Sermon: Reclaiming the Sabbath
Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: August 25, 2019
When pressed this week for a sermon title to print this week, I coughed up, “Churches in America are Operating Under a New Set of Blue Laws.” I really didn’t like that title for this message and the more I got into the text, the more it just didn’t fit. So away with that title! Today, my sermon title is built around these three words: Reclaiming the Sabbath.
Turn in your Bible to Luke 13.10-17. Our Story is placed in a Jewish synagogue and Jesus is teaching. In his day, the “preachers” sat down in front of the crowds to teach their message and we can imagine Jesus sitting down and begin his discussion on some aspect of the Torah, the Jewish Law. As you hear our text, I invite you to join Jesus in that synagogue and take in the sights, sounds and smells of what is around you. In particular, listen to the characters in our Story and imagine what they must have looked like, seen, and felt throughout this exchange. Put on a pair of “Jewish ears” and see if you can pick up those words that for a Jewish person are a part of their cultural warp and weft. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Who is in our Story? There’s obviously Jesus. There is the synagogue leader who is charged with making sure everything is run decently and in order. There is the sick woman and then there is the crowd of Jewish worshippers who had packed the synagogue that Saturday. So, let’s begin our musings this morning by asking our self, “Which character do I most relate within today’s Story?”
Let’s assume none of us sees him or herself as Jesus in our text…that would be a bit presumptuous on our parts. So, who are you? Are you the sick woman who has been literally bent over in pain for nearly two decades and has been silently stereotyped by the community as a sinner because of your ailment, unclean and a virtual nobody in the village? Your body does not allow you to look up into the sky or into the face of the person who is speaking with you. Your world is a world spent looking at people’s feet! You have to turn your body side-to-side in order to take in your surroundings. Your move slowly and have to shuffle your feet forward to get anywhere and are easily jostled about by those who are hurrying by you. You feel alone and isolated as who wants to be around a broken old woman with a deformity who doesn’t fit into her community in a way the community appreciates.
Perhaps you relate with the synagogue ruler who is all concerned with protocol and doing things the right way. You subscribe to the notion of, “It’s worked this way for my grandparents, parents, and now for me and my family, so it’s good enough for people like you today! This is the way we have always done it so don’t rock the boat and deviate from what we’re already doing!” The synagogue ruler enjoys the predictable status quo and the easy power that flows from it. He thinks, “I know the rules. I follow the rules. I will make sure you follow the rules too!”
Then again, maybe you are one of the worshipers who happen to be there that day. You go “to church” that day expecting the same-old, same-old but this new preacher is stirring the pudding. On one hand, you’re tempted to revert to the old “We’ve never done it that before” but on the other hand, you realize there is something refreshingly different in how this teacher/preacher Jesus is presenting his case. You kind of like seeing the stuffy old guard of leadership stirred up a bit and have their myopic points of view challenged and enlarged.
So, beloved, who are you in the Story? How do you personally react to the events of what is unfolding in front of you? Yet, it’s not just about who we relate to in our text; it’s about discerning what the major point of our text is and what is the foil, what is the light that shines on the main point of our Story. Is the Story about the healed woman? Is the Story about Jesus being a rabble-rouser? Is the Story about following religious rules and expectations? Or, is our Story about something else entirely? Although our text talks about a crippled woman who is healed, we realize her healing is really the foil, the light, that shines on the key part of our teaching which is what are we to do about our understanding the Sabbath day.
For the crippled woman, Sabbath was the day to come and truly be in the community as an equal worshipper before the presence of God. For the synagogue ruler, it was time for ensuring proper decorum was adhered to while the community gathered to learn about God. For the crowds, it was a day to fulfill all righteousness as a good Jew and meet at the synagogue for learning and praying; it was what doing what good God-fearing Jews were expected to do. For Jesus, however, the Sabbath had grown dank and stale. For Jesus, the Sabbath was majoring in the minors of life and neglecting the weightier, more profound issues of life. For Jesus, the Sabbath was about learning and prayer…for sure…but Sabbath was primarily a day when the chosen people were to learn, be reminded and experience God’s gracious and grace-full provision and liberation from a hamster-wheel-type life. Somehow, that very important reality was lost somewhere and the Sabbath became more about “the rules” and obligations you as a good Jew were to fulfill than it was a time to expectantly encounter God in order to be transformed and to be loved with wells of grace that are deeper than we can plumb!
We see this today in churches across America. For some, coming to Sunday worship is a time when those who are isolated feel they can come and be with others like them whether or not they are even noticed themselves! For some, church services and routines are expected to follow specific protocols and are to be done in a certain way because that’s the way it’s always been done and frankly, “I have a style preference for the old ways.” For some, church attendance is something that you’re supposed to do as Christians because that’s what we are expected to do at least once a week; yet sadly, studies have demonstrated that people do not even feel it’s important to come to church with others in community anymore as we have taken on the attitude and have bit off the lie that “I can find God on my own.” Our friends in AA, recovering alcoholics, know better than that! They know they can’t find sobriety on their own and so they wonder why most Christians think they can develop a healthy spiritual life by themselves without the accountability of others in the community!
And then for some, fewer and fewer these days it seems, some people come really expecting that “God will show up.” Sabbath has become stale and fewer and fewer people that come on Sabbath come without much expectation that they will encounter the bottomless grace-fullness of God’s love and care. We come and we often do not expect miracles to happen like a crippling spirit held captive by Satan being set free from the bondage of spiritual enslavement.
The power of our Story this morning is that Jesus declares and shows us what Sabbath and worship are really about. Sabbath and worship are to focus on God’s purposefully searching for you and me, lifting up this church, and showering us with liberating, extravagant grace. It’s about our physically coming together as community showing one another that we need each other, and we cannot live a healthy Christ-following life alone. It’s about coming spiritually crippled as we wholeheartedly expect to leave this place and this day with wholeness, healing, and restoration from the hands of Jesus. It’s a day we set aside and expect God to do something wonderful in our lives! This, my beloved, is what it means to reclaim the Sabbath!
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.