Upper Rogue United Methodist Church
August 21, 2016
Two weeks ago I spoke of the importance of a Sabbath, of devoting one day in seven to rest and to God.
Last week I spoke of the prophets, and how they were, and are, disliked because their words often collide with our deeply held ideas, prejudices, and traditions. That's exactly what happened in today's gospel lesson. It was the Sabbath and Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. Among the worshipers was crippled woman, she was bent over and had been unable to stand up straight for 18 years.
I cannot imagine what that poor woman's life was like: not being able to see anything but your feet and the ground. It would be bad enough to be like that for a few weeks while awaiting surgery, but 18 years! That''s enough to drive you past hopelessness. Like the country-western song, she'd been down so long it looked like up to her.
The anthropologist and philosopher Loren Eiseley told of a man he saw on a train traveling from New York to Pittsburgh . He had that down and out look we see so often. His clothes were old and ragged, and he sat, eyes closed with a paper bag balanced on his knees. It seemed to contain all his earthly possessions. All eyes were on the man as the conductor entered the car. “Ticket please.” he said to the man. Pulling out a wad of cash, the despondent man said: “Give me a ticket to wherever.” The conductor chose Pittsburgh for his destination, and returned the man's change.
This must have been how the crippled woman in Luke's story felt. So hopeless she didn't care where she was or where she was going. She had given up hope, and faced a future without promise. Oh, she'd probably heard of Jesus, and his power to heal, but she was so depressed she didn't even ask for help, probably thinking it wouldn't do any good anyhow. No, she didn't come to Jesus, Jesus came to her.
When Jesus saw the woman, he called her over and said, "You are now well." He placed his hands on her, and right away she stood up straight and praised God.
Now I don't know about you, but I wouldn't call placing my hands on someone hard work; but then, I'm not the leader of that Jewish congregation. He was upset. “How dare you heal on the Sabbath! Don't you know there are six days to do your work? She should come on one of those days to be healed. This is the Sabbath, the day of rest, not work.
The Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees of Jesus' time took Sabbath seriously. The Pharisees were the ultimate religious people among the Jews during Christ’s life on earth. Determined not to break any of God’s laws, they had, over time, devised an intricate system of oral tradition to keep them from breaking the Mosaic law. There were 39 specific activities that were forbidden on the Sabbath The 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat can be divided into four groups.
The first 11 categories are activities required to bake bread.
The next 13 categories are activities required to make a garment.
The next 9 categories are activities required to make leather.
The final 6 categories are activities required to build a structure or building.
None of them deal with mercy, kindness, or healing.
The clash between Jesus and the Pharisees lay in their differing understanding of the nature of God. For the Pharisees, God is primarily one who makes demands. For them, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were a set of rules that must be kept at all costs. For Jesus, as well as the Old Testament believers, God is primarily “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8). What really got the Pharisees upset with Jesus was the way he ignored their trivial and burdensome rules for keeping the Sabbath. In Matthew 12 verses 1–8, the Pharisees objected to the disciples of Jesus plucking and eating heads of grain as they walked through the grain fields on a Sabbath. According to their oral tradition, plucking the heads of grain and eating them was work — a violation of the Sabbath. Almost immediately afterward, on that same Sabbath day, Jesus entered their synagogue where there was a man with a withered hand. Now, eager to again accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (vv. 9–14). Before healing the man, Jesus answers their question by asking which of them, if his sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, would not lift it out. If, then, it is lawful to relieve the misery of a sheep on the Sabbath, how much more is it lawful to relieve the misery of a fellow human being who is more valuable than a sheep? And in today's lesson from Luke, Jesus says: "Are you trying to fool someone? Won't any one of you untie your ox or donkey and lead it out to drink on a Sabbath? This woman belongs to the family of Abraham, but Satan has kept her bound for eighteen years. Isn't it right to set her free on the Sabbath?" (Luk 13:15-16)
In all three instances — that of the disciples eating the grain and of Jesus healing the man’s withered hand and the crippled woman, the scriptural principle that Jesus applies is God’s Word that “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”
What we call John Wesley's Rule reiterates this thought:
Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
for as long as ever you can.
And yes, that includes on the Sabbath
Now don't misunderstand me. Sabbath is important. We need that time to rest. We need a day away from the toil and occupation. A day to spend relaxing, resting, and praising God. Jesus, himself told us: "People were not made for the good of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for the good of people.” (Mar 2:27) I don't think most of us need 39 rules to tell us what we should and shouldn't do. We know; that's why we are here today. We know that acts of mercy are always appropriate. We know we shouldn't work: but, then, sometimes we, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, wonder what work is.
The truth is, it is, sometimes, hard to determine if something is work or leisure. Webster defines work as: effort exerted to do or make something; labor, toil. Employment or occupation. While Sir James Barrie claims that “Nothing is really work unless you'd rather be doing something else.”. Then there's Milton Berle's assertion that 'hard work never killed anybody: But then, did you ever hear of anyone dieing from rest?” So where do we draw the line?
I would suggest that one way is to look at what you do the rest of the week, either for pay or as a volunteer. Are you a farmer? Then gardening of the Sabbath is probably work for you. Do you deliver meals on wheels? Maybe you should think about staying home on the Sabbath Are you in sales? Listing stuff on Craig's List or holding a garage sale is probably work. No matter how much you enjoy your paid or volunteer job, it is important to spend a day doing something else. That's what Sabbath is about: time to relax, recharge, and give thanks. Practice compassion and mercy? Yes. Prepare for the week ahead? No. Respond to an emergency; yes. Do your housework or prepare a report for the boss?No. You get the picture. If it feels like work, if it looks like work, if it sounds like work it probably is work. And if it is work, you should avoid it at least one day a week. After all: By the seventh day God had finished his work, and so he rested. God blessed the seventh day and made it special because on that day he rested from his work.
God rested. Shouldn't you? AMEN.