One Day At A Time 6-3-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 2:23-3:6, I explore Jesus actions/intentions on the Sabbath. They reveal the desire of God that every individual experience a life of fullness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/one-day-at-a-time-6-3-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit with an individual who holds the distinction of being our oldest living member here at Underwood…Elsie Ehrens who just reached the milestone of 100 a couple of weeks ago.

Now as we were visiting, Elsie gave me a gift…a small decorative pillow with a simple phrase…One Day At A Time. (pause) This phrase points at a connection that Elsie and I have shared since shortly after I became the pastor here 5 years ago. At that point, Elsie was still able to get to worship pretty regularly, and as we got to know one another we found a phrase that we exchanged in the receiving line following worship. One more day…an idea that builds off that other phrase “one day at a time,” because Elsie knew at her age, even 5 years back, that every day was a gift, and all we can do is live out the one that we’ve been given.

Now thinking about this makes me consider the different connections I’ve established with different people…those little traditions that form over time. Maybe it’s a joke…or a shared story, or a routine…we all have them…those little things that simply become the norm…the excepted way that things happen…but perhaps none are more fitting today than that phrase that Elsie clings to. One day at a time.

I can’t help but think that it reveals a sense of longevity when we consider the sentiment behind it…and this is quite fitting as we think about the grand scope of time.  Now, I mentioned that we’re at the 5 year mark since I joined our community here at Underwood…and sometimes 5 years feels like a long time.

But in reality, that’s a pretty short period, especially if we consider the 91 year history of our congregation…or if we go one step farther and think about the 500 year history of Lutherans dating back to the start of the Reformation…or to go clear back to the beginning of the church itself at the death and resurrection of Jesus almost 2000 years ago…or even one step beyond that as we remember that Christianity itself is an off shoot of Judaism and has connections all the way back to the Exodus from Egypt roughly 3300 years ago.

Just think of the multitude of traditions, of rituals, or connections or rules, or regulations that have come about throughout this vast history, throughout countless cultures and groups, of churches and denominations…certain ways that things are done or not done…guidelines for what’s acceptable or not…for what’s right and wrong.

Now these different traditions or rules have taken on many forms over the centuries…and perhaps none more deeply than the 10 Commandments, a gift handed down by God to the Israelites so early on in their cultural history…a listing of ways to live in harmony with God and with one another….dating all the way back to Moses and the story of God delivering the people out of slavery in Egypt….Commandments which include honoring the Sabbath day…and keeping it holy…and you know what, the idea of the Sabbath actually goes back even farther …in fact its present right there in the story of creation as we hear that God rested from the work on the 7th day and made it holy…Genesis 1.  We could argue that resting on the Sabbath might just be the first ritual that we are given in the scriptures.

And throughout all that history…just think of the various ways that have developed to help direct individuals or communities or cultures on how to do that…ways that, quite likely, are not intended to be a “how-to” list…or a regulation…but in fact could considered a gift.

I can’t help but think that’s what the establishment of the Commandment about the Sabbath was really all about when God handed it down to Moses for the people. Keep in mind that they had just endured 400 years of slavery…they were a culture that began their very existence in bondage…as slaves…as people who had no choice but to labor day in and day out…and now as God has freed them…we see that God is demonstrating that domination and bondage and slavery is not okay…and God gives the gift of the Sabbath so that they might be reminded of what they’ve been freed from…the Sabbath, while dating back to the beginning…was certainly something new for this culture who had not known the freedom to rest within their own lifetimes.

This gift…this invitation into something new…That’s an idea that we continue to find throughout the course of the scriptures. Story after story…event after event…character after character and culture after culture…God continues to invite them into something new…

And we must remember that these new realities that God extends…they can be, and often were, utterly mind-blowing for the individuals or communities that experienced them in the moment. We have the benefit of hindsight as we look back through history…as we see those things which for us today are the norm…but in the moment they were utterly new.

And sometimes…sometimes, these new realities, these new invitations that God extended, would butt up against the traditions or the expectations…it would butt up against what was expected or thought to be the right way of doing things…and this is precisely what we find Jesus butting up against in these two short stories from today’s gospel. Moments when either he or those he is responsible for go against the “rules” of how to observe the Sabbath.

Now this in itself is open to debate…both in present day Judaism, and even back in the 1st century when this happened.  Are the disciples “working” when they grab the heads of grain as they walk past…essentially just grabbing a snack as they go?  Or is Jesus performing “work” when his power results in healing the man with the withered hand?

I think we would say no today…and some would argue that the various rules and regulations in the Jewish law at the time would have even allowed these things to happen…so what’s really going on here? Especially in the case of Jesus healing the man in the synagogue?

Is he breaking tradition? Is he breaking the law…are his actions and views contrary to what God intended with the commandment to honor the Sabbath? (pause) Is Jesus threatening the establishment, the powers that be…those who seemingly have the authority as he does something contrary to what has been established as “the right way?”

It would seem that this could be the case, especially as we think about the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees…Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath…to save life or to kill? This is the question that Jesus poses. (pause) Now the Pharisees have no answer to this question…but Jesus has a reaction…and as we hear, he looks around at them with anger…grieved at their hardness of heart.

Now admittedly, that little snippet really catches my attention…that Jesus looks with anger at those present who seem to take issue with this healing…the ones who take offense with Jesus freeing this man from the deformity that hinders his existence. Jesus is…mad.

That’s not something we hear about very often is it? Jesus being angry…in fact I can only think of 2 instances…one is the cleansing of the temple when he chases out the money changers and the livestock…and the other is oddball little instance when he curses a fig tree for not producing fruit out of season…and interestingly enough, in those other stories, we never actually hear Jesus described as being “angry.” Believe it or not…the only other time that this word shows up in the original language of the gospels is when John the Baptist warns the people to flee from the wrath…the anger…of God.

Think about that…Jesus’ reaction to the old idea that nothing must be done on the Sabbath, even to the detriment of the person, this merits the same reaction that we hear in terms of John’s very fire-and-brimestone address. John calls them to repent…to turn away from flawed path and back to the good that God has intended…and it would seem that Jesus desires the very same thing.

Now remember. John’s story is another example of God’s invitation into something new…away from that which has been “established.” And here Jesus is revealing something similar…that we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by “the rules” at the expense of giving a fuller life to another.

We see this as we consider who everyone is focused on in this story…While everyone is focused on Jesus and the apparent “law-breaking” he’s doing…Jesus, God in the flesh…he is focused on granting life to the man.  Of freeing him from that which has left him hindered…that which in some way has robbed him of the freedom of life as intended by God. (pause) Why did God give the gift of the Sabbath in the first place? To remind them that bondage…that limitation…that slavery is not what we are intended for, but that we are intended for a life of fullness and freedom. (pause)

Now I don’t think that Jesus is trying to supersede the importance of the Sabbath…but rather through this action I believe that God is inviting us into a new way of considering it…a new way of viewing it…an invitation that is life-giving instead of a batch of rules that dictate what we can or can’t do.

This is the ongoing work of God in our reality…always inviting us forward…but if today’s lesson teaches us anything, it’s the realization that this invitation is not always easy. That what the Holy Spirit is empowering in our midst might just go against the grain…it might just seem to butt heads with “the way we’ve always done it.” But this is the action of God…always inviting us forward into something new…and I believe that this will continue to be the case until that day when Jesus comes again…but until that day, may we all, as individuals and as a community, seek out the will of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…the Spirit which continues to reveal the love of God for each of us that was made real through the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And may we remember that throughout history…God has continued to invite all of humanity forward as we each live out our lives according to the advice that Elsie has embodied over the course of 100 years.  One day at a time. Amen.

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