Saturday, August 21, 2010

Delighting in the Sabbath

Luke 13:10-17; Isaiah 58:9b-14
I know this woman in our Gospel reading. Her name is Alice Erickson. She was a long-time member of Saron, my home church. She had a severe case of dowager’s hump, bent double almost from the waist. Alice looked at people sideways, since for her looking ahead meant looking at the ground a few feet in front of her. She never seemed to be in pain and was always cheerful.
Alice was the chairperson of the church library committee for many, many years. She was always in church, enjoyed coffee and goodies after church, and chatting with her many friends and teasing her brother, who was also a member.
Each time I read this story of the bent-over woman, I’ve wondered how she would have responded if Jesus had shown up and called out to her and healed her back.
Jesus did just that, as we read in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus was leading a Torah study, with many people gathered around and listening. In the crowd was a woman bent-over with osteoporosis, and a leader of the synagogue. Jesus interrupted his teaching to call out to the woman. He touched her, and healed her. “You are set free from your ailment.” She stood up straight, and praised God.
The leader of the synagogue was not so happy. His objection was not to the healing – though he did not praise God for it. His objection was to the healing happening on the Sabbath. It was not a proper respect for God; it was work, and should have waited until the next day. But Jesus seeks to correct the leader’s perception of work. “You take care of your animals on the Sabbath, don’t you? Isn’t this woman, a daughter of your community, worth more than an animal?”
The leader and his companions walked away in shame. It would be easy for us to point fingers at this man. But he was only doing what he thought he should out of respect for God. He was standing physically upright, but spiritually bent over, too controlled by obedience to the rules to rejoice in this woman’s healing!
Since we, too get caught up in the rules, in the “way we’ve always done things,” we need to be careful when we point fingers. On the other hand, in our culture, it’s pretty easy to ignore the commandment to honor the Sabbath, so it wouldn’t hurt for us to examine our own lives.
Jesus reminded his audience that “the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” If the Sabbath was made for us, we should probably pay some attention to what it means for us. Sabbath means taking time for God, time to be with God, time to learn about God, time for physical rest, time to spend with family.
The original vision for Sabbath was for a family meal and worship on Friday evening; and a Saturday with Torah (or Bible) study, simple meals, time to be with family at a slower pace, and time to rest from the hard labor of the other six days of the week.
Today’s passage from Isaiah gives us God’s words about Sabbath. Sabbath is a time to put away our self interest and our own concerns. Sabbath is a time to offer mercy to the needy, and to delight in the Lord.
The healed woman delighted in the Lord as she straightened her back for the first time in 18 years. She knew first-hand that she had received mercy from God.
The leader of the synagogue put his trust in obedience to the rules, was not interested in mercy, and missed out on delighting in the Lord.
Have you ever thought of Sabbath as a time and a way to delight in the Lord? When you come to worship, is that what you think of doing? When you sing the liturgy and the hymns, and listen to the choir and organ, do you delight in the Lord? When you hear the readings, do you delight in the way God cares for God’s people? When you pray with the community, do you delight in the knowledge that God hears prayers? When you come forward for the bread and wine of Holy Communion, do you delight in the way Jesus’ body and blood fills and nourishes us?
Have you ever thought of Sabbath as a time to give mercy to the needy? Although the leader of the synagogue objected, it was what Jesus did for the bent-over woman. Certainly we give mercy with our offerings, especially when we bring in in-kind items that go directly to those who are hungry, need clothes or school supplies, or a simple box for Christmas. Our cash offerings fund ministries here – providing pastoral services, a building in which to gather, worship, study, and from which we can reach out to the neighborhood. Our cash offerings also offer mercy to the needy in our country and around the world, to the people of Tennessee and Haiti and Pakistan, for example.
When we give our hearts to God in delight, and share mercy with our needy neighbors, God rewards us with guidance, with water – both physical and spiritual – to quench our thirst, and provides whatever we need. And that gives us more cause for delighting in God.
When we come to worship with the intent to put our focus on God, and what God has to say to us, and what we have to say to God, then we can delight in the Lord.
When we come to worship remembering that God wants us to grant mercy to the needy, God’s purposes are fulfilled, and we also delight in the way God provides for all people.
When we look at the world around us, at the amazing landscape, the phenomenal clouds and sunsets we enjoy each day, we can delight in the Lord’s gifts of beauty.
When we look at each person we encounter as someone God created and someone in whom God delights, we can give thanks for them and also delight in them.
When we think of Sabbath time as an opportunity to find some delight in our lives, why would we think of missing out, of considering Sabbath worship and Sabbath rest unimportant? Why would we not want to take time during the week, as well, to have Sabbath moments, time to offer mercy to others and to delight in the Lord?
Your challenge this week is to watch for those moments in which you can delight in the Lord. I’m going to guess that the more you watch for them, the more you will find them.
Please pray with me: Merciful Lord, sometimes we are bowed down, with physical ailments. Sometimes we are bowed down with spiritual ailments. Help us to find joy in your presence and delight in you. Help us also to be merciful to those in need, and to find delight in serving them. Amen