more faithfulness overall. So, that’s one reason why I wanted to talk about Sabbath with my congregation. I think there is a keen sense among many people that we did in fact lose a religious and cultural treasure when Sunday became just “one more day for progress,” as the second half of one line goes in the “Rascal Flats” song, “I Miss Mayberry.” The full line of that song is, “Sunday was a day of rest, now it’s one more day of progress.” I would like to help others begin to receive the gift that Sabbath is, but not only just for themselves.
It’s clear from the fourth commandment that Sabbath wasn’t just meant to be a personal gift; it was meant to be a gift to the whole society. It was a day that everyone – even the animals – could count on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone, at least for the most part, could count on the same day every week to be able attend to the relationships that matter most, our relationship with the Lord and our family and friends? I remember years that it seemed that my wife and I only saw each other in passing – never having a consistent day each week that we could count on to be able to spend quality time together. Although it’s hard to see how we could reclaim what we have lost at this point in our 24/7 world, reminding Christians to remember the Sabbath and to begin to seek to keep it more and more holy seems like a good start.
In what ways have you seen them engage with this message?
It’s obvious that many are aware of the treasure that was lost, at least the older people in our congregation. All of this is quite foreign to many of the young people, however. Nevertheless, some have told me that they have taken very practical steps toward being more observant of Sabbath in general – not washing dishes on Sunday, for example. Others are beginning to rethink their Sunday routines as well. Overall I think the message has resonated fairly well so far.
What does Sabbath look like for you and your family?
My wife and I have four children and one on the way. Over the last year we have become more intentional about Sabbath. In addition to worship, prayer, and Bible study, we have also tried to make it a day for gathering and fellowshipping with friends. We eat together at home and avoid shopping as well. We have encouraged our kids to get their homework done before Sunday, and to simply rest and enjoy the day.
As a pastor, I have for a long time taken Monday as my personal Sabbath. Albeit more recently I have begun to think of Monday as a personal extension of our family Sunday Sabbath. Since my wife doesn’t work outside the home, Monday is a time when we can spend more time together since three of our four children are in school. Of course our one year old keeps company with us on Mondays too.
Personally, on Mondays I try to focus on things that draw me closer to the Lord and help me to find refreshment, such as Scripture reading and prayer, a walk in the sunshine, rest in my recliner, and enjoyable movies, some TV shows, or an occasional novel. A good dessert on Sunday and/or Monday helps too! Usually, Mondays require of me much more rest than anything else. Praise God that I’m finding more and more of it in recent days.
Take 30 minutes to watch Pastor Cliff Wall’s Sabbath Sermon: