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August 21, 2016 sermon by Fr.

Tom Wilson
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17
Summer is coming to an end. The stores are ramping up their Back to School sales. Today we
are blessing those leaving for college as well as school back-packs for the younger folk. Yet our
scripture readings continue with the same question they have posed since Pentecost: how are we
to live our lives if we are faith-filled disciples of Jesus?
Today we are called to keep the Sabbath and not just in a legalistic, follow the rules sort of
way. We could get into a long and involved discussion about the differences between Sabbathkeeping for Christians and Sabbath-keeping for Jews, but I am not going to go there. What I
want to focus on is why we should even think about setting aside one day a week as special, and
how Jesus calls us to make it so.
Our Gospel story this morning opens with Jesus teaching in synagogue on the Sabbath. We often
find Jesus in synagogue on the Sabbath. It is the right time and the right place for any observant
Jew to be. Gathering as a community to praise God and to learn about Gods covenant, Gods
relationship with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, continues to be part and parcel of
belonging to that faith community.
We Christians continue in this same ancient tradition of gathering weekly to hear the stories
about who God is and to celebrate Gods call to us as individuals and especially as a community.
Keeping Sabbath forms us as a people, a people in relationship with God, and a people in
relationship with each other. In this sacred setting, we not only hear the God stories, but we
also share our own stories before and after the service stories about our families, our travels,
our challenges.
We sometimes talk about how God has seemingly abandoned us at one time or another; how we
feel exiled in situations at work or in our neighborhoods that are not welcoming; how we
experience the slavery of drugs, alcohol, ideologies. Doesnt this sound something like the
experience of the Hebrew people who were enslaved in Egypt? But we know that by Gods
mighty arm, they were brought out of slavery in Egypt and led into a land flowing with milk and
honey. There they thrived and prospered for many generations. But they lost their focus and
started to rely upon their own knowledge and devices, forgetting about Gods call to them. Then
the Assyrian armies invaded and overpowered them. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.
Gods chosen people were taken off in exile to Babylon. But 50 years after that destruction and
humiliation, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed: Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise
up the foundations of many generations; Why? Because God loves you. These were words of
great comfort in a time of great anxiety.

Yet Isaiah also confronted the exiles with their short-comings. He reminded them of how they
had abandoned the covenant that God had established with them. He challenged them to remove
the yoke from among them, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil. He urged them to
offer their food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted. He pleaded with them to
refrain from trampling the Sabbath, by pursuing their own interests on that holy day. They were
being called to live according to Gods covenant, to act as children of God, to do unto others as
they would have others do unto them.
Jesus echoes Isaiahs words. He calls us to care for the poor, the sick, the needy; to offer unto
Caesar what is Caesars and unto God what is Gods, to love one another as fully as God loves
us. Jesus also teaches us, as Isaiah taught the Israelites that even when we fail to live up to our
calling as children of God, if we but repent and return to our God, God will be there with open
arms: like the good shepherd leaving the 99 in search of the one lost sheep, like the devoted
parent ready to welcome home the prodigal child, like a long-separated lover, eager to hold their
beloved in their arms again. This is who our God is. The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
It is in this context, I think, that Jesus chides the leader of the synagogue in todays Gospel. This
leader seemingly put rules ahead of relationships. He made an idol out of the observances
surrounding Sabbath-keeping. He lost sight of why Sabbath is important. Sabbath is a time to
remember and celebrate our relationship with God, a relationship instituted by God because God
loves us. And Sabbath is a time to celebrate our relationship with each other, a relationship that
is communal, interdependent, self-less.
Jesus reminded this leader of the synagogue, that while the letter of the law forbade work on the
Sabbath, the Mishnah, those extensive interpretations of the law provided by wise Rabbis, did
allow for certain works of charity, works that focused on the welfare of others. What better way
to celebrate the Sabbath: lifting up our neighbors rather than dragging them down, encouraging
them rather than finding fault, affirming the positive rather than focusing on the negative. What
better way to celebrate the Sabbath than by offering our goods to those in need, like the folks in
Louisiana, comforting the afflicted, like those effected by the wild fires up north, healing those
who have been bound up by Satan, whether spiritually, psychologically or physically, like the
woman in todays Gospel.
Think about that woman for a moment: bent over, quite unable to stand upright. Her vision of the
world was always downward or sideways at best. She knew the feet of her neighbors as well as
she knew their voicesbut their faces had become a blur in her memory. Think about how
difficult it must have been for her to go about daily life. Try sweeping the floors in a bent over
position, or cooking over an open fire, or picking up your favorite grandchild. On top of this, her
family and friends would not have felt great compassion towards her. They would have believed
that her deformity was surely due to her sin, or to the sin of her parents. While they would have
cared for her basic needs, they would have done so more out of a sense of duty than out of a
sense of love.

And in spite of all this, there she was at synagogue on the Sabbath. Did she carry a sense of hope
within her, knowing that her ancestors had been freed from slavery, and returned from their
exile? Did she remember the consolation offered by the Psalms? The Lord hears the cry of the
poor. What were the words she used to praise God when she was healed? Were they the words
we heard today in Psalm103? Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. He
forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities.
It seems to me, that the point Jesus is trying to make in this mornings Gospel is that while
human conventions, like the rules surrounding Sabbath-keeping, can be good in and of
themselves, they are not the final word. The final word is always Gods. And Gods word to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to Peter, Paul and Andrew, and to each of us is: I will be your God
and you will be my people. I will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched
places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of
water, whose waters never fail. God promises all this and more. All God asks of us is that we
love God with all our being and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Let us use our Sabbath-time to praise God, rejoicing in all the wonderful things God has done
and is doing in our midst. Let us also respond to Jesus teaching, and whenever we have the
opportunity, be it on the Sabbath or on another day of the week, let us be about the work we are
called to do: to heal and console, to welcome and serve, to encourage and love.