“The Blue Law”

The following sermon was preached at the 10:00am Rite II and 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist services on June 3, 2018, being the Second Sunday after Pentecost, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

“The Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath”—Mark 2.28[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Some of you may remember growing up in places that had “blue laws,” laws that once banned specific recreational and commercial activities on Sundays. Though they have now largely fallen away, the intent of these laws was to promote Sunday as a day of religious observance and rest. The United States Supreme Court declared in an 1896 decision upholding blue laws that

“[Their] requirement is a cessation from labor…which the entire civilized world recognizes as essential to the physical and moral well-being of society. Upon no subject is there such a concurrence of opinion, among philosophers, moralists, and statesmen of all nations, as on the necessity of periodical cessation from labor…The prohibition of secular business on Sunday is advocated on the ground that by it the general welfare is advanced…and the moral and physical well-being of society promoted.”[2]

Not only is the Sabbath for rest, but also for remembering…remembering God and the freedom we have because of Him. “Remember,” God says, “that…the LORD, your God, brought you out from [Egypt] with a strong hand and outstretched arm.” (Deuteronomy 5.15) We are to remember our deliverance from bondage, of God’s Son Jesus freeing us from the law of sin and death.[3] Remembering God’s merciful acts move us to express thanks and praise to Him with others in worship. And our worship of God convicts us to devote time to our families and “rouse one another to love and good works…[to] encourage one another.(Hebrews 10.25) In the Sabbath is God’s love calling us to rest from our work, remember His mercy, and show his love to and for others through service.

Today, the Pharisees charge Jesus with violating the Sabbath, citing His disciples plucking grain kernels and Him healing a man’s crippled hand. I truly believe the Pharisees had good intentions in their teachings about the Sabbath. Yet “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Their extreme legalism caused the Sabbath to be for God’s people an unbearable yoke. Jesus tells the Pharisees five chapters later in Mark that their teachings “nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition” (Mark 7.13) and in Luke’s Gospel they have “taken away the key of knowledge” and “stopped those trying to enter.” (Luke 11.52) Woe to them! As good as their intentions may have been, the Pharisees could not see their teachings causing more harm to God’s people than the good they thought they were providing them.

Hence, Jesus asks the Pharisees a pivotal question: “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” (Mark 3.4) If Israel’s great King David breached the Law by eating and sharing the Holy Bread reserved only for the priests with his companions, then what Jesus and His disciples were doing on the Sabbath was nothing. But did David really break the Law? Did Jesus and His disciples dishonor the Sabbath?  What does God say? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19.18) If David, the “man after God’s own heart,” could do what he did to provide for his famished companions’ need, then Jesus was certainly entitled during the Sabbath to provide for His disciples’ and the handicapped man’s needs.[4] “The Lord is my shepherd,” proclaims the Psalmist, “I shall not want” (Psalm 23.1, NRSV) and “the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2.28)

Jesus’ words and actions in today’s Gospel compose the crucial counterpoint to religious rules and regulations. There is a worthiness to rules and regulations. We need them to be ourselves. For human flourishing, reasonable laws and authority are needed in the multiple dimensions of our lives.[5] And like a Rotarian (of which we have several here at Ascension), reasonable law asks the questions, “Will it build goodwill and better friendships” “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”[6] There, my friends, is where we find the Sabbath’s meaning and purpose. That is what Jesus today challenges the Pharisees and all of us to think about. Whatever our thoughts about the Sabbath are, they all should point to one thing—Jesus.

Not only is Jesus Lord of the Sabbath, He is the Sabbath.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

It is Jesus Christ who is our Way, our Truth, and our Life. In Him we find peace and are empowered to withstand the troubles of this world. And not only do we receive peace and empowerment from Christ through the reading and hearing of Sacred Scripture, but also in partaking His blessed Body and Blood in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is our celebration of “the memorial of our redemption…[the] sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.”[7] To quote the Prayer of Humble Access, to “eat the flesh of [God’s] dear Son Jesus Christ and to drink His blood…we…evermore dwell in Him, and He in us.”[8] In our worship and Eucharistic receiving of Jesus, He, in turn, transforms us to be very members incorporate in His mystical Body and heirs of His eternal Kingdom. Jesus Christ “is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for those of the whole world.” (1 John 2.2) Not only are we the Body of Christ amongst each other but are to be that same Body out in the world, to “proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine in the darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.5-6, NRSV)

Friends, let us “observe the sabbath…keep it holy, as the LORD…God commanded.” (Deuteronomy 5.12) May we find our rest in Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. May our worship of Christ equip us to go out into the world, doing the work He has given us to do, to love and serve Him as His faithful witnesses. Let us go forth loving and serving others in the Name of Jesus Christ.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Bible, Revised Edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, D.C.

[2] Hennington v. State of Georgia, 163 U.S. 299 (1896)

[3] Romans 8.2

[4] The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume VII: New Testament Articles, Matthew, Mark) (Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1951), p. 678.

[5] Victor Lee Austin. Up with Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings (T&T Clark International, 2010), p. 1.

[6] “The Four-Way Test of the Things We Think, Say, or Do.” Originally scripted by Herbert J. Taylor in the early 1930s as part of his efforts to save the Club Aluminum Products Distribution Company in Chicago, Illinois from bankruptcy. Taylor gave the rights to use in the 1940s and the copyright in 1954 to Rotary International, which now regards it as the standard by which all vocational and private behavior is measured.

[7] Holy Eucharist—Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer A, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 363.

[8] Holy Eucharist—Rite I, Eucharistic Prayer I, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 337.

 

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