Scripture: Luke 6:1-10
Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” ~ Luke 6:5
I remember as a child one of the worst things you could hear was a new set of rules or especially for a new gift, game or toy that you just picked up – don’t do this, don’t do that, you can’t do that here and what not. Now don’t get me wrong rules are important, most games wouldn’t be any fun without them but if rules suffocate and eclipse everything than there is no joy or delight.
The same is true as we grow older, even as we acknowledge the necessary places rules have for creating order in our lives, if rules become over-zealous than they become burdensome, they become an obstacle to enjoying or succeeding whatever the rules are designed for.
This applies to our Sabbath keeping as well. If rules eclipse all else, then there can be no joy or delight even in the divine rest that God has offered to us in Creation.
Over the last few weeks we have focused our attention on our culture’s tendency to overwork and exhaustion – essentially ignoring the natural rhythms of Sabbath and rest. Today we deal with the other extreme, seeing Sabbath as an obligation rather than a delight.
Personally, I never experienced the traditional Sabbath practices of the church – Sunday was always a day for church in the morning, but the rest of the day was open to me to do whatever I wished: I played baseball, saw friends, did homework (plus some chores around the house that I had left to the last minute!) and at the end of the day we sat down as a family to Sunday dinner. There were no rules in my household for what I could and couldn’t do on Sunday.
But it is not that long ago, that Sundays were a day of little to no work, and little to no activity aside from going to church in morning, eating a Sunday dinner (that was largely prepared on Saturday), spending time reading the paper and then heading back to church in evening for evensong or Sunday school or whatever service or program your church offered.
For some this may have been restful, but for many the restrictions of the Sabbath day, restrictions on what kind of leisure activities you could or couldn’t do, or the obligation to go to church practically all day were suffocating.
The idea of Sabbath had not necessarily become something to look forward too and delight in, but rather something to be endured, something that came around every week and had too many rules around it that it became too restrictive.
Sabbath restrictions were not unique to the Church, as our reading from the Gospel of Luke points out. God’s people have seemingly always struggled to find the right balance between what the Sabbath should and shouldn’t be.
In our reading today we have two Sabbath stories: one out in the fields and the other in synagogue, both highlight how the rules we develop around Sabbath can lead us away from God’s intended purpose of the divine gift of rest and refreshment.
In the first story Jesus and his disciples were walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath and they were hungry – following Jesus, healing and teaching was hard work! And so on this Sabbath day the disciples plucked some grain, rubbed it in their hands and ate – not the most appetizing meal, but it was all they could literally get their hands on!
But then some Pharisees who were either following Jesus too or looking on, took offense and they chastised Jesus for letting his disciples do what was unlawful! After all the law was pretty clear that you weren’t supposed to do any agricultural work on the Sabbath! And the disciples had the gall to pluck grain, grind it and make it edible!
Now we might find the Pharisees response laughable, but in the strictest sense of the law they were right, and now it seemed to them that Jesus was allowing his followers to break the law, something no good teacher would allow.
Jesus’ response is to remind the Pharisees of a time in Israel’s history, when their greatest King, David, had also broken the law so that he and his soldiers could eat. In telling this story Jesus pointed out that the Sabbath shouldn’t restrict anyone from enjoying their life – the disciples were hungry, they needed to eat, and so they did what was necessary.
In our second vignette, Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath in the synagogue when a man with a withered hand approached him. Luke tells us that the Pharisees and Scribes were watching closely, hoping to find something to hold up against Jesus as an accusation. In the Gospel of Mark’s account of the same story, the Pharisees and Scribes have murderous intent – highlighting how important the rules around Sabbath were to the religious authorities. And Jesus, knowing full well what the religious leaders were thinking, called the man with the withered hand forward and then he asked the gathered crowd “Is it lawful to do good or do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or destroy it?” Before the Pharisees and Scribes could say anything, Jesus had shut them up, and hearing no opposition he healed the man.
Jesus pointed to the problem with their restrictive rules about Sabbath, and revealed the true gift that Sabbath was always meant to be. Sabbath was meant to bring life, that was always God’s intention for it, it wasn’t meant to be something to be observed out of obligation, it wasn’t meant to be a drudgery or something that hindered people from experiencing the fullness and abundance of life – more than anything Sabbath was meant to be the gift which you looked forward too each and every week, the gift that allowed you to see all of life’s goodness and to delight and enjoy in it.
This is a lesson that we need to learn as well – Sabbath is designed to be gift to us, to allow us to enjoy the blessings in our life and not be an obligation that we dread or just get through.
Taking Sabbath, whether it is a day of rest or moments of rest is meant to be something you can enjoy – it isn’t meant to be just not doing work it’s meant to be time to delight in. For each one of us that will be different – perhaps it means taking walks in nature, perhaps it means doing crafting or gardening or knitting which gives you joy and delight, perhaps it means doing absolutely nothing, taking a nap, whatever it is that gives you delight.
And it also means not worrying about whether you are breaking any rules about Sabbath, it means not worrying if you have to do ‘work’ to be able to enjoy the gift that God has given you. You don’t need to worry that you are offending God or breaking his commandments if you have to cook a meal, or do a chore especially if it means you can enjoy the life that God has given you just a little bit more.
And as a church, it means that taking Sabbath will likely require some work, to be able to enjoy the gift of rest and refreshment we will do things that are hard. Change sometimes is hard work, but hopefully we will be able to do things together that allow us to find delight and joy in the church, and in the God we come together and worship.
On this thanksgiving weekend let us give thanks that God has given us the wonderful gift of Sabbath, a gift that is meant to give us abundant life and delight in the small and big things of life. A gift that is offered to every one of us, a gift that isn’t meant to restrict us or limit our joy but rather a gift that restores us and allows us to enjoy the whole of our life all the more.
Thanks be to God!
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