The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16C (8/22/2010)

Honoring God's Sabbath

Lessons: Isaiah 58:9b-14 Psalm 103:1-8 (4) Hebrews 12:18-29 St. Luke 13:10-17

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 1:4-10 Psalm 71:1-6 (6)

Prayer of the Day: O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright.  Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

13:10 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

St. Luke 13:10-17. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” These words have been familiar to God’s people for centuries. They have their roots in the very first Biblical story. At the end of six days of creating, God took a day to contemplate what had been created. During the Exodus, in words shared with Moses, God commanded that faithful people would do the same. In the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther attempted to provide a definition for what it meant to be church, he said it was the gathering of faithful people who come together to hear the word and celebrate the sacraments – in other words: God’s people together at worship on the Sabbath day.

Honoring the Sabbath has long and deep roots in our tradition. Not many would argue that fact. But this week’s lessons cause us to ask whether or not we truly understand what it means to honor the Sabbath. The stereotypical understanding is that Sabbath is a time of rest. A few generations ago, it was not uncommon for an entire family of Christians to spend Sunday gathered in the family parlor, dressed in their Sunday best, careful not to do anything that might be interpreted as work. Stores were closed. Community activities slowed down. It was a time of rest. A time to take care of self and renew.

The Prophet Isaiah had a different sense about Sabbath. In the fifty-eighth chapter, he describes Sabbath-breakers as those who: “pursue your own interests… go your own ways… serve your own interests… pursue your own affairs.” What is the essence of faithfulness? According to Isaiah, it is: “offering your food to the hungry… satisfying the needs of the afflicted… “

Similarly, in this week’s Gospel lesson Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. A woman arrives who had been sick for 18 years (imagine that!). Jesus “sets her free” from her illness and heals her. The local leaders of the synagogue are offended, and accuse him of breaking Jewish law. Jesus would have none of that. The Sabbath is a time for releasing people from bondage and healing them.

The words of Isaiah and the practice of Jesus teach us that the Sabbath is not simply a time to rest our bodies. It is a time to restore our souls. It is a time to be working with God to promote justice, mercy and healing in this world. It is not a time for “no work” – but instead, it is a time for "proper work."

So with Isaiah, let us turn away from our self-indulgent ways. With Jesus, let us take up an active interest in those things that are most important to God. Let us practice Sabbath in a way that restores our souls, and blesses the world. Let us practice Sabbath in ways that set us free from what binds us (and others!). Perhaps that is the best way to honor God’s presence among us.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does the leader in the synagogue feel compelled to oppose Jesus?
  2. How do Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath reflect a different understanding of Sabbath?
  3. What does Jesus’ healing of the woman say to those who witness it?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. In what ways am I bound by my old understandings of Sabbath?
  2. Who might commit with me to make better use of a weekly day of Sabbath?
  3. What specific acts of justice, mercy and healing might become part of my Sabbath practice?