June 3, 2018
I want to start off by talking about the Sabbath today, because the readings focus on the Sabbath law: the 4th of the ten commandments, and the one with the longest explanation to back it up. Right there, part way through the listing of laws about having only one God, not worshipping idols, not murdering, stealing, etc, this law stands out: “Oh, and take a break. Seriously! Every week, take a complete break from your work, and rest. And not just you but everyone – your family members, your neighbours, the immigrants who live in your community. If you’ve got slaves, give them the weekly day off too, and remember that you were slaves once yourselves. Everyone, take a day off. It’s the law. It’s God’s law!”
It’s probably the most broken law of all today – with the possible exception of making gods of the wrong things.
The Sabbath was meant to be a gift. But like all religious rules, it was easy to make it a burden, and to be legalistic about it. So in the gospel today here’s Jesus being challenged about breaking the Sabbath law because his disciples were strolling through a field and picking some ears of corn to chew on, which was technically considered work.
But Jesus turns the challenge upsidedown by saying, “Look, the Sabbath was meant to be a gift for people, not a stick.” It was meant to be kept holy not by being sanctimonious but by resting, relaxing with gratitude into God’s abundance.
Religion isn’t meant to be legalistic and rule-based; it’s meant to be life-giving and deeply freeing. And in the gospel reading Jesus then goes on to heal a man on the Sabbath – again, technically seen as work and so a forbidden act that day. But he makes it clear that God’s desire for us is life and healing and compassion, not religious scrupulosity and nit-picking and judgmentalism.
What Jesus constantly does is realign the compass – get us back on track when we’ve lost the plot or descended into legalism or put rules ahead of people’s wellbeing or imagined that our needs matter more than anyone else’s
And one of the best ways to realign and come back to what matters most and is most life-giving is the gift of the Sabbath: holy down time, to slow up, rest, get refreshed, get life back into perspective. A time to gather with friends and family, and as a faith community. A day to smell the roses and just be grateful, so that perhaps you can be a bit less anxious and driven on the other days of the week.
So much of the heart of our faith, the timeless spiritual message, is about finding joy and peace even when life is hard. In fact I would go so far as to say that if your religion isn’t life-giving to you and others, it isn’t worth following.
Our faith as Christians puts us on a path and sets us on a way that is both personal and communal. It’s the way Jesus taught. It’s not just about what you believe, but more importantly how you live. It doesn’t guarantee blue skies and prosperity. Life will still be hard, and if you open your heart to the suffering of others you will suffer too, by sharing those burdens. But we follow a teacher who shows us the way and teaches us what love really means.
Today Clemmie and Craig are bringing their three children for baptism, because they have a desire to set them on this path, this way, that guides us and realigns us to love, compassion, healing. It’s not about signing up to a set of beliefs alone, but about choosing a way of life. As little Lucy told me yesterday, baptism is about joining God’s family and inviting God into your heart.
Well Lucy, God is overjoyed that you want to be part of the great big family of people following the way Jesus shows us, with your heart wide open.
So here we are, celebrating this Sabbath day by worshipping, resting, realigning our inner compasses, and finding holiness and gratitude in the midst of our lives. May it be your weekly practice. Amen.