June 3, 2018: 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (English)

3rd Sunday after Pentecost: Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Mark 2:23 – 3:6
Pastor Anke Deibler
Zion Lutheran Church, June 3, 2018

Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today’s gospel reminds me of an incident in our high school’s drama club. Two of my daughters worked on the backstage team. One day during rehearsal, the big curtain of the stage caught fire. There was a fire extinguisher right there, so the teacher in charge of the drama club grabbed it, handed it to one of the students, and the student put out the fire.

Turns out, she wasn’t allowed to do that. Only trained and authorized people are permitted to use fire extinguishers in the school. If the teacher had actually done the dousing herself, she would have lost her job over this. Unbelievable. She made a sign and posted it above the fire extinguisher: “In case of fire, do not use.” The school it took it down right away.

Now, I understand that ideally it should be a trained person who would handle a fire extinguisher. So I can understand why someone would want tow rite a law like this. However, in practice, this was just stupid. Should the teacher have left the curtain burning, run for help, and wait for a trained person to arrive? Can you imagine what kind of fire they would have had on their hands by then?

Sometimes law stem from good intentions, but backfire in the way they are applied. The same is true in the gospel stories today. Twice, Jesus butts up against the rules regarding the keeping of the sabbath. The first time, people complain that Jesus’ disciples are picking grain on a sabbath; that is harvesting, and harvesting is work, and thus it is forbidden on a sabbath. The second time, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand; healing is work and thus is forbidden on a sabbath.

Jesus is very frustrated. Even angry, we read. Let’s take a moment and figure out why Jesus was so mad.

It’s not that Jesus is against keeping the sabbath. On the contrary, Jesus himself kept the sabbath faithfully. He attended worship in the synagogues, he withdrew for prayer, he was all for a day of rest to connect with God and God’s people.

What made him angry was the strict policing of this day that God had intended as a gift. The religious authorities were watching other people and were trying to enforce sabbath rules by shaming and embarrassing and lambasting. By doing that, they turned what God has intended as a gift into a law. These people were trying to legislate faithfulness.

That never works. Never. It doesn’t matter what religion you look at, whenever a group of fervent believers got together and decided how the faithful should live and then enforced that behavior, things ended up feeling like a police state rather than a piece of the kingdom of God on heaven.

Among the puritans coming to this land, you could go to jail for missing worship. In the cities of the Swiss Reformation people weren’t allowed to have curtains so the religious watchers could always see what was going on inside the homes and make sure it was endorsed behavior. In the book ‘Old Sassy Tree’, the author describes the congregation’s tongues wagging if the preacher’s wife’s slip showed in a small southern town early last century.

She also described how the teenaged boy in the family dreaded Sundays. They were the most boring days of the week. He had to go to church. Then he had to stay in his good Sunday clothes. He wasn’t allowed to read the funnies in the newspaper, because it was the sabbath. He wasn’t allowed to play, because it was the sabbath. Truly, the dullest day of the week.

When God had intended the sabbath as a gift to be cherished. God didn’t want this to become a burden, a day to be dreaded, a tour de force every week. Sabbath was not intended as a day when you had to suffer for God.

Instead, it was to be a day of rest, of spending time with God, of recharging your body and soul. And what exactly it is that recharges your soul, can be as varied as people are varied.

For example, some people love long quiet stretches of silence in worship, to pray and meditate. I was at a retreat a few weeks ago where a pastor led us in five minutes of meditation. Afterwards, several people thought how wonderful that was. For me, I was done about halfway through. That just isn’t my way of connecting with God. A rousing hymn or a challenging sermon are more my thing.

This doesn’t mean that one way of prayer is wrong and the other is right. It just shows that different people have different ways of connecting with God. All power to them.

The sabbath should be used for whatever restores your soul. If gardening is a chore you hate with a passion, don’t do it; if gardening is something you love and find yourself humming happily as you putter among your plants, then go for it. If tidying up your house is your least favorite thing to do, stay away from it on the sabbath; if creating order gives you a sense of peace and calm, by all means do it.

Keep the sabbath. Please do. Keep it as the gift God meant it to be. Make it a day of rest and worship and replenishment and joy.

Don’t do it out of a sense of obligation, and don’t try to tell others how to do it, either.

Do it instead out of the motivation God lays out in our reading from Deuteronomy: Do it out of gratitude. Do it because you remember what it was like to be slaves and you never had a day off, and you cried for help and deliverance, and God came through for you and set you free. Now you have the gift and joy of a day of rest. Make sure you never fall back into slavery patterns. Make sure you set aside one day for God and godly things that give you energy and joy and spirit. Make sure everyone in your society gets such a day, even slaves and resident aliens. Make sure you honor and praise God by accepting this gift of a day of sabbath time.

Following God’s rules out of love and gratitude is important for our own
spiritual well-being and our own joy.

It is also important for our call as witnesses to God’s goodness in this world. In my sermon studies this week, I ran across a text that really made me think. It was written half a century ago my Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book “God in Search of Man”:

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.

That’s what happened when Jesus healed on the sabbath: authority outdid compassion and the original message of the goodness of God was lost. And who would want to join a church like that?

I know many people who left their churches because they were treated with law instead of compassion: The young woman, who was kicked out of the church choir because she was pregnant out of wedlock; the worship leader who was not allowed to lead worship after she revealed a period of doubt to her pastor; the man who didn’t receive communion for 42 years because he had married a divorced woman; the young man who was expelled from his church because he was gay.

What do these kinds of experiences say about the church? When authority and law speak louder than love and compassion, what kind of image of God are we projecting? Who would want to become a disciple?

Let us embrace the sabbath as the gift of God it is: a day to worship, to rest, to be inspired, to recharge, to drink from the fountain of living water. A day that reminds us of the grace of God. A day that helps us be God’s joyful children in the world, messengers of peace, able to guide others to the healing presence of Jesus Christ.

May God bless you this sabbath day and always. Amen.

And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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