If you know anything about the English Monarchy, you know an extraordinary event took place last month. An American divorcee married someone in line for the throne. For anyone under the age of 35 this was no big deal. After all, three of the Queen’s four children have been divorced. But those of us who are a bit older are familiar with Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne. In 1936, the King desired to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American. Both the Church of England and the common folk erupted with disdain. Edward gave up the throne, married Wallis, and sailed off to the Bahamas.
How things do change. What did you think of when you listen to this morning’s scripture concerning the Sabbath? Could the Blue Laws have crossed your mind? While the keeping of the Sabbath has always been part of many religious traditions, it became legalized in America in the late 1800’s. Even Chief Justice Earl Warren defended the blue laws when in 1962 he declared, “There ought to be a day of rest from work when family and friends are able to gather together to worship or recreate.” The Blue Laws seem like such a long time ago. Today, very few stores close their doors on Sunday. So why concern ourselves with Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees over how one keeps the Sabbath? Things change with time. Today, Sabbath keeping is an individual choice.
But maybe Jesus was concerned with more than cultural traditions. Two examples are presented. The disciples are hungry. As they went through the fields they plucked the grain in order that they might have something to eat. The Pharisees argued that they should have prepared for the day before and not broken Sabbath laws.
The second case seems a bit more urgent. In the synagogue Jesus came across a man with a withered hand. Instead of waiting for the following day, he healed him on the spot. True to form the Pharisees were outraged at Jesus’ lack of respect for their laws on keeping holy days sacred. Again we shake our heads. What is more important? Feeding the hunger, curing the lame, or obeying an ancient ritual? The answer is obvious to us, but the response of Jesus was so upsetting to the Pharisees began to conspire with the Herodians. To put that alliance into context, it would be like Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi co-sponsoring a bill.
Something much deeper is going on in this text. Why does Jesus seem determined to upset the Pharisees? They are not hard-hearted, tyrannical men. Why can’t Jesus and the Pharisees just get along? Why must every meeting between Jesus and the Pharisees be so confrontational?
Nibs Stroupe, a delightful minister and a good friend from Decatur Georgia has a great take on this. Nibs says, “The religious leaders correctly perceived that Jesus was offering a new vision of life and of God. If this frightened the Pharisees, the progressive members of the Synagogue, imagine what the Sadducees must have been thinking. Both groups preferred a dormant God, subject to old rules and regulations rather than an active, category busting God who is ever present in our lives.”
Blue Laws and strict adherence to Sabbath Laws take all the pressure off us. Last time I preached a sermon concerning the Sabbath someone came up to me and said, “I remember we could not do anything on Sunday afternoon except gather in Grandma’s parlor and play card games.”
I not so innocently asked, “Did you enjoy the card games?”
They responded, “Not really.”
“So why didn’t you just go outside and play.”
“That would have been against the law.”
I have to tell you, as a pretty good Biblical scholar I can find no place in the Holy Scriptures where playing cards is preferable to recreation. Just think about it. The very notion of recreation is re-creation. And that is where God is at God’s best. Blue Laws restrict. God’s laws create. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “If a man is hungry, and you have the resources, feed them, no matter day it is. If a woman is hurt, and you have the bandages, patch her up. Don’t live by the calendar, live through the possibilities.”
The Pharisees reacted, “But we have to remind people how important it is to worship God.
Jesus responded, “No, your job is to joyfully love your neighbor seven days a week. By doing so, God is both worshiped and served.”
This is a very generous congregation, especially when it comes to helping those in need. But someone always asks, “How do we know someone is not taking advantage of us?
Imagine God asking one of the angels the same thing. “Hey Gabriel, how many times has that guy Louie Andrews prayed on Saturday for some extra inspiration for his sermon. Didn’t I see him out playing golf with The Bunch on Friday? Are we responsible for his bad habits? Do we always have to bail him out? Next time you tell him he has gone to the well one too many times. We are not responsible if he refuses to do the work we expect.”
Pharisees love rules and regulations that dictate how we are to respond to and dispense the generosity of God.
But God did not make up those rules, we did. We like to control what we believe God expects us to do. I might be wrong on this one but I believe God simply desires us to pray unceasingly and love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. I also suspects God wants us to do both every day of the week.”
To God be the glory. Amen.