A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, August 21, 2022

By: David May, Rector


I don’t know about you but sometimes I lose touch with what I’m doing and why. I lose the thread. Maybe you do too. Let me give you an example to describe what I’m talking about. I once served on the board of a community development non-profit on the Northern Neck. We were about an hour or so into our regular board meeting. I realized I had no idea what we were talking about or why. I had no idea where we were headed. So I just sort of blurted out, “I’m sorry, but where are we? Why are we doing what we’re doing?” It just kind of came out and I instantly wanted to apologize. The board chair looked at me in sort of a funny way and then he said, “Right. Me too. Let’s just stop and take some time to talk about our mission and why we’re here.” God bless him for that.

It happens, in all kinds of areas of our lives. With whatever it is we’re doing, you can lose touch with why you’re doing what you’re doing. Here’s another example to prime the pump.

We had an occasional practice in our household particularly when our sons were growing up that we called (somewhat ominously) ‘A Family Meeting’. It didn’t happen very often, usually when we were all too busy, stretched too thin, and were mostly ships passing each other in the night. And, that our lives had gone like that for way too long. What happened was we called a family meeting, and then the four of us would sit around in a circle on the kitchen floor and talk. This get-together would start off with a sort of ‘airing of grievances’. We each got a turn to say whatever we wanted to say and the rule was no one could butt in. And then after we’d all kind of gotten our gripes and resentments and complaints on the table and out of our system, we moved on to part two where each of us answered the question: what are the things that matter to you most?’ Like, ‘I want you to know I love you’, ‘I want us to be together more often’. Things like that. And then we’d covenant with each other to support each other on those things. It only happened four or five times over the course of 15 years or so but it was how we picked up the thread and got back in touch with why we were doing what we were doing, namely being a family.

Sometimes, I see Jesus whole ministry with us being something like that, where in word and deed his life confronts us with ‘why are we here?’, and why are we doing what we’re doing?

Which brings us to ‘the scene’ in the synagogue in this morning’s Gospel reading. The leader of the synagogue isn’t wrong to raise the question of what is proper behavior on the Sabbath. In the synagogue that day, Jesus has just healed a woman who has spent the past 18 years bent over and bound by an illness that won’t let her stand upright. For 18 years, she hasn’t been able to see or be seen by anyone eye-to-eye, face to face, person to person.

Technically speaking, Jesus healing that woman was ‘working’ and keeping the sabbath holy (as God commands in the Ten Commandments) meant not working. That was the rule. So the leader of the synagogue was well within his rights as the leader to call Jesus out on this. Which frankly led to kind of a scene. Which as it turns out is sort of a theme in Luke’s gospel: going to church with Jesus in Luke led to a fracas like this on at least three occasions. And in this case, what’s interesting is that it looks like Jesus started it. The woman hadn’t come to Jesus asking for help. No, she just came to church and Jesus saw her and decided it was long past time for her to stand upright. He went to her, laid hands on her and told her to stand upright. Which she did, praise God! Though, well, not so fast. That’s working on the sabbath. That is against the rule.

But, we only have rules and keep them, not for the sake of the rule, but for the cores values brought to light by keeping those rules and the kind of life those values make possible. For example, a good rule is ‘honesty is the best policy’, or as the 9th Commandment put it, “You shall not be a false witness”. The core value disclosed by keeping that rule is that if you don’t lie then people will know that you’re a person they can trust, and if the people of God keep that commandment, then we can all trust each other, and if we can all trust each other then we can build a better world together. That’s the point of keeping that rule.

What lies behind the commandment to keep holy the sabbath, the thread to pick up and follow, are two defining moments in God’s sacred story for us. First, from the first creation story, God rested on the seventh day, the sabbath, from all of his great work of creation. Not because God was tired, but so God could rest and delight in all the goodness of creation, to see it all and declare that it – all of it – was very good. Everything and everyone has their place together, all of it, each and every miraculous part is needed and compliments and completes the other and makes it all whole. Shalom – which is the peace that comes when all things are whole and honored in their goodness.

And the second defining word about the sabbath lies with God saying to the children of Israel as they were preparing to enter into the grace of the Promised Land: Remember, you were slaves in Egypt. Slaves work, all the time. There is no choice. You were slaves, God said, and you couldn’t free yourselves. You were trapped with no way out. Don’t ever do to someone else what was done to you as slaves. All rest from work on the sabbath. Keep this one day out of seven for delight and rest for all including your oxen and your donkeys – they rest too. All rest and delight in the goodness of creation.

But there’s more. The Bible says that every seventh year is a sabbath year and the land is to rest as well and go fallow. On the seventh year, Hebrew slaves are set free and debts are cancelled. And more than that, every seventh year times 7 (plus one year to make it 50), is the Jubilee Year of rest – for the land, for all beasts of burden, all slaves are set free, all debts are cancelled, and all lands are turned in full to their owners – a brand new beginning for everyone and everything. Can you imagine? It worth imagining because it is God’s will.

All is returned to the original shalom, all things whole and free in goodness. And not just as it was in the beginning but as a foretaste of how all things shall be well in God’s glorious Kingdom. Every sabbath, today, is a little taste of the freedom and rest and delight and liberation of all things ordered by God goodness – the whole creation unbound and set free.

How could Jesus not liberate the woman bound like a slave to her infirmity, a woman for whom everyday of the past 18 years had surely been work. How could he not unbind her and set her free to delight in the fulness of God’s goodness including her own body now standing upright, face to face with her community.

We are still going to church with Jesus. Sometimes his good word confronts us and challenges us to remember why we do what we do because of whom God has made us to be. We still go to church with Jesus, so he can pick up the thread of God’s great story we may have lost and liberate us from the tiny story the world tries to tell about who we are. We are still going to church with Jesus because he is the one who can unbind us from that tiny story and say to us too, “I say to you stand upright” and behold the goodness of the Lord. Amen.