Sunday, August 25, 2019

Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17

New Covenant

Mount Sinai was at the beginning of the formation of the people as Israelites, or Jews. The people were camped near the mountain, and Moses kept disappearing up the mountain to talk with God.

One day, Moses came down the mountain with the two clay tablets with writing on them, which we call the Ten Commandments. There were rules to live by, and the people tried hard to live by them; except when they didn’t live by them.

These original Ten Commandments expanded, with an additional 603 commandments based on these original Ten.  The first three Commandments refer to our relationship with God, and the remaining seven refer to our human relationships.

By the time of Jesus, the Ten Commandments and the other 603 had expanded into oral and written explanations and expansions for almost every circumstance imaginable. When a new circumstance arose, rabbis and scribes checked the records to find a similar situation and applied a rule to the new circumstance based on the older rules.

For example: Leaders made rules about the Commandment: Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. The commandment to includes an understanding that animals need to be fed and watered. Likewise, people need to eat, but they can eat food prepared the day ahead so no cooking (in other words, work) needs to be done.

Modern Orthodox kitchens often include an oven with a sabbath setting so food can be prepared before the sabbath begins and kept safe until it is time to eat it.

When Mike and I were in Israel in 2010, we stayed at a Kibbutz on the Dead Sea. I asked why the buffet workers and kitchen staff were allowed to work on the Sabbath, and we were told that hospitality to guests was more important than not working.

The original point of Sabbath is that all people, including servants and slaves, are given a time of rest which should lead to renewal. When Jesus heals the woman with a bent-over back, he believes he is renewing her spirit after a long battle with her disability. Using the understanding of the Kibbutz staff person Mike and I met, hospitality to an oppressed woman is more important than not working on the sabbath.

I asked Lisa to help us understand how this woman suffered.  … What can you see? … How is your back? … How do your inner organs feel?  … What is it like to do daily chores like getting water from the well? … How easy is it to carry on a conversation? … Can you lift your hands in praise to God? … What else would you like us to know about you? … (Thank you, Lisa)

Jesus believed he was offering renewal and refreshment to a woman who had suffered for a long time. Once she was healed, she was filled with joy and praised God. The leaders who complained about this healing were focused on the letter of the law, while Jesus was focused on the spirit of the law.  Jesus’ focus was on how the woman would be better able to live her life and praise God once she had been healed. Why should she suffer for one more day?

A covenant is a contract. In the Bible, it is an agreement, a promise, to carry out the relationship between God and God’s people in such and such a manner. The Covenant starts with Noah, and is renewed and expanded upon over time. We usually think about the Covenant with Moses and the Israelites as the main, longest lasting one.

  The author of Hebrews in today’s passage calls Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant.  It is not that the Old Covenant is obsolete. It’s that by Jesus’ time, it needed reinterpretation. Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the Law (the Old Covenant) but to fulfill it.” Jesus has come in order that we gain a new understanding of the Law, giving us a new Covenant.

Frequently, God’s people need to learn and relearn and relearn that God’s Covenant is about the relationship between God and God’s people. The Ten Commandments describe our relationship with God and each other. We put God first, we respect God, and we spend time each day and each week with God. We treat each other as God’s children, with respect and care for their well-being.

Jesus reminds us that God’s Covenant is about love. God is passionately in love with us and wants us to be passionately in love with God in return. We show that love by caring for the poor and captive and oppressed, and setting them free from their burdens.

… We often feel we are carrying heavy burdens. What makes you a bent-over person today? You may be burdened with a physical ailment – most of us over 50 are. Some much younger are, also. Or, you may be burdened with a serious worry, a fear, or a past that won’t be chased away.

While Jesus may not literally remove your burden as he did for the woman’s bent-over back, he wants to make it lighter for you to carry. He wants you to be able to observe the Sabbath with a lighter heart, with the same joy experienced by the woman after her healing.

 I want to share a favorite verse with you. It’s Psalm 103: 1. It says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.” When Jesus healed the woman, perhaps this is how she praised God.

I believe this is how God wants to be praised, with all that is within us, with our whole hearts, with our whole beings. And God wants us to be Jesus’ hands and feet and mouths to make it possible for all people to praise God with the same joy.

Think for a moment about the burdens you bear. Think of them as backpacks. In order to carry them, you have to bend over. You feel the weight of these burdens every day. They are oppressive and it is hard to feel joy when you are so oppressed.

Now, imagine you have just been freed from that burden. You have been able to lift it from your shoulders and let Jesus carry it for a while. Or maybe he has cast it away forever. How do you feel? Perhaps you feel as joyful as the bent-over woman when her back was straightened.

Now let’s pray that Psalm verse together. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.”  This time, raise your hands and pray it with joy in your heart and a smile on your face: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.”

I hope that each day, not just on Sunday, you can feel Jesus lift your burdens. I hope that you are filled with so much joy that you can pray your thanks and praise with this verse. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.”