Hosea 6:1-6, Matthew 12:1-8
September 26, 2010
There are two things going on in this story that I want to point out. The first is this business of the Sabbath. That’s the context of this story. Jesus and his disciples are walking through the grainfields, and it’s the Sabbath.
So let me start by asking this. “How often do you think about the Sabbath?” In my last Church, there were some who remembered a time when they were young, and their parents did not allow them to refer to this day as “Sunday.” They were instructed always to use the word “Sabbath.” But how often do we think about that word? Probably not all that much.
Yet, “Keeping the Sabbath” is one of the Ten Commandments! And it’s the very first commandment immediately after the ones about loving and honoring God. It comes before all those other “Thou shalt not’s.” And it’s the commandment with the longest explanation. It’s that important! But I would venture to say it is the commandment which is most often broken by the most people. And I’m not talking about people outside of the faith.
Think about it. How many of us really take a true Sabbath day? Too often we get that confused with the concept of “the Weekend.” We think of the weekend as being a kind of Sabbath. It’s time off from work or school. We’re supposed to relax. On Friday’s on Facebook I often find comment after comment about, “Thank God it’s Friday!” and “I’m sooo glad for the weekend.” But is the weekend we love so much really a time of rest? Sadly, when Monday rolls around, we often end up having to recover from all the weekend’s activity. We’re exhausted and depressed at the beginning of the week because we haven’t had the end of the week rest we really needed. We’ve failed to keep the Sabbath. And I know I’m just as bad at this as anyone.
Although I do have my own version of Sabbath. But it’s more a Sabbath in terms of resting at the end of doing some project. Whenever I build something or complete something, there follows a time that’s important to me. Patty will tell you. When I finish something, there must be a certain amount of what I call “admiration time.” That means stopping, and looking at, and appreciating whatever it is I’ve just done. Isn’t that akin to God creating and then looking at his creation and calling it good? I like to think so! I think that’s part of the Sabbath, too!
So Sabbath is the setting for this story from Matthew. And in this story, Jesus points out one of the most important principles about the Sabbath. He tells us that it was designed for our benefit. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” It wasn’t meant to be a burden on people, but a blessing! Jesus knew that. He knew how much people needed a break from things. He knew how much they needed that rest and rejuvenation. And he knew the stress that would surely build in people’s lives if they failed to have those things!
Think about the Sermon on the Mount. In chapter 6 there’s a whole discourse about this, beginning with the words, “Do not be anxious about your life…” In fact, that’s one of the longest parts of that sermon. And at the end, Jesus concludes, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day.” Go back and read that section beginning with verse 19. (Matthew chapter 6) In fact, try this. Read it every day for a week! Read it in the morning, and then re-read the last verse at the end of each day. “Let the day’s own troubles be sufficient for the day.” See what that does for you!
While you’re thinking about that, remember what I’ve told you before. The three most common medications taken in this country are stomach acid blockers, anti-depressants, and sleep aids! People in our world are so stressed out! They are anxious, to the point of compromising their health! And they’ve missed out on one of the most important things that could lower their stress, and lessen their anxiety – and that’s Sabbath. God has known that all along, in fact he created us that way. He created us with that need for Sabbath! He himself rested on the seventh day!
Ok then, speaking of stressed out people, look again at this story! Jesus was walking with his disciples through the grainfields, and it was the Sabbath, and his disciples were hungry, so they picked the heads of grain to eat. And the Pharisees saw this! I told you they were always around. They were always keeping an eye on this “upstart rabbi.” And Jesus had been dealing with these guys for several chapters now. We saw them a few weeks ago with the leper and the soldier. We saw them again last week with the paralytic and the tax collectors. Now here they are again, and again they’re objecting to the way Jesus practiced the faith. And from our perspective we know they’re missing the point again. Once again, they’re “hung up” on the rules and the practice, and they fail to see the most important part of things.
They jump on Jesus immediately! “Look, rabbi! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath!” “Look! They’re harvesting the grain!” Of course, we’re thinking, “You’re kidding, right?” “To us the readers, that seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Couldn’t this just be the equivalent of getting a snack from the refrigerator or going to the garden to pick a couple of tomatoes for dinner? Maybe if we talked about going to the supermarket we might have something. That can be very stressful – expecially on the weekend! But this seems trivial and petty and picky, doesn’t it. And it’s enough to illicit a response from Jesus that puts the Sabbath into wonderful perspective! And I also think it help us understand the relative importance of what we do in the practice of our faith.
Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Something greater is here.” Not only something greater, as in he’s the Son of God, but something greater in the understanding of the practice of the faith. And to help drive the message home, Jesus again pulls out this quote from Hosea 6. “…if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Do you remember that from last week? And we know what he means. Relationship with God is more important than the practice and trappings of the faith. But too often we place the emphasis there, too, don’t we? Because that’s where we’re most comfortable. The relationship is always harder!
“Something greater.” I want those words to bounce around in your heads this week. There’s something greater than just “the surface of our faith.” There’s something greater than just the routine of what we do in our worship and our “religious life.” We see that “something greater” in these stories of Jesus and his encounters with the Pharisees. We know there’s so much more than what they’re focusing on. And it’s that “something greater” we need to seek in our lives, too.
Now please don’t get me wrong here! The practice of our faith is important. What we do in our religious lives can be a great inspiration to us. It can be that inspiration when it points us to God. And the practice of our faith is all rolled together with our own personal faith history. And that’s great stuff! The way we practice our faith helps us remember and celebrate God’s presence in our lives! At least it’s supposed to. But when we forget that, when we let the “trappings of the faith” become the thing we worship, then like the Pharisees, we’ve missed the point, haven’t we!
I think we know that! But still we allow it to happen, don’t we?! And we ministers can be the worse! We can easily find ourselves following along very well in the footsteps of the Pharisees! We can get caught up in the “correctness” of things, as if correctness were the point of everything!
I remember one minister colleague who would often look at the songs young people were singing and say, “I have some questions about the theology of this or that song.” And I could see her point. Sometimes I have a certain amount of anxiety about what some songs say about what we believe. But holy cow! The kids were enjoying those songs, and more often than not the songs were helping them in their worship and celebration of God. And perhaps we need not to be so concerned about the correctness and be glad for the worship! Because worship is the real point! The relationship is the real point! The celebration is the real point!
“Look at your disciples, Jesus!” “They’re harvesting grain!” “And it’s the Sabbath!” “They’re not following the rules!!” When we read that, aren’t we thinking, “Oh come on! These guys got to be with Jesus, and yet all they can do is try to make sure he fits into their comfortable little images and their standard set of rules!” Aren’t we thinking, “These guys have totally missed the point.”
May we be aware when we’ve missed the point, too. May we be aware when we substitute “doing and knowing the right things” for knowing God and being in his presence. May we strive to know that “something greater.”
Eternal God, we know that you want to share this life with us, but too often we push you away. Draw us close to you. Help us to know the peace and joy of your presence, no matter what the circumstances of this life. Help us to grow in our relationship with you, and to experience your fullness each day. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.