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Agents of Change - Sermon, 8/25/19
August 26, 2019, 8:30 AM

One of my favorite movies as an adolescent was “The Princess Bride.” It is an absolutely hysterical film, filled with both sword fights and sarcasm, true love and word play. It is just a great movie! I was thinking about this movie while reading today’s Gospel lesson. One line from “The Princess Bride” came to mind in particular. Throughout the movie, one of the characters uses the word “inconceivable.” Whenever something improbable happens, he says it is “inconceivable.” He uses this word a lot. Another character finally says, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

I do not think it means what you think it means.” That line from “The Princess Bride” might as well have been said by Jesus in the reading from Luke’s Gospel. There is a difficult conversation about the meaning of Sabbath in this lesson. This discussion takes place between two people of faith: Jesus and the leader of the synagogue.

Sabbath? “I do not think it means what you think it means,” the leader of the synagogue accuses. The leader of the synagogue might just be right. After all, the tradition of Sabbath is a long-established tradition. It is enshrined in Jewish law as well as Jewish practice.

There are two instances of the institution of Sabbath in the Old Testament: one in Exodus and one in Deuteronomy. In the book of Exodus, we hear the giving of the 10 Commandments, including the one about the Sabbath. This section cites God’s rest during the act of creation as the reason that humans should also rest on the Sabbath. Listen to what it says in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:8)

According to Exodus, the purpose of the Sabbath day is to enjoy God’s creation. The Sabbath is more than just a day of rest. The Sabbath is more than a day to avoid work. The Sabbath also presents the opportunity to revel in God’s creation. I like to imagine God just kind of chilling on a divine rocking chair on a divine front porch on that first Sabbath, surveying the hard work of creation with pleasure.

There is also a command to keep the Sabbath in the book of Deuteronomy. Listen to what it says in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 5:12) It sounds similar to our last example from Exodus so far but this is where the story becomes different. Deuteronomy continues, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)

In Deuteronomy, there is the familiar command to keep from work on the Sabbath day but it is tied to a different aspect of God’s acts in history. Remember that the book of Exodus ties the Sabbath to the creation story. In the reading from the book of Deuteronomy, however, the Sabbath is essential as part of remembering the slaves’ liberation from Egypt. Keeping the Sabbath day is an act of liberation, an opportunity to remember God’s saving actions in bringing the Hebrew slaves out of bondage in Egypt.

Back to today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we hear two very faithful people – the leader of the synagogue and Jesus – arguing about the very meaning of Sabbath. The synagogue leader says, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” The synagogue leader seems to fall in the book of Exodus’ understanding of the Sabbath: the Sabbath as an opportunity to revel in the glory of God’s creation.

Jesus, however, seems to fall in the book of Deuteronomy’s understanding of the Sabbath: the Sabbath as an opportunity to remember the liberation of the people from Egypt. “I do not think it means what you think it means.” Because Jesus connects the Sabbath to liberation, it makes sense for him to heal a woman from her bondage. In his act of healing, Jesus liberates the woman from 18 years of being bent over in the grips of a spiritual bondage.

Jesus makes a clear connection between the bent-over woman’s condition and the condition of the enslaved people in Egypt. If God desires freedom for Israel, then God must also desire freedom for the bent-over woman who Jesus identifies as “a daughter of Abraham.” (Luke 13:16) This interesting phrase appears only once in all of the Bible and it provides a clear connection between God’s liberating acts on behalf of Israel and Jesus’ liberating act on behalf of the bent-over woman.

Jesus sees the bent-over woman as not only deserving of God’s healing but also deserving of breaking the leader of the synagogue’s understanding of the Sabbath. Sabbath? “I do not think it means what you think it means,” Jesus seems to say.

The understanding of Sabbath in the book of Exodus leads the leader of the synagogue to suggest that the bent-over woman come back when healing is permitted. He says, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” (Luke 13:14) “It is quite inconvenient for you to come today. Today is the Sabbath and not a good day for healing. Come back tomorrow and we’ll see what we can do then.”

The argument that Jesus offers highlights the folly of the synagogue leader’s point of view. Jesus suggests that, in postponing the woman’s healing, she is being treated worse than an ox or donkey. There are provisions in the Sabbath laws to allow animals to be given water. Jesus asks: how could a woman’s desperate need for healing be less important an animal’s need for water?

Jesus stands on the side of understanding the Sabbath as liberation and this brings the rest of the people in the synagogue to their feet in approval. This morning’s story ends as Luke records, “The entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that (Jesus) was doing.” (Luke 13:17)

Sabbath? “I do not think it means what you think it means.” How often do we allow certain understandings of words or concepts or traditions keep us from doing something new? I believe Jesus is calling us out of one way of understanding church and into a new way. In this morning’s lesson from Luke, Jesus is challenging us to move beyond old restrictions to be able to bring hope and healing to a world that so desperately needs it.

Let us be agents of liberation and change in the world! Let us free ourselves from understandings that restrict us in favor of true change and hope! Let us allow our lives to be witnesses of God’s love in Jesus Christ – the kind of love that will truly transform the world! Amen.


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