A Sermon for 3 June 2018
A reading from the gospel of Mark 2:23-3:6. In this season of Pentecost, the gospel texts assigned in the lectionary take us to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of Mark. The oldest of the four gospels we know in Holy Scripture, you might recall that the gospel of Mark also is the shortest. As if in a very matter of fact way, the writer simply lays out one story after another of Jesus showing up on the scene at his baptism, then taking off all over Galilee with the good news of God. This gospel never concerns itself with the birth of Jesus, or (in its original form) with resurrection appearances of the Risen Christ. The writer seems to want to focus the action of it all, and the listener’s attention, on the ministry of Jesus, the Christ. Healing is a big part of what Jesus went about doing in Galilee. As is teaching and sending and generally starting a movement of followers who likewise will live in the world as leaven for the dough – expanding acts of compassion, signs of welcome, traces of the good news of God’s gracious love. In these weeks following Pentecost, when we celebrate the early stages of the church; we’ll be learning from the gospel of Mark. Taking in the wisdom of Jesus’ work on earth. Hearing again the good news he embodied. Hopefully we’ll even be challenged to continue our own growth as followers too of Christ. Listen for God’s word to us, then, in a reading of Mark 2:23-3:6.
“One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Again, he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Have you been to the home of an observant Jew for Sabbath? When three stars can be seen in the evening sky – Sabbath begins on Friday at night. So that creation is the keeper of time, not the clock. No later than eighteen minutes before the sun sets, the family is to gather around the Sabbath table. Two candles are to be lighted by the matriarch of the house. She waves her hands over the fire then covers her eyes welcoming in the Sabbath. Reciting the candle blessing she says: “Blessed are you, O LORD, our God, sovereign of the universe” – or something similar. “You have sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Sabbath” (http://www.jewfaq.org/prayer/shabbat.htm). One candle stands as the command to remember. The other as the command to observe – to keep the Sabbath. The command we know as number four of the ten found in Exodus chapter 20. The fruit of the vine is a part of every Sabbath ritual – just 3 ounces for each person present at the table. In celebration of God’s good creation, the fruit of the vine is consumed. Hands are washed as a symbol to put down the week’s work. Ready selves to rest. It’s a good time to be mindful of the work of your hands from the past week. Considering what your labors planted and what if anything grew. Let the toil of work slip away and prepare to be fed by God. Finally, the bread is broken – all eat as God is blessed for bringing forth bread from the earth. Some of you know that I do a Christian version of a similar welcoming of Sabbath ritual. And it is at this point in the ritual that my dog Rufus begins to get a little antsy. He knows when the bread is broken, he finally gets to participate too. One little piece of the bread for him, one little piece for me, another for him, another for me until the bread is all gone. All creation is hallowed by God. Exodus 20:8-11 proclaims that neither “you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien residents in your towns” shall do any work. On Sabbath, all are allowed to rest to delight! For, as the story goes: “in six days the LORD made the heavens and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:10-11, NRSV). Delighting in all the work that had been done! At the Sabbath table, after partaking of the bread of remembrance, it’s time to get down to enjoying together the full family meal. For Sabbath has come! It’s the time to rest from the work of our lives. To be idle in God. To be opened to God. It’s the time to pay attention; to hear our names: precious children of the LORD our God. Sabbath is the time to stop. To cease. In order to seek the true purpose of our lives: rest in the peace of the LORD. It is the time to taste and see that the LORD is so very good – the Creator and Sovereign of the universe, the redeemer and liberator of the slaves in Egypt. So that all together, in freedom, we might rejoice.
A poem called “For Sabbath” by Blu Greenberg, as quoted by Mary Ann McKibben Dana in the great little book called Sabbath in the Suburbs, summarizes Sabbath well. “Six days shall you be a workaholic; on the seventh day, shall you join the serene company of human beings. Six days shall you take orders from your boss; on the seventh day, shall you be master of your own life. Six days shall you toil in the market; on the seventh day, shall you detach from money matters. Six days shall you create, drive, invent, push; on the seventh day, shall you reflect. Six days shall you be the perfect success; on the seventh day, shall you remember that not everything is in your power. Six days shall you be a miserable failure; on the seventh day, shall you be on top of the world. Six days shall you enjoy the blessings of work; on the seventh day, shall you understand that being is as important as doing” (written by Blu Greenberg as quoted by MaryAnn McKibben Dana, Sabbath in the Suburbs, Chalice Press, iBooks).
We’ll get back at it again in 24 hours. Sabbath only lasts until sundown Saturday night. Then at the close of Sabbath, observant Jews again gather. Passing the sabbath spices for the fragrance of sabbath to linger among them as they re-enter the work of their lives. Another candle is lighted. In Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living into God’s World, Christine Sine recommends a prayer for Christians who have observed sabbath rest. An adapted version of it reads: “Jesus, we believe that you are the Messiah who has given us new life. We have lived this day in anticipation of your resurrection-created world, where your eternal sabbath rest waits for all creation. Your sabbath rest is all-inclusive: we remember your promise of renewal and rebirth for all life. You promise to take our yoke upon you. Your sabbath rest shares our burdens. You promise to set the captives free. Your sabbath rest frees from oppression – from the crushing ways of this world. You promise to feed the hungry. Your sabbath rest brings abundance for all. You promise to heal the sick. Your sabbath rest brings us wholeness. Not alone, but together, a great international community that is your body, we live in expectation of that day . . . when your eternal sabbath rest comes for all creation” (adapted from: Light for the Journey: Morning and Evening Prayers for Living into God’s World, by Christine Sine – from Sunday Evening Prayer, p. 37).
According to the gospel of Mark, the keepers of the law had forgotten the purpose of Sabbath. Sabbath is a day to be nourished deeply by God. What more could be welcomed on a beautiful Sabbath afternoon than a stroll with Jesus through a grain field? With the sun shining down on us as we walked. Taking in the silence and the wisdom of our Lord. Who among us wouldn’t break off a piece of the wheat? Young again like children who pull a piece of tall grass to put in their mouths as they stroll. Could Sabbath get any better than that? What’s more, if among us was One with the power to heal a man whose life certainly had been hindered from an unusable limb, could a rule about what you should or shouldn’t do on the LORD’s Day supersede God’s desire for restoration? For the true vision of shalom? . . . From the start, Jesus was going to be in trouble. He saw the world differently. He knew what really mattered. Sabbath rest was made for us. Not us for ensuring some lofty set of principles would be kept intact. God desires mercy; not the heavy arm of the law. It’d be easy to wag our fingers at those bad Pharisees who were just so blind, you see. The beauty of the gospel is that every piece of it is a mirror for our own soul. Who among us doesn’t get a little up on our high horse now and again? What human alive, when challenged, doesn’t slip into the comfort of the rules that must be followed? And, if you were raised in such a way that everybody else around you believed your view to be the only way, how would you ever know anything different? Yes, Jesus was going to be trouble – he still is; for he sees it all according to another vision. Not the view splashed all over the media, surrounding us at work or home; but by the vision of God. The LORD of True Life. The Lover of every soul.
One commentator has written: “Jesus proclaims to his own generation – and to every generation, including ours – that God is not confined to our rules about God or to our way of perceiving God. . . . The difficult truth of the cross is that we would rather kill Jesus than be transformed by his love. . . . When God gets too close to us, challenging us as Jesus challenged the religious order of his day, we begin to construct our crosses and prepare a place for God there too.” The writer then asks: “What field is Jesus walking through in our lives, plucking ears of corn from our sacred rituals? Who is Jesus healing that we believe should remain sick? What is Jesus doing in our time that makes us believe that he is foolish at best and dangerous at worst?” (Nibs Stroupe, Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol, 3, p. 95). Sabbath gives us the time each week to ponder. To rest from everything else that we might rightly see. That we might be re-directed when needed by God. Perhaps it’s why so few stop. So few cease. For when we settle into the cadence of Sabbath rest, God finally has a chance to begin saving our lives. May it be so.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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