This scripture is about trying to figure out Jesus, only the religious leaders, the Pharisees, seem to make a lot of assumptions and they don’t even listen. It’s a scripture about priorities and what’s most important to Jesus. It’s about what Jesus cares about and by extension, what we should care about ~ or rather, who we should care about. This is a Bible story about priorities, what’s most important. I was amused by a cartoon on Facebook: “No matter what life throws at me, at least I don’t have ugly children.” There’s a priority….
I’m sure we miss many people in our community because we are so imperfect, yet we must keep learning, loving, giving, inviting…I love this story I read from a century ago about two paddleboats: The paddleboats left Memphis about the same time, traveling down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. As they traveled side by side, sailors from one vessel made a few remarks about the snail's pace of the other. Words were exchanged. Challenges were made. And the race began. Competition became vicious as the two boats roared through the Deep South. One boat began falling behind. Not enough fuel. There had been plenty of coal for the trip, but not enough for a race. As the boat dropped back, an enterprising young sailor took some of the ship's cargo and tossed it into the ovens. When the sailors saw that the supplies burned as well as the coal, they fueled their boat with the material they had been assigned to transport. They ended up winning the race, but burned their cargo.
God has entrusted cargo to us, too: children, spouses, friends, the people of Sumas…. Our job is to do our part in seeing this cargo reach its destination. Our priority is to love people. Over the past several years our church has given up certain patterns because they have not fit the priority of caring about our community ~ we used to host a quarterly gathering of churches on a Sunday evening, but the energy it took away from community outreach. We only have so much energy… I periodically turn down invitations to join pastor’s groups because I feel compelled to spend more time with people. I could fill up an incredible number of hours meeting with other pastors, community groups, strategizing how to save the community, and I am so reluctant because I feel compelled to go into the community. I must pick and choose carefully. And so must you. God has given us a precious cargo…
The Pharisees are willing to burn the precious cargo entrusted to them for the sake of winning a wrong headed battle with Jesus. I don’t believe the Pharisees are such bad people. They want to follow God as best as they can. They just lost sight of what was most important. They are threatened by Jesus. The Pharisees conclude Jesus is doing it all wrong. Jesus challenges them to rethink their position, and he questions their assumptions of what it means to follow God. The Pharisees just have too many rules.
The question of the moment in the beginning of the scripture is the best way to keep the Sabbath. The Pharisees had a lot of rules. Jesus points out the Pharisees are not consistent. In order to justify their understanding of how to follow God properly, they are selective in Bible Verses. Jesus shows them they need to take a look at the whole counsel of God, the entire Bible (READ Luke 6:3-4). The problem the Pharisees had with the disciples of Jesus was not that they were picking grain, that was allowed…, but they developed a rule for how to rest on the Sabbath, and that meant on the Sabbath they were not allowed to “work,” including picking grain.
We must not is lose sight of the purpose. When I was young I loved hot wheels and match box cars. I played with them hard. I knew every door that opened, I kept them organized in a case. In time I put the cars aside because I was older and sophisticated. I’d get out the cars from time to time and people would often say, “Oh, too bad they are in such bad condition, they’d be worth some money.” And I’d say to myself, yes, but nobody got more joy from those Matchbox cars than me and that was the purpose. Forgetting our purpose gets us sidetracked in our faith. When I was the director of TFC, one year we found a new church building in B’ham to host our Bible Quizzing program. The church had a new building including a beautiful new gymnasium. During breaks we thought it would be nice to let the kids shoot hoops. When we asked about using the gym we were told “No, the floor was too expensive and we don’t want scuff marks.”…. I am still in shock. Tell me again what the point is of having a gym? Today that church has folded. The building became more important than God himself. May we never forget what is most important. We need to respect the resources God gives us, but we cannot lose sight of our calling to love people and introduce them to Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us in another place of scripture that the Sabbath is made for man. For us, to rest, to enjoy, to find peace, an oasis in the storm of life. We don’t need a ton of rules ~ the cargo entrusted to us is people, and the condition of the cargo we deliver is important. The Pharisees seem to forget the Sabbath was made to enrich people, not confuse people… it’s kind of ironic to impose a ton of rules on how to REST.//// Over the centuries the Pharisees developed rules to obey the Sabbath ~ they lost sight of the purpose. It’s funny to think about making rules for how to enjoy yourself… One person compared it to “Birthday Cake Rules.” ~ “Birthday cake is fantastic all by itself. It doesn’t need a list of rules. It just needs a fork, if that.… You just give someone a cake, they figure out what to do with it. If you want to ruin a birthday cake, go to a kid and say, “Okay, we’re gonna give you a birthday cake, not chocolate which is what you wanted, but we’re gonna give you vanilla because we’re religious, and we don’t do chocolate or sprinkles. So eat your vanilla cake, and eat it on Tuesday, not Wednesday, not Monday. Eat it between 2:17 and 2:19, not before or after. Eat it with your left hand, not your right hand. Use a spoon and not a fork… Enjoy your birthday cake.” At that point, eating birthday cake would sound like going to the dentist. It’s something you have to do, not something you get to do. Too many rules in how to be a Christian takes the fun out of it… I really want church to be something people look forward to, not a duty…
The Pharisees, in an effort to serve God, lost sight of what was most important to God ~ People. In Luke 6:1-5, the scuffle between Jesus and the Pharisees is the condition of the cargo. Jesus says this day is for people, to enjoy, to find nourishment, peace, rest.
This is the calling of SACC ~ to get into the community of people that God loves. To enrich them. Rules are great because they keep us focused, but they need to be the right rules, the priorities of the whole counsel of God, the rules that are meant to lift people up as we go before the Lord. A lot of the world rejects Christianity because the rules make no sense. They are confused and uncertain. Maybe we need to explain better how obedience to Christ and submitting to his will results in freedom. The worst job of all is when nobody tells you what is expected of you. You find freedom when you understand what is expected. Christianity is freedom when expectations are at last understood….
The second half of today’s scripture, Luke 6:6-11, a man with a withered hand is healed. He cares about wholeness. He cares about loving people. May people be our priority because that is the priority of Jesus Christ. Imperfect people with withered hands. Imperfect people that need wholeness and salvation.
We are not told how old this man is, his name, how long he has been deformed, not much about him, but it does say it is his right hand. The all important right hand. I know, there are left handed people here… I’ve heard it said that all people are born left handed and they become right handed the first time they tell a lie. Symbolically, though, the right hand takes precedence… the right hand of the leader is the most important position. The man’s right hand in this scripture is compromised. He doesn’t even ask to be healed. But Jesus heals him anyway. And the Pharisees are expecting it. Isn’t that wild? The Pharisees should rejoice: Ps. 82:4: Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. The Pharisees should rejoice, but they are like the church that put in a gym and forgot it’s purpose. May we always be for people who are disadvantaged, people who have less power, the weak, the broken …. This is the priority of the Lord.
It says that the Pharisees were furious at what Jesus does (Luke 6:11.) Furious. The King James says that they were filled with madness. It has to be madness to have a man with such a condition healed and they begin to plot someone’s death. They are crazy. (I know we are all a little bit insane, but there is a good insane and a bad insane.) the religious leaders and teachers, should have been the ones most fervently praying; “Oh Lord, there is in our midst a dear brother with a withered hand. Bless him and do what is best for him.” Instead, they had no concern for the man, his condition or even his spiritual health. To them, in the hardness of their hearts, he was only bait. So hard were their hearts they deliberately deafened their ears to Jesus’ words, closed their eyes to His acts of mercy, profaned worship with their murderous plots, and cared not one whit for a man who was less fortunate than they.
What went wrong? May we never lose sight of God’s priority of loving people, the broken, the messy, the hurting, the rejected people of society, the sinners among us. The Pharisees take themselves too seriously, they are selective in their reading of God’s word, and they are arrogant and prideful thinking they know it all. It’s a combination that has caused them to lose sight of God’s priority of loving and caring for people.
The message of the Pharisees is: become like us, we have this God thing all figured out! At our church I sure hope our testimony is that we have discovered someone pretty awesome, Jesus Christ, but I don’t want to declare we are the standard and have it all figured out. The Pharisees in today’s scripture are rude, thinking they are the religious police… they are selective in their biblical truth, ignoring the parts they don’t like… (It was Mark Twain that said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts I do understand”)…. The Pharisees are arrogant, unloving and dangerous.
I don’t want to be dangerous, I want to be safe. As our Lord teaches us, I want loving people in the community to be the priority. May we be a faith community that is open to greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian, yet may we be firm in our convictions as we invite people to join our community with kindness, humility, love. This is going to be a tremendous year here… as we begin a new century of loving the people in Sumas.