Monday, October 09, 2017

Sermon on Luke 14:1-6, for the 17th Sunday after Trinity, "Day of Rest and Gladness"

·         The first part of our Gospel today is a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Sabbath. It’s not His first bout with them. First it was a complaint about His disciples eating grain on the Sabbath. There Jesus asserts that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Then, a second time, He heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and again, they were closely watching Him to find a reason to accuse Him. Like our reading, Jesus ask them (ch. 6): “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” Then, in chapter 13, it gets even more heated as Jesus heals a woman at the synagogue who was crippled by an evil spirit. This time, the ruler of the synagogue rebuked Jesus for this act of mercy, saying: “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord answered: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” This shamed the adversaries of Jesus, but the people rejoiced at the miracle. Today, their answer to Jesus’ teachings is nothing but silence. They couldn’t refute Him.
·         Today’s story again pushes hard against the legalism of the Pharisees—but without quite turning explosive. But there was still time until they would respond brutally against Jesus by His false trial and crucifixion. There is both rebuke and entreaty in Jesus’ words—to correct their false understanding of the Sabbath, and to awaken their compassion and give true spiritual insight.
·         It appears that the Pharisees were somewhat indifferent to the suffering of the man with the illness, as he was “planted” by them at the meal to present a trap for Jesus. Since it’s clear they would have been angry with Jesus healing him on the Sabbath day, it doesn’t seem they had any genuine faith in Jesus, for him to be healed; only animosity. But Jesus was not to be manipulated by them. He pursued the good course, regardless of their ulterior motives. He heals that man for His own sake, and sends him away, while Jesus confronts and teaches them once again. He says, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into well on the Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”
·         There have been a couple of famous news stories I recall, of children stuck in wells, and the long, laborious, and anxious work that it took to remove them. A son fallen into a well would be distressing on any day of the week, and the chance that it would happen on a Sabbath would not in the least make the parent hesitate to rescue them. Even in the lesser case of an animal—the great risk of death or harm to the animal would make it urgent to rescue. Jesus’ point is that it’s absurd to think that someone would be so pedantic about Sabbath law, that they would postpone the rescue of their child or animal facing bodily harm, thinking that that would violate God’s Law. Even hard, sweaty labor to pull someone out of a well; you would do it! And rightly so! Remember Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord, even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28…parallel to Luke 6). This shows that the core of God’s commandment is the well-being of man. Therefore it cannot be obedience to the Sabbath commandment to jeopardize a person’s (or even an animals’) wellbeing by neglecting to help them on the Sabbath. It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, Jesus says.
·         Now, we might have a certain disconnect with the problem Jesus was facing in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so driven to obey the Sabbath law, by not working on the Sabbath, that there was a long list of things they couldn’t imagine doing on the Sabbath day. That list apparently included healing people. But is there anything that we can’t imagine doing on the Sabbath day? In other words, do we ever say to ourselves, “I really shouldn’t be doing this on the day of rest and worship?” Do we ever think to ourselves, “Perhaps I’m not really resting one day a week, and worshipping God, as I ought to?” “I might even be a workaholic!”
·         Now, those questions could propel us into a guilt driven plan to make up new “rules and regulations” about what we are permitted to do or not do on the Sabbath. And we’d be right back where the Pharisees were—trying to address the problem by a legalism that made them miss the true point of the law, and the true gifts of the Gospel. Instead, those questions could make us reflect on whether we are missing out on the true purpose of the Sabbath day—to be refreshed and renewed in physical rest, ceasing our labors—which our bodies urgently need—and in spiritual rest, hearing the Word of God and receiving His gifts—which our souls urgently need.
·         We might instead ponder, who is this Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, and why has He invited me to His table? Why has He called me to cease from my frantic worrying and work, to dine at His side, and to hear His conversation? And to these questions, if we listen, we can hear the words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus gives rest for the weary, rest for our souls—and He gives us a yoke to work with Him; to pull with Him, but assures us that it is easy and His burden is light. Jesus wants us to return to our labors refreshed and with His rest for our souls.
·         The Sabbath rest is for man—it is for us and our own good. It’s not that we were created for the sake of the Sabbath day. It was given for us. And Jesus is Lord over it all. He heals and makes alive, on this day especially! Wholeness and wellness is in Him, and there’s no better day or place to find these than in Him, the Lord of the Sabbath.
·         Now we as a side note, the Sabbath commandment—the 3rd Commandment by our counting—is the only one of the 10 that gets slightly modified by the New Testament. Jesus was showing the true purpose of the Sabbath, over against unhelpful restrictions invented by the Pharisees. But also, after Jesus died on Good Friday, rested in the tomb on the Sabbath Day (Saturday), and rose on Sunday morning from the dead—the early Christians quickly moved to worshipping on Sundays, to celebrate “The Lord’s Day” and His resurrection, instead of Saturday—the day originally prescribed by the 10 Commandments.
·         Did they change God’s commandment by their own authority? In Colossians 2:16 we are given the answer: the Apostle Paul writes: “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” This passage shows that the kosher food laws and the Old Testament ceremonial and Sabbath calendars, were temporary shadows, that foreshadowed the substance, the reality of Christ. With Christ and His fulfillment of these shadows, we no longer have the command of the Lord to observe those ceremonies of the law. In other words, like the disciples we are free to worship on Sunday in celebration of the resurrection of the Lord of the Sabbath. We are still honoring the spirit of the law by honoring Christ in this way; keeping the core of the Sabbath commandment that remains.
·         This slight modification of the 3rd commandment didn’t lead the Christians to stop gathering together for worship. To the contrary, in Acts 2, the earliest description of the Christian pattern of worship after the Resurrection of Jesus, it says “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:42, 46-47). If anything, the early Christians met more often! The moral command of the law to rest and worship is unchanged—it is only the ceremonial form that has been changed (Chemnitz, Examination, vol. 4, p. 416).
·         Also, Jesus did not condemn labors done out of need or charity or healing, as we’ve already seen. Instead, what Jesus did condemn, was the abuse of the Temple as a place of worship, and turning it into a marketplace or den of thieves, and disturbing the place of prayer (ibid). Jesus does not want the day of rest and gladness to be undercut by these other activities. Worship ought to be for us a time to set aside distraction and busyness, and to receive the things of God—or in the metaphor we used last week—to quiet ourselves long enough to see, wonder at, and meditate on the panorama, or scenery of God’s amazing grace to us. If we don’t stop to pay attention, we may well miss the things of greatest importance, while attending to all the other minor things that preoccupy us.
·         To be refreshed and made whole on the Sabbath, we impose no new burdens or laws, but only take up the light and easy yoke of Jesus our Savior, who bore the heavy yoke of our sins, our worries and cares, to the cross. We are refreshed and made whole, seated at His table, fed by His body, the bread of life; nourished by His conversation—the life giving words of forgiveness and truth and divine wisdom. We are not living under the fear and compulsion of the law’s punishment, but as we heard last week in Ephesians 3, we live with the Holy Spirit in our inner being and Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. We come to rest and be refreshed on the Sabbath—out of the joy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead; out of the relief of having our sins forgiven; out of the anticipation of receiving Christ’s gifts. We come to cast off the dead weight of our sinfulness, and the gathering anxieties and fears of this world—eager to come into the light of Jesus, and receive His light yoke. And we come to rest from our labors, so that we may be renewed and refreshed to be sent back again into the Lord’s labors, joyful and carefree—under the forgiveness, grace, and shed blood of our Lord Jesus! In His Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Three Sabbath healing miracles happen in Luke 6:11; 13:17, and 14:4. The reaction of the Pharisees progresses from anger (6:11), to _____ (13:17), to ____ (14:4). This shows that  they could not refute Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath.
  2. Read Jesus’ questions in Luke 6:3-5; 6:9; 13:15-16; and 14:3-5. What common idea runs through this? How is Jesus trying to reform their understanding of the observance of the Sabbath?
  3. The man with the illness seems to have been “planted” by the Pharisees at the meal to trap Jesus. Luke 14:1-3. How can we show greater sympathy and awareness to the needs of other people? How does the Sabbath turn our attention to doing what is good and charitable?
  4. Why would Jesus permit labor to save life or to give food or drink on the Sabbath? What is the purpose of the Sabbath? Mark 2:27-28. How do we rest on the Sabbath day, or what things hinder or prevent us from rest and worship?
  5. Why does Jesus call us to rest on His Sabbath? What does He give us? Matthew 11:28-30.
  6. How is the 3rd Commandment (Sabbath Day) modified in the New Testament? Colossians 2:16. What was the new day for worship observed by the early Christians, and why? Acts 2:42, 46-47; 1 Corinthians 16:2.
  7. What kinds of disruptions of the Sabbath/worship did Jesus condemn or obstruct? John 2:13-16.
  8. What joy and refreshment do we receive on the Sabbath? Who is the giver of all of this, and what does it enable us to return and do?

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