August 25, 2019

The Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost

Contemporary Service:

Traditional Service:

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 58:9-14 and Luke 13:10-17

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord 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.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in.

13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
    from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;[a]
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Footnotes:

  1. Isaiah 58:13 Heb or speaking words

Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.



Sermon: “Trampling the Sabbath

I went to a meeting at Eden seminary earlier this week for student supervisors. There were about twenty-five or so clergy and administrators there—plus two dogs.

As nearly as I can tell, neither pooch wore a service animal vest. They were just… there.

 In one case, a dog laid on top of the table, on its favorite blanket, resting its head on its owner’s arm while the owner took part in the seminar. I’ve been at this a while now, but that was a first.

Dogs, especially small dogs, now go everywhere with their owners. They’re pampered in ways that sometimes go just a smidge overboard.

Advertisers, of course, are surfing right along on this latest wave.

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Am I the only one who thinks that’s a little weird? Be that as it may, pet care spending in 2018 reached a record-breaking $72.56 billion, up just over 4% from last year.

According to a spokesperson, “Today more than ever, pet owners view their pets as irreplaceable members of their families and lives.”

We’re awfully close to crossing the same line that a synagogue leader stumbled across in today’s scripture, an act of hypocrisy that Jesus promptly called out.

“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you, on the sabbath, untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15b-16)

 

Jesus follows squarely in prophetic footsteps. Today’s verses are from the second of at least three different authors in our book of Isaiah.

Second Isaiah writes after the Judean exiles have come home following their time in Babylon. They faced a good many problems, among them the rosy picture that First Isaiah had painted of their return.

For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

 

Ummm…no, not so much. In fact, it was worlds away from the harsh reality the returned exiles faced. What was going on? Had God forgotten them? Second Isaiah’s answer wasn’t pretty.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.  (Isaiah 58:9-10)

 

The prophet was cutting the people at least little slack. Maybe they really didn’t see the way they worshiped and treated the poor. After all, you and I don’t understand ourselves nearly as well as we think we do.

Some of you may have seen this clip buzzing around the interwebs these days.

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Is this critter really a bunny? If we have trouble figuring that out, how much harder is it for us to understand ourselves?

Like those long ago exiles newly returned home, we might think that our faith is sincere and our intentions above board.

Isaiah isn’t so sure. Today’s verses are a test of sorts to help us see if what we say we believe is the same faith that we live. As Rabbi Shai Held wrote,

If our fasting comes coupled with a passion for justice and a heart full of kindness, then our religious lives have integrity. If, on the other hand, our fasting convinces us that God is in our pocket, then our religious lives are a scam, and God wants no part of them.

 

The woman in Luke’s story this morning was the very definition of “other” in Jesus’ time. Crippled and female, she was the kind of person people tended not to see. But Jesus did.

In the new world of Jesus, it is exactly people like her, those once labeled, scorned, and abused, who move from the edges of society to its very center, fulfilling Isaiah’s vision.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you’ll delight in the LORD. (Isaiah 58:13-14a)

How many times do we try to pull a fast one on God? “We’ll give you worship,” we say, “and you just mind your own business. Stay here at church or the synagogue or the mosque.

“Butt out of our workplaces and our voting stations. You’re the God of religion, not of politics or economics.”

God just laughs, Isaiah tells us. “If you want to worship me,” God says, “you’re going to have to care about what I care about, and about who I care about.”

God cares about the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. God reaches out in love to the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden.

If those people don’t matter to us, then God doesn’t matter to us, either. That’s Isaiah’s message.

When we lift ourselves above others, we demean them and make them different from ourselves, somehow less than we are.  Late last year, two professors from Knox College published a paper in which they said that a lack of humility has a lot to do with the mood of our country these days.

“Intellectual humility,” they wrote, “reflects the extent to which someone is willing to at least entertain the possibility that he or she might be wrong about something.”

“Unfortunately,” the researchers went on, “most people do not score high on intellectual humility.”

They asked study participants to think back over all the disagreements they’d had in the last six months, and guess what percentage of the time they were right. The average response was 66 percent. Very few admitted being wrong even half the time.

That’s a big part of the reason that political anger and moral outrage are about the only things Americans have in common anymore, according to New York Times columnist Jeremy Peters.

Maybe that’s also part of the reason that we’re willing to show our pets more kindness and consideration then we do other people.

Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When Jesus said this, he put his opponents to shame; and the entire crowd rejoiced at all the wonderful things he was doing. (Luke 13:16-17)

 

We root on Jesus and the woman and the crowds. Part of us is even glad to see the synagogue leader knocked down a peg or two.

He was wrong, after all. When someone is suffering, healing is more important than the letter of the law. Worship should lift us into new life, not keep us comfortable in the old.

That’s all true enough, but…this story also asks us to let grace replace judgment as we look at those who are different or other.

Instead of trying to lift ourselves up at the expense of those who are stooped down, maybe we could try taking on some of their burden—without judging how worthy they are of our help.

When that happens, friends, then real healing will begin in this strife-torn, troubled world.