Luke 6:1-16New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
6 One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 3 Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” 5 Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
6 On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. 8 Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” 10 After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11 But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16 and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
I’ve been thinking this week about Sabbath as a precious gift. A gift God had in God’s hands from the dawn of creation, then decided to gift to the children of Abraham when they were just infants (back in the time of Moses), knowing they would need it as they grew up, changed and faced challenges. It is a gift both practical and filled with beautiful pearls of wisdom meant to give life to God’s people and creation. But for so many – particularly Christians (in part because of how stories like today’s are interpreted) – it’s become like that family heirloom in the attic. We have a sense of how valuable it is; we know it was created to be used; but it’s just too cumbersome and antiquated – it doesn’t fit into our current spaces and lives – even if something deep inside us wishes it could. We do have an important part of that gift with us today; we’re here together now, and together I’d love to open this gift a little further; hear what Jesus has to say about it; and consider its place in OUR lives.
Let’s pray: God help us to center us in you today, help us to enter into your time, so that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts may be pleasing to you, the source of our rest. AMEN.
This Gift of Sabbath is rich and full, and as we peer inside it, there are three aspects of this gift –gifts within the gift — I would like to lift out and hold up.
Gift #1: The first gift we could represent with a lynchpin: If you picture putting a wagon wheel onto an axle, the lynchpin is that pin that holds the wheel in place on its CENTER so that it doesn’t go flying off and crash the WHOLE carriage. I think it’s a good metaphor. With that image in our minds, we can remember that Sabbath is, by most counts, commandment number 4 of the 10: “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy.”
God placed it there in the middle between 2 tablets for a reason. The first three are commandments are about the axle of our relationship with God –namely how not to make things into God that are not god not Pagan gods; not golden calves; not our institutions; not our religious or secular leaders; and certainly not ourselves. (It’s about how not to attach ourselves to the wrong carriage, or think we can go rolling off on our own). Commandments 1-3 are about how to keep God at our center; so that we can take our own right place in moving creation forward. And that’s why the commandments on the second tablet tell us how to live with one another – how to love our families, neighbors, and world. Sabbath sits in the middle – reminding us that the two are inextricably linked – that we can’t know how to live with and love our neighbors well; how to be part of moving creation forward; if we are not centered in God. But when we are centered in God we can find the kind of comfort and connection that allows us to move forward in the world with courage, (and) purpose and love.
Gift #2: We reach in a pull out something that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel calls a: Palace in Time: For this gift, we go way back to remember that while God spent six days creating something Good –creation and all that is in it – the first thing God blesses on the 7th day, isn’t something IN this new Creation — not man, or a mountaintop or a Temple. The first thing God blesses is a Day — a space in Time – what Heschel calls “a palace in time”. God blesses the Sabbath. This truth is a reminder that while so much of our lives and civilization is dedicated to living in and controlling space and things – we build, create, acquire – God’s plan for us, and Creation, depends not (really) on our relationship with the physical world, but our relationship with Time. Heschel says:
“To have more does not mean to be more; TIME is the heart of existence.” “Six days of the week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.”
God desires us, once a week, to step out of the world of things – and into God’s time – where we can experience ourselves as whole; wholly loved and wholly a part of God’s eternal plan. One day a week, God asks us to give up some control, and know that the world of Creation, of Space, will be just fine (and probably better off) without us. When we visit God’s palace in time we cannot help but become more humble, and more trusting of God.
We have a lynchpin to keep us centered, and a palace in time in which we can find wholeness, humility and trust –and remember that seeds of eternity are planted in us.
Gift #3, is a Vision; a Picture of God’s Kingdom and how Creation meant to reflect it: Because God desires wholeness for people and Creation, we find in the Sabbath laws are, in essence, the first labor laws. The Sabbath is a God-given gift of freedom from toil, not only for the haves, but for the have-nots. The Torah commands that not only the master of the house get rest, but also his family, servants, even his animals. We don’t engage in commerce on the Sabbath, not only for our sake, but for the sake of the person forced work in the shop. In Sabbath we remember that we are part of a web of connectedness – our work or rests impacts others and the Earth itself.
Sabbath forms community, and imparts a vision for community formed by justice and love. God desires to be in Sabbath relationship with every person and living thing; with an acknowledgement that the earth itself needs a break from Human Doings.
3 Gifts of Sabbath we look at today. A Life Centered in God; A relationship with Time that breeds humility, trust and wholeness; and a Vision for Community founded in Love and Justice. It is no wonder the Pharisees in today’s story of Jesus see Sabbath as worth protecting. We add to this, of course, the terrible persecution and pressure coursing through the history and lives of the Jewish people in Jesus’ time (still) – if Sabbath was critical to defining and binding the Jewish community together – it was worth girding up and protecting fiercely.
And yet Jesus, a devout Jewish man on the Sabbath comes with a different perspective, not based in fear, but in his own total centeredness in God. Luke and Jesus also know there will be followers of Jesus who wouldn’t necessarily have grown up in Jewish homes with Sabbath practice. Jesus wants to share what he sees as the heart of the Sabbath for all people. God made the Sabbath, blessed it and gave it to us to Save our Lives and creation. God gave us the Sabbath so that we can always find our way back to Centeredness in God – connected, whole, humble and just. It is meant to root us in the joy of knowing as the Psalmist says, that God made us and we are Gods.
And so Jesus feeds his disciples (like he does every time we gather for communion today); he brings healing and wholeness to a man who is suffering; and then by himself, he goes out into nature to enter, perhaps that “palace in time” where he could sit with God, before engaging in some important decision-making. His warning to the Pharisees is that they may be walking perilously close to breaking those first commandments – of thinking that they are rulers of the Sabbath. Jesus, God-among-us, reminds them that he is Lord of the Sabbath, not, as some assert, I believe, to replace the Sabbath, but to fulfill it in reminding us that God is in control, especially of the Sabbath. Meant to, above all, help us to Love God and Love our Neighbor – especially our neighbor who is hungry or broken.
And so here we are today – looking to Jesus to help (save our lives) and stay centered in this crazy and beautiful world – a world where the idea of Sabbath may be more countercultural ever before. It has always been hard – the pull of work and busyness has always been there – real and metaphorical crops to be harvested; battles to be fought. But, most of us can remember –even feel nostalgia for – a time when the lines between labor and rest were less blurred; when shops were not open 24-7; when talk of the “overscheduled family” and Soccer Sundays wasn’t a ‘thing’; when we didn’t have the technical capability to answer work emails and order stuff on Amazon before getting out of bed in the morning.
We don’t have exacting Sabbath laws, and I think I’m glad of that, and yet when I stop for long enough, I feel it –a deep longing for the rest and sacred space in time of the Sabbath – I feel it; I sense it (in our kids); in our overworked society, and when I look at our overworked earth. I feel it as I look into this world facing uncertain times, knowing that if I am called to walk out into this world – as we all are with courage and Love – I had better first be Centered in God, with a sense of wholeness and humility, and a vision of justice.
We are all here this morning. Despite all the other calls on your time, you have carved out space in time for this community and for the sacred. We are already on this path– already living into the Sabbath promise. Our invitation this morning, I think, is not to add more to our plates – or feel guilty that we aren’t doing more to rest – but to know that God rejoices in the small steps we take to accept the gift of Sabbath. God knows that when we make changes to our routines and maybe light a candle and say a prayer over dinner together tonight; or leave technology aside for an hour to take a Sabbath Walk in the woods; or come together as a community of faith to worship; that we are aligning our lives evermore with God’s hopes for us and the world. Maybe this is our opportunity: to slow down, bring the gift of Sabbath more fully into our homes and church – to find moments not only of leisure but of holiness. It is a gift that just may save our lives.
One more quick story before I finish up. In Israel there is something called the Sabbath elevator. Because you aren’t allowed to work, even to push the elevator button; the elevators are set on automatic timers for Shabbat running up and down, stopping and opening at every floor. Needless to say, these elevators take forever – but that is part of the point and why they are this great symbol for me of Sabbath. You have to give up the desire for control of the timing of the Shabbat elevator – and give in, with humility and trust to knowing that it will come in its own time. And this funny thing happens at the Shabbat elevator. With so much time to wait, you start to notice things you hadn’t before. The sun coming in the window; the person standing next to you. Great conversations are had in the space of waiting for the Shabbat elevator. I tell you this because it relates to another story – As most of you know I am finishing my training as I walk towards ordination, and as part of that I spend 2 days a week at Brigham and Women’s hospital training and working as a Chaplain. During the overnight shifts, there is only one Chaplain onsite for the hospital. And I have had three overnights in the last month or so that have started on Sunday nights. So I leave here, have lunch, and then head on the T to the hospital – sometimes, if I am honest, a little resentful that I have to spend my Sabbath evening away from family, working. But The hospital is so strangely quiet on a Sunday night. The lights are dimmer, most of the staff is gone, and I love sitting in our little interfaith chapel – its sort of like my mountainside. I never know what I will be called into, and so I do try to keep myself centered in God, trusting that God will present in whatever room my pager calls me to. It’s humbling. The other night I received a page to one of the hospice floors and I went to the tower elevators. It is a running joke how long these elevators take to run – there are 6 of them, and you can wait and wait and wait. And as I waited to go up to that room, the image of the Shabbat elevator flashed in front of me so clearly. It was a Sabbath reminder from God that come what may: when we allow ourselves to live in God’s time, when locate God at our center, we can face what comes with courage and be sure that we will be guided by Love. The elevator came and left me in the room of a woman nearing the end of her life, suffering – and yet whole and wholly loved by God. She had called me so that I could read Psalm 100 to her – over and over. She knew it but wanted to hear it. “It is God that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” That to me, was a Sabbath moment Jesus smiled on.