Sermon – June 3, 2018 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

         Jesus heals on the sabbath. This is a fairly well known story— or at least the idea of Jesus’ healing upsetting the religious people of his time. Usually the narrative goes something like this: “Those horrible Pharisees only care about following rules. Jesus doesn’t care about following the rules so naturally this upsets the bad guys.” What’s interesting, though, is that Jesus wasn’t breaking any rules.

            The original purpose of the sabbath was not to abstain from work for the sole purpose of religiosity or piety. The sabbath was born out of the people’s struggle in Egypt. Slaves no longer, the Israelites were called to renew and restore themselves for God’s purpose. The sabbath was first and foremost about promoting life and remembering God as the one who liberates. It was perfectly permissible to heal or care for someone on the sabbath as this was not considered work. So, Jesus’ healing of the man does not technically break sabbath law. After all, the healing of the man’s hand bring would bring him back into community, makes him able once again able to contribute to society, no longer caste aside— in other words, the healing of the man’s hand contributed to life and exposed liberation. This is what the sabbath was all about.

            Furthermore, Jesus’ big rant about the sabbath being for made humankind and not humankind for the sabbath? He was not saying anything new or groundbreaking. In fact, he was simply quoting the law back to the Pharisees.[1]So what was the big deal? Why was this healing so scandalous to those who witnessed it? The scandal was not the healing. The scandal was about Jesus.

            Jesus pushes back on the Pharisee’s inquiry not because he didn’t care about the sabbath law but because he witnessed it being used as a tool for oppression. Jesus stayed true to the purpose of sabbath and reminded the Pharisees that they were meant to promote life and liberation. What was probably more upsetting to the Pharisees was that Jesus presented himself as an expert, an authority, and a teacher. So the scandal of Jesus healing on the sabbath was more about Pharisees need for self-justification, the need to be right, than the need for someone to be healed.

            In our day to day life we bump up against a lot of laws. It’s true that many of these laws, if not most, were put into place to promote our own safety and well being. We could even say, like the sabbath, many of these laws were put in place to promote life. The intention is good, the purpose is meaningful. However, it is also true that sometimes our laws, even the ones meant to promote life, can be used to gate-keep, to keep some people under control or oppressed. Sometimes our religious following of rules become twisted and we forget the original purpose. Sometimes we are so concerned with following the law that we cannot see how they are being used in hurtful ways. Sometimes we too easily confuse our civil laws as God’s law.

            I want to challenge us all today to see ourselves as the pharisees in this story. What rules are we clinging too tightly to? What could be causing us to see another’s healing as a threat? Where does our own self-righteousness, our own need to be right, prevent life? What keeps us from seeing injustice?

            Church, it’s confession time. In our human brokenness we have failed. Sometimes we use our political affiliations, our need for safety or comfort, maybe even our own feelings of helplessness to keep us from seeing the needs of our world or perhaps even to justify our inaction. Sometimes we have obeyed rules just for the sake of obeying them. Sometimes we create or mis-interpret rules just to keep us comfortable in our inaction. Sometimes our own need for self-righteousness, our own need to be right, keeps us from healing. The church, collectively, is especially guilty of this. We have used scripture as a tool for our own oppressive agendas. We have bent rules to keep people from preaching, we have misinterpreted the law to decide who is and is not worthy of God’s embrace. And remember some of the most persecuted people in the the history of our faith were the prophets because they were the ones that pointed out injustice. Church, have you not heard what is happening right now as we speak at our nation’s border?

            We need to be clear about the implication of this all. Our inaction causes someone to remain hungry. Our own need for self-righteousness keeps someone from being healed. While we are arguing, someone dies.

            Does this confession upset us? Are we feeling something deep in our gut? Do we feel attacked today? Wronged? Upset? Called out? Good. That’s conviction. And conviction is a good and holy thing. Conviction is God working on our hardened hearts. Conviction reminds us of just how deeply we need Christ.

            So, let us confess the times in which our hearts have been more like the pharisees and the herodians in this story and less like Jesus. Let us confess our failures and shortcomings. But then, let us hear the absolution. Let us hear from Christ that we are forgiven. But we cannot just remain here, sweet as it may feel. Because our forgiveness turns into calling. Our forgiveness is not just for our sake, but for our neighbors our neighbors as well.

            May our confession change us and then may the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ strengthen us. May we be strengthened to do the hard work of healing and restoration, strengthened to boldly step out of our own comfort to meet our neighbor who is in need, may we be strengthened to commit to living in ways the promote life for all and exemplify the liberation we find in God.

Order of Confession and Forgiveness

God of heaven and earth,

you come near and make us your own.

Help us to confess our Sin,

embrace our forgiveness,

and seek the way you set before us in Jesus, your Son.

Amen.

 

With boldness, let us confess our Sin.

Gracious God,

have mercy on us.

We confess that we have turned

from your way to follow our own ways.

Forgive us for the times we have cared more about

our own comfort than our neighbor;

we have used your Word as a weapon;

we have turned our back on those in need;

we have forgotten your call to life and liberation.

 

Hear us, heal us, restore us, and forgive us

so that we can live fully as your people.

Amen.

Hear this Good News:

God knows our brokenness,

yet sees us through the eyes of Jesus.

Even when we have done wrong,

God sees good in us.

Even when we have failed,

God gives us a new start.

Let us hear God say to us now:

Your sins are forgiven.

Amen.

 

Now Go, let God work and move through you so that we may make this world a place of healing, life, and restoration. Amen.



[1]Deuteronomy 5:12-15