Sunday, June 3, 2018

Who is Sabbath for? Mark 2:23 - 3:6

Fred Craddock was a fantastic preacher and teacher and he could tell stories… I first learned of Fred in seminary, he was my homeletics professor, professor or my preacher teacher, preacher teacher.  I love a good story and this one hit me this week…it comes from another time in our history and yet is just as relevant today Fred explains;

I used to go to west Tennessee, where an old high school chum of mine had a restaurant.  I called him Buck. I’d go home for Christmas, “merry Christmas Buck,” and I'd get a piece of pie and a cup of coffee free. “Merry Christmas, Buck” I’d  say.  Every year it was the same.

This one time was different Fred Fred continues;

I went in, “Merry Christmas, Buck.”
He said , “Let’s go for coffee.”
I said, “What’s the matter? Isn’t this the restaurant?”
He said, “I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder.”
We went for coffee.  We sat there and pretty soon he said, “Did you see the curtain?”
I said, “Buck, I saw the curtain. I always see the curtain.”
What he meant by “Curtain” is this: They have a number of buildings in that little town; they’re called shotgun buildings. They’re long buildings and have two entrances, front and back. One’s off the street, and one’s off the alley, with a curtain and the kitchen is in the middle. His restaurant is in one of those. If you’re white, you come off the street; if you’re black, you come off the alley.

He said, “Did you see the curtain?”
I said, “I saw the curtain.”
He said, “The curtain has to come down.”
I said, “Good. Bring it down.”
He said, “That’s easy for you to say. Come in here from out of state and tell me how to run my business.”
I said, “Okay leave it up.”
He said, “I can’t leave it up.”
I said, “Well take it down then.”
“I can’t take it down.” He’s in terrible shape. After a while he said, “If I take that curtain down, I lose a lot of my customers. If I Leave that curtain up, I lose my soul.[1]

Jewish tradition holds that there are 613 Mitzvot or commandments in the Hebrew texts. 613 that is a huge number. These are laws around G-D, Torah, Signs & Symbols, Prayer & Blessings, Love & Brotherhood, The Poor, Gentiles, Family, Forbidden Sex, Times, Dietary Laws, Business Practices, Employees, Vows, Sabbatical & Jubilee, Court, Injuries & Damages, Property, Criminal Laws, Punishment & Restitution, Prophecy, Idolatry, Agriculture, Clothing, The Firstborn, Priests & Levites, Tithes & Taxes, The Temple, Sacrifices & Offerings, Ritual , purity, Leprosy, The King, Nazarites, and Wars. Yikes!

In today's readings Jesus is coming up against the gatekeepers, the protectors of the law, the Pharisees. So of those Six hundred and thirteen commandments there are thirty-nine that refer to sabbath:
“Jewish law prohibits doing any form of melachah ("work", plural "melachot") on Shabbat. Melachah does not closely correspond to the English definition of the term "work",...

Rather, it refers to the 39 categories of activity that the Talmud prohibits Jews from engaging in on Shabbat” [2]

These were interpreted and extrapolated from the biblical texts written about the kind of work required to build the tabernacle.

“Many religious scholars have pointed out that these labors have something in common -- they prohibit any activity that "creates" or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

The 39 Prohibited Activities

As based on the Mishnah Tractate Shabbat 7:2, the 39 activities are:

Sowing, Plowing, Reaping, Binding sheaves, Threshing, Winnowing, Selecting, Grinding, Sifting, Kneading, Baking, Shearing wool, Washing wool, , Beating wool, Dyeing wool, Spinning, Weaving, Making two loops, Weaving two threads, Separating two threads, Tying, Untying, Sewing stitches, Tearing, Trapping, Slaughtering, Flaying, Tanning, Scraping hide, Marking hides, Cutting hide to shape, Writing two or more letters, Erasing two or more letters, Building, Demolishing, Extinguishing a fire, Kindling a fire, Putting the finishing touch on an object, Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain.

The 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat can be divided into four groups:
The first 11 categories are activities required to bake bread.
The next 13 categories are activities required to make a garment.
The next 9 categories are activities required to make leather.
The final 6 categories are activities required to build a structure or building.[3]

This does not sound much like anything Jesus was teaching.  Clearly Jesus actions were breaking laws. Of course, with the list of possibilities just waking up could break a law at some point or the other. The pharisees are clinging tight to these laws for one reason and one reason only. To keep control. To separate the worthy, the clean, the right way from the other, the outsider, the impure.

But why were the scribes and pharisees so mad at Jesus?  Well it could be things Jesus was saying and doing.

Jesus freely walked around with the marginalized.  Jesus preached against empire and division.  Jesus walked with the outcast and even broke bread with them. Then to make matters worse …he scolded those in charge…The Pharisees and the scribes. The law keepers, the gatekeepers, the ones who made sure that those who were out were kept out and those who were in were kept  in…Jesu called them hypocrites

“The seven woes of hypocrisy are:

● Hypocrits you shut people out of the kingdom of heaven! (Matt 23:14)
● They would convert a person then…make them twice the child of hell you are (Matt 23:15)
● They taught if one was to swear by the temple it meant nothing but if they swear by the gold in the temple, “they are obligated to do what they swore. You foolish and blind people!” (Matt 23:16–17)
● Hypocrites! You give to God a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, but you forget about the important matters of the Law: justice, peace, and faith. (Matt 23:23–24)
● Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate but inside they are full of violence and pleasure seeking. Blind Pharisees! (Matt 23:25)
● Hypocrites you are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men's bones. (Matt 23:27–28)

The final woe I think Stephen Schwartz phrased it best..” You snakes, you viper's brood
You cannot escape being Devil's food!
I send you prophets, I send you preachers
Sages and rages and ages of teachers
Nothing can bar your mood!” Godpsell 1973

This is why Jesus says man is not made for the Sabbath all these rules and regulations being policed by ..well false leaders who were more concerned about their own status more than keeping to the heart of God’s love for all.

What we often do not talk about are the actual things one can do on shabbat.

“the following activities are encouraged on Shabbat:

Spending Shabbat together with one's own immediate family;
Temple attendance for prayers;
Visiting family and friends (within walking distance);
Hosting guests (hachnasat orchim, "hospitality");
Singing zemirot, special songs for the Shabbat.
Reading, studying and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, learning some Halakha and Midrash.

According to Reform Judaism "one should avoid one's normal occupation or profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest, and holiness of the day." [4]

This was Jesus message. The sabbath is made for us it is a day to engage in scripture and prayer and community. It is a day to gather around a table and rest in the spirit of the Lord. It is the day that we use to practice in our scared places the way we want the world to be.

This is the place where we tear the curtain down.  See how I just tied us back to the first story I shared. That curtain that so long ago was easy to see...may have been torn down but what it stood for stayed in the alley and the back rooms and only in this day are we shedding a light on it. Only now are we beginning to break down the walls of hatred and prejudice that has caused so much pain for way too long.

This is the place where we tear that curtain down and all that goes with it.

You see this table…this simple thing whether it be wood or stone or a floor or a blanket does not matter because what makes it sacred is the lack of wall, curtain, guestlist.  There are no barriers for once this table is set. It becomes God’s table. The curtain that separated God from people was rent a long time ago on a Good Friday!

There are no rules around God’s table! How did saint paul put it?? “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Well actually there is Jew and Gentile, there is free and slave, there is rich and poor, there is male and female, transgender and non-binary folk, there is blind & deaf, there are those who have physical challenges and those who have mental challenges, there are races and cultures and diversities so many I cannot count and all…. each and every single person is welcome at this table. Heck I have been in places when even our companion animals are welcome at this table.  I am not called here to protect, restrict or judge we are called to welcome all because we believe and proclaim an all loving God.

Makes me want to chant whose table?  God’s table! whose welcome? everyone!

What is the Sabbath for?  It is to rest and pray and connect. Wayne Mueller writes;

“I have sat on dozens of boards and commissions with many fine compassionate and generous people who are so tired, overwhelmed, and overworked that they have neither the time nor the capacity to listen to the deeper voices that speak to the essence of the problems before them. Presented with the intricate and delicate issue o poverty, public health, community well-being, and crime, our impulse, born of weariness, is to rush headlong toward doing anything that will make the problem go away. Maybe then we can finally go home and get some rest. But without the essential nutrients of rest, wisdom, and delight embedded in problem-solving process itself, the solution we patch together is likely to be an obstacle to genuine relief.[5]

On the sabbath we are meant to regain our nutrients of rest, wisdom and delight.  Wisdom, that gentle voice of God placed on our hearts as we center our focus on God. Rest…rest in the holy spirit that is sacred and profound and delight. Delight in the gifts that god gives to us that can be found in family, friends and community.

Why do we need these things?  Well what is our job?  What is the true work we are called to do in our every other day of the week. Besides the care for ourselves, our loved ones and well pay our bills, as Christians, we are called to be doing the work of the kingdom of God. What does that work look like?

It looks like well this…This table. This table that welcomes…
Jew and Gentile, free and slave, rich and poor, male and female, transgender and non-binary folk, blind & deaf, those who have physical challenges and those who have mental challenges, this table that welcomes all races and cultures and diversities.

You see until the world out there looks like the world in here we have a long way to go…until the world in here reflects perfectly the world that god created…we have a lot of work to do….

Until every day is sabbath…until every action is prayer …we have a lot of work to do

And then he said; sabbath was created for humans (Mark :27) and I believe and pray that one day that Humans can make every day sabbath! Amen.

[1] Craddock, Fred B., Mike Graves, and Richard F. Ward. Craddock Stories. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2001. Page 61-62
[3] ditto
[5] Muller, Wayne. Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy lives. New York, NY: Bantam Books, 2000. Page 4

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