“Making the Sabbath Work” August 25, 2019
“Making the Sabbath Work”
Does anyone remember the movie called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”? It was based on the 1962 Broadway hit by the same name. I never had the chance to see it, but I do remember that Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics and it had an all-star cast. It was a situation comedy involving slaves and kings and senators in ancient Rome. But even though I never saw “A Funny Thing..” I remember it because it became such a common expression. Everyone had their own take on this catchy phrase: “A funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store,” or, “A funny thing happened on the way to the airport” – these might be stories that I could blab about today. But it is the gospel text from Luke that made me think of this. In a way, the story of “healing of the Sabbath” could fall under the category of “A funny thing happened on the way to the temple.”
In fact, we could say that to be true about the bulk of Jesus’ ministry, because it seems like whenever he showed up, things happened that got people’s attention. (vs 10) reads Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. Not a big deal, right? I mean, in those days there were priests and such assigned to the temple, but just about anyone could get up and read to the congregation. There wasn’t a designated “preacher,” you could say. Bu these speakers were under the watchful eye of the chief priest. It was understood that everyone knew the rules and you don’t break the rules. The rest of the story you have just heard: Jesus spotted a woman bent over with what was probably advanced rheumatoid arthritis. He had compassion for her – which Jesus seemed to do a lot – he healed her, and that’s when the trouble began. (vs 14) The synagogue leader, incensed that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, responded, ‘There are 6 days in which work is permitted. Come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.’ Now, on a side note, I find it amazing that this dude considers the act of miraculous healing a form of work in the first place, but Jesus goes along with it. He explains to them what a bunch of phonies they are for saying such a thing because they technically do “work” on the Sabbath all the time. The priest doesn’t have much to say and the people in the temple are tickled pink. And so, the story ends, a point is made, and a lesson is learned.
That really should be the end of it, but the beauty of the gospels and what makes them fascinating is the fact that too often the answers we find will almost always lead us to a different question. This time around, I ran into the question of, “What is the Sabbath and what does it have to do with Sundays and going to church? It got me to thinking about this thing called the Sabbath and made me realize that I don’t give it a whole lot of thought. Is it just another one of the commandments that seems to have just gotten lost somehow? I’m afraid so.
It’s true – let’s face it, the Sabbath isn’t a word that gets kicked around much anymore. Some folks take a sabbatical, usually from academic teaching or long term pastoring. Come to think of it, the only folks I have heard use the word have been pastors; saying things like, “No, I can’t do that on Monday, it’s my Sabbath.” And maybe they have something there. Because the Sabbath goes beyond taking a day off – it is a day of rest, sure; but it’s a day to be dedicated to the Lord. My first thought is “that’s easier said than done.” But what if? What if we were able to get into this ancient habit not because we’re supposed to, but because we want to? What if we found real and genuine healing and peace through the practice of spending on day a week seeking to be in the presence of God? Now I’m just laying this idea out there…but what if. I’d like to close with the words of Isaiah that made the idea of a Sabbath sound like a discipline that could turn our world around. (Is 58:13-14)
If you stop trampling the Sabbath,
stop doing whatever you want on my holy day,
and consider the Sabbath a delight,
sacred to the Lord, honored,
and honor it instead of doing things your way,
seeking what you want and doing business as usual,
14 then you will take delight in the Lord.
I will let you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob.
The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Then you will take delight in the Lord. Isn’t that what we all want? So, my thoughts today are let’s consider this thing called the Sabbath. Let’s consider what it might mean to us in our journey of faith. I think we will find that honoring the Sabbath is not the same thing as going to church once a week. Let’s make the Sabbath work. Let’s make the Sabbath work, because I have a feeling once we start, it’s the kind of work that we won’t be able to get enough of.
Amen & Shalom