Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Hypocrisy: prejudice with a halo. —Ambrose Bierce, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney
The senior warden and the head of the Sunday School wanted to speak with me. They had the intense looks of people on a mission. Since they were both women they didn’t have skinny black ties on, but they were on the war path.
“You know that Ron is teaching Sunday School this year.”
“Yes, I do.”
“He is teaching directly from the bible.”
“I believe he is.”
“His bible has a zipper on it.”
“I’m pretty sure I noticed that.”
“The words attributed to Jesus are written in red.”
“Somehow that does not surprise me.”
“Well, we can’t have that.”
“He is teaching a literal interpretation of the bible that hardly any of us believe in.”
“I’m pretty sure that is right. Why can’t we have it?”
“We just don’t believe in that stuff.”
“I know we don’t. How many people are in his class?
“How many members does this congregation have?”
“That sounds right. And what is one of the fundamental, if you will excuse the expression, fundamental values of our common life around here?”
“We really value the inclusion of a variety of people . . . .”
Their voices trailed off as they indicted themselves on their own deeply felt core values. They were wonderful people who had been willing to struggle with inclusion issues. The problem arose when inclusion needed to extend to the right, not just to the left. They also had a conversion experience. They came to believe that core values matter. They came to understand that when we make up values they will take us places we may not one to go. I also believe they found out that the unwelcome destination was of God. Ron continued to offer his class to a handful of people who were glad to have him do what he did. It was one of the proudest moments I have had in 42 years of ordained ministry.
The Pharisees had a rule, a rule based on the 4th commandment: Observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Since this was Judaism and a religion, the job of the head people was to parse words like: “keep holy” and “Sabbath day.” After a while, “keep holy” meant not doing much of anything except what the rabbis considered holy. Reading Torah, praying, lots of food were good. Bad was long drives in the country, bowling, jokes, and any kind of activity that could be construed as work. Sabbath day was easier. It was the 24 hours beginning Friday afternoon until sunset on Saturday. Not a minute later or earlier.
I love my GPS. When the sun goes down it changes from daytime to nighttime mode. Now I know exactly when the sun goes down—officially. Don’t need a rabbi for that anymore.
Jesus tells a story about this good Jewish lady who had the arthritis real bad. She’d had it for 18 years and was so stooped she looked like an angle bracket with legs. Jesus heals her on the spot. She doesn’t ask for his help. He sees her condition and heals her. Apparently his GPS was broken since he didn’t know it was the Sabbath! Horrors! He did doctor work on the Sabbath!
The Pharisees quote the rules about the Sabbath. They had Jesus cold on every count. His bad. Not only was Jesus doctoring without a permit or license, he was also adept at practicing religious law without being admitted to the bar.
Jesus comes right back at them: “Who are you people to talk. Even you, you righteous prudes, even you would bring water to your cow on the Sabbath to keep it from suffering or worse, dying. When your money is at risk, so much for Sabbath rules. Further, this woman is a child of Abraham, a card-carrying Jewess who has been suffering for 18 years. And God healed her, not me. So who are you to say that healing is bad on the Sabbath when God goes ahead and does it.”
Of course Jesus is teaching that compassion is at the root of all religious observance, including the Sabbath. I love the cartoon I saw the other day: A Fire station in convent has a sign on it: “In case of fire, break vow of silence.”
I don’t know about you, but if this stuff is good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me. I think it would be a good time for all of us so-called Christians to look at our core values about religious freedom. I get pretty nervous when modern Pharisees decide for all of us where hallowed ground is and is not.