Rest (It’s not just a law – it’s re-creation, baby)

Sermon preached Sunday, August 2, 2015 on Luke 13

Editor’s/Preacher’s Note: When I am left to my own devices, the device (mainly, the smart phone that records these sermons) was over loaded.  So what follows below is most of the sermon. In bits and pieces. Until the memory filled up. The ending was pretty good so you should just read the sermon below.  🙂

Luke 13:10-17

How would you define Sabbath? What do you think it means or is supposed to mean?

Does it mean rest? Play? Recreation? Going to church? Not playing cards or buying booze? Is it not working?

We were given the Sabbath as one of the 10 commandments in the book of Deuteronomy 5:12-15. This commandment is rooted in the very identity of the people of Israel: they had been slaves and were given no rest. All of life was work. They were literally worked to death. So when God sent Moses to lead the people to freedom, God also gave the people guidance in the form of the 10 commandments. And as a symbol of that freedom, God gave them the gift of Sabbath. Free people don’t work themselves to death. And free people don’t work others to death. The 10 commandments are given to give life, to create order, to organize our freedom so that we are protected from any slave-driving neighbor. Or so that our neighbor is protected us. And maybe one step further, it is to protect us from our slaving-driving selves.

So, the basic and shallow understanding of Sabbath is you’re not supposed to work. And healing is considered work. So the leader of the synagogue throws a flag on a pretty easy play and tells Jesus that he has 6 other days to do this work. You see, the synagogue leader had forgotten the purpose of the commandment and was just stuck to it as a rule, assuming Jesus had no respect for the law. Which, of course, is untrue. In one fell swoop, Jesus re-orients the purpose of Sabbath: the Sabbath is for healing. The Sabbath is for re-creation.

Jesus doesn’t say the Sabbath is for attending worship services to try harder at living a good life. Instead, Jesus says that even livestock need to be fed on the Sabbath so certainly a woman who has been ill for so long can be healed on a day that honors God’s creative activity in the world.

There is something truly mysterious that happens when you make time for rest and play, practicing this commandment, this Sabbath. When you make time to praise the God who created and re-creates you new each day, you change.

Walter Bruggeman is an Old Testament writer and wrote a book called “Sabbath as Resistance.” In the preface, Brueggemann writes: “In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. Such an act of resistance requires enormous intentionality and communal reinforcement amid the barrage of seductive pressures from the insatiable insistences of the market, with its intrusion into every part of our life from the family to the national budget. . . . But Sabbath is not only resistance. It is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devours all of our ‘rest time.’ The alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the gifts of God.”

God wants wholeness and new life for us. God wants us to respond to this great gift of drawing breath not by producing and consuming. Not by another productive day at the office. Not by being so busy we lose our breath thinking about our schedule for the week. No, God wants us to enjoy and be re-fueled by relationships and playing together – through the gift of time. Because when we have refueled and played and rested, then our eyes and hearts are clearer to see those around us and to extend this great gift to them as well.

Keeping the Sabbath is freedom. Freedom to breathe deeper, to take on a different view of the world, to give yourself permission to just sit. To turn off screens that are attached to calendars and to do lists. We are given the freedom to just not “do” anything in particular. And to suffer no guilt or shame for lack of productive activity. Because God knows how we can get with our rules and schedules, with our attention to things we can buy and our need to be busy or for our kids to be in every activity their heart desires. The freedom to play, unfettered, is to break the cycle that Pharaoh instituted back in Egypt when he worked the Israelites to the bone. All that brick making and back breaking labor. No weekends, no holidays, no rest, no freedom.

You can hardly blame the synagogue leader for trying to keep things hemmed in. We all know what the relentless pressure of rule-keeping and schedule-keeping can do – it can turn us into referees, clutching time clocks and blowing whistles and throwing flags. Today, the synagogue leader reveals his utter exhaustion when he is confronted with God’s power through Jesus Christ to heal. That’s when you know the rules have squeezed out the heart behind them. It’s like he’s saying, “If I don’t get to do it today, neither do you.”

Ultimately, worship is an exercise in weekly healing through confession and forgiveness; through praise and thanksgiving; through lament and silence. And the leader reveals his heart that has gone cold by calling fowl on the very thing that worship is for: healing.

But here’s the deal: this gathering, this practice of worship – there’s a reason it’s a weekly thing. Because we forget. Brueggeman reminds us that we need communal reinforcement. And if this worship ever becomes more about rules for the sake of rules and less about being broken open and healed by a living God through the power of Jesus Christ, well then, I don’t want to be part of that. Don’t let worship become a check mark, a duty to perform, a means to be seen. This gathering is a gathering of broken and weary and sick and tired people yearning for healing. There are six other days for us to work and keep our schedules flowing. But today, Jesus says to us Woman, you are set free from your ailment.

Woman, you are set free from your ailment. I gotta tell you, that one sticks a little bit in my throat this morning. This part of the story of healing just hits too close to home. As many of you know, our dear Kristi Hoffman died on Tuesday – much too young and after a sudden and aggressive 6 month bout with cancer. And I have to be honest, I have no idea why this woman in scripture was healed and Kristi wasn’t. I don’t think God loves our Kristi less, or that Kristi didn’t have enough faith. I don’t think God needed another angel or is testing Josh. I could tell you that God works in mysterious ways and I could tell you that while maybe God didn’t heal Kristi’s body, God healed Kristi and her family in a different way. In their relationships. And maybe that’s true.

But here is what I do know. If Sabbath is about rest and freedom, then Kristi and Josh and their families have had little of it these past 6 months. They have been bound to that damn thing called cancer. It has been their relentless schedule. And while there have been moments of rest, there has not been freedom like they had known.

So here is what I do know. If Sabbath is about rest – then Kristi has been healed for eternal Sabbath and rest and she is in it now. And if Sabbath is about freedom – then Kristi is now free. And today, she and Jack Knutdson meet in the waters of baptism, the first act of healing and claiming God does in our communal lives – as she finishes her baptismal earthly life and walk and continues into her eternal baptismal life as a claimed child of God – well today, Jack begins his baptized walk. It’s truly mysterious, isn’t it? Baptism shatters our rules, it claims us and becomes our identity. It is the promise that has been realized in Kristi. It is the promise realized this morning for Jack. It’s a miracle, isn’t it?

Thanks be to God.