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Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost June 2, 2024
The Gift of Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6)

Today’s gospel lesson revolves around what can and can’t be done on the Sabbath. Many people hear the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments and immediately think, “I have to do this, and I have to do it perfectly” They see the Law of the Commandments, but they totally miss God’s blessing.

When Adam and Eve sinned against God and were banished from the Garden of Eden, their punishment was that they would now have to work for a living and experience pain in childbearing. 

The peace, rest, and closeness to God that they experienced in the Garden before their sin was now gone. Their world was no longer pain free, now they had to work for a living and experience pain as they lived in the world. 
But there was a blessing as well as punishment for their sin. God let them live and he never quit loving them. He was always with them, working to bring them back into a relationship with him. 

In Deuteronomy 5 we see that there is more to keeping the Sabbath than just observing a day of worship. There is a blessing for the people, this is a day of rest, a break from the toils of daily living. This is a gift from God to make their lives easier. To remind them that they are free, no longer slaves.

The Israelites had just been led out of the slavery of Egypt by God. In Egypt they had to work Every Single Day! There was no day off, there was no vacation, there was no rest. Slaves worked every day of their lives. 
So along comes God who through the leadership of Moses frees the people of Israel from slavery. Now they’re wandering in the wilderness, trying to learn God’s ways, trying to get to the Promised Land, Canaan, the land of milk and honey promised to them by God. 

God is present – a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. They are traveling together but they don’t know how to live together and get along with one another. The Israelites need to learn to live as a community. And so, Moses goes up the mountain where he talks with God and God gives him the “Ten Words”, or what we call the Ten Commandments. And Moses brings them down to the Israelites.

The Israelites receive them as Law, and indeed God tells Moses that he will punish the people if they do not keep them; but God’s blessing and unconditional love is the overarching theme here. God gives the commandments so that his people may live full lives in righteousness with God. 

The blessing is that while the Israelites were still slaves, while they were still sinners, God freed them from the tyranny of Egypt and is now restoring them to himself. His chosen people, chosen because he loves them. This is why they are to follow only him and no other Gods, it’s not punishment, it’s a blessing! - the blessing of God’s love, grace, and protection. 

Secondly, the commandments are given to help them learn how to live together as one people. They are now a community and must learn to live and love one another as God has loved them. So, while the commandments contain the Law they also and more importantly contain the love and blessings of God. When the Israelites live together in peace, love, and harmony, they will be blessed and prosper. 

Turning to the commandment for the Sabbath, many of us only know the short version from Luther’s small Catechism-

Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy. 

A little vague and hard to understand. But if we read on, we hear why God is making this commandment which is really a huge blessing for us.

Listen again to Deuteronomy 5:

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore, the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day

Think about it! 

This is the first labor law- it provides a day of rest for the Israelites; no other nation does this. 

It also provides rest for all who are connected to them, slaves, resident aliens, their animals…

It reminds us of creation where God labors for six days creating the earth and all that is good within it and then rests on the Sabbath 

This is God’s blessing; this is grace for God’s people in action. 

Today we’re likely to miss the importance of the Sabbath, the day of rest to honor and worship God. In our society many people are off not only on Sunday but Saturday as well. But in ancient times, the only people who had rest built into their schedules were the kings, queens and emperors. 

Today, perhaps because we didn’t understand the blessing we had; we’ve given away the blessing of the Sabbath. Many people no longer have the luxury of the Sabbath, they work whenever they are scheduled. Minimum wage jobs, retail, jobs in hospitality, medical jobs and first responders all come to mind as people who no longer have a specific Sabbath as a day of rest and restoration.

Today we “honor” the Sabbath by spending one hour worshipping God…but Jews spend the entire day from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, worshipping and glorifying god as creator of all things. 

In seminary, I was surprised and saddened to find that many students were going hungry on campus. Scholarships and/or part time jobs covered tuition and books but did not leave much money for food and housing. Some students had spouses and family; their spouse worked yet the income was often inadequate to provide the basics of life. So, we set up a food bank for the students, a way of caring for the members of our community. A way of honoring the Sabbath.
Sabbath is about more than worship it is justice first in a world that isn’t always just. It’s about caring for ourselves and one another. 

Jesus isn’t flaunting the Law in the face of the Jewish leaders, instead he is trying to open their eyes and heart to understand the meaning, the blessing behind the Law. The Jewish leaders have lost sight of the blessings of the Law, seeing only the legality - follow the Law to the letter or suffer punishment, no exceptions!

Providing food and nourishment in unusual circumstances is more important than going hungry because it’s the Sabbath and you have no food prepared. Jesus and his disciples were itinerant- they traveled from place to place, they didn’t have a “home” to go to and prepare meals in advance of the coming Sabbath and so they plucked grains of wheat from the fields as they walked- providing them nourishment so they could continue to do God’s work in the world.
Healing the withered hand on Sabbath is an act of compassion, first, strictly speaking Jesus didn’t do anything, he just had the man hold his hand out. But the healing that occurred was restorative. It enabled the man to provide for himself and his family, it restored him to his community.

What Jesus is really saying is this, “the Sabbath is made for humanity, humanity is not made for the Sabbath.” In other words, Sabbath is an unconditional gift of grace from a God who loves his people. A God who realizes that his people must have a break, a chance to relax and regroup before returning to the stressors of daily life. 

This is good news! God is for us, he loves us, cares for us, and blesses us. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, God is always in our corner. 

The Ten Commandments were given so that the Israelites could live together in community- supporting, caring for and loving one another – we follow them today for the same reasons, for unity in a world often at odds with our beliefs. But more importantly they are an example of God’s compassionate, caring love for humanity, 

More than anything else, the Ten Commandments are an expression of God’s blessing for his people. Blessings for humanity which was created in his image- the very image of love and community. 

Have we, like the Jewish leaders lost sight of the blessing of God’s commandments? Think about that this week as you go about your daily life

Jesus’ tries to open their eyes, their hearts- and ours- to see the justice, the blessing, the grace that comes from following the one true God. Amen