When you experience the frenzy and turmoil of daily living, Jesus invites you to a new appreciation of Sabbath, to some time in God’s sacred presence where peace and perspective live.
Today we continue reading from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel and hear more of the very earliest days of Jesus’ public ministry. Beginning with verse 29 we read:
29 As soon as [Jesus and his disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 [Jesus] came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to [Jesus] all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 [Jesus] answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
By God’s grace this sacred story has the power to transform our living. May we be as challenged as we are blessed in our contemplations.
So, let me give you a little context. If you were with us last Sunday, you heard Molly preach a compelling sermon on the verses immediately before what Margaret just read for us today. Jesus 1had already been baptized, 2had spent 40 days of solitude in the wilderness, 3had come to the region around the Sea of Galilee 4 where he had begun sharing a message of God’s goodness, and 5had gathered together his first four followers. Molly reminded us that when the Sabbath came … which, by the way, for Jewish people since the time of Moses Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and continues until sunset on Saturday … Jesus’ new friends invited him to come to their home synagogue in Capernaum to teach. The Bible says he taught with authority, which included the exorcism of an unclean spirit in a person who confronted him there.
Now, I’m reminding you of this because today I’d like to explore with you a new appreciation for Sabbath … in this morning’s portion of the story we’re still on the same Sabbath day that began in last Sunday’s reading. And this is what I’d like us to observe – when the people in the synagogue said, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him,” I notice that by commanding those spirits to come out of that poor soul, Jesus is broke the Sabbath law which had been in place for centuries, by performing work on this prescribed day of rest. And I wonder, is part of Jesus’ authority this new attitude toward Sabbath?
When we pick up the story this morning, “as soon as Jesus and his 4 new disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John,” it’s still the same Sabbath day. And what did he do there? Jesus met Simon’s mother-in-law who was very sick, “took her by the hand and lifted her up.” He healed her … and broke the Sabbath law again. But what is even more astounding to me is that when the fever left her, this woman did the unthinkable … on the Sabbath, when no work was to be performed, she too began to serve … and I can’t help but think of the Servant Song, “Brother let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”
Now I realize that I may be stretching the limits of what is actually recorded in Scripture here, that sometimes I let my imagination run wild with God’s grace, but if you can bear with me, I hope this might serve as an invitation for each of us to embrace the idea of Sabbath in a fresh way, especially as we approach the upcoming Season of Lent. So, as the story continues, “that evening, at sunset [when the Sabbath was finished], they brought to Jesus all who were sick … and the whole city was gathered around the door.” Everyone who was bound by Sabbath law, now was permitted again to labour and they gathered up their sick loved ones and transported them to Jesus for a miracle. And Jesus did not disappoint. He healed many (doesn’t say all, which may be the subject for another sermon – who gets healed and who doesn’t?) … until finally, exhausted, the crowd departed and Jesus laid down to rest. But for whatever reason, whether he couldn’t sleep or simply chose to take some time away to reflect on what had happened on that Sabbath day, and to discern what his next steps might be … Jesus “got up while it was still very dark and went out to a deserted place where he prayed.”
It would be a mistake, I think, to suggest that Jesus did not honour the Sabbath, although from that day forward he was often accused of just that. But clearly Jesus had a broader, deeper appreciation of what Sabbath could mean for upholding and enhancing human life. Jesus seemed to resist the temptation to reduce Sabbath to a checklist of prohibitions – activities not permitted … the “thou shalt nots.” Thou shalt not work … cook … walk … clean … serve … go shopping … play games … dance … have fun …. Many here can remember a time not too many decades ago, when coming to church was really the only option on a Sunday, at least until noon – Christendom’s interpretation of Sabbath law became the law of the land – thou shalt not do anything on the Lord’s Day, except worship God. But even though Jesus chose to stretch the boundaries of Sabbath, that doesn’t mean he did not honour Sabbath. And that’s what touches my heart in this story. Amid the unexpected frenzy of everything going on around him, Jesus makes time for Sabbath.
Believe me, friends, both Molly and I so appreciate your choice to come here to worship on Sunday mornings. Amid all the other possibilities in this generation, to make time for worship is an act of grace, a recognition that God’s goodness is welcomed and affirmed. And celebrating that together makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. But there’s more to Sabbath than this; Sabbath is more than an hour or a day. Sabbath is a spiritual attitude which invites humans to withdraw into God’s presence. If that happens for you here on a Sunday morning, then Molly and I are genuinely humbled and gratified. Still, we want to encourage you to trust Jesus’ example and explore the spiritual landscape of the wilderness, of solitude with yourself and the Holy.
Who knows what happened with Jesus in that deserted place? Some notice that he went to reflect on and discern the balance between God’s spoken message and God’s healing acts; some suggest that he went to recharge his spiritual batteries after an exhausting day; some think he just needed to get away from crowd for a while, including his own friends; some even notice the similarities between the deserted place in this story and the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness from a few verses before – maybe Jesus is tempted to become a super-healer. We simply don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. The only thing we read is that Jesus withdraws in search of that sacred space with God. And it’s the intentionality of his choice that invites each of us into that sacred possibility.
Everyone here has a different experience of the turmoil associated with daily living … those things we obsess on, that demand our attention, that exhaust us and weigh us down. How can we keep the daily disruptions in perspective so that we can rise up and face the next day with all its new demands? Jesus invites us to a new appreciation of Sabbath, to some time in God’s sacred presence where peace and perspective live. And who knows what might happen there? What I imagine is the Spirit reaches out, takes my hand and lifts me up … the fever-pitch of yesterday is gone, and I feel ready to serve with grace once again.
When his disciples find Jesus, they dump on him the urgency of everyone who wants something more from him. At that moment, I feel Jesus sighing, giving thanks to the Spirit for cooling the heat of the world’s expectations, and trusting anew in how he will serve faithfully today. And if that was good enough for Jesus, I hope it’s good enough for each of us.
February 8, 2015
Orleans United Church