Pronouncement about the Sabbath
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 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.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
The Man with a Withered Hand
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 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. 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. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
From the time we are born, we are taught to obey rules. When we are young, there are household rules set by our parents. When we go to school, we learn that there are rules as to how we should behave and rules that we learn as we begin to read and write and do arithmetic. Learning to drive, we learn all the traffic rules and rules of the road. And cities, towns, and governments set rules and laws to keep society running smoothly.
Many people would say that religion is all about following a set of rules that lead to good moral behavior. But I think today’s scripture reading is the perfect example to show us that living lives of faith is a little different.
For the most part, rules are put in place to bring order to communities and societies. They are guidelines to keep people safe and controlled. That’s why in the Old Testament, we read about all kinds of rules regarding what you should and should not eat, what you should and should not wear, how you should act, and what you should do. Those were all very important at the time. But when reading them now, we need to understand that it is important for us to read them in context, remembering that they were written for people in a certain time and place.
Did you ever notice that there are no traffic rules in the Bible? The prophets never instructed people to stop at a red light, or to go when the light is green, because not only were there no cars in biblical times, there was no electricity either! So how do we know which rules to follow? And is it ever okay to break the rules?
I have to say I personally tend to struggle with this question sometimes, because believe it or not, I tend to be a “rule follower.” My husband always gives me a hard time, because if for some reason I am out driving at two in the morning and a traffic light is red and there is no one in sight, I will still sit and wait until the light turns green. After all, that’s the rule!
But when is it okay to break the rules? When it okay to color outside the lines? When you are coloring a picture, does the sky always have to be blue and the sun yellow? This summer, our worship bulletins are going to include a picture for everyone to color, should they choose, and a chance to not only color, but to draw. Now maybe that’s not your thing, and that’s okay. But at some point, you might what to try it. Now be assured that there is no need to hand it in. There is no grade or judgment. It’s just another way to open your heart and to experience the story a little differently.
In our scripture reading today, the Pharisees or religious leaders took the idea of Sabbath very seriously, because according to Moses in the book of Numbers, working on the Sabbath was a punishable offense. If you were caught working on the Sabbath, you were taken outside of the city walls and stoned to death. Because of that, we often hear stories about religious communities that insist on absolute adherence to the Sabbath laws. They are not allowed to work or to cook or to clean. They can’t even turn on a light switch on the Sabbath!
Even here in Oldtown, during our historical tours, we tell the story of our early church and how, on Sundays, no one could work or cook, visit or play. It was mandatory for everyone to come to church, and if you didn’t come to church, someone was sent out after you! Now truth be told, you would not be punished, like in Moses’ day. But someone would show up at your house to make sure that you were okay. Because back in the 1700s, there were no telephones or computers or any other forms of communication. So, if you were sick or hurt, or you had been attacked, others in the community might not know until you didn’t show up for church on Sunday. Now, though observing the Sabbath was very important to our early settlers, unlike the Pharisees, they knew that caring for the community was even more important.
My friends, the truth is, Sabbath is intentional time taken by individuals and faith communities to slow down and to take a deep breath, and in so doing to experience the presence of God. Now, we may experience God in solitude and silence, or in celebrating with community, or in the beauty of creation. And those are all wonderful ways to experience Sabbath. Jesus teaches us how to keep Sabbath both inwardly, through prayer, solitude, silence, and meditation, and outwardly, through community involvement and acts of justice.
The very first story that teaches us about the practice of Sabbath is the story of Creation. In the story of Creation, we hear that after laboring for six days creating the world, God’s rested on the seventh, establishing a day of Sabbath. Building on this biblical tradition, some faith communities dedicate a specific day of the week to rest, to worship, and to work for justice, peace, and the integrity of Creation. But it’s important to remember that the Sabbath is not about a single day or a list of rules. It’s not about what you can’t do, or living with guilt and the fear of punishment. On the contrary, Sabbath is an amazing gift. It’s an opportunity that allows us to become relaxed, refreshed, renewed, and reconnected to God.
The truth is my friends, no set of rules can make us experience Sabbath. It must be a decision we make for ourselves. Folks, if you desire to get into the rhythm of Sabbath-keeping, then you alone have the power to make it happen. I know that most of the time, our days feel like they are out of our control. But friends, please, don’t wait for a time in the future when you think it will be easier to carve out a time in your schedule for Sabbath. Because the time is now. And don’t think of it as a requirement or a rule, but instead, give thanks for the gift that it is.
As scripture told us today, Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. Now lots of times, people think to themselves, “Oh, I’m so busy there is no way that I could take an entire day off every week to sit around and do nothing.” And I totally understand that. But I wonder, what if, this week, you make the time to spend ten minutes a day completely unplugged – no computer, no phone, no texting, no TV, no video games, no books, no noise. Just ten minutes in silence, to let God’s spirit move within you and around you. Friends, I think you’ll be surprised at what an amazing difference just ten minutes a day can make!
In today’s scripture reading, Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, telling him to stretch out his hand that he might be healed. Well, Jesus also calls out to us, telling us to stretch out our hands and our hearts that we might be made free, not worrying about the rules, but living life to the fullest, experiencing life in the moment, and truly being who God created us to be.
So, brothers and sister in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t let fear and guilt fill your days. Remember to take a deep breath and live in the moment. Make good choices with your time. Help others when you can, but also take time to care for yourself, remembering that God loves you and God wants you to live an amazing life that is led by your faith and overflowing with joy.
My friends may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!