Many thanks to Heather Lee, who preached this sermon on August 22, 2010.
About 10 years ago, I came back to church. When I told family and friends about this, I got all sorts of responses. A strong theme seemed to emerge. Christians can’t do an awful lot, and they can’t do anything on Sunday.
“Can you say that word?”
“Aren’t you supposed to pray before you eat?”
“Well, it was on a Sunday, and I know you only go to church on the Sabbath.”
To be fair, the church told me plenty of things about how to fit in and what we didn’t do on the Sabbath as well.
“We will seat you between the collect and the first lesson.”
“Acolytes cannot wear flip flops and their shirts must never show above their vestments.”
Please come back tomorrow, the person who handles our assistance program is not here on Sunday.”
All of these examples speak to our assumptions about the Sabbath. One I expect every one of us shares is – Go to church on Sunday morning. And as glad as I am to see all of you, it doesn’t really answer the Sabbath’s most pertinent question.
Why are we here?
The gospel lesson this morning offers two explanations for why we are here and what the Sabbath is all about.
In it, we find Jesus teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. This is something he doesn’t do very often. It’s sort of like being a guest preacher in church on a Sunday. And in comes a woman who is not really socially acceptable. Maybe she comes every Sunday, sneaking into the back pew and leaving early. Maybe she just came because she heard Jesus was going to be there. And Jesus, who isn’t a regular, who isn’t doing his regular Sabbath routine, notices her. He notices a woman, a woman who is in pain, and he is moved by his compassion for her suffering to walk right up to her and heal her. “Be healed, be forgiven, be loved.”
And she was.
And maybe she started dancing and clapping her hands and singing.
And maybe she wanted to join the vestry and the altar guild and the healing ministry team and all those other things we say we want to happen for a visitor in our church on a Sunday morning.
I want that. I have been relieved from suffering on a Sunday morning and I want everyone to feel that at least once in their lives.
But I have been coming to church for a long time now, and I think I know how that synagogue leader feels, too.
I’ve been exhausted at the end of a very long week and just wanted some peace and quiet – someplace to pray where I don’t have to think to hard about it.
I’ve been annoyed by contemporary music during a Rite 1 service.
I’ve been angry at God for the ability of an outsider to see and to fix things that I can’t see or I can’t fix.
I’ve been laughed at and shamed for being totally wrong.
And I’ve noticed this happens in the gospels a lot. We do the right thing and Jesus tells up we have it totally wrong.
Jesus doesn’t do this because the Pharisees and the synagogue leaders are bad people. He does it because they are, in fact, hypocrites. They have forgotten that there is a
WHY WE ARE HERE to go with the HOW WE DO THINGS.
Jesus isn’t mad at them for keeping the Sabbath, he is angry because they have forgotten why we have one.
Now, I am fairly certain that in my library at seminary there is a right answer for the question ‘Why is there a Sabbath?’ Unfortunately, I left all those books in Berkeley. But that’s ok, because I think Isaiah gives us the answer.
“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your OWN interests on my holy day,” says the Lord, “then you shall take delight in the Lord and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.”
Which sounds to me like perspective. The Sabbath offers us perspective. It reminds us that we are lovers of God and why we are followers of Christ all the other days of the week. Which is the exact opposite of a break from being lovers of God and followers of Christ. And we have a choice of what to do with that perspective. We can apologize for the last six days, or we can get some perspective in preparation for the next six days.
We can practice Sabbath through our fear. As the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we can be like Moses and the Israelites at Mt. Sinai – too scared to climb the mountain, too afraid to be vulnerable before God and accept God’s miraculous healing. We can learn to be complacent about the things we cannot change.
Or we can watch out for the things we can. Instead of cowering at the base of Mt. Sinai, we can climb Mt. Zion. We can be like the woman, stooped over but willing to take a chance. We can be like the crowd, witnessing a miraculous change in the life of our neighbor. We can be like Jesus, empowered to reach out and heal all that is within our power to heal. Mt. Zion, the letter to the Hebrews tells us, has a party going on. And it sounds like a marvelous place to gain perspective.
It sounds like a place, where maybe there is dancing and clapping and singing and all those things we say we want to happen on a Sunday morning.