August 25, 2013
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
A woman has been bent over, burdened, weighed down, having a spirit of infirmity, for eighteen years. When Jesus heals her, she straightens up for the first time in almost two decades, and she praises God. But the moderator of the church, the president of the synagogue, starts to criticize, “There are six days for work! You can heal on any of those! Why on the Sabbath?”
It is fairly clear that keeping the Sabbath holy was a big deal in Jesus’ day. We have gone in the other direction, with stores open 24/7, sports teams from little league to professional practicing and playing, and, outside of church in the morning, Sunday is pretty much just like Saturday for many of us.
History teaches us the difficulties of trying to enforce the Sabbath, whether our forebears the Puritans who would see who did not come to church on Sunday and put them in the stocks on Monday, or more recently with blue laws which tried to regulate life according to certain views of morality.
But if in Jesus’ day, Sabbath was seen as a time for no work, not even healing, and if in our day it is observed more in the breach than in the practice, just what is Sabbath about?
There are two places where the Ten Commandments appear in the Torah: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In each, the reasons for keeping the Sabbath holy, holy here meaning set apart and dedicated to God, are different. In Exodus, the Sabbath is to be kept holy because God created the world in six days and on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.
The implications are profound. We are called to be creative and to make livable space in our world. And we are called to rest, as God rested, so that we might be restored. Creativity is difficult on little rest, little sleep, little re-creation.
In Deuteronomy, the reason for the Sabbath is remembrance of their time under Pharaoh, when the quota of bricks kept rising and they had to gather their own straw. Under Pharaoh there was no rest, there was no re-creation, there was no pausing. Their time, like the product of their labor, was not theirs to control. Under the covenant of God, they are to take Sabbath time.
What is remarkable is that they are commanded to take Sabbath time even in the wilderness. Even in a place with “no viable life support systems” (as Uncle Walt calls it), Sabbath is to be kept.
There appears to be a disconnect between the Sabbath given to a people freed from slavery, and either the slavish enforcement of the Sabbath of Jesus’ day and the routine dismissal of the Sabbath in our own.
I ran across an article by Benjamin Corey titled “10 Ways We Water Down the Gospel (let’s admit, we all do it).” (http://www.formerlyfundie.com/watering-down-the-gospel/) With a title like that I expected a righteous, fire and brimstone diatribe, but was pleased to find it down to earth and gently worded, and sad to admit that he is right on all ten counts.
The first way he says that we water down the Gospel is “when we attempt to live it out in isolation, instead of in the context of community.” We might view this morning’s healing story as being an individual story about the woman and Jesus, followed by a church fight over whether it was the right time to do such things. But the healing of the woman was also a rebuke of the community that tries to be religious without seeking to be a community of healing, of restoration, of reconnection.
What is at stake is both the life of this child of God, a life weighed down and bent over and bowed down, and the life of the community that puts its religious observances above its love of neighbor.
The Sabbath is to be kept, and kept holy, but not turned into a law by which we judge one another. The Sabbath is about resting in the one who redeems from the Pit, who restores the broken, who leads out of slavery and into covenant, who speaks a word of peace and calms the storm, who loves us and heals us and calls us to life.
Sabbath is about the community of faith remembering the saving acts of God. If there is healing that needs to take place, what better time than while remembering the one in whose image we are created.
Could the woman have come to Jesus at another time? Maybe. We are not sure how long he was in town or what the bus schedules were.
But a child of God has been bound for too long, and all of life has become a burden. The Sabbath is no day of rest when you have been hurting for 18 years (or even 18 hours). She could not lift herself up. But when she is healed, she straightens up and she praises God.
What has been burdening us? What has us been weighing us down, making it so that we cannot rest, even on the Sabbath? What has afflicted us for so long? Each of our answers may be different. Perhaps we feel alone in our pain. Maybe we think no one else has been through this. But we are not alone.
This is our Sabbath.
And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?
And ought not we, each one a child of God, who has been bound for too long, be loosed from what weighs us down on this Sabbath day?
And out not we, a community of Jesus, who have been bound for too long, be loosed from what weighs us down on this Sabbath day?
Even so, Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Thanks be to God.