Carolyn’s Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – 8/25/13

Sermon Pentecost 14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is more than one side to every story.  Today, I would for like us to consider the gospel lesson from the perspectives of two different people.

First, let’s look at it from the perspective of the leader of the synagogue.  He is angry.  He is indignant.  He is pointing a finger at Jesus, accusing Jesus of breaking the law.

We are tempted to look at him as the bad guy in the story.  After all, he is opposing Jesus here.  He is trying to stir up the whole congregation.  He wants them to see he is right.

That’s the problem, though.  Technically, he is right.  He knows the law.  Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.  This is not one of the 613 little laws that the Jewish leaders wrote.  It isn’t human interpretation of what we think God might want.

It’s the third commandment.  Number three on God’s top ten list.  It is not something to ignore.  It is not like breaking the law because you lost count about how many times to wash your hands.  It’s major.

The synagogue leader is not stretching his interpretation of the commandment either.  What he says is right.  You are not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath.

When our son, Dan, was in confirmation class, Dave and I took him and a classmate to visit a synagogue for a Sabbath service.  The students were supposed to write a brief report on their visit, so Dave tried to be helpful by taking a few notes for them during the service.  A lady in the pew behind us came over and politely asked him to stop.  It seems that taking notes, writing, is working on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest and renewal and worship.  We might view little restrictions like no writing in a negative way.  We might think they seem petty.  They were not like that for the Israelites at all.

You remember that the law, the 10 commandments, were given to the Israelites after they left Egypt.  They had been slaves there and had to work whenever they were commanded to work.  It was very likely that they never had a day off.

When they first heard the command to rest, to set aside one day a week to rest their bodies and their livestock, they were overjoyed.  What a gift!  They heard this commandment only as good news!

Even today, Jewish weekly synagogue worship always includes hymns of thanksgiving for the gift of the Sabbath.

Perhaps it would be good if we thought about taking the Sabbath more seriously.  We aren’t slaves like the Israelites were, and some people still are, but many of us know people who work way too many hours.  We know there are plenty of people who have to work more than one job just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Even those of us who don’t struggle financially can have a hard time disconnecting from work. After all, we are always just an email or phone call away.  We even tell ourselves that it is easier to deal with those things on our time off, than have a bigger mess when we get back to the office. Maybe it would be good for many of us to have a prescribed time off when we were forbidden to do any work.

I think our current lifestyle may be exactly what the synagogue leader was worried about. After all, once you start making exceptions for one reason or another, pretty soon everyone is making exceptions, and the law has lost its meaning altogether.

It isn’t just the third commandment.  All laws are like that. The more exceptions you make, the less it means.  It stops being a law anymore and becomes a suggestion.  Suggestions have no power to protect or preserve us.  Think about a stop sign, what if that were just a suggestion?

That’s exactly what this synagogue leader is talking about.  He is a well-intentioned, law-abiding man and we frequently agree with him.  Maybe we don’t totally agree with him about the Sabbath, but there are plenty of laws we feel people should just keep.  Period. If you don’t, who knows what will unravel next?

That’s one side of the story.  That’s the synagogue leader’s side.  Now, let’s look at what happened from the perspective of the woman who is bent over.

She has been unable to stand up straight and look people in the eye for eighteen years.  She has probably been in pain the whole time.  She has struggled just to get around, just to take care of her own daily needs.  It must be very difficult for her to manage any household chores.

Let’s presume she is also a faithful, law-abiding member of the synagogue.  After all, she is at worship on the Sabbath, in spite of her condition.  It is possible that she also had concerns about keeping the Sabbath, about doing no work on that day.  Maybe she was very conservative about the law.

She didn’t ask Jesus to heal her that day.  He saw her, called her over, and immediately she was healed. She stood up straight and began praising God.

I have to think that any concerns she might have had about breaking the law were drowned out by her overwhelming gratitude, her immediate relief from pain, the ability to fill her lungs fully with air for the first time in 18 years, and the ability to look straight at the people around her.

So what happened to the law and all those rules and concerns and regulations?  Did Jesus eliminate them?  Can we forget all about that old stuff now? No, of course not.  Jesus was clear that he did not come to get rid of the law.  He came to fulfill it.  He gives a different interpretation of the law.

When Jesus healed the woman, he taught us something about the law.  The law is important, but it always comes in second place.   Jesus showed us that grace is always more important than law.

The law is a gift of God to us.  The Law helps us live our lives better. The Law helps keep order in the world.  The Law reminds us to take care of each other.

The law also reminds us that we can never fully be the people God made us to be. That is why Grace always wins.  The law always comes in second when it is time for compassion and mercy and love.

Jesus invites us to value the law as God’s gift to us.  But he asks us to remember that there is a far greater gift, the gift of grace and love.  Grace and love always have the last word.

Amen.

 

Ideas for this sermon are based on David Lose’s article in Working Preacher.

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