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Sunday, 3 June 2018
The text, (after a fashion) of what I preached based on Mark 2:23-3:6)...
I remember hearing on the radio once a report about an Orthodox Jewish couple, who were suing their neighbours because they were effectively housebound for 25 hours once a week, as the automatic lights that come on when they opened the door to their apartment, infringe Sabbath laws. Surely this is the sort of simple dispute that could and should be rectified through talking...
The passage we hear as this morning’s Gospel is immediately proceed by the story of the healing of the paralysed man and a question about the keeping of the tradition of fasting raised by John the Baptist’s disciples. But today’s passage whilst, touching on similar issues (healing and the keeping of the law) also raises some important questions about how we use time.
We tell ourselves we are busier than ever - the average working week is 43.6 hours, with one in twenty five (largely men) working over 60 hours. Saturday is full for those with children of sporting activities and other pastimes and Sunday therefore is very often the only day a family will actually get together. We are constantly available with email pouring in on our phones, which sit charging by our beds, and we feel guilty if we’ve not sent that last email at 11pm. We have created and perpetuate a culture that says we are constantly available and it’s making us ill - 12.5 million work days were lost to stress related illness last year. Yet we also believe we deserve what our parents and grandparents never had and were only ever the most extravagant luxuries anyway - we travel further on more holidays than ever before: over 20 years we have taken double the number of foreign holidays - and we work harder to pay for them. And so the cycle continues but very often only with the help of grandparents doing childcare in their supposedly work-free retirement years… There are still only 24 hours in a day and usually 5 days in a working week…
Then [Jesus] said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath… The Sabbath has been key to Jewish life and worship for generations. The idea that we need, or our own psychological and emotional well being, some down time, lack of activity, some rest, makes common never mind religious sense and Sabbath observance goes back into the earliest days of Judaism in the creation stories where God ‘rested’ and enjoyed creation on the seventh day. The Talmud (the teaching documents that Jews use to help interpret the Old Testament law) then lays out 39 different forms of work that can’t be done on the Sabbath - this includes reaping. But is plucking heads of grain really reaping? The pharisees seem to think so, so Jesus tells this story about David and his companions eating the bread of the presence to ask a question of the Pharisees - you know what Scripture says, but do you understand it? Of course the Pharisees, who were schooled in the scripture and interpretation of the law will have known that particular story of David, but what is missed here, perhaps by us, is that they were allowed to eat the bread because the High Priest determined that they were holy. How far do you take a literal interpretation of the Law, Jesus asks?
There is no prohibition to healing on the Sabbath in the Old testament or the Talmud. The nearest equivalent would be a refraining from ‘putting the finishing touches to an object’ or ‘untying an animal’ but this would degrade the disabled man into a thing - and maybe that’s what Jesus is both angry and grieving about - the Pharisees neither saw this man as someone who’s life would be transformed by this healing and seeing him restored to his family, nor did they see the healing as an act of worship, instead they only saw Jesus ‘working’ and the man as bait for a trap.
Today’s Gospel reading contains depictions of what happens when someone is so bent on keeping the particularity of the law that they are willing to overlook the sheer joy of a healing and restoration. They are compelling depictions of what it means to focus on the exactitude of the letter and to miss the spirit of the law entirely. They are compelling depictions of why “the law” could either be a life-giving source of joy and instruction or a life-demeaning source of judgment and an onerous burden.
But maybe there’s something else going on for us. The Pharisees saw this disabled man as a thing. How often do we see someone else as a thing? In this case as bait for a trap, instead of fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God and loved by Him? How often do we dehumanise another person as a ‘thing’ as we mumble something under our breath in the queue in the supermarket or as someone cuts into our stopping distance on the motorway?
How often do we quickly criticise someone for what they are doing or not doing - thinking we are in the right after making snap judgements - when all we see is a struggling parent with a boisterous child, an out of work twentysomething standing at the bus stop, someone who has come to our nation seeking work and a better life. Jesus reminds us with his referencing of the story of David and his companions that there is always a back story to every situation.
It seems to me friends that ultimately the whole of the Law in the Old Testament and supremely Sabbath observance is about living in a way that sees God as a reality in the world, and therefore Jesus being Lord in every situation. The Sabbath in that sense is not a specific day as such, but time, to see a situation or someone or a relationship as God does - as loved, as restored, as renewed - and to go out of our way to make that live - to call someone, to seek forgiveness, to practically help, to affirm someone’s work. But also, in a culture that tells itself how busy it is, to intentionally frame some time in our day our week to stop, to slow, to take in our world and all that is, to enjoy to rest, to be made new.
|A Koru - in Maori culture it symbolises new growth and fresh starts.By Jon Radoff - Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1380624|
The day is nearly upon us! By the time you read this Sam will have moved in to St Thomas’ House and the days leading to his Ordination are getting fewer. For Sam, I am sure there are a mix of emotions, but maybe for us too. How will it all be?
Just to remind you, Sam will be made Deacon in St Albans Abbey at 11.15am on 1st July. I hope that many of us from across the parish will want to go to both support and welcome Sam as he begins ministry amongst us, and as this chapter that God is writing with us, opens. If you would like to travel to the service on the coach, please sign up on the sheets in each church building.
Sam’s arrival is a source of joy, not least of all for me, but please remember that he does not come as an ‘extra pair of hands’ to ‘help the Vicar’ but to be trained in parish ministry having completed his theological education. This training is the main reason that he is with us and all of us have a part to play in that as he learns the basics of what it means to serve in a parish - baptising infants, burying the dead, visiting the sick and housebound and over time learning how to preach and make known the love of God in Christ.
To enable as many of us to go to the Abbey for the Ordination, there will be no services in the parish on the morning of 1st July but in the evening we will hold a Parish Eucharist at St Peter’s at 6.30pm where Sam will Deacon for the first time, be welcomed and read his license. This will give many of us the chance to rejoice with Sam in worship, and the service will be followed by a reception in the parish hall. Again I am sure that many of you will want to be at that service if you are able to.
In the weeks to come you will notice that the liturgical colour in our church buildings is green. This is because we are entering what the Church of England unimaginatively calls ‘Ordinary time.’ As Sam begins ministry amongst us, I hope you will agree that, as this new chapter opens, no time with God is ordinary - in fact Scripture tells us that when people spend any sort of time with God, things are generally pretty extraordinary!
At this stage the most important thing that each of us can do is to pray and the church calls us to specially in the days leading up to the Feast of St Peter when women and men are ordained to serve the church. These are known as ember days (an interesting article can be read here) from the Anglo Saxon ymbren meaning cycle or season.
Please do pray for Sam in these days. Please pray for Maggie, Helen, Paul, Anne and me. Please pray for each other as this new season begins. That God would do some extraordinary things in our day too.
Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.