Pentecost 2B – June 3, 2018

Then Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28
When I was a child there was only one store open on Sundays. It was a convenience store, part grocery, part hardware. You could buy a bag of charcoal, some three-penny nails and a head of lettuce. We drove by it on our way home from church and often stopped for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk. I suspect most every town had such an establishment – what was it here in Phoenixville? Even though they broke the Pennsylvania Blue Laws which prohibited buying and selling on Sunday, they were excused because of the service they provided. I suspect the town councilmen left them alone for it they forced compliance there would be no place to run to on Sunday afternoon when they realized they were all out of lighter fluid for the barbecue. Someone needed to work on Sunday.
For Jesus Saturday, not Sunday, was the day of rest, the Sabbath. According to Genesis, this was established in the dawn of time, when after six days of creating the very good world, on the seventh, God rested. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, says that “the creation of the Sabbath shows that God is not anxious about the world. On the seventh day, He doesn’t show up at the office. He lets it be.” This is reflected in the first list of the Ten Commandments that is in Bible. In the 20th chapter of Exodus, we read, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” and then we’re given an explanation for the command. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” On the Sabbath, we are in the Garden of Eden once again, enjoying a time of pure bliss, resting and relaxing rather than constantly working and producing. It’s a time to not just silence our cell phones but to turn them off completely and instead of “liking” the adventures of friends on Facebook, live our own. Or take a nap.
The second list of the Ten Commandments is in the book of Deuteronomy. Here we are to observe the Sabbath day not because God rests after creation, but because God freed his people from bondage in Egypt. That freedom is for everyone – slave and free, humans and animals, citizens and foreigners, including each one of us. God releases us from the bondage of endless work, of yet another email to send, another deal to make, another load of laundry, another point to score, another thing that must be done. In Sabbath, we experience freedom, salvation, rest and renewal.
As odd as it may seem, such an experience can be scary. What happens when we’re not in control? What do we do when there’s nothing we need to do? What happens when we are keeping the Sabbath but the boss expects responses to emails within 30 minutes? Beyond that what happens when not everyone is keeping the sabbath and the competition uses it as another chance to get ahead?
By the time of Jesus, instead of the sabbath being a day of rest, it had so many rules and regulations around it to protect it, that blessing often became a burden. One rule prohibited walking over 2,000 cubits or 3/5th’s of a mile on the Sabbath. The problem was Jesus and his disciples were journeying from one part of Galilee to another. It wasn’t just a Saturday afternoon stroll and they had walked far more that allowed. Strike one. Next, the disciples got hungry and picked some grain and ate it. You were not allowed to harvest or prepare food on the Sabbath. Strike two. Finally, Jesus healed a man with a whither hand. Healing was OK if it was a matter of life or death, but this healing surely could have waited until the next day. Strike three and he’s OUT! Jesus defends his actions and challenges his adversaries reminding them that the sabbath is a gift and not an obligation; a blessing, not a curse. He puts it this way, “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”
It could be this passage was used to justify the repealing of the Blue Laws in the late 1960’s. After all, if the Sabbath or Sunday, was made for humankind, humankind could certainly decide what to do on it. And so Sunday went from being a day of rest to one of commerce. This created a crisis for my Dad and his business partner, Bob Gebhardt. Ice City and Nestor’s Sporting Goods were the two major competitors of Gebhardts’ Bowling Supply Company, and both opened on Sundays. My Dad sent my Mom, sisters and I undercover to check them out and the stores were bustling. This lead to an ethical dilemma for my Dad and Bob. Should they open on Sundays, too? If they did, how many more jobs could they provided? How much more profit would they make? If they didn’t, would they be edged out of business and the competition take over? The discussion went on for months. My Dad even consulted with our Pastor. Finally, they decided they were Christians first and businessmen second. Sundays was for worship, family and rest. Neither of them wanted to work on Sunday. How could they expect their employees to sacrifice faith and family to punch the time clock? Beyond that, they knew that if they turned the gift of the Sabbath it into another day of work, it would cease to be a gift. No rest. No reclaiming of Eden. No worship. No joy. No blessing. No bliss. Instead burn-out from perpetual obligation.
So, what about us? Except for the buying and selling of automobiles, most of the blue laws are long gone. Children’s and youth sports games are held on Sunday mornings. Lots of people have to work, they don’t a have a choice. For some that’s always been the case. At Bible Study on Wednesday someone remarked, “Cows can’t wait until Monday to be milked.” So, how in this 24/7 world, do we live the gift of sabbath, of rest and liberation?
One thing we can do now, while we wrestle with the call to rest that flies in the face of our culture is to embrace the gift. A non-anxious God is at the center of the universe, not us. Sabbath reminds us that God creates us and says very good. We are enough, indeed, more than enough. Embracing the gift frees us from the slavery of trying to justify ourselves by our achievements, where we live, what we earn, how much we have. Because that never works, but only makes us even more insecure for we always think we need to have more, do more, be more.
As our High School Seniors graduate and head off into the world, this is such good news. There are many challenges ahead some of which will have you doubting who you are and what you want to be? When that happens, and it will, maybe a couple of times a day, take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and breathe out and say to yourself, “I am a baptized child of God, loved beyond my knowing.” In fact, this might be a very helpful thing for all of us to do.
Then remember what Jesus said after declaring salvation was made for humankind? That the Son of Man is Lord, even of the sabbath. The Son of Man, Jesus is Lord. In him, we find rest and salvation. With him, we live and move and having our being. Through him, we discover love that goes to the cross and back for us. Today at the table of grace, in bread and wine, Jesus gives us himself, and in doing so gives us Sabbath. Amen.
Walter Brueggemann, as quoted by Bill Moyer, Genesis: A Living Conversation, Doubleday, 1996, 15.
Abraham Heschel as quoted by Burton L. Visotsky, Genesis: A Living Conversation, 15.

St John’s Lutheran Church Phoenixville