Lectionary Reflection for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
August 21, 2016
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; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 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, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 58:13-14
This week’s Old Testament and Gospel lessons (Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Luke 13:10-17) provide an opportunity to preach and teach about holistic stewardship–of time, purpose, talent, and relationship to God. Additionally, these passages illustrate how, on the one hand, it easy it is for well-intentioned stewards to forget, and on the other hand, how difficult it can be for even the most faithful disciples to remember. This “stewardly amnesia” applies to our individual call to discipleship, as well as to our communal work as the Beloved Community, as people of God.
We humans all too easily forget the big picture while also being hard-pressed to remember our sense of purpose and vision. We forget that stewardship is not simply about money or the church budget or tithing, and we find it difficult to remember that every choice we make about our use of time, talent, and resources is, indeed, a stewardship decision. Life gets in the way, dulling our senses, pulling us in myriad directions, and burdening us with limiting blinders.
Take the woman in our gospel lesson. Bent over for 18 years, her view of life has been severely limited. The story tells us a spirit has crippled her. What spirit? Could it have been depression or apathy? Fear or humiliation? Was she simply beaten down by life’s daily grind?
Jesus frees her from her affliction with words and laying on of hands. Instantly healed, she is free at long last: free from the judgment of the community and the leaders, free to praise her Maker, and free to be the beloved child of God she was created to be. She is free to walk with her head held high and to really see.
But that’s not the end of the story, is it? No, the naysayers and nitpickers employ the letter of the law to challenge Jesus’s healing of this afflicted woman on the Sabbath. Jesus, true teacher that he is, sees through their thin argument and pitiful piety with a clear vision of the woman’s worth. He sees the spirit of the law over the letter of the law, knowing that there is no better day to set someone free than the Sabbath. No better day. No better time. Sabbath was made by God for healing and wholeness and relationship. Sabbath is God’s gift to a wayward world that wants to see the minutia rather than the big, glorious picture. Sabbath frees us to embrace sacred space and dwell with God and gives us back our vision.
Sabbath rest strengthens and equips us to help repair the breach that exists between the way of God and the ways of the world. Refreshed we are called to go into the broken places, lay hands on bent people, and help to heal and straighten the world. We are intended to be the hands and feet of Christ in this in-between-time.
Dear fellow follower of Jesus, for this reason we need the Sabbath more than ever. We need to forget the legalism that binds us and bends us into guilty compliance or stubborn avoidance; we need to embrace the gift and opportunity to dwell with God in holy rest and renewal. We need to praise and worship God for our own good and strengthening and come to Christ’s table for holy nourishment and strength for the journey. We need to stand up straight and be sent from God’s house into the world to love and serve and be stewards of the gospel, our eyes ever fixed on Jesus–the pioneer and perfected of our faith. Amen.
Invite congregants to come to the altar for communion bent over, receive communion bent over, and then straighten up and walk tall back to their seats. Encourage them to think and pray about what it felt like to come bent and broken with a limited view of life, receive the body and blood of Christ in bread and wine, and then leave standing tall and filled with the healing presence of Jesus. Remind them that many people walk about metaphorically “bent” in our world, and that as the hands and feet of Christ, we are equipped to point them to wholeness in the Son. Consider adding some words to your blessing and sending to reinforce this idea.
“Observing Sabbath is a confession that our work in the world is secondary to God’s work in us.” — April Robinson, campus minister
What does it mean to give a day to God? To keep the Sabbath? How can youth cultivate “sabbath habits” that are meaningful, radical, and healthy? Consider ways to get youth outside. Do you have a retreat planned at a local church camp or state park? How about a digital sabbath combined with a day at the lake or a hike? How about a “buy nothing” day and an exploration about the role of work in our lives and the importance of living wages? Helping teens connect with the natural world and develop patterns of rest, connection to God, and connection to one another and community is an important goal for any youth ministry. Here’s a good blog post from Rethinking Youth Ministry that may be helpful.
A Story about God–and us!
Use this week’s Psalm (103:1-8) as a story that says a lot about God and something about us as the church. Using the Easy-to-Read Version, invite children who can read to read with you. Ask them what the “story” tells you about God. Point out the verbs and descriptions and invite the children to reflect on them. Then ask the children “So, what does this story have to do with us as the church right here, right now?” This may puzzle the children. If you have a church history book or scrapbooks, let the children look at them. Point out stained glass windows that were given in memory of church members past, show them the memorial book if you have one that recounts gifts given in memory of the saints who have died. Tell the children that we are part of the story right here, right now just like long time members of the church have been throughout the years. God continues to work with us, to love us, to save us, heal us, and equip us to tell others this good news. Remind children that this is why it is so important that we gather together every week to praise God. We want to hear stories about God, hear stories about how God is working in our lives, and tell others what God has done. Ask the children to tell you one thing God has done for them. Invite them to share this with others during the week. Finish with a simple prayer like this one:
Dear God, we bless and praise you. We thank you for loving us, for saving us, for being kind to us, for healing us, and for giving us all that we need to help others in your name. Thank you for making us part of your story. We love you, and we love Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
(Photo: Steve Depolo, medford church, and Stuart, Creative Commons. Thanks!)