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The Joyful Sabbath
[Note: This sermon was prepared for an all age participation family celebration in the regular morning worship. It included short pieces of drama, puppets and children's songs. Sermon notes were made available as usual but in briefer form, while the verbal presentation was short and simple.]
Because we have a special service today I will not give a regular sermon. The message of the scripture readings is being conveyed differently by acting out some of the themes and by people of all ages participating in the celebration of God's word in various ways. Note how the Old Testament lesson of the call of Jeremiah, one of the greatest of the prophets, makes it clear that a young person can be called and equipped as God's messenger, while the psalm also rejoices in the trust that can be placed in God's care of us from the time of our birth. These are good themes for a family occasion; and they combine with the message that Jesus gave of God's loving care of all sorts of different people. The gospel reading for today not is necessarily related to Old Testament writings we have read, but it does have that message of universal care, for young and old, women and men. It is because of that care that we can have trust in God. The following notes are intended as a starting point for study of the gospel reading in more depth than we can include in the service today.
Why joy was appropriate to the Sabbath
The story in Luke 13:10-17 of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath Day is a joyful proclamation of the Kingdom of the God. Although we tend to think of observing the Sabbath Day as a day of rest in terms of rules about what you are not allowed to do, and perhaps therefore as a rather dull day, it was in fact regarded by the Jews as a joyful occasion. Indeed it is still experienced joyfully today, perhaps partly because it begins with a family gathering, partly because the family looks to God the source of love and life and light, and certainly because it is a time of release from the demands of everyday life with its toil and strife. For Jesus it was a small anticipation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. That is why the release of the crippled woman from her suffering was not only permitted but particularly appropriate on the Sabbath. By his words and actions Jesus rescued the Sabbath as a day of joyful celebration from dull conformity of many restrictive rules.
It is important to see that Jesus was not merely giving a liberal interpretation of the old law. He was not saying that people could decide for themselves what they do on the Sabbath. Rather he was reminding them of the true meaning and purpose of the tradition. But he went further than that. By relating what he did to the coming of the Kingdom of God he brought a new more hopeful dimension to it. He did this by emphasising the woman's liberation or salvation. These are signs of the power and mercy of God which were well recognised. So he pointed out how animals were untied from there stalls and led to water on even on the Sabbath, so why he said should the women not also be liberated:-
To illustrate the kind of rules they had to follow, it might be worth noting that the Jews of that time were taught that they could take their animals out for water on the Sabbath, but it was not without restrictions: the halter could be removed only with one hand and the animal must only be led to a well within the boundary of the property where it was stabled. As so often, Jesus went to the heart of the matter and reminded them of the purpose of rules about the time of rest however it was enforced.
Outsiders being included in the covenant with Abraham
There a further message of importance in this story. It comes out in his calling the woman a daughter of Abraham: ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage. She too was to be included in the promise of the covenant that been given to Abraham and his descendants for ever. She ought to receive the same blessings as others and be freed from the powers of evil. Her inclusion was like that of another outsider, Zacchaeus:
Zacchaeus, of course, was an outsider because he was a sinner; and Jesus rejoiced with him when he repented, but that was after Jesus befriended him in spite of the murmuring against such a friendship:
The special significance of being included as a woman
The woman he cured on the Sabbath was an outsider too, although for different reasons. In one sense she would have been seen as lacking the blessings of God because of her deformity -- she was not a good example, and might have been considered a sinner or the child of sinners because of her handicap. Perhaps more significantly, she was an outsider because she was a woman.
On this occasion, Luke tells us,
These events probably took place after the Sabbath service, at which Jesus might well have been asked to speak as it appears he was on other occasions. It was a common practice for a visitor to be asked to speak, and discussion might well have continued after the service. Indeed the events of interest to us could hardly have taken place during the service because women were not admitted to the Sabbath service. Perhaps there was a crowd outside, and she among them. However it was, Jesus had to take the initiative to recognize and include her, and deal with her problem. She had done nothing to attract, let alone deserve, his attention, unlike many of the men who came to him: indeed the women whom Jesus helped almost never asked anything of him.(the outstanding exception being a gentile). In this case reached out to her on his initiative as a pure act of grace. Not only did he recognise her need, he spoke to her directly and touched her. Such familiarity with a woman, on the part of a respected teacher in a public place, would have struck those present as very unusual, if not peculiar. He included her from outside the circle, and then explained his action by saying that she too was a daughter of Abraham and so a member of the covenant community. He said this to men whose proudest boast was that they were sons of Abraham.
Such inclusion of outsiders was a sign of the coming of the Kingdom -- a true cause for joyful celebration on the Sabbath. So we praise God for all his blessings and trust him for all that is to come.
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