This week I swapped pulpits with the Intern, Sarah Gunderson, from Zion Lutheran across town. I am her supervising pastor for the year and I want her to be exposed by both congregations. I can’t give you her sermon but I can give you the sermon I preached at her church. Enjoy!
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a college student who wanted to sit next to one of his professors at lunch so he walked over to the table where the professor was sitting. The professor simply looked up at the student with an arrogant face and said, “I shall not be friends with a pig.” “Then I shall fly on,” answered the student with a smile, knowing his chances of being able to sit with him were as likely as pigs flying. The professor was clearly vexed by the cheeky reply and decided to make sure to do everything in his power to fail the student. At the oral exam, he gave the student the hardest questions, but the student had amazing answers for everything. Hoping he could still fail his victim, the professor asked him his trickiest question. “You’re walking on a road and you find two bags. One contains gold, the other cleverness. Which bag do you choose?” “The gold.” “Unfortunately, I don’t agree. I’d choose cleverness because that’s more important than money.” “Of course you would. Everyone would choose what they don’t have,” said the student. The professor turned beet red and was so angry that he wrote, “Idiot,” on the student’s paper. The student left without looking at the paper. He returned shortly thereafter, gave back his paper to his professor, and said, “Excuse me sir, you signed my paper, but you forgot to give me my grade.”
Jesus wasn’t all that different from that clever college student in his interactions with the powerful leaders of the church so long ago. They, too, had become inflated by the power of their positions and thought they were better, more holy, than the simple carpenter’s boy. They knew the scriptures and God’s commandments all too well. It was right there, third commandment…”remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And for them, keeping it holy meant not laboring on it. But how reasonable was such an expectation? How can any of us absolutely refrain from all labor on any given day of the week? Even Jesus pointed out that even providing water for one’s livestock was itself an act of labor. No, the world doesn’t stop on the Sabbath. Needs must be met and doing so sometimes requires labor. Yes, God rested on the seventh day of his creation but that doesn’t mean He went into a state of suspended animation! God no doubt continued to create even on the seventh day, just not as prolifically as the prior six days. Keeping the Sabbath day holy is about being mindful of God’s generous provision…mindful and thankful of all that God provides us each and every day. Keeping the Sabbath day holy is about fully appreciating all of God’s blessings and praising God for them. We’ve created a great misinterpretation for ourselves by equating Sabbath day holiness with Sabbath day rest. Not that I don’t fully appreciate a good Sabbath day nap!
None of us ought to expect the world to stop for us on our Sabbath day. Our labors continue on even on our Sabbath days. Sorry, life and every day of it involves some degree of labor. If you’re alive in this world, you’re going to labor each and every day. And besides, Jesus wasn’t really bringing attention to the inevitability of our daily labors. No, he was highlighting how God’s grace doesn’t stop coming to us even when we stop working for it. God keeps graciously providing, graciously healing, graciously setting us free no matter what day of the week it is! God rests yet somehow still provides. God is always providing, always blessing, always loving! Jesus taught us this so accurately in his ever-persistent, ever-consistent interactions with the religious leaders of his day.
And because God is so consistently providing and blessing and loving, He has great power in this world. There is nothing in this world that can come close in power to God’s power. No religion, no government, no military, no economy, nothing can even remotely compare to God’s mighty power! All that we create to help govern our lives, to protect us, to feed and nourish us, they’re all temporary and ever-changing. The only thing that isn’t temporary and is never-changing is God’s love for us. Friends, God loves us and will always provide for us. We are his most beloved creation! God is good to us and will always be good to us. We can place our trust in him and him alone. God will always provide for us and love us and heal us no matter what day of the week it is!
God’s power is unlike any other power. I often find Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders humorous because of the great power differential between them. In today’s reading, the leaders were simply lazy, refusing to do God’s work one day of the week, the so-called Sabbath day. And Jesus called them out on their laziness. The religious leaders, so arrogant and prideful in their belief, never quite understood the power of God’s grace. They were so fixated on the power of God’s law that they never quite appreciated the power of God’s grace. But as Luther taught us, the law only tells us what we can’t do and how truly sinful we are. But the law doesn’t save us. No, what saves us is God’s grace. What enables us to do what God wants us to do is God’s grace. God’s grace doesn’t necessarily tell us what we can do, it frees us to figure that out on our own. No matter what we do, if we do it because of God’s grace then we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.
You see, there is great power in God’s grace, even more than God’s law. It sets us free instead of imprisoning us. It was God’s grace that enabled a woman who was hunched over for 18 long years to finally stand up straight! It was God’s grace that enabled the religious leaders to get out there and teach and heal and love on the Sabbath. It was God’s grace that enabled that student to teach his professor a little humility. Our God is a mighty God! And each of us has the same access to his mighty power…to his mighty grace. Recall the words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:13) We, too, can do all things in and through Christ. We can be assured in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” (6:10) There is great strength to be found in God’s grace, more than in his law. Don’t be fooled by the power of his law. True strength is found in his grace.
Our God is a mighty God because He is a gracious God. He is a forgiving and loving God. He is a generous and kind God. Let us place our trust in him and be strengthened by him, as Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “may you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience.” (1:11) Let us give God thanks for his unrivaled power. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.