13 Pentecost, Proper C16
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 13:10-17 Sermon
August 22, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
163 "O Worship The King, All Glorious Above"
368 "Lord It Belongs Not To My Care"
515 "O Jesus I Have Promised"
196 "Almighty God Thy Word Is Cast"
RULES, RULES, RULES!
TEXT (vs. 14): "Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, 'There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.'"
When was the last time you used a pay telephone? Quite honestly I can't remember the last time that I did. I've been carrying a cell phone since sometime in the mid to late '90s, so I really haven't had the need to use one in quite awhile. In fact, I think that you would be hard pressed to find one, apart from perhaps a convenience store or an interstate rest area.
Even so, I don't think we would have much trouble using one. We drop in our coins (I think it costs fifty cents now), we hear a dial tone, and we dial the phone number we want. If the number is busy or doesn't answer, then we get our money back in the coin return. But if the person answers, then our money drops into the coin box, and we have paid the price for a telephone call.
What I have described is the way most pay telephones operate. I used the word "most," because not all of them work this way. If you were to go to some of the smaller communities with older telephone exchanges, you might encounter a different type of pay telephone.
Years ago in Emerson, we had exactly one telephone booth in town, located on First and Main Streets. And it was one of those "other types" I talked about.
The way it worked is that you would pick up and dial the number you wanted. You could hear the other person when they answered the phone, but they couldn't hear you. That was the time you had to insert your money. When you did that, the connection was made, and then both parties could talk to each other. If nobody answered or the line was busy, then you wouldn't insert your money, and the call wouldn't cost you anything.
The biggest problem with all of this, was when somebody who wasn't familiar with this type of telephone tried to use it the normal way. They would drop in their money and make the call. However if they did it this way, the money dropped straight into the coin box without making the connection. So when the person on the other end would answer, they couldn't hear the person talking on the pay telephone. It just wouldn't work.
What the telephone company did to help this problem, was to put this big plastic flap overtop of the coin slots. On this flap was a huge red arrow with the word "READ" in big bold letters. It pointed to the instruction plaque on the phone, where right at the top it was written in big bold letters: "Do not deposit coins until called party answers."
That should have been plain enough to alleviate any problems. But you know as well as I do that invariably people would ignore the instructions, lift the flap, put in their money, and subsequently lose it. I remember as a kid, riding by the telephone booth on my bicycle, seeing somebody standing there, cussing up a storm because they had lost their money. Being the smart-alecky kid I was, I would politely ask them, "Is there something wrong?" (even though I knew what had happened). Then they would grumble about the phone not working right, and that they had lost their money. My reply to them was, "Did you read the instructions?" Of course they hadn't.
Rules, rules, rules! Boy, can they ever be frustrating! Even with something as simple as a pay telephone, there are rules that need to be followed. And if they aren't followed, then the person who breaks the rules has to suffer the consequences, even if it is nothing more than losing a coin in a pay telephone.
Our Gospel lesson for today deals with the subject of rules. Quite simply put, Jesus had broken the rules, and the ruler of the Synagogue called him out on it. Jesus had dared heal a woman on the Sabbath, and the Synagogue ruler determined he had gone too far. He felt that Jesus had violated and desecrated the Sabbath. And by publicly upbraiding Jesus over this issue, he was attempting to discredit him. That was his ultimate goal.
So what did Jesus do that was so wrong? The commandment called into the spotlight simply says, "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy." That's Exodus chapter 20 verse 8. In verses 9-11 God explains this commandment: "9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
That seems simple and straight-forward enough. However the Jewish Pharisees didn't see it that way. They didn't feel that God was explicit enough, so they added a bunch of stuff of their own. You see, the Rabbis had this strange notion that there was a type of "oral law" passed down since the time of Moses. In their mind, this gave them the power to make new commandments, reverse old commandments, and basically write their own rules. This didn't just apply to the Sabbath either.
For example, there were rules that dictated which shoe to put on first, how to properly use the restroom, etc. Then they had a whole bunch of dietary laws as well that were equally as ridiculous. They came up with the notion that meat and dairy couldn't be mixed, and that even separate dishes and utensils had to be used. I guess a breakfast of biscuits and gravy would be completely illegal on several levels!
This happened to such an extent, that by the time Jesus came on the scene, there were an additional 613 commandments they had made up--365 of which were negative commands, plus an additional 7 commands according to the Rabbinic code. You can imagine that if people can get confused with something as simple as a pay telephone, how confusing all of these hundreds of rules must have been!
It's little wonder then that Jesus could have transgressed these man-made rules of the Pharisees. They were so complicated and arbitrary, that someone could probably be cited for a Sabbath violation for something as simple as drinking a glass of water or taking a breath of air.
Jesus obviously didn't have much use for man-made rules, nor did he have any use for the hard-nosed attitude of the Jewish leaders. He was able to cut through all of the garbage and red tape, and get down to what was really important. He was there to do God's will, and not the will of the Rabbis and Pharisees. So he heals this woman on the Sabbath--and we know that this isn't the only healing miracle he did on the Sabbath either.
One of the reasons I used the illustration of the pay telephone at the beginning, is because this is the way some people look at the Bible. They will do one of two things: either they will think they know everything, and not bother to read it; or they will reckon that it is far too complicated, and not use it at all. However the bottom line is that it is amazingly simple and easy.
However people will still look at the Church and the Christian Faith with the idea that it is nothing more than a bunch of rules you have to follow. You've got to do this, you've got to do that, you can't do this, you can't do that; and if you slip up just once, then you'll burn in hell for all of eternity. It's no wonder people walk away in disgust! People think it is so complicated, why even bother?
We need to remember that God didn't come to us with the 613 rules the Pharisees had. He came to us with only Ten Commandments, which can be summarized into two categories: love God and love your neighbor. Can you get it any easier than that?
So let's look at the commandment dealing with the Sabbath. In Mark chapter 2 verse 27 Jesus says, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In other words, God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, and not his.
In simple terms, God wants us to take some time off from our labors. We all need time to rest and to "recharge our batteries," so-to-speak. To give you a good example of this, Adolph Hitler tried having people work seven days a week. When he did this, productivity took a nose-dive. So what he did, was to implement Henry Ford's idea of the five-day, forty hour week. People needed that time to rest.
The other important factor regarding the Sabbath, is that we need to keep in the Word, and have time to strengthen our relationship with God. This is something we cannot neglect. We worship on Sunday, because that's the day the New Testament Church gathered together. That's the day Jesus rose from the dead. But the actual day doesn't really matter, just as long as we gather for worship and keep in the Word.
And when we look at the other commandments, God has given us some moral principles that are pretty straight-forward. Awhile back, somebody Emailed me what was titled, "The Redneck Ten Commandments." Here goes: (1) Put nothin' before God, not even yer truck (2) Watch yer mouth (3) Git yourself to Sunday meetin' (4) Honor yer Ma & Pa & yer elders (5) No killin', not even if he had it commin' (6) No foolin' around until you get married (7) Don't take what ain't yers (8) No tellin' tales or gossipin' (9) Don't be hankerin' for yer neighbor's house, not even if it's a new double-wide (10) Don't be hankerin' for yer buddy's woman or his stuff.
As humorous as this is, the simple message God gives to us is clear. Nothing is complicated or hard to figure out. There's no long list of detailed rules. It's good common-sense type of stuff. It's just too bad that the Pharisees and the Jewish rulers weren't rednecks.
Even though the commandments are simple, they're still impossible for us to keep. We don't need to wade through 613 laws to know that we have sinned. Those simple commands are there to turn our eyes to Jesus.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus heals a woman who had an 18-year affliction. She was bent over under sin's crushing load. Even though the Synagogue Ruler thought that the Sabbath was an inappropriate time to heal her, Jesus thought otherwise.
In our own lives, we also experience the burden of sin. Life deals us crushing blows. We too are like that woman in our Gospel lesson. We need Jesus' healing touch.
And so we come here today, on the Sabbath, and we want Jesus to heal us and restore us and make us whole. Through faith, Jesus comes to us. He doesn't come with a whole list of rules; rather he comes to us in forgiving love. He came to set us free from the curse of the law. And when we walk with him, when we have a relationship with him, then we receive all of the blessings he has to give us. This is ours through nothing more than faith alone.
When we look at the law, regardless of how simple it is, it still has no power to heal. That only comes through a faith relationship with Jesus Christ our Saviour. That's something no rules or regulations could ever provide for us. Only the Holy Spirit, working the healing miracle of faith in our hearts can bring us to where we need to be in our relationship with Jesus.
Rules, rules, rules. Our society seems to fairly thrive on them. In our world, many rules are necessary for our own good. We have traffic laws, building codes, and other rules of conduct we need to follow. In fact, for $8,213 you can buy the entire 170-volume set of the Corpus Juris Secundum, which is the main law encyclopedia in the United States. Or if you are interested in those old Jewish laws, the 70-volume set of the Talmud can be viewed on-line.
God's forgiving grace and the healing touch of Jesus Christ cannot be found in the endless "do's and don'ts" we see in dusty volumes or that we encounter every day, but only through simple faith. The Bible leads us to Jesus in a very simple and uncomplicated way.
Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus shows us that the Sabbath isn't just a day of rest, but a day of healing and hope. May we experience this every Sabbath here in our Lord's house, sitting at our Saviour's feet.