June 3, 2018 2nd Sunday of Pentecost
1 Samuel 3:1-20 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 Mark 2:23-3:6
Pharisees were sticklers for the rules. But you know, this was a group of people created to make sure that Jewish laws and customs didn’t get drowned in a sea of Greek and Roman occupation. Like many people their intentions were good, but their humanitarian practices left a lot to be desired.
As Jesus and his disciples were traveling they went through or by a big field of grain. Being hungry, they plucked off some grain-heads and ate them as they were walking. This was not illegal. They were practicing something called gleaning. By Jewish Law it was permitted for people who were poor or who were travelers. Farmers allowed this because they considered it to be an act of charity and a blessing on those less fortunate then they were. Of course it was expected that the people doing the gleaning would not harvest — they would simply take a little something to eat as they were walking through.
Apparently some Pharisees saw this and confronted Jesus. The issue was not taking the grain; the issue was that they took the grain on the Sabbath, which meant that they engaged in an act of working. You are not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath. No farming, no cooking, no cleaning – this prohibition even extends to tying and untying knots – all that is supposed to be done the day before. The Sabbath is supposed to be devoted to worship and only worship.
Jesus’ answer was very clever because he doesn’t try to directly defend his disciples. Instead he points back to a historic event of the great king David. The story is that David, before he was king, was on the run from Saul, who wanted to kill him. David and his soldiers were hungry when they came across the house of God.
Now you need to remember that this was before the First Temple was built. The house of God in this case was a big tent that traveled from town to town in the territory of the newly found country of Israel. There were two interiors to the tent. The interior when you walked in had a table on which bread and wine were placed, and there was another tent inside the larger tent that housed the Ark of the Covenant. David gleaned the bread and the wine and shared it with his companions before moving on.
Historically this was not seen as sacrilege. Yes the bread and wine were dedicated offerings, but in this case the taking of them was seen as a necessity to keeping David and his men alive. They were very hungry and they needed something to eat and this was all that was available to them at the time. And it wasn’t a feast it was simply a small amount shared between people to keep them going.
Then Jesus says: The Sabbath was made for humankind; not humankind for the Sabbath. I am sure the Pharisees were a little tweeked by this. To them humans were created solely for the purpose of worshiping God, and to follow God’s Laws, therefore it would follow that we were created for the Sabbath. But Jesus understood that God is God. God is all powerful, God is almighty, God doesn’t need to be worshiped by us in order to exist. We are the ones who need worship in our lives in order to maintain our connection to God. That is the purpose of the Sabbath.
However I do sympathize with one little point with the Pharisees. It is too easy for us to neglect that time that we set aside to connect to God. From the moment we wake up there are so many things pulling us in so many different directions that very often we don’t give ourselves five minutes to just say a little prayer in the morning. How many of us start our morning by saying: God, I am open to what you give me today. I ask you to help me out during the difficult parts, and I’m going to try to serve you as best I can. I am open to whatever sign you want to give me to day that will lead me forward to do your work in the world. As a minister I try to do that but sometimes in the morning I start to look at my e-mail, I watch the news for a bit. And the next thing you know I’m doing this, that, and the other thing, and I get to the end of the day and realize that I’ve forgotten to give myself a little time to be with God.
So I get the idea of vigilance, and respect, and necessity of the Sabbath that the Pharisees were trying to instill.
I am conscious of the deficiency in my prayer life and after talking with a friend of mine, who is also a minister, I decided to try to figure out how to give myself a daily reminder to connected to God more. I came up with the idea of using the reminder app on my phone. I have set an alarm for 7:15 a.m. and at this time my phone goes DING and a message pops up on my screen. It says: What is God calling you to do today? It’s a reminder to stop and say: God, I am open to what you give me today. I ask you to help me out during the difficult parts, and I’m going to try to serve you as best I can. I am open to whatever sign you want to give me to day that will lead me forward to do your work in the world. It gives me a moment to think, not just about my to do list, but about how to make maybe some of my actions more in connection with God.
After Jesus talks to the Pharisees he walked into the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. He challenges them by asking if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Now this is a sticky theological point, because if there is an emergency you can rescue someone on the Sabbath, because of course life is sacred, and by rescuing someone you are serving God. A lot of people would probably say that healing this man’s hand is a life saving moment.
And what could be a greater act of serving God then healing someone? Although I think that every day would be a good day to heal someone, what better offering could you give to God then the healing of someone, on the Sabbath, in His name? I’m sure people in that synagogue, like we do in our congregation, prayed for their friends and neighbors to be healed of their illnesses or infirmities.
Sadly the Pharisees have hard hearts. Jesus goes ahead and does God’s healing work but they decide that he’s causing too much of commotion and challenging the laws that that they consider to be sacred, and they decide to speak to Herod about him.
Rules can be helpful. Rules give us boundaries so that we don’t hurt people. But rules aren’t God. Rules are how we try to act with dignity and respect as God would want us to do. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the rule and making sure that we follow them that we can end up hurting people by them, instead of healing people with them.
So there are two parts of the story. The first is to be aware of creating a time for yourself to connect with God. Worshiping God in church is a time apart that we all need. But we need to also look for time that we can worship God with service in God’s name. That is also a form of worship. The time apart, even if it’s only a few minutes today, gets our mind ready to recognize the moments when we can be healers for God. If you don’t want to use the reminder app on your phone try a post-it note somewhere in your house. It doesn’t matter what you use, just as long as you give yourself a reminder to connect with God.
The second is to not let ourselves get so caught up in the rules that we miss the moment when we can be healers for God. If you are having trouble trying to figure out if this is a time that you should step out of a rule or stay inside a rule just ask yourself this: Is what you are going to do an action of grace? Is it going to be a generous renewing action? Is there compassion involved in it? And does it help you and the other person to get closer to the eternal God? If on the other hand staying inside the rule promotes a systemic inflection of negativity then you have to think of how to step outside of the rule with Grace.
Sometimes our decisions are difficult to make, but that’s okay. Some actions take time to figure out the best way to do them. God doesn’t expect you to not think about what the right path is. He gave us our intelligence for a reason and we should constantly be trying to hone it and use it to the best of our abilities.
The Sabbath, our time to connect with God, happens in both our stillness of prayer, and in our movement of being out in the world and loving our neighbors. Each of us needs to find both of those times so that we can reach the full potential of our connection with God. Let’s see if we can find the Sabbath every day by cultivating the holy habits of His love in our lives, so that we can move farther down the Methodist road to perfection, which we walk in Jesus’s name. Amen