As we approach the topics of Sabbath and healing today, I would like to begin by sharing with you a story written by Philip Gulley. “Two or three times a week I visit the Dairy Queen in our town,” he writes. “When I was a child, I went for the ice cream. When I was a teenager, I went for the girls who worked behind the counter. Now I go to visit Leon, who owns the Dairy Queen and presides over the enterprise from a lawn chair at the back door. He has much time to think, and I like to stop by there and rummage through is musings. We were recently discussing the peculiarities of modern life, when he said, ‘we’re so busy living the good life, we’ve forgotten how to enjoy life.’
Now, not everything Leon says sticks in my head, but that observation has. There is not one ounce of hypocrisy in Leon. He not only extols the merits of relaxation; he embodies it. I don’t know anyone who sits as well as he does – hour after hour, moving from nap to conversation and back to nap again, every now and then reaching down to scratch his dog behind the ears. If leisure were an Olympic sport, Leon would be a gold medalist.
Leon is not lazy. For many years, he worked two jobs; he was an accountant in the daytime and king of the Dairy Queen evenings and weekends. Now it’s his season for leisure, and he pursues it with the same single-minded determination he’s shown in all his endeavors.”[i]
What Gulley has described here, I believe, is the common understanding of what we call “Sabbath.” I mean, when I say the word “Sabbath” what comes to mind? Rest? Relaxation? A day off? Perhaps someone like Leon? Or maybe something more than leisure. Does it conger up the image of worshipping in church on Sunday? Does the concept of Sabbath encourage you to set aside a time and space in your busy life to just be with God? Perhaps none of these images pop into you head; maybe all of them.
The point here is that God intends for humankind, for you and I, to spend at least one day a week dedicated to resting our bodies from labor, focusing our minds on God, and devoting ourselves to a time of worship. This is, rightly, the common understanding of Sabbath.
Mark however, in these two little “vignettes,” these two short-stories that we have before us today, invites each of us to consider a deeper understanding of the connection between the Sabbath and God’s Justice. Mark wants us to see that Jesus embodied true spirit of Sabbath through his restorative actions.[ii] In other words, these two interconnected narratives tell us that Sabbath is finally about healing. In the first story, we receive a lesson about God’s abundance, a realization that there’s enough food for all people on this planet, demonstrated by the disciples picking the abundant grain and the following exchange between Jesus and the religious authorities. And in the second, we’re taught Jesus reaches out to the “least of these,” the social outcast, the infirmed, as pictured by the healing of the man with the withered hand. And in both cases, Jesus chose to ignore the long-established rules surrounding Sabbath. [iii]
You know, this is just one of the qualities I admire most about Jesus. I admire his ability to know when to follow the letter of law and when to allow the Grace of God overrule the law. He sums it up well here when he says that the Sabbath was made for humankind and not the other way around. We’re not a slave to the rules or to doctrine or dogmatic principles, rather, we’re as Paul contends, “free under the law.”
Now, this didn’t set well with everyone. The Pharisees failed to interpret the man’s healing as God’s approval of Jesus’ Sabbath work. Yet we know that God’s heart is inclined toward giving life and not denying the essentials of life to anyone. Thus, I believe that Jesus’ actions adhere to the Sabbath law far better than the Pharisees interpretation.[iv]
But how about us? What things are we “Pharisaic” about? Have there been times when we’ve let the rules trump grace? Well, if your answer to that question is yes, rest assured, you’re not alone. “This passage asks readers in every age: ‘What are the essential categories of our lives that Jesus threatens?’”[v] In other words, in this passage Jesus changes the meaning of Sabbath. He transforms it from being an oppressive ogre, with denies food to the hungry and healing to the sick, to what it was originally: a reminder that we belong to God.”[vi]
Which brings me back around to Leon. You remember ole Leon, the leisurely king of the Dairy Queen passing the time in his lawn chair. Philip Gulley continued his thoughts about Leon by writing, “When Leon sits at the Dairy Queen, his back it turned to all the timepieces and their nagging, prodding authority.”[vii] My friends, the first step in letting go of societies pressure to judge others is to leave our timepieces at home, slow down, and once again, just sit in the presence of the Divine. And it’s from the slower pace of life that we can truly remember that we belong to God and that authority comes not by adhering to a set of directives, but rather, from opening our hearts and minds to the love and grace and compassion of Christ. And, it’s in these moments of clarity, in these precious moments of resting in the peace of God, of experiencing Christ’s healing in our lives and in the lives of others, that we discover the deeper meaning of Sabbath; the Sabbath life to which we have been called.
So, as you go forth from this service, on this Sabbath day, may you rest in the palm of the Creator, may you experience the healing and restoration of the Redeemer, and may you feel the assurance of God, always present through the gentle breeze of the Spirit. And as you go forth, may you be moved to share the peace and the healing and the grace of the Triune God with all people and all creation.
May it be so, for you and for me, Amen.
[i] Philip Gulley. Porch Talk. (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2007) p.35-36
[ii] Diane G. Chen. Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Year B. Ronald J Allen, Dale P. Andrews, and Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, Eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 271
[iii] John M. Rottman and Matthew Lundberg. Abingdon Theological Companion to the Lectionary, Year B. Paul Scott Wilson Ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014) p. 18
[iv] Ibid. Chen p. 272
[v] Nibs Stroup. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. III. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor Eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) p. 95
[vi] Ibid. Stroup p. 95, 97
[vii] Ibid Gulley p.37