(Note: On June 3 our congregation took up a special offering to help refurbish the playground at Bear Creek Park. We chose that day because June 1 is International Children’s Day. It was also Communion Sunday. As usual the texts are at the end.)
The reason we are taking up the special offering for Bear Creek Park today is that June 1 was International Children’s Day, not to be confused with the International Day of the Young Child, which was in April or International Child’s Day which is in November or International Day of the Girl Child, which is in October. And we shouldn’t forget May 25, National Missing Children’s Day.
Of course parents get their day. There is Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparent’s Day, and to make sure we didn’t leave anyone out, Parent’s Day, the last Sunday in July, and if that doesn’t do the trick, we have Family Day the fourth Sunday in April.
All those families need Good Neighbor Day, September 28.
We are a patriotic people, and to show it we have Loyalty and Law Day, both on May 1. September 17 is Citizenship Day, which is part of Constitution Week, which makes me wonder why Bill of Rights Day, December 15, is not also celebrated that week. although I am not sure why we just don’t celebrate all these on September, 11, Patriot Day. We are also a diverse people, so we have German American Day, Columbus Day, Leif Erikson Day, and General Pulaski Day, Greek Independence Day and Tartan Day.
There are a host of people who get their own days. I already mentioned General Pulaski and Leif Erikson, but others include Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman Day, Cesar Chavez Day, Malcolm X, and the Wright Brothers.
And you! Did you know that you have your own day? And your day does not come from a presidential decree, or a congressional declaration. And it’s not just once a year. It is once a week, and it comes straight from the top–from God himself.
Your day, your special day, is the Sabbath.
The fourth Commandment says,
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work–you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
We are so used to a seven day week, with Sunday’s as a day of rest, that we forget just how radical that notion was when it was first introduced. The idea that you, and your family, and your servants, and your slaves, and your livestock and any one who happened to be visiting your town got a day off was unheard of. Chores had to be done, food had to be cooked, life had to go on, but for those early Jews there was one day, one day that was set aside and made holy.
The problem though is that the initial impetus for the Sabbath became a series of injunctions that were more concerned with what was forbidden on the Sabbath, rather than what was encouraged. The Gospel Lesson today shows us just how far away from the original intent the rules and regulations about the Sabbath had become.
Jesus and his followers are walking on a sunny Sabbath day. Perhaps they were out later than they thought they would be, or perhaps the walk took longer than they expected, but they started to get hungry. The come across a grain field. Jesus looks at his disciples, and at the grain, then reaches out, and plucks a few ears, rubs off the husks, and starts to eat it. They are amazed, and maybe even shocked because they know that picking grain is forbidden on the Sabbath.
According the Pharisees you are to do no work on the Sabbath, per the Ten Commandments. That includes agriculture, which includes picking grain from a field.
Yet Jesus and his disciples do that. They were hungry, so they ate.
Some Pharisees see him and they point out to him that this is against Holy Law. He is breaking the sabbath.
Jesus tells them a story about David, and how, when David was hungry, he did something much more drastic than pulling on a few heads of grain on the Sabbath.
He is referring to episode in I Samuel 21 when David was fleeing from Saul, and he went to the high priest. He had some of his followers with them and they were hungry. Now in the building where the high priest worked (this was before the Temple was built) was an altar, and on the altar was the Holy Bread, or Bread of the Presence. According the book of Leviticus, there should always be bread on the altar, which is replaced every Sabbath. It was for God, and for God alone, and was called the Bread of the Presence because it symbolized the presence of God at the altar. The bread sat between two sticks of frankincense.
David is running from Saul, he comes into the altar because that is a sanctuary, a place where Saul cannot get at him. He has left Saul’s court in a hurry, and took with him only the most trusted of his companions and now they are hungry. So guess what he does–he eats the Bread of the Presence.
And apparently it was good. And to the priest’s great surprise, he was not smote by God. He actually lived to tell the tale.
So Jesus reminds the Pharisees of this little event in the life of David which they are not too happy to hear.
The very next thing that happens is Jesus goes to the synagogue and sees a man with a whithered hand. Jesus knows everyone is watching him, especially after his little snack out in the fields, but, Jesus being Jesus does not really care what they think. He sees a man in need, and he helps him, and Jesus does not care what day of the week it is. He sees the need in the man’s eyes. He sees his desire to be made whole, to be able to work again to be able help his family. So he heals him.
He could have waited another day. He could have said to the man, “Today is the Sabbath. Come back tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do with that hand. But that is not what he does. Instead, staring the Pharisees down, he says, “Stretch out your hand,” and when the man offers his hand, Jesus heals him. He is making a point here, which goes back to what he said to the Pharisees who saw him picking grain in the field. “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Jesus is making a specific point, not just about the Sabbath, but about the entire law. But for today, we’ll stay focused on the Sabbath.
How many of you remember Blue Laws? When I was a kid, I was working on a model on a Sunday afternoon. I ran out of glue, so I rode my bike to the store to get some more model glue. I found a store that was open, found the glue, took it to the counter, and they refused to sell it to me, because of Blue Laws. Apparently in North Carolina they could not sell things on the Sabbath that would help people have fun.
I wonder if they people who made those Blue laws ever read the Gospel of Mark, specifically this story. Because it seems from reading this that doing relaxing things, like making a model, is exactly what the Sabbath is all about.
The fourth commandment is about taking time off from your work week, to sit and enjoy God and God’s creation. The words, Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy, means to set it aside as a special day in the week. Making it holy does not mean that we spend the whole day doing “religious” things. It means we do what we can to make the day special. Holy simply means set aside.
We need the sabbath, and not just as a day of rest. Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, writes:
“In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.”
In other words, the sabbath reminds us that we are more than what we do, what we make or what we buy. On the Sabbath none of that matters. The master of the house is on the same level as the servants in the eyes of God.
For most of our lives we are judged by what we do, not who we are. As we celebrate the Sabbath we learn that we are valuable to God while we are resting and re-creating our souls. We do things, not because we have to do, but because we enjoy them. The world around is driven by many things, many of which are antithetical to Christianity. In the world, you have to produce something, you have to do something. In the early 2000s, I made several trips to Russia, and the aim was partnering with Russian Orthodox churches. Each time I came back I was asked, “What did you do,” and when I said I had met a lot of Russians, I heard the question repeated– “But what did you do?” People back home wanted action. They wanted to hear about souls saved, food distributed, ministries started, sermons preached. The fact that there is intrinsic value in just getting to know other people was totally lost on them.
The Sabbath reminds us that we, you and I, have intrinsic value apart from what we do.
According to Bruggemann, the Sabbath reminds us that God is not a workaholic, and that creation does not depend on endless work. And so the Sabbath also reminds us that while each and every one of us is important, the Universe does not depend on our work. It also depends on our rest.
The Sabbath is a gift, given to each and every one of us by God.
It was never meant to be an oppressive time, a day when all fun is banished, and we have to be somber and serious like undertakers. Keeping the Sabbath should be joyful. It should enhance our lives, not diminish them. We should be able to look forward to the Sabbath, not dread its coming. We should greet the Sabbath like an old friend, the kind you never get tired of seeing.
The Sabbath is a gift–just as this bread and this cup are gifts.
When I was growing up, my brother and I could go play on Saturdays after we done all our chores–mowed the lawn, raked leaves, carried out the trash, whatever. Our free time had to be earned. Now that was a good life lesson for us, but that is not the way the Sabbath works. We don’t earn our Sabbath time. It is given to us, given to us by God.
We do not earn this meal–it is given to us by God.
Both this meal and the Sabbath are given to us in love. That is why we say we celebrate communion, and why I think we should also say we celebrate the Sabbath. Our intrinsic value is not defined by how much we have attained or produced or accomplished. Our intrinsic value comes to us because we are children of God. And the Sabbath, the day which was made to fit just for us, is a reminder of God’s great love for us.
Pronouncement about the Sabbath
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
The Man with a Withered Hand
3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.