A sermon preached at St. George’s Anglican Church Calgary, by the Rev. Clara King, June 3, 2018.
Proper 9 – Year B
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Historically, different traditions have had different ways to number the commandments in Deuteronomy chapter 5; but here’s the way we Anglicans count them. There are three Commandments concerning God: you shall have no other gods; you shall make no idols; and you shall not use the Lord’s name in vain.
And there are six Commandments concerning how to live together: honour your father and mother; do not murder; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not covet your neighbour’s wife; and do not covet anything else belonging to your neighbour either.
Between these sections is the fourth Commandment, about the Sabbath. It is actually the longest and most detailed of all the Commandments, and it ties together how we are to honour God, and how we are to live in community with one another – it is the link that connects our faith to the world we live in.
For faithful Jews, Sabbath has always been extremely important, and remember: Jesus and his disciples – in fact, almost all the characters in the Gospels were all faithful Jews.
In those days, the most strictly observant Jews were the Pharisees, who were the experts in the Law. They worked diligently to uphold the laws and commandments as an expression of their respect for God in every aspect of their life.
For faithful Jews, then and now, the Law was much more than a set of rules; the Law – the Torah – actually expresses the very structure of how Creation is made; it is the way Creation is intended to work; and how we’re intended to live in Creation, such that we live beautiful, abundant, holy, just lives, according to God’s intention.
And written into the Torah, written into the structure of all Creation is the space to rest. And so as an expression of their respect for God, and their submission to how God created the universe, the Pharisees took the commandment to rest extremely seriously.
Here in our passage today, they see Jesus disregarding the Sabbath law so clearly and so deliberately – they see him as someone with a deeply rebellious disrespect for God. And that’s why, at the end of our passage today, they set out to destroy him – and here we are, only in the 3rd chapter of Mark, so very early in his ministry.
But Jesus wasn’t rebelliously disrespectful of God; he simply understood the law differently than the Pharisees – for Jesus not only understood the Law, he understood God’s reasoning behind the Law. Jesus came not to overthrow the Law, but to fulfill the Law – to fulfill the original purpose that God envisioned when the Torah was created at the beginning of Creation.
Jesus understood that in the beginning, when Creation was spoken into being, God knew that we couldn’t live perfectly in this Creation he had made. God knew we would gain power over one another, and press one another down; and enslave one another with debt – and so God created a provision that once every so often, we should be restored to being equals; restored to being free, whole, holy children of God, and seeing one another this way. And so God created the Sabbath for this purpose; as a reset button on human relations.
The Sabbath day is to be celebrated once every seven days; it is a day of rest. But once very seven years is to be celebrated a Sabbath year, when all the fields and livestock lie fallow to rest, and all communities redistributed their wealth from rich to poor. And once every seven Sabbath years – so every 49 years, God provided that there would be the year of Jubilee, the true fulfillment of the Sabbath commandment.
And in this year of Jubilee, not only was everyone to rest; not only were all the fields and the livestock to rest; but all debts were to be cancelled, all slaves were to be freed, all those who had sold themselves or their family members into debt slavery (which was very common – they didn’t have payday loan shops back then) – all those in debt slavery were to be released and their debts forgiven, and all wealth and land was to be redistributed among the people. No longer would there be slave and free; no longer would there be rich and poor, for all would be one people under God.
That was God’s vision for Sabbath: that once every week we celebrate a symbolic restoration, but that our common life, when lived according to the Law, would involve the regular restoration of all people to liberty and abundance.
And Jesus came to fulfill the Law, the Torah, the dream of God for how Creation was to work. And so on the Sabbath, Jesus lifted up the man with the withered hand, and restored him to liberty and abundance, fulfilling the purpose of Sabbath that God envisioned from the beginning of all time.
But Jesus did that not only for the man with the withered hand - for God dreams that we too will experience liberty and abundance in our lives, through his Son.
God knows what is withered inside each one of us. God knows what each of us wrestles with, in the silence of our hearts; in the dark places in our souls. And God’s dream for creation – God’s dream for each one of us, is for his Son to reach out his hand to us, offering liberty and abundance – and for each of us to stretch out our hand to the Son, and receive it. God dreams for light to shine in our darkness; and for our demons to be overthrown, and for us to be restored.
No matter what that darkness may look like; no matter how deep our deepest secrets or deepest worries may lie, God wishes for us to be freed, and to stumble our way into the new life that Christ offers. And God is persistent. We may doubt that God would truly forgive us if he knew what exactly lies withered in the deep places of our lives. But God already knows. What does the psalmist say?
"O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely." [Ps. 139:1-4]
Friends, God already knows all the deepest parts of our lives, and yet God is not dismayed. God created the world with a provision for rest and restoration, and God wishes to offer it to us in our lives through his Son, Jesus Christ, who comes to fulfill the Law.
I invite you now to open your heart to the God who loves you; to the God who wishes to heal you and transform you, and to say “yes”. Say “yes,” like the man with the withered hand; say “yes” when Jesus offers his healing touch in your life.
Say yes my friends, and we’ll see what Jesus can do in our lives, who is Lord of the Sabbath, and offers to unbind us, and let us free. Amen.