14 Pentecost Proper 16: Isaiah 58:9-14; Ps 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:19-29; Lk 13:10-17
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL, August 25, 2013
¦call the Sabbath day a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable¦
Tomorrow morning I will wake-up and most likely think, Another Monday”the start of the work week; a resetting of the clock that points toward Sunday. I’m not sure if that thought is good or bad”should Sunday be the culmination of the week or the start? Most calendars begin their weeks with Sunday, but most of us think of Monday as the beginning of our week and Sunday as a day of rest. Maybe Sunday is more of a pivotal point; a time to take stock of the week just past and look ahead to the week to come.
Is a fixed Sunday”as a beginning or ending”important? After all naming the days of the week is simply a human invention to mark time, as is naming the hours of the day, the months of the year, even the years themselves. We allow (or at least try to work with) natural laws to dictate these definitions, though there are exceptions to our human definitions of time and nature’s reality for example, changing the time bi-annually to keep up with the daylight, adding a leap year every four years to keep our days and years on track. These exceptions seem to point at the futility or at least the imperfection of the human desire to control, that which is beyond our capacity to control.
Nature, not our silly and complicated means, reflects a more accurate Godly time. In the beginning God created¦he made the sun and moon and there was day and there was night and it was good. He caused the plants to grow in cycles and so nature marks time in seasons. We call these seasons summer, fall, winter, and spring. But nature calls them life, decay, death, and rebirth.
Time is a funny thing”we can never get it right simply because it is not ours to get right. It is God’s”and God doesn’t work to the specifications and demands that man thinks by. God works in God’s own way and at God’s own time.
We see that work in the rhythms of the year–the seasons, the cycles of night and day as they lengthen and shorten according to all the processes put in place when God formed the earth. We celebrate God’s rhythm in the church year through our own seasons of ordinary time, these many days after Pentecost, and extraordinary time”Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter and its Great fifty days, and the Day of Pentecost”and in this way we celebrate the whole mystery of Christ. We repeat this calendar again and again, as the tide shifting in and out but always coming ashore, and in this repetition we are drawn into the depths of God’s time.
We add our own secular pressures to this sacred time”we ramp up church activities in the fall, falling in line with the secular world as children go back to school and fiscal years begin. We plan our calendars, dream about finances, and think toward future goals”at home, at work, at church. None of these things are bad, but as busyness increases we are tempted to move away from God and shift into our own self-reliance, to shift into ourselves.
We lose sight of the deep, sacred time that draws us into the peaceable kingdom and get focused on the shallowness of our present thoughts. Our concerns become petty, though they don’t seem so to us”what will I wear? what will I eat?
When we are simply focused on ourselves, our present, and only concerned with our immediate needs and desires we lose sight of God and we lose sight of one another. We start to live according to our limitations and that is never a successful strategy for life.
God knows this, he knows our fallibility as humans, and so he gave us the gift of Sabbath. And even more than just giving us Sabbath, he covenanted the Sabbath with us, Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work¦ (Exodus 20:9-10)
This Sabbath time is an even greater gift than we might first realize, because it releases us from any feelings of guilt or defense as to why we cannot or should not have one day from our labours. Isaiah reminds us this morning that If you refrain from trampling on the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth¦
This is what the Jews signed up for. This is what they have known”work hard for six days and on the seventh day, do not pursue your own interests, but those of God who has blessed you with the ability and means in which to do this work in the first place. Everything is going along swimmingly, the Jewish people have these black and white laws put in place to help them understand and be God’s people. And then Jesus comes along…
Here he is, teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath and in walks a crippled woman. We don’t know that she came to be healed, she certainly didn’t approach Jesus or make herself known to him”he called her over and healed her. And she was quite thankful”praising God. But that’s when the trouble starts.
Jesus just can’t seem to catch a break with the religious leadership of Judea and, in this case, maybe rightly so. He just broke the covenant big time”he worked on the Sabbath. Remember that division Jesus told us he was bringing last week? Well, here it is”some agreed with him and found him not to have broken Sabbath because of a rabbinic argument from lesser to greater”if its ok to care for your animal on the Sabbath, how much more is it ok to care for a suffering human.
Others were a little more rigid and fixed in their interpretations of law and probably walked away shaking their heads and muttering about who the real hypocrite was.
Who is right and who is wrong? We, of course, side with Jesus. But since the covenant was made”Jews had been told to keep the Sabbath holy. And maybe, that is the clue we need to figure out why Jesus did what he did that fateful Sabbath day”holiness.
Is simply declaring a day holy and then doing whatever you want keeping the Sabbath? The Ten Commandments tell us not to work on the seventh day, the Sabbath, not so that we can have a scheduled rest break in our workweek, but in order to keep it holy. And if holiness is simply rest, then the most sacred thing in your house is not your Bible or even your Book of Common Prayer, but your pillow.
Yes, God rested on the seventh day, but in so doing he consecrated the Sabbath and our responsibility is the observance of that consecration”keeping the Sabbath holy. The leader of the synagogue seems to have equated holiness and rest and this is reinforced in Jewish tradition by the numerous laws guiding just what you can and cannot do on the Sabbath”for instance, you could pick up your animal if it fell down but you could not ride it anywhere; you could only take so many steps and then you had to stop walking until the Sabbath was over. Lets hope you were close to home.
Jesus is redefining what Sabbath holiness means”he frees a woman from the bondage of Satan and in so doing he demonstrates what it means to keep the Sabbath holy”it is the action of liberation to those captive in Satan’s grasp. It is the seed planted become visible in the plant. It is the yeast hidden in the flour that makes the bread grow. It is lived out in the reality of a crippled woman who simply showed up and allowed the kingdom of God to enter in.
Sabbath time has an eternal quality. It points directly to the peaceable kingdom. We call the Sabbath day, Sunday”it is the first day and the last day”the alpha and the omega of our secular version of time. But it is also the eighth day”the day we enter into the peaceable kingdom and are renewed and made holy again and again, week after week, season after season, year after year. It is the day we come to know the whole mystery of Christ and allow ourselves to be drawn into God’s time instead of simply trying to exist according to our own inadequate grasp of time.
Honor the Sabbath. Not by pursuing your own interests be they rest or recreation”but by participating in the holiness that God draws us into; the Jews covenanted with God to be holy at least one day a week. We do no less. As Paul tells the Hebrews, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe¦ And we do this on the Sabbath.