The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - August 21, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 13:10-17
Sermon Title:
ďHealing on the Sabbath?Ē

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Imagine for a minute that you are the leader of the synagogue.  A young man arrives and is preaching.  All is good.  Then suddenly a woman appears, bent over, and this man heals the woman. 

     Now remember the law, the Jewish law that you must follow.  It is one of the ten commandments, you shall work for 6 days and rest on the seventh.  Remember the Sabbath, and do no work on the Sabbath.  And this makes sense.  If you think back on when the early Israelites got the law, they had escaped out of slavery in Egypt, were in the desert with Moses.  Donít imagine that they got many days off in Egypt, they were slaves.  So this was, in a sense, a gift.  A day to pray, to worship, and to do no work. 

     It makes me wonder about today.  Many of us are old enough to remember blue laws.  It was not until 1990 that department stores could open in Maine on Sundays.  Bergin County, New Jersey, just outside of New York City is one of the last places in the country where there are still many things that cannot be sold on Sunday.  In many states, at least the sale of alcohol is restricted on Sunday mornings.  But in general today, Sunday is very much like any other day for many of us.  With the reduction or elimination of blue laws, there is no longer a day of rest.  Many adults are working more than one job to make ends meet, so Sunday is just another day to make a little bit of extra money.

     And I admit that it is easier to have things open on Sunday.  Often I will stop on the way home from church on Sunday to pick up some groceries.  I could do it on other days, but I am out.  But for many of us, even if we work a more traditional job, our hours have been stretched.  With emails and texts coming to our cell phones, it is often easier to reply at 11:00 at night then wait until morning. 

     The leader of the synagogue does have a valid point.  In our 24/7 work lives, wouldnít it be nice to really take a day off.  Not just a day without a cell phone, but where we would not answer our home phone.  We would not go shopping, or even mow the lawn or do the other things we do on our day off.  And it makes total sense to protect the laws, defend the law.  Just think about the laws that we follow today.  We agree that we will follow certain traffic laws.  If everyone drove however they wanted, it would be chaos.  Some would like to drive on the right side of the road, some on the left.  Some want to go 80 miles an hour, others want to go 30 miles per hour.  There would be a ton of accidents. 

     Even in our lives we have laws we have established for ourselves.  Maybe you only eat organic food, or you keep a bedtime for yourself and your children.  You limit your time watching TV, or eating junk food.  Even though you may not have ever really thought much about them, they are laws that you choose to follow.  And if you didnít follow those, what else might unravel.  Laws keep things in order for us.  So if this young Jesus starts breaking the law about Sabbath, what else will he do? What other parts of our life will unravel?

     Imagine if you are the woman.  Spent years bent over.  A few years ago I went swimming and my ear got plugged up.  Perhaps you have had a similar experience.  You can hear out of one ear but not the other.  There is pain, and when you turn your head you hear water in there a kind of gurgling.  Of course you had tried the q tips, tried washing it out in the shower, maybe put drops in there, or dumped some hydrogen peroxide in there.  Nothing was working, so finally I went to an urgent care place.  I nurse or some kind of assistant came in, I explained what was going on, how it had been 24 hours and how it was driving me crazy.  She took a big syringe, shot some warm water in there, and wow!  Cured, just like that.  It was amazing.  Part of that practice said that a doctor had to see you, so after she was done, she left and the doctor came in.  He asked why I was there, I told him, but said that the nurse had solved it.  He seemed almost disappointed, asked if I needed anything else.  Nope, just needed that, could not do it myself no matter how much I tried, took her 30 seconds.  I imagine that was how that woman felt, her problem was gone, she was cured.

     That was only 24 hours.  Imagine years of being bent over, not being able to take a full breath, always looking down.  Probably being in pain much of the time.  Not being able to lay flat in a bed.  And then being cured.  Looking up to see Jesus, taking your first full breath in years.  But I imagine there was a bit of guilt from her.  She was obviously Jewish, she was in the synagogue on the Sabbath, praying, worshipping.  I donít think it was her intention to get this man in trouble.  It had been years; another day would not have made any real difference. 

     So what do we do with the Jewish laws?  Certainly many of the dietary laws of the old testament we no longer hold to, but we still hold onto the ten commandments, when they fit our needs anyway.  Jesus seems to suggest that he came to fulfil the law, so that we donít need to follow all those laws anymore, there is something greater.  Paul seems less sure, accept everyone.  If you follow the law, great.  If you donít, probably not worth trying to start now. 

     I would like to suggest that the 10 commandments are important.  They were, apparently, the ones written by Godís own hand.  The dietary laws and other laws came later.  But I would also like to suggest that few, or perhaps even no laws are so important as to never be bent or broken.

     We have a lot of freedom when driving an ambulance.  The law basically says that we can do whatever we want, as long as we do it safely.  One of the few laws that we do have to follow is to stop if a school bus has its red lights flashing.  The law even list some things that we can do.  We can disregard speed limits.  We can travel the wrong way down a one-way road.  We do not need to stop at stop signs or red lights.  But, when I driving the ambulance, I generally keep my speed within 10 mph of the speed limit.  I almost come to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights.  But I also know that that minute saved can make a difference. 

     Unfortunately, when laws need to be bent, or broken, there are no guidelines.  Many would look at this story, Jesus worked on the Sabbath and so we can also ignore that and also work on the Sabbath.  Now if you were a strict orthodox Jew today, you would protect the law.  When I was in Israel, many years ago, we were staying in Jerusalem on Friday and Saturday.  The Sabbath for Jewish is Saturday, and starts at sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday night.  They have interpretations of what constitutes work and what does not.  Pushing a button is considered work.  So if I need to take an elevator, I cannot push the button.  The way this was solved was to program the elevator to stop on every floor.  My sister and I shared a room next to the elevator.  All night, ding, doors open, doors close.  Ding, doors open, door close, on every floor up and down all night long.  But the law was important to follow.  Most of us today would agree that pushing a button on an elevator is not really that much work.  But if you work at Walmart, is scanning items and pushing buttons on a cash register too much work.  How about if you work on a computer, is pushing the keys on a computer too much work.  By bending that law, we have started down a slope.

     Jesus is often seen in this story as the hero, but I like to think that all 3 of the main characters are in the right.  The leader is just protecting the law, which is a big part of his job.  The woman had the courage to approach Jesus.  And Jesus knew that to heal this woman was more important that following the law.  He knew that caring for all of Godís children was more important than following the law, it was OK, in very specific circumstances to break the Jewish law. 

     In our church now we are looking at becoming open and affirming and reconciling.  Hopefully this is not news to anyone, but you all should have gotten a letter and been invited to sit in on listening groups.  While the main issue with these two actions has to do with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, we are also extending it onto being open to all who come into this church, regardless of color, class, abilities, any way in which we group people. 

     Perhaps we can even throw out the 10 commandments with the commandment that Jesus gives us in the book of John 13:34  ďA new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another.Ē  Kind of covers the 10 commandments, but also opens up our understanding of the law.  It is not just a set of rules to be followed word for word, but a new way of life.  When we look at welcoming those into our church who are different from us, do we look at old laws from the Old Testament?  Or do we ask, this is the way that Jesus treated others.  When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, did he ignore her.  After all, she had several husbands, and she was a Samaritan.  This means that she worshipped at a different temple then the good Jewish of that time worshipped at.  At that time, she was totally different than the people who Jesus should be talking with.  In the Jewish eyes, she was full of sin, and didnít even do the things she needed to be forgiven of those sins.  And yet Jesus talks with her. 

     And in todayís story, the woman was probably faithful, worshipping in the Jewish synagogue but we donít know if she deserved to be healed.  Perhaps she was a widow, perhaps never married.  Who knows what disease she had, maybe other just avoided her for fear of catching whatever she had.  Clear medical knowledge of those days was lacking as to how things were transmitted from person to person.  But Jesus, modeling for us, broke the Jewish law and showed love for this woman, showed us that loving each other was more important than a law.

     As we move forward in our lives, I hope we continue to ask if the laws that we follow fall under this new commandment, or if they take away in some way from Jesusí new commandment.