Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
If a tree falls in the forest, but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If you are exceeding the speed limit, but no policeman pulls you over and tickets you, are you speeding? If an offensive lineman grabs a defensive lineman to keep him from sacking the quarterback, but the referee never throws a flag, is it holding? If you drink milk from a jug after the date of the printed on expiration date without realizing it, is the milk expired?
These are events that we encounter every single day. But even the Bible itself presents us with similar conundrums. For example, which creation story is the “right” one, the one found in Genesis chapter 1, or the one from Genesis chapter 2? In St. Matthew and St. Mark it states that both criminals crucified with Jesus taunted and derided Jesus while he hung there on the cross, whereas St. Luke says that one criminal taunted him and the other defended him, and in St. John there’s no mention of what either criminal said or did. Which Gospel has the right answer for us?
I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that very often there are no clear and easy answers. We may read into things sometimes so that we can just get it over with and move on. We may settle for answers. We may be drawn to answers that satisfy us better than the alternatives. But in the end, it’s still a gray area that leaves us somewhat unfulfilled.
And Jesus’ encounter with the leaders of the synagogue that we are witness to this morning is very much in this same flavor. The third commandment very clearly states, in response to God resting on the seventh day after six days of creation: that we are to keep this day holy. We are to not work, but are to engage in worship and rest.
But that’s not what Jesus did, did he? He saw a need in that this woman was severely crippled and he responded to that need by healing her. Right then and there. No come back tomorrow when the office is open. No see my assistant and we’ll get you on the schedule where we’ve got an opening.
No, Jesus temporarily removed himself from the act of worship; it was the Sabbath and he was in the synagogue, but he saw a person in need and he freed this woman from the prison which she had lived for some eighteen years.
So what does this healing episode have to do with you and I? I think, if nothing else, this story forces us to ask ourselves what the Sabbath is for us? Is it a day that we should be in church? Certainly, as the pastor of this church I will answer that with a very firm “YES!” But, is it also a day of rest, of sleeping in and granting our minds and bodies the necessary downtime to be wholly functional? Is it a day of well-deserved fun, having spent six days working hard in whatever capacity that work has been?
There’s certainly strong reasoning behind every one of these responses, and I’m quite sure that there are others as well. And so it leaves us in this sticky place, in this gray area; what’s the right answer? I think we all know what the right answer is, and I think it’s pretty obvious.
A husband and wife didn’t really love each other. The man was very demanding, so much so that he prepared a list of rules and regulations for his wife to follow. He insisted that she read them over every day and obey them to the letter.
Among other things, his “do’s and don’ts” indicated such details as what time she had to get up in the morning, when his breakfast should be served, and how the housework should be done. After several long years, the husband died. As time passed, the woman fell in love with another man, one who dearly loved her. Soon they were married. This husband did everything he could to make his new wife happy, continually showering her with tokens of his appreciation. One day as she was cleaning house, she found tucked away in a drawer the list of commands her first husband had drawn up for her. As she looked it over, it dawned on her that even though her present husband hadn’t given her any kind of list, she was doing everything her first husband’s list required anyway. She realized she was so devoted to this man that her deepest desire was to please him out of love, not obligation.
The answer is grace. The answer is, is the Sabbath confining and constraining us by a list of laws and rules, or are we responding in love, praise and faithfulness.
Why are you here this morning? Are you here because it’s Sunday, because you’ve always gone to Emmanuel Lutheran church on Sunday morning, and you’ve done your weekly Sunday morning ritual and here you are? Are you here because somebody made you come? Are you here because you feel guilty when you don’t come to church on Sunday? Why are you here this morning?
Why? Let me tell you why I’m here this morning. I’m here because I’ve got a Letter of Call hanging in my office that states that among visiting the sick and presiding over the sacraments, among others, that I am to lead weekly and special occasion/holiday worship here at Emmanuel Lutheran church. I have to be here.
But there is another side of the coin, and that is that I want to be here. I appreciate the engagement with the liturgy. I love to hear how the scripture writes and draws me into God’s larger story. I love to sing my praises to God for all that He has done and continues to do for me, around me and through me. I am fed when I consume the very body and blood of Christ in the meal of the Eucharist, where, in the most literal sense, receive the Spirit of God within me. I look forward to the conversation and fellowship that happens here.
The Sabbath is not a time or place, but is the draw of grace. If God’s grace is drawing me here to this sanctuary to worship in song and word, then that is where my Sabbath should be. But if God’s grace is present celebrating a gorgeous summer day with family and friends and being filled with joy and gratitude for those who are around me, then that is where my Sabbath should be. Or if I have worked my fingers to the bone from Monday through Saturday and I have an opportunity to stay home and rest and give thanks to God for the opportunity to rest my body and mind, then that is where my Sabbath should be. And if the waves are smooth enough for sailing or the greens are cut just right for golfing or there’s a pitching matchup for the ages in Detroit that I’ve managed to secure tickets for, and I am truly thankful for the joy of recreation, that really is a gift from God, and that then is where my Sabbath should be.
Because the Sabbath is not a time or place, but is the draw of grace. The Sabbath is a gift from God meant to temporarily draw us away from our conditioned everyday norms.
The Sabbath is a gift meant to remind us that all we have and all we are and all we will inherit one day all comes about from God’s grace, God freely desiring us to have all that we do have, for no other reason than that’s what God wants to do.
And my hope is that’s what you experience here for one hour each Sunday. Actually, my hope is that you experience this a whole lot more than just one hour on Sunday mornings, but that you have those pockets of time where you are able to prostrate yourself our simply throw open your arms and say, “thank you.” “Thank you for this time.” “Thank you for this rest.” “Thank you for my family, my friends, and all the opportunities that you put before me.” “Thank you for loving me, not because you have to, but because you want to.”
But if you are not able to find that time out there, I hope and pray that you find that here, among this gathering of all the faithful who are drawn here; not because there are hard and fast rules connected with being part of this church, but because there is freedom in being here, freedom in fully giving our worries and our lives up to God, and living in the joy that’s associated with that freedom. That is the grace of God. Amen.