First Reading Isaiah 58:5-14
Second Reading Hebrews 12:18-29
Gospel Reading Luke 13:10-17
Sermon “Reserving Room for God”
The reading from Hebrews this morning begins by describing the awesome spectacle on Mt Sinai when the Law was first given to Israel. It speaks of a mountain burning with fire and smoke, of darkness and storm. It tells of the very voice of God speaking the commandments with such majesty and force that the people begged God to never speak to them like that again and instead to only speak through Moses. Even Moses himself trembled with fear. Those 10 commandments and the other ceremonial and civil laws given through Moses defined the nation of Israel from then on. Through those laws, the Israelites were taught how to live in the presence of a holy and awesome God. The Hebrews account then goes on to say that now, through the coming of Jesus, we have come to a different mountain – Mt Zion instead of Mt Sinai.
Here there is no longer fear inspiring fire, and smoke and storm, rather it says: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. And yet, the text still goes on to warn that we are not to refuse to listen to the word of God which still speaks with the power to shake both heaven and earth.” Matter of fact, it says the only thing which cannot be shaken is the kingdom of God. We are urged to “worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire!”
So which way is it? Holy or gracious? Fearsomely awesome or loving and joyous. Actually yes to both and all! We Christians today have a complicated relationship with the law. In some ways we bravely state that Christ has fulfilled the law and we have been granted the wonderful grace and freedom to live for him apart from it. Paul writes volumes about how Christ has freed us from the law and he fought bravely with the Jewish Christian leaders for the inclusion of the gentles into the community of faith based on grace alone, rather by particular religious rites such as the dietary codes and circumcision. Yet, this same man of God told the Roman church, among many others that how they lived their lives mattered at great deal. In Romans 6 he writes: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”
You see, it’s complicated. Rather than a simple set of rules, we are called to a relationship. A deep and abiding relationship. We do well to look for the basic principles behind and through the law that allow us to see the nature and will of God as revealed in scripture and the person of Jesus Christ. You may recall a few weeks ago, we covered a passage where Jesus asked an expert in the law for his summary of the whole law: Luke 10:26-28 “Jesus asked, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” The man answered, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” This summary which was also used by Jesus himself is a good starting point to consider what impact the commandments need to hold in our sometimes messy and complicated lives.
The Gospel story asks us to take a close look at the one commandment that many Christians ignore and yet the one that occasioned Jesus’ most serious conflicts with the religious authorities of his day. Here Jesus confronts blind legalism in a powerful way, gives us a better perspective to sort out apparently competing priorities, but does not give us permission to ignore it. Rather he lifts up its true intention and the grace offered through it. Exactly what does the commandment say? Well, here it is, commandment number 4: Deuteronomy 5:12-15 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
As Luke tells us the story, Jesus was teaching in a Synagogue one Sabbath day, when he spotted a lady who was bent over, unable to stand up. When he calls her over and heals her, She rejoices and praises God – perhaps something like Ps 103 that we used as our call to worship this morning- “Bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all that is within me bless God’s Holy name!” In spite of her Joy and the awesome nature of the miracle, the leader of the synagogue is offended by Jesus’ act and was likely also alarmed by the line of other people that was rapidly forming to be healed as well, because he says “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.” Jesus answers him by pointing out that their rules allowed them to care for their animals on the sabbath, why should he not care for this lady? The leader in essence said she has waited 18 years, what’s one more day? Jesus counters saying essentially, she has suffered for 18 long years, she should not have to wait another minute! His opponents were humiliated yet again time in their attempts to trap or find fault in him.
This woman was severely afflicted, but as the story notes her disability had a spiritual dimension to it. So it is with many people, bent down, stooped with worry, heartache, or depression. This story need not only to be about a spine problem. You probably know several people crippled by many causes – only some of them physical. Do you believe that they too are children of God? – just as Jesus reminded his critics that she was, after all a child of Abraham, just as they were. As children of God they too deserve to be set free. There is wonderful power in just being seen – noticed and called to. Is there someone you need to lift up today? What a wonderful way to honor God. God is indeed the great physician, what a privilege to extend the love of God to those who especially need to hear and feel it.
So what can we learn here? Did Jesus disobey the law? Did he toss out commandment #4? No, of course not, Even though Jesus routinely did things on the Sabbath that got the religious authorities hopping mad at him. In every case Jesus took the opportunity to remind them that despite their pious intentions, they had significantly misunderstood the very purpose behind the Sabbath. The Sabbath was meant to be a day of delight, rest, enjoyment. We can learn more by noting that in Scripture, the Ten Commandments are given twice with virtually no difference between the words in Exodus 20 and the words in Deuteronomy 5. Only this commandment on the Sabbath day shows a significant variation. Whereas Exodus 20 grounds the practice in creation (“. . . for in six days the Lord God created the heavens and the earth . . .”) in Deuteronomy 5 it is grounded in redemption (“. . . remember that you were slaves in Egypt but that the Lord your God led you out of that land . . .”). So taking the two together, we see that the Sabbath has something to do with both creation and redemption.
On the creation side, is that fact that after six days of creating according to the Genesis account, the Lord God rested on the seventh day, not because he was exhausted and in need of an afternoon nap. No, what God did on the seventh day was the same thing Adam and Eve were to do on what constituted their first full day of existence: revel in and delight over the creation. On the redemption side, the Sabbath day is a reminder that God has liberated us from all that is evil and harmful to human abundant living. We are to take joy in remembering that God is redeeming the creation, renewing all that evil has corrupted, and will one day return it the glory God intended in the beginning. Creation and Redemption – Jesus had both Sabbath themes up and running at the same time.
The problem was that, over time, the devout in Israel such as the Pharisees, took that one injunction about work and ran with it. Somewhere around 613 other rules and regulations were loaded on top of the fourth commandment all in an effort carefully to define what work was or wasn’t and to help people avoid even a hint of performing work on the Sabbath. What was supposed to be a day of joy in both creation and redemption could become a burdensome day in which people worried the whole day long they might accidentally perform some deed of work. As Jesus pointed out – Without even realizing it, the authorities had granted a higher status to a donkey than to the average human being!! This was a truth hidden in plain sight but sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to spy that obvious truth.
Now all that being said, Jesus did not abolish the Sabbath or give us permission to neglect it; He even said that He was Lord of the Sabbath. So what are we to do with this gift of God today? Do we use it to come together in loving fellowship and worship the God of Creation who has redeemed us so wonderfully? Well some do – here we are at least this morning. What of the rest of the day? How will we honor God, give ourselves time for rest, rejuvenation and recreation and Love neighbor along the way?
Here is a thought or two to carry out with you today. First of all, those last questions are the very stuff of Christian living for EVERY DAY are they not? But especially, at least one day a week. It’s God’s gift to us after all. But let’s be careful not to start getting legalistic about it. Some folks with work and responsibilities might need to take a different day perhaps. Me for instance, I try to reserve Monday to rest and play. Matter of fact, today is not the Sabbath at all. The Sabbath ended at Sundown Saturday night. We worship on the Lord’s Day – the day the Christ Rose from the Dead. By doing so we recognize our Savior and the mediator of the New Covenant by which we are saved.
The gifts of God are for everyday of the week, yet we are commanded to take time for Sabbath, to allow God to continue to create his image more fully in us and to participate in the redemption the world – one person, one day at a time. Take time to worship and reflect, to read and to rest, to share the love of Christ and revel and delight in the gifts of the created world. Please don’t fill your life with activities and tasks that there is no room left for Sabbath. A time set apart for God. We make reservations at our favorite restaurants do we not? Let’s reserve room in our lives for God and in so doing, we will find blessing and be a blessing to others.