Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sermon; Proper 16C; Is. 58:9b-14; Luke 13:10-17

You should be familiar with the drill by now.  As you listened to the first reading from Isaiah and the gospel from Luke, what themes stood out for you?  What connections between the two readings were you able to make?

The connection I saw between the two was the Sabbath; and in particular, how we honor it.
You might recognize the Isaiah reading.  Part of it comes from the Ash Wednesday reading (58:1-12), and it discusses what an acceptable fast is in the eyes of the Lord.  Our Lenten study this year was called, “An Acceptable Fast,” and was based on these verses.  Today we heard some of those Ash Wednesday verses and a little further into Chapter 58.

The overall focus of Chapter 58 is the proper relationship between the community, God and neighbor.  The prophet rebukes the community for their selfish worship practices, their meaningless fasts and their lack of love for neighbor.  Honoring the Sabbath, says God through the prophet, is more than convenient worship and meaningless fasting; honoring the Sabbath and God happens through what he calls an acceptable fast.

Fasting, by definition, is a conscious decision to not eat food for a set period of time.  People often choose to fast for religious or health reasons.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, for instance, are designated fast days on our calendar.

The fast that God calls us to, however, goes beyond that.  The fast of God is to loose the bonds of injustice, free the oppressed, feed the hungry and provide shelter and clothing to those in need.  This is how God calls us to honor the Sabbath.

Notice that honoring the Sabbath isn’t all about going to church.  Honoring the Sabbath means not pursuing selfish interests on God’s holy day.  It’s about avoiding quarrels and fights.  It’s about ensuring those in need are cared for.  The Sabbath rest was a command from God to prevent the powerful from taking even more advantage of the powerless.

What does all this look like today?  How about higher salaries for workers?  How about controlling interest rates so people aren’t swallowed up by them?  How about ensuring a full-spectrum of healthcare for all people?  How about allowing every human being to experience the same benefits and privileges you do?  This is how we participate in acceptable fasts and honor the Sabbath, so says God.

In Luke we are given another picture of honoring the Sabbath.  A woman crippled for 18 years shows up at the synagogue and Jesus immediately heals her.  This is one of the few times where the person doesn’t ask to be healed, nor does Jesus question the person.  He simply calls her to him and he heals her.

As we have come to expect, those in charge are rather annoyed with what Jesus does.  The synagogue leader was “indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath.”  He was indignant because Jesus apparently dishonored the Sabbath by doing some form of work on that day, a day supposedly for rest.  And in that respect, he was right – there are six other days to do this.

But that leader commits the same error as his ancestors whom Isaiah addressed in our first lesson.  Honoring the Sabbath has nothing to do with holding to strict rules of behavior and worship, but everything to do with freeing the bonds of the oppressed and caring for those who are afflicted.

This woman had been in crippling bondage and afflicted with pain for 18 years.  By performing this healing Jesus is indeed honoring the Sabbath.  He is following the mandate to remove the yoke of oppression and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.  And he is following the commandment to honor the least among us, loving our neighbor as our self.

But there is something more going on here than Jesus’ desire to follow God’s call to respect a person’s dignity and the opposition of the synagogue leader to healing on the Sabbath.  The other thing that is going on is an examination of practices and policies that keep people out.

By complaining that Jesus shouldn’t be healing on the Sabbath, the leader is effectively saying, “We don’t want any crippled people here.  We don’t want people of lower classes here.  We don’t want sinners here.  We don’t want any of Those People here.  We only want the whole, the normal, the wealthy and the religiously pure.”

This gospel passage makes us stand up and say, “Yeah, Jesus!  Way to show up that legalistic synagogue leader.”  But this passage should also challenge us to look in the mirror and to look at our own practices and theological ideas.  What practices and theological ideas do the larger church, or our own parish, employ that discourage or disallow full participation by people we deem crippled, defective, of the wrong socio-economic class, or just plain different?

If we aren’t willing to examine and challenge ourselves in this manner, if we think we are doing everything just fine, then both Isaiah and Jesus have something to say to us.

Lately I have heard too many religious people rail against moochers and takers, against welfare and food stamp recipients, against those on minimum wage and against rape victims who “got what they deserved.”  I have heard too often prominent religious people using a few Bible verses as weapons to attack Those People and claim a “literal” reading of scripture as their defense.

Loose the bonds of injustice.  Break the yoke of oppression.  Share your bread with the hungry.  Bring the homeless into your house and clothe the naked.  Welcome the crippled, the less-than, the Other into our midst.  That is honoring the Sabbath and that, my friends, is biblical literalism.



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