Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Kate Costa
I heard this week that we have a team of golfers who will be going to play in a benefit tournament for Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp. So, in their honor I have a golf joke for you this morning.
There once was an orthodox Rabbi who went golfing, even though it was on the Sabbath. Gabriel saw him, and summoned God.
“Yoohoo, God!” said Gabriel, “We have a rabbi golfing on the Sabbath. Strike him down with a lightning bolt.” God said, “You know, I think I’ve got better plans for him.”
Just then, the Rabbi took a swing at the ball, and it drove 420 yards, bounced and rolled up onto the green and fell directly into the cup, a hole-in-one. The Rabbi was ecstatic!
But Gabriel was mad. He turned to God and said, “What happened!!! I thought you were going to punish him?”
God said, “I did. Who’s he going to tell?”
This morning Jesus comes up against a well-known commandment- Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy. The Pharisees knew that Jesus was well versed in scripture and knew the commandments. In fact, as you might remember, when asked what the most important commandment was by the young lawyer, trying to trick him, Jesus didn’t miss a beat. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Straight from Deuteronomy. Textbook answer.
So then, this morning, when the leader of the synagogue comes to rebuke Jesus, he thinks he has a strong, scriptural reason to complain against him. You are not keeping the Sabbath! You are violating the rules of the very God, the very kingdom you claim to be bringing!
Perhaps not in this specific story, but in many similar accounts elsewhere, this blatant disobedience of the commandment was enough for the Pharisees and scribes to plot against Jesus, enough to look for a way to kill him.
As a child in Sunday School once said…“Ohhhhh, I think I get it. So healing isn’t allowed on the Sabbath, but plotting murder is??”
What the Pharisees have forgotten is the context in which this rule was written. Remember back to a time when the Israelites were working at back breaking work in Egypt. Do you remember them carrying heavy buckets of water, straining under the work of hard task masters without ever getting a day of rest? Can you imagine the weight of the rough bricks on their hands, laboring for palaces in which they will likely never sit, laboring 7 days a week. Then, to add insult to injury, suddenly they were required to not just make the brick, but to provide their own materials as well, to cut the straw needed to make the bricks they slaved over without the rest for which their souls longed.
Then, God said “Enough!” Moses heard God calling from that fiery bush. God says, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
And indeed, through many long toils, God did bring them out! It is out of that exodus, out of that slavery, out of that bondage and release into freedom that the command to practice the Sabbath emerges. Because they were slaves in Egypt, who toiled 7 days of the week under their masters, perhaps only getting a day off every month or so for a festival, now they are given the command, nay, the gift, of rest.
Rolf Jacobson points out that sometimes we as Lutherans only remember the first part of the commandment, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” since that’s all that is in the catechism. I think that it goes far beyond Lutherans- all that we would see engraved is that first part, despite the fact that the commandment goes on, the longest of the ten. Listen to the whole commandment:
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God 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, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
The Sabbath was not intended to be just an individual Sabbath, but a rest for all, especially their servants. It is a gift that is given not to us individually, but to the whole society. I’m not advocating for us to go back to a time when everything was closed on Sunday, but I am arguing that we each should have the right and gift to take a full day of rest from work each week. Without it, we become stressed, overworked, and most importantly spiritually dry. As Jesus points out this week, the Sabbath is not a command to be interpreted as a legalistic stumbling block, but rather it is a gift for the healing of all people.
As a theologian explains our modern conundrum, “There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle as a society on a societal Sabbath. That day has come and gone. But one of the losses that comes with that is that the working poor now have to work every day of the week.”
In our day, we have again forgotten the justice aspect of allowing rest. The working poor, and sometimes even middle class families, feel the pressure to work seven days a week.
Anne Howard, in her book Claiming the Beatitudes, quotes a young 7th Day Adventist seminarian on practicing the Sabbath. He says, “I’m now seeing that for the Jews the Sabbath was an act of justice, of reclaiming time for workers to rest from labor, a way for religious practice- behavior- to improve the lives of people. I like discovering that there’s more to Sabbath than being these peculiar people who go to church on Saturday.”
Or, for us, that there is more to Sabbath than being these peculiar people who actually get up and go to church on Sunday. From this Sabbath, a holy rest, pours God’s amazing gift of rest, healing, forgiveness, and love out upon all people. Rest is not, as some quip, for the weak. Rest is for the faithful.
Rabbi Abraham Heshel calls the Sabbath “a sanctuary in time.” May you find sanctuary this day, that all the restless may find their rest in God.