The Sabbath... and all that is holy

Notes & Transcripts

May the words of my Mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Our Lord and our Redeemer – Amen

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. (Exo 20:8)

That is of course one of the Ten Commandments, and if you are keeping track – the fourth

            It seems straight-forward enough

                        It is the type of answer that many of us like. Simple, to the point, and clear

My parents used to say, when we were kids, that although they loved all of us kids equally, they really enjoyed spending time with each of us individually

            And the same is true for me

When the whole family is together, much of what Kelly and my time is spent doing is settling disputes or trying to shepherd everyone in the same direction

The role of parent, with more than one child, feels a lot like a referee at times

And so when I get the chance to be with just one child at a time I enjoy the freedom from keeping score and the closeness that is possible with just two of us

It is at these times when often I get a lot of questions, particularly with our older three, although I am sure that Matthew’s turn will coming soon

            Generally speaking they want answers that are Simple, to the point and clear

                                    They want answers such as: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

I remember hearing an interview with Dr. Spock, the famous child’s psychologist, when ask to consolidate the key things that he had learned over his long career, He said two things that have always stayed with me.

            First that a child’s ways of thinking changes over differing developmental stages

                        That generally speaking in the early stages - children think concretely

                                    Black / white – Right / wrong – In / out

That they are in fact not able to think outside of concrete thinking very well at all, much before age 8

The second thing that he said is that, a parent or teacher or anyone responsible for a child’s mental growth – the whole job is to create mental maps

To teach a child what is acceptable and what is not – what is within the borders of the mental map and what is outside – not allowable

            And if you have ever train a dog, the principal is exactly the same

To keep the confusion at minimum you need to be simple, to the point and clear… and most importantly consistent

Early in our mental development, or early in our spiritual development, answers that concrete are the most helpful and the appropriate answers

            That is why the Ten Commandments are taught in Sunday schools

That is why many of the same biblical stories are brought out again and again for our youth, because with them can carry a straightforward ‘moral of the story’

But then, we get a story like our Gospel reading today, and in it is anything but a simple reading of the law

In it we get our Lord Jesus Christ directly dealing with one of the Ten great Commandments and dealing with it not in the simple straightforward way in which one might expect

Like so many of the things that Jesus taught – He was dealing with the cultural understanding and addressing the greater truth behind it all

            In addressing the truth behind it all, He also runs into people that represent the culture

We can look to this story and see it only through the eyes of a Christian, a post Easter, post resurrection mentally that sees the big picture and doesn’t understand the role that people take, in the cultural environment that they are in

Imagine, if you, will this scenario

You are responsible leader in your community, over the years you have been part of a group that has provided for others, perhaps a teacher, or a member of Kiwanis or Rotary Club or even an Elder or Deacon

There are often events that you are responsible for, and host, whereby there are lots of people that need to be assisted and you have developed a way, a flow of things

            Do this often enough and that ‘way’ or ‘flow of things’ becomes a rule

Something that you have written down – the best way of doing things – something that you can pass on to others…

Imagine one step further, this rule, is more than just a rule… but a law of how to pattern your life passed on by your forefathers and given to you by God

            And here is precisely where we meet our synagogue leader

In the confusion and in the swell of people that are gathered not only because it is the Sabbath but also because there is a traveling Rabbi of increasing fame is there that day

            Into this confusing situation we have our story today

And into any confusing situation, those that are leaders have need to strive for some sense of order

So when this Jesus of Nazareth heals someone, today, the Sabbath of all days

It’s time to put your foot down and declare what you know

It is time to state the simple, to the point and clear Law

The synagogue leader's complaint is, on the surface, a faithful reading of the Torah: the seventh day was set aside by God for Israel's rest, and work was prohibited on the Sabbath

            I believe that there is a time to be merciful to all who strive to host with responsibility

However we can not leave the situation there – remember the key figure in this story is not the synagogue leader but Jesus – and He has a greater truth to teach

Also Jesus' response is not a rejection of the Torah rulings about the Sabbath. Instead, he argues from legitimate allowances of restricted kinds of "work" on the Sabbath (13:15)[1]

This story, although unique to Luke’s gospel, there are similar Sabbath challenges that are found through-out the four gospels

And in just one chapter later Jesus uses the exact same argument – where the law provides a relief from the Sabbath discipline in the aid of liberating an animal in peril – whether it be fallen into a ditch or in need of water

This situation of challenging the Sabbath by Jesus got me thinking during my preparations for this sermon – so I started to look for other occurrences

            When I did I found numerous times

                        From Mark 3, Matthew 12, Luke 6 (twice) Luke 13 & 14, John 5, 7, 9

In fact, many of the most famous healings or miracles occur on the Sabbath

There is the story of the man who comes to the Synagogue with a withered hand – found in all the gospels

or the man that had been ill for 38 years and was lying on a mat and unable to crawl to the healing pool when the water is stirred up… to which Jesus simply tells to pick up his mat and walk

Or the man that had been blind since birth - and the very act of making mud from spittle and dirt is what was deemed ‘work on the Sabbath’

Then of course our bend-over lady of today – bend-over for 18 years

Why so many healings – why so much controversy for the 4th of the great commandments

            The commandment the is woven into the very fabric of the creation story

                        Which is sited in the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. (Ex 20:11)

Why does Jesus seem to want to break down this simple, straightforward, clearly understood discipline of life.

The key to understanding this, is to look at Jesus’ first appearance in the synagogue reported in Luke 4

16He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read 17 and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” 20 Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. 21 He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus at the beginning of His Adult ministry we hear his manifesto

18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

In fact, maybe Sabbath is the perfect time for healing!

And we Christians have adopted a different day from our spiritual ancestors, Sunday – not Saturday – because it was on Sunday that our Lord rose from the dead on Easter morn – defeating death and all that is death

It can be said that the heart of understanding Jesus and His entire earthly ministry… is understanding His teaching on Sabbath

It is the Good News which The Spirit of the Lord is upon Him for

            It is the very Gospel itself

Jesus came to save – Jesus came to liberate – to free us from our burdens

And as Mark reports  [Jesus] said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4)

And as Jesus declares in our reading today

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? 16And 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)


When the purpose of Sabbath rest is to be free to praise God, Jesus deems it necessary to free a bound woman so as to do precisely that

Jesus is the model for all of us as ministers in Christ’s church… to all the baptized members of the family, not just the paid professionals, but all of us. 

We are fortunate in many ways in our culture, but we are burdened, too. For example, many of us in our society are as pressed down as the bent-over woman with schedules that leave us no time

Every single one of us, in our daily lives, has the occasion to encounter the bent-over woman. Let me describe her:

There is the workaholic, that feels that only they can ‘do the job right’ – and so spends countless hours away from home, away from family and friends

They have burden in need of some Sabbath liberation

Or then there is the person that is always there to answer the needs of others, the devoted volunteer, and feels run down, burn-out, by everyone else’s troubles

They have burden in need of some Sabbath liberation

Or then there is a person that has drifted away from the church for one reason or another – and Sunday morning is a day of sleeping in – but waking up there is missing the sense of relaxation

They have burden in need of some Sabbath liberation

There are so many people who are confused by a world that preaches a message of its own, a false message that often leads them – leads us – astray from God's plan and God's goodness and God's will for our lives. 

There are people whose financial difficulties or mental illness or physical ailments or business troubles that feel like burdens that bend them over and weigh them down.

            They are all carrying burdens in need of some Sabbath liberation

Some might say that Jesus broke the rules and put human welfare over religious obligation

But in fact, He corrected the understanding of the Law – and declared our observance of the Sabbath for Holy purposes

Jesus revealed in word and deed the Good News of God’s created order and the greater truth – Jesus came to save us – to liberate us from our burdens

                        And promised that His yoke is easy and His burden is light

After He healed the bent-over women, He then went back to what he had been doing – teaching – and, in the very next verses, he began with the question, "What is the reign of God like?"

In his act of healing, Jesus had shown the people what the reign of God was like, and then he went on to talk about it, too. Not just empty words, but action, too.

An excellent definition was given by a theologian named Hans Kung, who says that the reign of God is…. "God's creation healed." [2]

This is the manifesto Jesus

-          to bring glad tidings to the poor

-          to proclaim liberty to captives

-          recovery of sight to the blind,

-          to let the oppressed go free, 

-          and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord

In closing I would like to say - Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. (Exo 20:8)

Keep it holy – as Jesus kept it holy

And know when you feel burdened in life by whatever forces of world

Whatever obligations you are under

That a full understand of the Sabbath is a full understanding of the entire purpose of Jesus’ earthly life

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

Heavenly Father, May we grasp a glimpse of Jesus – grasp a glimpse of Holy Sabbath and Go and Do likewise - Amen



[2] Indebted to thoughts and framework of sermon by Kate Huey -

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