a sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16C)
Jesus healed the woman on the Sabbath. After 18 years of staring down into the mud, she could suddenly see the whole world again – its blessings and its brokenness.
Several years ago, my neighbors did a major kitchen renovation. They had everything ripped out, down to the wall studs. Then they installed new tile, cabinets, countertops and appliances. One day not too long after they were finished, my buddy, Dan, called to see if I could come over and help him out with something in their kitchen. Their new oven had a control panel that some many bells and whistles, it looked like it was designed by NASA. There was a big bright LED display, settings for convection and conventional heat, programmable timers and temperature probes, and different presets for all kinds of fancy cooking. And, right in the middle of the control panel, there was a button that neither of us had ever seen before. It said, “Sabbath Mode.” We were baffled. What in the world did it mean? Why would an electric oven care if it was cooking on a Saturday or Sunday?
You may remember that the Sabbath comes from two different Old Testament scriptures. First, in the creation story we learned that God created the heavens and earth in six days, and on the seventh day, God rested. Then, in Exodus, we learned that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, one of which was “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” This commandment is intended to remind the Israelites, who had been slaves in Egypt, that they were now a free people. God had liberated them. God commanded them to take one day a week off to rest, to spend with our families, and to worship. It was a reminder that we are called to work in order to live, not live in order to work. From these two stories we know that God intended us to keep the sabbath, not as punishment, but as a gift.
What does all this have to do with my neighbor’s oven? It turns out that observant Jews are supposed to do absolutely no work on the Sabbath. Turning on an oven, or even a light switch, is considered work because it has the same effect as lighting a fire. The “Sabbath Mode” allows a family to turn the oven on before the start of Sabbath, so that they didn’t have to eat cold food. For observant Jews from the time of the Exodus until today, “remember the sabbath day and keep it holy,” was a commandment that must not be taken lightly, because even God rested one day a week.
Jesus understood both the letter or the law and its intent. And it was in this larger context of liberation and holiness that he heals the woman in today’s Gospel. We don’t know her name, but we do know that she was, severely bent over, perhaps from an injury, or maybe from osteoporosis. Whatever the reason, she had been unable to stand up straight for 18 years. I saw just such a woman, once. She was with her son and she walked hunched so far over that her face was always pointed directly to her feet. At one time, when she was younger, I sure she stood tall and straight, able to look the world in the eye, see the beauty of the sky and faces of her children. But now only way she could see anything was to painfully lift her entire body sideways. No matter where she went, her view was always the same: feet, shoes, dust and dirt.
Of course, Jesus healed her. He laid his hands on her and suddenly, after 18 long years, her body straightened.
Imagine what that woman saw when she was first able to look up again, after 18 years of staring at the mud. Once again, she could see the world around her. Once again, she could look people in the eye. Once again, she could see the sky and the shoreline and the mountains; she could enjoy seeing the sunrise and set again. Once again, she could see the faces of those she loved. She could see God’s full creation once again. What an amazing gift that was!
At the same time, she was able to see something else. She was able to see her friends and neighbors who were homeless. She was able to see children playing in the street who didn’t have enough to eat. She was able to see all the places in her village that were in disrepair. Suddenly, she could see both the beauty and the brokenness of the world around her. And still she lifted her face to heaven again, and sing this song of praise:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
He forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities;
He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed.
He made his ways known to Moses and his works to the children of Israel.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.
The Gospel tells us that the leader of the synagogue was unhappy that this healing was done on this particular day. Perhaps he had forgotten that the God intended us to keep the sabbath not as a punishment but as a gift – a gift that calls us to rest, to spend with our families, and to worship. But I don’t want you to be too hard on him. After all, he was only trying to keep the 4th Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
But if we take this commandment to heart, we have to understand what “remembering the Sabbath” means. In Hebrew, the word for remember is zahor. But zahor means more than simply recalling something that happened in the past or calling up a distant memory. It means more than saying, “remember where you put your car keys.” The word is more active than that. Zahor is the act of reconstructing the pieces of a event and make it whole again. In other words, zahor means to remember something that once was and to give it life. It means, remember this thing and then do something about it.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
And then do something about it.
This past week, the we were reminded about the war in Syria again through the image of a small boy who lived in Aleppo, Omran Daqneesh. He was rescued from the rubble of his home after a bomb had been dropped on it. In the video, the boy is carried from the pile of rocks that had been his home and placed in the back of an ambulance. In contrast to all the shouting and commotion of the rescue workers, he sits in a dazed silence on an orange plastic seat, hardly blinking. He is covered with dirt and blood. He lifts his hand to the side of his head and finds that he is bleeding, but he has no idea why. No one is around him – the rescue workers are too busy trying to pull the rest of his family out of the destruction.
If the woman Jesus healed were alive today, she might have seen this child. As followers of Jesus, we have been healed by his grace and given the strength to stand up and look at the world around us with fresh eyes. We can lift our faces to the heavens and sing praises to God for the blessings in our lives. But with that gift also comes the responsibility of seeing the brokenness of the world as well, and doing something about it. We cannot have our eyes opened to God’s love for us without also accepting the responsibility to share that love all over the world. We cannot remember the sabbath, without doing something about what we see happening on this and every other day of the week.
This week, remember the blessings of your life. And also remember the war in Syria, the flooding in Louisiana, the droughts in Kenya, the refugees in the United States and around the world. Remember to give praise to God for all God has given us.
And then do something about it.
Thanks be to God.