The Rev. Robert P. Travis
14th Sunday after Pentecost Sermon – 5pm and 9:00am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI
RCL Year C Proper 16 8/6-7/2016
Scripture Text: Isaiah 58:9b-14
In my the parish secretary’s office,
In the church where I grew up,
There was a little plaque always sitting on the desk,
That said “Seven Days without Prayer and Worship
Makes One Weak.”
That seems at the heart of our readings today,
As we consider the importance,
And even a woman who was so weakened,
By a spiritual ailment that she couldn’t
Stand up straight.
We all know that the Sabbath
Was the day God rested,
And it was created for rest.
But what is Rest?
In the gospel passage we just heard,
We see Jesus teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath,
Which the Rabbi has no problem with.
But when he sees a woman among the people,
And has compassion for her,
And heals her,
The Rabbi criticizes him and tells the people
That work shouldn’t be done on the Sabbath.
This is difficult for me to distinguish,
And maybe it is for you as well,
Why was teaching in the Synagogue not work,
But healing was?
Today’s scriptures are rich with promise
And instruction on why God gives us
A day each week.
It is essentially about our healing,
Which is symbolized in the woman herself.
Notice she was bent over,
“quite unable to stand up straight.”
And this is described as a spiritual problem.
Jesus tells her she is set free,
lays hands on her,
and immediately she stood up straight and praised God.
Do you see the symbol?
She is bent over, unable to stand up and praise God,
Which is essentially what we do on Sundays
And Saturday evenings.
On our Sabbath Day.
Jesus heals her, and her response
Is the proper response of a person of faith
Towards God on the Sabbath!
He enacts in her exactly what he is then
Going to teach, by arguing against,
The pharisaical Rabbi,
Who is pointing to the hypocrisy
in a human codification of God’s law,
that told people they could not work,
but allowed people to care for their animals,
and to teach in the synagogue.
Jesus uses his healing of the woman
As the best object lesson,
For what the Sabbath is about,
And for what is involved in his healing
Of all of our ailments.
Now I want to look back at the Isaiah reading
Because it contains promises
That should encourage us,
As well as more clarification about this Sabbath question.
It starts off being about how we let our light
Shine in the darkness,
And that should be familiar to us as Christians.
First we remove the burdens of accusing others,
And speaking of evil from our work,
And then we reach out in offering our food to the hungry,
And satisfying the needs of the afflicted.
This takes away the shadows from our works,
And allows the light (which is Christ)
To shine before others.
Our refraining from evil speech, and accusation,
And our works of love and charity for others
Result as well in clarity of guidance from the Lord,
And an awareness of God’s satisfying our needs.
If we look at that individually, it is encouraging enough,
But if we look at that as a church,
Then the last part about our becoming
like a watered garden,
Like a spring of water whose waters never fail,
Is a wonderful promise.
What do watered gardens do?
They grow, and provide food and beauty for many.
What do springs of water do?
They satisfy the deep thirst of those who come to them.
And then Isaiah continues in talking about
Our ancient ruins being rebuilt,
Our raising up the foundations of many generations,
Being called the repairer of the breach,
And the restorer of streets to live in.
This sounds like what we would all like our church to be,
In this community of Wakefield.
And this week, as a different kind of foundation
Of the generations here, the Larchwood Inn
Becomes a ruin,
It strikes me as even more important
To see what we have been able to maintain,
And offer to the community through these many years.
It gives me great hope that these promises,
Are undergirded by the Lord,
If we continue to do what God is calling us
To do here.
So then the Isaiah passage goes to another if/then.
But this time regarding the Sabbath.
And it struck me,
Perhaps because I have been working a great deal
On closing up the results of
the Surveys regarding worship changes,
That so many of you thankfully returned.
“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath,
From pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
If you call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob.”
Look at those words,
Delight, honorable, feed you with heritage.
Someone in returning the survey,
Which was in part about whether people
Wanted to have adult classes on Sundays,
Said, I’m having trouble
Making Sunday feel like a day of rest.
That sounds to me like the woman
Who was bent over and couldn’t stand up straight.
I can relate to that as it takes a lot of effort,
From us all, to make this place a delight
For those who come here to worship on Sundays.
But that’s where I would say,
Yes, the Sabbath is supposed to be restful,
But it’s a different kind of rest,
Than we might think.
It’s not about sitting around watching TV,
(not that any of you do that)
But resting in the Lord,
But about honoring the Lord,
With our minds and bodies.
Which the world increasingly presses us
Not to do, for the forces railed against God,
Want to convince us that taking time
Like that is meaningless, worthless.
So our jobs, our activities,
Press us to do more, to spend every waking hour,
Being productive, serving our own interests.
So no wonder people feel like the Sabbath is not restful.
We’ve allowed it to get that way,
And we increasingly have to carve it out for ourselves,
To be for us a holy day, every week.
But of course, the challenge of it,
Is not to be legalistic about it for others,
Or we will fall into the same trap
That Jesus was criticizing,
When the rabbi cited him for healing on the sabbath.
The rabbi looked at healing
In a completely different light than Jesus did,
As work, perhaps valuable work,
But not as a spiritual delight,
A way to honor God.
Clearly the woman who finally, after 18 years,
stood up straight, and started praising God,
understood the delight.
Jesus points out by his actions
That healing and worship go hand in hand,
And that healing is the appropriate expectation
For people on the Sabbath.
It may seem confusing, as isn’t healing in our own interest?
But the reason it is not breaking the Sabbath,
Is that it is fundamentally God’s own interest as well.
God desires our healing,
And for us to take delight in the Sabbath rest
He gave for us each week.
So your vestry and I are carefully considering your opinions,
As we meet in a special meeting this week,
To talk through the results of this survey,
Because we take the quality of all of our
Experience of the Sabbath worship so seriously.
Know that we will not take this lightly,
And that we care about each of you.
We want this to be a delight,
And to offer you the richness of the heritage,
That has been passed down to us.
And I urge you,
Especially if you have been feeling bent over,
Like you cannot stand up straight,
To see if you can carve out a whole day,
To honor the Lord each week,
However you do that.
Appropriate efforts in that area,
Are worship, prayer, study,
Satisfying the needs of the afflicted,
Other loving acts that let you participate
In letting God’s love flow through you.
See what that does to help you stand up straight.
God desires your healing,
and your abundant life,
now and into eternity.