Sabbath Rest vs Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Gospel: Luke 10:13-17 You can listen here.
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.’ 15But 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? 16And 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?’ 17When 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.
One day, I woke up at the traffic lights... I'd come to work the day before to find that one of our clients had an emergency, and I nursed their server through the day, got it stable, rebuilt it over night, and was coming back to the office around lunchtime the next day, when the lights changed. I stopped, and promptly fell asleep. I'm not actually sure how many sets of lights I slept through until I noticed that traffic was driving around me.
This might be an image for many of us who have to work today. Jobs just want us to go and go and go... and if we fall over, they'll get someone else. It's not just that this is physically dangerous; it is, I could have fallen asleep at the wrong moment and ploughed into a kindy and killed ten little kids.
But when we live like this as an individual, and as a society, we suffer another kind of exhaustion which is even more dangerous. We get so much on the treadmill, so much on autopilot, so focussed on keeping the customer happy, or on staying in government, that we forget who we are. We lose track of our values.
If we are lucky, we end up being miserable. We end up wondering what the point of it all is. "What does life mean? How can I keep going? Why would I want to keep going?"
And that is a lucky place to wake up, because other folk who are a bit tougher, or a bit less reflective— I don't know what it is— they end up with a different set of questions. "How did I end up here? What on earth did I think I was doing? How could I have been so stupid? How did it get to this?"
It can be the person who started dipping in the till, just a dollar or two...
or the person who just flirted a bit with someone's spouse...
or had a glass or two of wine after work and never noticed how they began to need more.
It can be the police officer who turned a blind eye because they knew the driver...
or the Cabinet Minister who thought they could outflank the Opposition with some tougher policies...
Or just someone very ordinary, like us, who ends up feeling bent over, weighed down, and with no idea how to keep going, and quite unable to straighten up and begin to live again.
Some people think that judgement will not be God ranting at us or beating us. Judgement will be when we look at what we have done, the sick children on Nauru, or the 62 prisoners in Manus who attempted suicide in one month alone... Judgement will be when we simply have to look at that, and know that we signed off on it, we voted for it, we knew, and we did nothing. And that as the Amazon rain forest burned we signed off on a new monster coal mine (Adani) and legislated to prevent people protesting about it, and refused to retire coal.
"How did we get here, trapped in this impossible place?" And when we say, we didn't know what was happening, or what we were doing... not really... God will say "But you did know. You just chose not to hear..." And we will not be allowed to turn our face from every suffering child, and every cut down sacred tree, until we confess, "Yes, we did know." And we will wonder, "How did I get here?"
Or, "How did I work all my life and it seems like it means nothing at all?"
And we will be appalled at ourselves, wake up not knowing where and who we are... or what we can do.
In all this God gives us the Sabbath. Sabbath literally means 'rest'. And where the Old Testament talks about Sabbath it says it is so we can "15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5)
Sabbath is given so that we can stop and rest, and recollect that it is God who gives us freedom. God frees us from Egypt which is a symbol for Empire. God frees us from all the things about our capitalist system, or whatever political system we live under— all the things which work to enslave us for their own purposes.
When we stop, we get to ask why we are doing what we are doing, and whether it's worth it. It's not always an easy thing to do, and I reckon we sometimes keep ourselves busy because we're afraid it will be too hard to look, and too painful to ask ourselves whether what we’re up to is worth it, or right. Even when we are exhausted, we keep watching TV or browsing on the net, because we already know that if we stop, we will find something empty about ourselves.
The thing is, if we don't stop, we can end up like the woman in the synagogue. We can be so weighed down and bent over that it feels like all we can see is dirt, and all our horizons have closed in on us so that we really can't see a future at all.
And if you've been bent over with a busted up back you know that everything is a huge effort and it's like you're looking at everything cockeyed. It makes life pretty hard.
So this woman is in the synagogue, and she’s in the right place. She's in the place where you meet on the Sabbath, and where you remember with your friends what life is about, and what it all means. Just as we do in church.
See, church isn't about keeping God happy. It's for us to rehearse our story together, to remember who we are, and to remind ourselves what life is about, what's really important, what makes sense of it. Church is a gift to help us avoid ending up in that place where we think, “How did I end up here.” It's for being set free. It's for being able to reconnect with God again. The leader of the synagogue thought the woman was being cured— and she was in a sense, but the words Jesus uses are about being freed, and loosed, and untied.
Because, you see, something wasn't working in her life. She was weighed down and bent over. Something about life wasn’t working for her. So Jesus sets her free.
But the synagogue had rules. They didn't think she should be set free on the Sabbath. It didn't fit their rules. And you know churches have rules too. We think God wants us to keep rules, but God wants us to be free to enjoy life. God wants people to look at us here and think, "What have they got!? How did they get to this place? What set them free? How come they are so free?"
And every time we try to make someone fit our rules we are the ruler of the synagogue, and God asks, "How did you get here?"
What more can I tell you?
Every time I get really busy and let the job control me, I get sick. Not usually physically; before then I start to spiral down into absolute misery. Sometimes I don't even get to ask "How did I get here?" I fall so fast that I don't know where I am, or how I can keep going.
But when I refuse to be hurried, when I keep riding my bike to work— it takes longer, when I read and pray and write, when I sleep on a pew in the church after bible study— when I insist on that time and refuse to let the next meeting, or someone's phone call or email take precedence— well, that costs me. It means that I'm a very part time minister. I'm in a very small congregation. I'm not on the wider church committees that seem to hold all the power. And it costs me because I think about things; about refugees, and climate change, and social justice: all that stuff which the powers that be want to stop us thinking about.
But it is when I do these things that you might just feel like the minister is worth having. And even find the minister a bit helpful! Because it's when I do these things that I know who I am, and why I am here, and what life is for. That is the gift of Sabbath. I commend it to you. Stop. Rest. Take time.
And when I do those things, I don't fall asleep at traffic lights, either.
Andrew Prior (2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
This sermon draft is informed by Disrupting Church or Sabbath