St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
Today marks another shift in our plan for Sunday mornings at St. Mary’s. Having gone through the seasons and the Festivals of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, where we have rehearsed the mighty acts of God in the birth, baptism, miraculous manifestations, temptation, suffering, death, resurrection, ascension of the Lord, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, and having celebrated last Sunday the revelation of the worship of the Holy Trinity, we now embark on the season of Trinity, which will take us all the way to the end of current church calendar in November.
Wow, what a long sentence.
The colour of Trinity is green, and green is for growth. In the season of Trinity we are seeking to grow in our knowledge and love of God and of each other, and are seeking to grow as disciples ofJesus Christ.
So what’s the plan?
The plan as far as our Gospel lessons on Sunday morning is concerned is to read through Mark’s Gospel. 0f the four Gospels in our Bible — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — Mark is the shortest Gospel with only 16 chapters. It is also the most fast paced Gospel which makes it such a great read. Mark frequently uses the word “immediately” in telling his story — as it says in today’s passage: “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against Jesus, how to destroy him…”
The purpose and theme of Mark’s Gospel is to present and defend Jesus’ universal call to discipleship. What is discipleship? Discipleship is a relationship of faith and obedience to Jesus Christ. When, in baptism, the Church marked us out as disciples ofJesus Christ, did we emerge out of the waters as fully formed disciples? Obviously not. This was the beginning of a journey, a journey of a life-time.
Union with Jesus through prayer, Scripture, and Holy Communion marks the heart of the disciple’s life, and this union includes trusting Jesus, confessing Him, observing His conduct, following his teaching. Discipleship also means being prepared to face the kind of rejection that Jesus faced. “lf anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34).
“We are afflicted,” writes Paul, “In every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal bodies. ” ( 1 Cor. 4.8)
Welcome to the Christian life.
In our lesson today from Mark, Chapter 2, Jesus, having called first disciples, and having demonstrated his power and authority over sin and death by healing people, and casting out demons, now starts stirring up controversy and arousing hostility. The Pharisees, who were the religious power brokers, got together with the Herodians, the political power brokers, to conspire against Jesus to destroy him. Ordinarily, the Pharisees and the Herodians did not get along. But you know how politics works. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, at least until the greater enemy is destroyed. Here we are, just 79 verses into Mark’s Gospel, and already the Cross is coming into view, reminding us that this Jesus whom we seek know and follow is the Crucified and Risen One.
I think one of the difficulties with our passage this morning is that we don’t think we quite understand what the big deal was when Jesus’ disciples were found to be picking grain on the Sabbath, and when Jesus himself cured a man on the Sabbath day? I am going to stop for groceries on the way home from church, or visit someone in hospital. Is that a problem? We might conclude from our Gospel today that this whole business of keeping Sabbath is something that Jesus has done away with. Aren’t you glad that Jesus has rescued you from this crummy Jewish religion with all it’s crummy rules?
But in fact, in Jewish religion, the question of keeping Sabbath wasn’t so much about keeping a crummy rule, as it was about expressing your faith in and loyalty to God and preserving your identity as a member of God’s people.
In the ten commandments He gave His people a law to live by. We can perhaps understand the reasoning behind the commandment not to kill, lie, cheat, steal, and commit adultery. These are all matters ofGod’s justice, but what is the logic behind keeping the Sabbath?
The logic as we heard in our first lesson is twofold. By resting on the Sabbath day, the people of Israel, in imitation of God, expressed their faith that their God was the creator God, who labored six days and rested on the Sabbath day. By resting on the Sabbath day, the people of lsrael were also reminded of the time of their slavery in Egypt, where they had no rest, and had to work seven days a week, 365 days a year, and how it was that God had rescued them from their slavery, and brought them into this land not only to work, but to rest from work, and enjoy His good creation, and thank Him for saving them.
In other words Sabbath keeping was a huge deal, and just as much a matter of bearing witness to God’s justice, as not killing, lying, cheating, stealing and committing adultery. To this day, the start of Sabbath on Friday night is the highlight of the week for observant Jews.
So where did Jesus get off allowing his disciples to work on the Sabbath, and conducting a healing on the Sabbath … in the synagogue of all places!
This man is a rebel! He flaunts the law of God, and is undermining our faith! Or so it appeared to the Pharisees. But along with many other rabbis of his day, Jesus was concerned to rescue Sabbath keeping from what it had become: an oppressive religious observance which served as a litmus test to determine “who is in and who is out.” For Jesus, the Sabbath – properly understood – was a blessing to be received, a gift to delight in, not a box to be check-marked, the failure of which results in punishment.
“The Sabbath,” said Jesus, “was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
For Jesus, the Sabbath needed to be understood in the context of the overarching purpose of God in giving in the Law in the first place, which is the preservation and salvation of life. “Is it lawful to do good or do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or kill it?” I would say the answer was fairly obvious, but Mark tells us that Jesus’ opponents were silent and that “Jesus looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart.”
Jesus doesn’t often get angry in the Gospels. When He does it’s not the openly sinful, immoral, or irreligious people who “cheesed him off,” but the religious folk, convinced as they were of their righteousness before God, and who were hard—hearted, judgmental, unfeeling, un-caring, and un-sympathetic towards those who didn’t match up. Jesus anger burned hot against them.
But Jesus died on the Cross to save both the religious, and the irreligious, the type As and the type Bs, the overachievers and the non-achievers, the preppies and the hippies, the conformists and the rebels. Jesus has reconciled us to God in one Body through the Cross, thereby making peace, so we can stop fighting with each other. So as followers of the crucified One, what place, if any, does Sabbath keeping have in our lives?
lf as St Paul said, ” We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord”, and if, as Jesus said, He is “Lord of the Sabbath”, then the first step for us I think is to recover the word.
Sabbath. How do we receive the sabbath as a gift of God for our healing, and that of others? The word Sabbath means to quit, to unplug, to stop, to rest.
But what are we stopping and resting from? Marva Dawn, a Lutheran scholar writes, “Sabbath ceasing means to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and, finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all.”
People sometimes ask me, “ ls Monday your day off?” I wish they didn’t. Sabbath and “day off” are not the same thing. A day off is what you take in order to recharge your batteries for the other six days. The motive is entirely utilitarian. It’s the time you take to restore strength, increase motivation, reward effort, shore up family harmony, improve mental health, and keep performance incentives high in the rat race of life. But what if anything does a day off have to do with God? Nothing. “A day of” is a bastardized Sabbath.
This morning the Lord says to us, Jesus declares to us today, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11.28) It’s the invitation to rest in Him. This is the organizing principle of the Christian life. What would it mean for us to extend that resting in Him throughout this day? Ever since the Lord‘s Day Act, which since 1906 was the federal law prohibiting business transactions on Sundays, was struck down as unconstitutional in 1985, Sundays, as we know, are now just like any other day. All of which is to say if we are to keep holy a Sabbath day, and in so doing bear witness to our faith that Jesus is the Word through whom all things are made, and that He has rescued us from our slavery to sin and death, we are going to need each other’s help.
The Jewish rabbi Abraham Heschel writes that “The art of Sabbath is the art of painting on the canvas of time the mysterious grandeur of the climax of creation … 0ur keeping of Sabbath day is a paraphrase of God’s sanctification of the seventh day.”
What would you say is the Christian art of Sabbath? For us there is an added element: the Resurrection ofJesus from the dead. Eugene Peterson writes, “Sabbath is not primarily about us or how it benefits us; it is about God, and how God forms us. It is not, in the first place, about what we do or don’t do; it is about God — completing and resting and blessing and sanctifying. These are all things that we don’t know much about… But it does mean stopping and being quiet long enough to see — open-mouthed — with wonder — resurrection wonder… we cultivate the “fear of the Lord”. Our souls are formed by what we cannot work up or take charge of. We respond and enter into what the resurrection of Jesus continues to do.”
As St. John described it in that scene from the Book of Revelation. “He who is seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new!” (Revelation 21.5) Amen.