This was a short sermon (5 minutes) that I wrote for the ACTS D.Min. program in Chicago. It utilized “incarnational translation” as part of the methodology for the sermon.
The Pharisees sat in the pews keeping a suspicious eye on Jesus, waiting to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. Work was strictly prohibited on Sabbath. The Jewish religious leaders had created numerous laws designed to restrict working on Sabbath. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Don’t take too many steps on this day. You can’t prepare meals on this day. You aren’t allowed to do any manual labor. It was a long, extensive, exhaustive, comprehensive, encyclopedic list of prohibitions they were required to follow. The Pharisees prowled around the sanctuary just waiting for Jesus to step one toe out of line and break the Sabbath.
Jesus tells the man with the withered hand to stand where everyone in worship can see him. As the congregation has gathered in their holy huddle, Jesus asks them an unsettling question: “What’s the whole purpose behind Sabbath? Is it for doing good or evil, for sustaining life or promoting death?” The Pharisees believe the Sabbath is about not working. But Jesus says the Sabbath is about re-defining our work – not simply stopping it. It’s not only about avoiding evil, but actively doing that which is good – preserving, sustaining, and blessing life for all.
You may have heard the old saying, “We don’t drink, smoke or chew, and we don’t go with girls that do.” There have been times, we, as Nazarenes, were known for what we didn’t do. We didn’t play cards. We didn’t go to movies. We weren’t allowed to dance. We didn’t drink alcohol. I’m not even sure we were allowed to smile. Somewhere along the way, we rooted our identity in what we were against, but we weren’t sure what we were for. We can list what we shouldn’t be doing, but we struggle to name what we should be doing.
While we may have avoided doing some harmful things, while we may have insulated ourselves from “a dangerous world out there,” we have also divorced ourselves from God’s Sabbath call. Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand and upon doing so the man’s hand is healed. Jesus demonstrates in this healing that the “work” of Sabbath is the work of justice. It is the work of restoration. It is the work of renewal. It is the work of reconciliation. Sabbath is not only rest – Sabbath is restitution.
We stand at a crossroads in the life of our state and community. It is a crossroad which recognizes that worship which fails to engage the real issues of this world isn’t really worship. Our state has experienced a massive shortage in money for budgets. It was a gross mishandling of money entrusted to them by its citizens. The result was significant cuts to education, mental health care, and loss of tax breaks for our poorest neighbors. Simultaneously, huge tax breaks were given to large oil companies. The disturbing misuse of power and privilege which tramples over the most vulnerable people in our state and in our community is unacceptable and we cannot remain silent. We cannot remain on the sidelines.
Jesus stands in our midst today, asking us: “Why have we gathered here in worship? Is it just to avoid being tainted by the world outside? Is it to build a huge wall of security around ourselves so that we might not concern ourselves with the world’s brokenness? Or, is it so that we might be empowered to do that which is good, that which is right, that which preserves life?” Perhaps we have been gathered here in worship to be reminded that God wants to heal our withered hands so that we might be sent back out into the world to work for the good of others.