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What’s the point of going to church anyway?

Sermon, Pentecost 14C, Sunday August 25th, 2013.


Luke 13:10-17

For Rest and Freedom

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” 15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Do you ever wonder what it’s all about? Sunday, I mean. The gathering, the worship, the singing, reading, and preaching — why do we do it? I sometimes wonder if we get so caught up in preparing for Sunday, or just the weekly rhythm of Sundays — after all, they come every seven days, ready or not! — that we lose sight of what Sunday is really about in the first place.

A lot of people have certainly lost sight of what the worship gathering is about, or they have made up their mind that it is not about much!

This little account of another moment f compassion and healing for a woman with major back issues is all about worship. See, there is one big word that is THE point of this little moment in Jesus’ ministry. It is “Sabbath”.

Yes, Jesus again heals a person who is in real need of healing and yes, this speaks of his compassion and his power and this is a great thing – especially if you are the person needing the healing – or a close friend or family member!

But really, as happens often with Jesus, by his actions he raises a big issue for people and how we live and what we believe. The big issue here is “Sabbath”; Rest; Rest with the Lord – regularly and intentionally. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and this is in direct challenge to the belief and living of the day.

Today’s Jesus raises the issue of why bother gathering in the synagogue on the Sabbath, or for us, why bother being in the worship gathering on Sunday.

Now, in Jesus’ day Sabbath really has two major meanings or purposes attached to it. One, recorded in Exodus 20, links the Sabbath to the first creation account in Genesis, where God rests with his creation after six days of hard creative work – like an artist who has finally finished a masterpiece.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…… 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

So, the reason we practice Sabbath is to rest with God and he with us. As God rested, so do we with all of our households and even animals rest – and in a regular rhythm – every 7th day.

The second tradition, in Deuteronomy 5, however, links the Sabbath to the Exodus; that is, it links Sabbath to freedom, to liberty, to release from bondage and deliverance from captivity.

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy… 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

So, in the Old Testament before Jesus came God’s people kept the Sabbath for the reason of rest with God, like God rested in creation, and for the reason of remembering who the Lord had made them to be – how he had called them to live in fellowship with each other and him on that fiery Mt Sinai.

Sabbath is for rest with God and remembering of our calling.

Here in this gospel word, Jesus is talking about this second meaning of Sabbath when he beautifully frees this woman with overbearing weight on her shoulders! As he heals her he likens the releasing into freedom and healing for this troubled woman to a homeowner releasing his animals into the freedom of drinking water in the trough. Just as a local homeowner would untie his animal so it could have a good drink – even on the Sabbath Day, so God sets a person free from disease and pain on the Sabbath.

He actually characterizes the woman’s ill-health as being “bound by Satan.” So, to Jesus, of course it is just fine to set someone free on the Sabbath, because the Sabbath is all about freedom.

This is not a belief shared by many, as this little account reveals. Those running the show are angry – “indignant” – very angry that Jesus sees it this way and does it his way!

What’s their problem?

The Sabbath was absolutely central to the life of the Jewish people in Jesus’ day. It was the most obvious sign of your belonging and status as a Jewish person. It was 7 day rhythm of all life in the nation. This came from the most authoritative part of the scriptures – the first five books – the Pentateuch – Genesis through to Deuteronomy.

The Sabbath was directly commended by God in the ten commandments given to Moses and the people on Mt Sinai. It was the ordering of the community’s time and life as it lived with the Lord. It was like a school timetable or the shift hours for the day. Every seventh day, was a day of meeting with and resting in the Lord – bringing gifts (offerings), seeking forgiveness, bringing requests to the Lord, hearing the Torah – the Word of God so as to let it shape the other 6 days.

The problem was that as human beings are very capable of doing, they had turned the Sabbath into work not rest. The Sabbath by Jesus’ day had become a highly regulated day of rules. It is one more thing you had to do to be authentic – to be really OK with God. There were strict rules about exactly what could and could not be done to keep the third commandment;

“Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy”.

So, instead of the Sabbath being received as a gift from God for rest and freedom in his grace and love, it was now completely in the hands of human beings to make it holy in the way they did it. Instead of worship being a gift to be received with thanks and a moment to be enjoyed, it was now a rule to be kept, lest we incur God’s judgement on our disobedience or laziness or lack of concern.

And the rules went on and on and on – actually binding people up and locking them into endless judgementalism, forcing people into mental gymnastics to continually make sure they were not performing any “work” and that they were “resting” properly; keep the commandment of Sabbath keeping. Every seven days and all the days in between which were always meant to be lived in freedom now become days of bondage! The day of rest had become a day of rule keeping before an angry God ready to catch people out on any ‘breaking of the rest rules”. The religious leaders in the temple and synagogues had become worship police, keeping people imprisoned in the keeping of the law.

How revolutionary is Jesus when he heals sinners (unholy, unclean people) on the Sabbath?! How bold is he as he quotes stories from the Old Testament story of situations when the Sabbath rules were intentionally broken to save life or do good that had to be done (eg. see 1 Samuel 21:1-6 quoted by Jesus in Luke 6:1-5).

He heals on the Sabbath. He restores, he loves, he preaches the Word, he renews faith in the original intention of God for the Sabbath; to be a day of rest with him and celebrate freedom in him. He restores the day of rest and freedom – given by God to provide a regular rhythm of resting in him and enjoying the privilege of being together with him in complete freedom and joy.

Jesus boldly states

“The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)

That’s the point. The regular gathering in the Lord’s presence is a gift of God’s grace to be received with joy and thanks, not a thing to be achieved, done, or earned by whatever means we determine.

Jesus declares,

“the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

 Yes. Jesus is the Sabbath now. He is the presence of God, the grace of God, the love of God, not bound to buildings or human effort to be holy, but freely giving himself to us when we were his enemies. It is by his grace through faith in him that we are now forgiven, restored and made holy and pleasing in the Lord’s sight, not by our own sacrifices in whatever form.

He is the place and the person and the name in which we gather and by his power and grace we are made holy, we are freed and we are free to rest in his Word, eat at his table and eat and drink the body and blood of the new temple, the new synagogue, the Christian church – a building of living stones.

How is your heart when you come to worship?

Is what happens here a work to be done?

Is this you keeping others happy. Keeping some unwritten rules?

Is this us determining how God is to be pleased; how God is to be praised?

Is this where we make judgement about others and their behaviour?

It is none of those things.

What happens here is pure gift and pure privilege.

We share in the freedom from bondage to our own worship of other things, people and ourselves to receiving the good news again that God is with us and for us and drawing us into his holy presence as we gather in his Son’s name in the power of God’s Spirit.

We feast, we rest, we listen, we experience the feast of angels, the Bread of angels, the life of the Saviour and we are blessed.

Our day of worship, while called “a Sabbath to the Lord,” isn’t finally for the Lord but is for us, for all of us who need rest and release, renewal and re-creation.

If all of this is true, then it is really important to be here!

If all of this is true, then this Christian life is a life of a seven day rhythm with God – resting in him, being freed by him to help others rest in him and find freedom in him.

We gather and we go in rest and freedom to be rest in God’s grace and freedom in his love.

As we gather and as he sends us to go we be the community through which this whole community is blessed by the Lord.

Then Sunday is new, inspiring, full of grace and a day of love and concern for anyone stooped over with the trouble of the world and St Petri is a place of rest and freedom for the many whom the Lord Jesus is drawing to himself; the many whom he so much wants to be saved into a life a rest and freedom with him.

Let’s reclaim Sunday not as a day of religious obligation but a day of rest and freedom, of release and of deliverance — in a word, a day of Sabbath for us and for those the Lord is gathering.

Talk about cause for rejoicing!

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Imagine the scene of this gospel encounter with this woman who has suffered for so long with some kind of ailment that does not allow her to stand straight. She is sttoped over. How would that be? Ponder her predicament as if it were you….

Imagine how it must have been for her when she was enabled by Jesus to stand up straight for the first time in so long! Share your thoughts on this…

All of this happened on a Sabbath. Call to mind Luther’s small catechism and the explanation to the Thirds Commandment as shown below;

Third Commandment

Remember God’s special day and keep it holy.

(You can read this in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5)

What this means for us

We should honour and love God,

and so we should not

despise God’s word

or refuse to hear and learn it.

Instead, we should recognise

that God’s word is holy

and be glad to hear and learn it.

Recognising God’s word to be holy is no generally held thing in our society these days. Gladly hearing and learning the Word and gathering around it in public worship is also no given thing for many people these days.

  1. Share your thoughts on the top three reasons why you bother coming to worship at St Petri.

  2. Share some of the reasons you have heard for not worshiping the Lord from people who do not regularly bother with participating in worship.

 How do you find yourself responding to these reasons for not bothering with church? How do these things make you feel and what do you find yourself motivated to do as a result?

Have you ever heard anyone say that worship is all about “worth-ship” – that is, we worship to tell him how much he is worth to us? If/when you have heard this, how does that understanding fit with Jesus’ word that;

“The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)?

Often you may have heard it said in Lutheran churches that worship is not only about us telling God he is worth a lot to us, but that it more about God telling us that he values and loves us. This teaching of Jesus on the Sabbath day being a gift to be received and not a rule to keep to avoid God’s judgement is where it comes from.

The sermon said, “Our day of worship, while called “a Sabbath to the Lord,” isn’t finally for the Lord but is for us, for all of us who need rest and release, renewal and re-creation”.

How do you respond to this? Respond to the following prompts as you are able….

How is your heart when you come to worship?

Is what happens in worship a work to be done?

Is this you keeping others happy; keeping some unwritten expectations and rules?

Is this us determining how God is to be pleased; how God is to be praised?

Is this where we make judgements about others and their behaviour?

If our Sabbath day really is a gift of God for our benefit – our rest and continuing freedom, then our Christian life is a life of a seven day rhythm with God – resting in him, being freed by him to help others rest in him and find freedom in him.

We gather and we go in rest and freedom to be rest in God’s grace and freedom in his love. 

How can we rest and allow the Lord to free us in worship so that we can bring those precious gifts to others we come across during the week? Share your thoughts….

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