4th Sunday after Epiphany – January 29, 2017
Luke 6:1-16 and Psalm 92
Three year old Kelly Ann hated church. It was a time when she had to sit still and be quiet for an hour. Nothing fun or exciting happened at church. It was boring and, if she made a fuss, people would stare at her with mean looks and she would be punished.
Like the Pharisee, we have continued the tradition of Sabbath rule making. We have a list of “do’s and don’ts” by which we judge people. The Sabbath is a gift from God. It was meant to be a time when we catch our breath and celebrate God’s blessings. The Sabbath is a day when we rejoice that our daily bread is not the result of our hard work, but rather because of God’s provision
This is where is a Hebrew word comes in. As Christ-followers many of us tend to enjoy using this particular word; it’s the word “Shalom.” We tend to think that Shalom is simply “peace”, but in the true sense of Hebraic thinking it points toward wholeness, peace, harmony. It is the joining together of opposites. It is about a feeling of contentment, completeness, wholeness, well being and harmony.
It is something we wish one another and strive to experience personally.
When I was a student at seminary and being trained to become a minister, our one professor made a point of it that every year group would get the chance to attend a synagogue worship service in Pretoria where I was studying. He built up our enthusiasm towards that day and made sure as many of us as possible would go, in fact none of us should miss it. On the designated Friday afternoon we all headed towards the Jewish synagogue. It was quite the experience. Now, for the Jewish people, the day of the Sabbath starts as soon as the sun sets on a Friday and it ends at sunset on a Saturday. That is their day of rest. The people greeted each other with the words “Shabat shalom” and that stuck with me as I realised that what they meant was to wish one another a completeness, wholeness, peace and all those good things on this day of the Sabbath.
This is where today’s theme “Jesus is about bringing wholeness” is derived from, partially, in any case.
It might occur to us that there is an obvious difference between the observance of a “day of rest” or a “day of the Lord” between the Jewish folk and us as Christians. We have our day of the Lord on a Sunday, while our Jewish brothers and sisters have it on a Saturday. We do need to bear in mind that as Christ-followers, we are a continuation of the Jewish faith, with the difference that we follow Christ.
As the church began to include more and more Gentiles, the people who were outside of the Jewish faith, the question of the faith’s relation to its Jewish roots evolved. Clearly, the early church considered the Hebrew scriptures (which included the commandment to keep the Sabbath) to be its scriptures. What was less clear was how those scriptures (along with its commandment to keep the Sabbath) were to be interpreted in light of the Christ Event.
We should never forget that Jesus Himself was born and raised as a Jew. So when Luke’s narrative describes Jesus’ relationship with regards to the Sabbath, there are no simple anwers to an accurate interpretation of Jesus healing on the day of the Sabbath.
It might indeed be clearer if we look at the main gist of Jesus’ mission to this world. In my humble opinion, Jesus’ intent is that we see the seventh day of a week as a day to celebrate and strive towards wholeness, harmony and peace. Whether it is on a Saturday, a Sunday, a Monday or a Friday, that’s not all that important. What we do however need to see, is that the Lord has designed us to take time out to rest, and to be rejuvenated. Our proverbial batteries need recharging. For Jesus it is indeed about bringing wholeness.
This is why Jesus is interested in doing good on a Sabbath, it is lawful and in accordance with scripture.
How do we live out our one day of rest in a week? Here it certainly is a matter of each to his own. But then, we also might need to take a serious look at our own sanity and health. Jesus does want us to receive a sense of wholeness and of peace, harmony and restoration.
Jesus emphasised that “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath” and not the other way round.
Remember that according to chapter four of Luke’s gospel, Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. This was where Luke described Jesus’ mission statement, the underlying purpose of Jesus’ coming to this world.
Jesus stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
It’s good to remind ourselves that the year of the Lord’s favour refers to the year of jubilee, the year when all debt was cleared. We don’t apply it in our day and age. However, the principle may be helpful: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.”
While some feel that the fabric of our society is being ripped in two, it is perhaps more accurate to recognise that we live in a day when that fabric is being re-dyed. Some experience this with joy and hope and others with fear and pain. As part of this process, the church’s identity and mission is also in flux. Denominations battle and split over issues like homosexuality. Congregations watch their numbers dwindle. Worship leaders are challenged to embrace contemporary methods of entertainment and technology to reshape the liturgy.
What does remaining faithful to Christian tradition and practices mean in such a day? Maybe Sabbath controversies are not just an ancient concern after all.
Jesus does seem to be about bringing wholeness, and three year old Kelly Ann in the opening lines of this message should not have hated church.
Let us go out into a world that needs to experience wholeness and be agents of this wholeness that Jesus has in mind.
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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