Sunday’s sermon: Fulfilling Sabbath

Text used – Luke 6:1-16

  • The sun was setting and the dark of night was beginning to creep across the land. The priest was readying the synagogue for the evening vigils when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He figured it was another beggar or a widow coming to seek help. But when he looked again, he recognized the young man approaching. It was David – David, the warrior who had slain the Philistine giant, Goliath. David, who had since become a powerful and renowned commander of many troops in Israel’s army. David, who it was said had befriended King Saul’s son, Jonathan. David, who it was said had caught the eye of King Saul’s daughter, Michal. David, who it was also said had stirred the fierce jealousy of King Saul himself.[1] There, in the waning light of dusk, this same David stood there before the priest. He looked all around as though anxious that anyone would recognize him which sent a jolt of fear into the priest’s heart. With a quaking voice, he said to David, “Why are you alone? Why is no one with you?” The priest saw David hesitate for a moment, again glancing quickly to the right and left before answering, “The king has given me orders, but he instructed me, ‘Don’t let anyone know anything about the mission I’m sending you on or about your orders.’ As for my troops, I told them to meet me at an undisclosed location.” Something about the way he said it made the priest wonder. But David wasn’t finished: “Now,” he asked hopefully, “What do you have here with you? Give me give loaves of bread or whatever you can find.” At this, the priest balked a bit, for he knew the only bread he had on hand was the holy bread – the Bread of the Presence, the 12 loaves representing the 12 tribes of Israel whose precise baking instructions were laid out in the book of the Law, the bread specifically made for God and God alone, also designated by the book of the Law.[2] The priest knew all of this – the exact letter of the law and the utter sanctity of the bread. He knew that there was something about David standing here before him tonight that felt off. And yet deep in his heart, he knew there was something else about David standing here before him – something that overrode his misgivings, overrode his strict interpretation of the Law, overrode even his fear. The priest felt God’s presence in that moment and in David himself. So he took the Bread of the Presence and gave it to David.[3]
    • A story that the Pharisees who accused Jesus that Sabbath morning would have known well
    • A story that Jesus himself clearly knew well, too
    • A story of needing food and compassion and a bending of sacred Law → Or, more like fulfilling of sacred Law.
    • Like our Gospel story this morning, it’s a story of two worlds colliding
      • The world of the old Law and the world of the new gospel
      • The world of the letter of the Law and the world of the root of love behind the Law
      • The world of “already” and the world of “not yet”
  • Understanding of the Sabbath from the Pharisees’ point of view[4]
    • Observing Sabbath = cornerstone of Jewish religious practice
      • Quite possibly the earliest practice → set by God in in very beginning with Genesis 1 creation story when God rested on the 7th day[5]
      • Rules for Sabbath laid out in many passages throughout the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) → In fact, the commands for properly observing the Sabbath touch every one of those first five books.
        • (As we’ve said), Sabbath = established in Genesis with creation
        • Sabbath = given to Moses as part of the 10 Commandments in Exodus → fully 1/3 of the entire text for the 10 commandments is devoted to the 5th commandment: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.[6]
        • Other specifications for how to observe the Sabbath laid out in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy → one such specification is what initially gets Jesus into trouble in our story today: prohibition against people gathering food on the Sabbath
          • Comes from time when Moses and the Israelites were in the wilderness after escaping Egypt and God provided them manna from heaven: God provided enough manna for each person for each day → instructed people only gather enough for that day, not save any except for the Sabbath day → instructed to gather enough food for two days the day before the Sabbath so they didn’t have to work to gather food on the Sabbath itself[7]
    • So that’s where the Pharisees in our story this morning were coming from. These were the rules pertaining to the Sabbath – the rules that the people of Israel had already been following for centuries, the rules that had literally been given to them by God. And it was the Pharisees’ job to interpret those rules for themselves and their communities and to make sure everyone abided by those rules to keep the Sabbath holy.
  • But then there’s Jesus
    • Now, it’s important to remember, folx, that Jesus was a Jew. He grew up observing all the Jewish laws and festivals. Just a few weeks ago, we read the story of Jesus getting left behind in Jerusalem when he was 12 yrs. old, and if you’ll remember, his family had traveled to Jerusalem to observe the Passover festival. → means Jesus’ disagreement with the Pharisees over Sabbath in our Scripture this morning wasn’t about the importance of the Sabbath but about the nature of how to best, most faithfully keep the Sabbath
      • 2 different instances in our passage this morning
        • 1st Sabbath run-in with the Pharisees = Jesus and his disciples walking through a field on the Sabbath → disciples are picking heads of wheat as they walk through the field and eating them → Pharisees call them out (as per the prohibition that comes the from the story of gathering manna that we talked about earlier)
          • Jesus’ response: “Haven’t you read what David and his companions did when they were hungry? He broke the Law by going into God’s house and eating the bread of the presence, which only the priests can eat. He also gave some of the bread to his companions.”[8] → goes back to the story that we started with this morning: David being in a moment of need because he was doing what God needed him to do
          • Implication = work/movement of God supersedes the particular rules of the Sabbath → Jesus doubles down on this with his final statement to the Pharisees on this matter: “The Human One is Lord of the Sabbath.”[9]
            • Sounds simple, but this is a loaded phrase! → scholar explains significance of this statement: In declaring himself lord of the Sabbath, Jesus announces both his authority over the Sabbath and his place as the fulfillment of God’s promise. … In this declaration Jesus positions himself as that one for whom Israel may and must give thanks as the provision of God, as the fulfillment of God’s promise of redemption. As the lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise in which Israel has been trusting and resting since the exodus. However, Jesus also pronounces himself this [“Human One”] who is lord of the Sabbath. … While he is the promise of the Sabbath, Jesus is also the man who in his flesh is the union of God and humanity. … In Jesus’ humanity God has joined God’s self in covenant with all of humanity. As the [Human One] who is also lord of the Sabbath, Jesus in the union of God and humanity, the master and fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises.[10]
        • See even more of this fulfillment in Jesus’ 2nd Sabbath run-in with the Pharisees: heals the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath → even trickier situation because, as text tells us, Pharisees are waiting in the wings (so to speak) just itching to pounce on Jesus for profaning the Sabbath with his actions again … And Jesus does not disappoint! – text: On another Sabbath, Jesus entered a synagogue to teach. A man was there whose right hand was withered. The legal experts and the Pharisees were watching him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. They were looking for a reason o bring charges against him. Jesus knew their thoughts, so he said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” He got up and stood there. Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “Here’s a question for you: Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” Se he did and his hand was made healthy. They were furious and began talking with each other about what to do to Jesus.[11] → Again, this not Jesus telling the Pharisees that the Sabbath wasn’t important, wasn’t worthwhile, wasn’t holy and sacred. It’s Jesus interpreting the faithful practice of the Sabbath differently. It’s Jesus honoring the spirit of Sabbath differently. It’s about Jesus displaying devotion to God differently – not in the letter of the Law but in the action of love that inspired the Law in the first place.
  • So what do we do with the idea of Sabbath today? What does Sabbath mean to us? How do we honor the Sabbath with our actions, our rest, our words, and our purpose each and every week? How does God’s command to honor the Sabbath affect our movements through our days and through our lives?
    • To be sure, not easy questions to answer, especially in this day and age → our world is a 24/7 world that stops for little to nothing
      • Jobs that require the presence of workers all day every day or at least for a large chunk of time 7 days a week → being so close to so many medical careers in Rochester – both Mayo and Olmsted – makes this particularly clear to us (even in non-pandemic times!)
      • Activities and obligations that require our action and our attention all the time → perfect e.g.: there’s laundry waiting for me at home this afternoon – laundry that cannot wait … not if I want clean clothes to wear to tomorrow!
    • So how do we keep Sabbath today? Key: take a cue from Jesus = honor the love and sacred intention of the Sabbath → read passage from The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel[12]:

      One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the world qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?

      It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.

      This is a radical departure from accustomed religious thinking. The mythical mind would expect that, after heaven and earth have been established, God would create a holy place – a holy mountain or a holy spring – whereupon a sanctuary is to be established. Yet it seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first. …

      Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world. 
    • So, friends, let us, indeed, turn to that holiness in time – our time together in this worship, our time together with humanity that reflects God’s image and love back at us, and our time together with God. Let us find our Sabbath. Alleluia. Amen.

[1] 1 Sam 17-20.

[2] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2974301/jewish/The-Showbread-The-How-and-Why-of-the-Temple-Bread-Offering.htm.

[3] 1 Sam 21:1-6.

[4] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbat-in-the-bible/.

[5] Gen 2:2-4.

[6] Ex 20:9-11.

[7] Ex 16.

[8] Lk 6:3-4.

[9] Lk 6:5.

[10] Keith Errickson. “Luke 6:1-11 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 148.

[11] Lk 6:7-11.

[12] Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Sabbath: It’s Meaning for Modern Man. (New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1951), 9, 10.

 

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