Dragging Sabbath Through the Dirt: Worship & Healing the Planet

This is the fourth in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

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Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Dragging Sabbath Through the Dirt: Worship & Healing the Planet
David R. Weiss

Luke 13:10-17 (NRSV) Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman – Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Luke 14:1-6 (NRSV) Jesus Heals a Man with Dropsy (Edema) – On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

*       *       *

 Her body had started twisting itself in strange, awkward ways a couple decades earlier. No one – least of all the woman herself – knew why. She’d suffered no injury, nor been afflicted by any illness, not that anyone knew of. And because no other explanation presented itself, she was deemed, first by rumor, then by open designation, as having been “crippled by a spirit.” Unable even to straighten herself any longer, her own spirit seemed broken.

When she came to the synagogue that particular Sabbath she wasn’t looking to be healed. After eighteen years she had stopped looking for anything beyond a next morsel of bread, a next day of sunshine, and maybe, just maybe, that rare next gesture of kindness.

But she might well have come that particular Sabbath looking for Jesus. By now rumors of this holy man – this self-styled prophet and healer – were everywhere. So perhaps she came to the synagogue where he was said to be teaching just hoping to catch a glimpse of something called hope, something she had long since become a stranger to.

… Meanwhile, on another Sabbath, in another place – this time not at a synagogue, but in the home of a Pharisee – one of the household servants moved awkwardly in the background, trying his best to be inconspicuous around his master’s guest. But – as always – the unsightly swelling in his legs was undeniably conspicuous, leaving him undeniably humiliated and ashamed. It was, in fact, an act of mercy that the Pharisee even kept him on as a servant; his movements were too painfully slow to be of much service around the house any longer.

… We see two people in need. And Jesus encounters both of them on the Sabbath, that day that sits as the true crown of creation – that day of holy rest. Time made sacred, to remind us that creation, though mostly comprised of the mundane activities required simply to get by, creation is ultimately aimed at something more. Someone who is More.

For hundreds of years the Jews had woven this sacred rhythm into their lives. Work stopped on the Sabbath. As though each week, for 24 hours, a portal opened to the Beyond. And, whether by simple rest or through devoted prayer, creation’s daily routine was reset, recalibrated to be in sync with God’s greater purposes and hopes.

But, as with most moments where holiness meets humanity, people eventually turned hope-filled mystery into something more manageable, but also less mysterious, and less hopeful. Rules marked out what you could and could not do on the Sabbath. From sowing to sorting, from weaving to writing, from baking to building, from cutting to carrying, human activity was hemmed in on all sides as though holiness needed the day all to itself.

Thus, in Jesus’ time, the Sabbath, originally intended to be an interlude of rest and renewal – and a holy hint of creation’s hope and its destined wholeness – the Sabbath had become, too often, the rigid, rule-bound and routine confirmation of the way things are … and the way they must always be.

So when Jesus summoned up his own sacred energy to accomplish these two healings, he knew what he was getting into. He was crossing long established boundaries. Risking real scandal. Appearing ready to drag the Sabbath through the dirt.

And those who are indignant at Jesus’ impulsive impatience, well, they have a point. There are six other days on which to heal. Neither of these persons was in immediate danger of dying, so would it really have been asking too much for Jesus to wait one more day?

“Yes!” Jesus says. “Absolutely too much.”

Because for Jesus the very point of Sabbath time – its unique gift to us – is not to hoard its holiness or its hope, but to spill it, graciously, generously, like a cup that runneth over … onto the needs of this world, even and especially on the Sabbath itself. Elsewhere (Mark 2:27) Jesus says more plainly, “Look, people, the Sabbath was made for humanity’s sake, not humanity for the Sabbath.”

So it doesn’t dishonor the Sabbath to promote the full flourishing of any of God’s children on this holy day. Indeed, there may be no better day to harness our energy for the flourishing of creation than on the day we devote ourselves to honoring the God who created it all.

Of course, we Christians don’t gather on the Sabbath, but on Sunday. We do this not because we dismiss the value of the Sabbath, but because we see that value – that moment of sheer gracious renewal and restoration – most clearly in our tradition on Sunday. For us, Jesus’ resurrection on a Sunday morning, signals God’s unmistakable and ongoing commitment to creation’s hope and its destined wholeness.

Each week I ask a variation of the same question: In these texts, do we hear insight on how we confront Climate Change? Again this week, I believe we do.

Today, in 2016, alongside the multitude of people whose needs cry out to us, alongside them, we ALSO have individual species, entire eco-systems, indeed a global climate all crippled, twisted beyond recognition by human “progress.” And we have an atmosphere swollen with greenhouse gases that feed an escalating loop of increasing warmth. We have rivers swollen with toxins. We have landfills – holes in the very humus from which God fashioned us as human beings – swollen to overfull with the discarded waste of our lives.

But listen, we have six other days on which to heal the planet. Do we really need to deal with it smack in the middle of worship? Would it really be asking too much for us to wait until after the service had ended?

“Yes!” Jesus says. “Absolutely too much.”

Because the very point of Sabbath time – its unique gift to us, which we Christians experience in our Sunday worship – is not to hoard its holiness or its hope, but to spill it, graciously, generously, like a cup that runneth over … onto the needs of this world, even and especially in the midst of our Sunday worship.

For us, too, it doesn’t dishonor Sunday worship in any way to promote the full flourishing of any of God’s creatures on this holy day. Indeed, there may be no better day to harness our energy for the flourishing of creation than on that day when we devote ourselves to honoring the God who created it all.

Last week I posed the question, How do we welcome the animals and the plants, the soil and the eco-systems to our table? I don’t fully know. I’m still sorting this out, and I need your help, but listen:

In our songs, those moments when we draw this planet’s undeniably warming air into our lungs and sing our faith, it’s time for our singing to give clear voice to creation, both in grieving lament for the planet’s suffering and in fervent hope for its rest and renewal.

When we baptize, we sprinkle our newest members of the Body of Christ with water that is kin to the warming oceans and the melting glaciers – and close cousin to the rains that pelt the planet in the rising intensity of storms and floods unleashed by climate change. It’s time for us to hear the cry of those waters, even when they sit so still in our baptismal font.

The bread and the wine that we sanctify as Body and Blood, they are – even as we bless them – the fruit of agricultural and industrial practices too often at odds with sustainable life on a finite planet. The reverence with which we lift them to our lips here in church must – like the holiness of Sabbath itself – spill outward onto all the food that nourishes us.

When we pass the peace, perhaps we can start remembering that it’s me and – honest to God – my 100 trillion microbes saying, “The Peace of Christ be with you … (and your 100 trillion microbes).” From now on, when we say, “Peace,” it’s time to broaden the reach of that Peace until it truly embraces all of creation.

Climate Change, like a woman twisted and bent or a man swollen and disfigured, is showing up on our Sabbaths. Rather than turn away or wait until after church, it’s time for us to follow Jesus and begin our own healing work right in the midst of our Sunday mornings. Not as an interruption in our worship, but as one fundamental expression of our worship.

Jesus drew the world’s need directly into Sabbath grace. Crossing long established boundaries. Risking real scandal. Appearing ready to drag the Sabbath through the dirt. So should we. Amen.


WEEK FOUR – Questions for reflection & conversation:

  1. I suggest Sabbath was originally intended to offer hope-filled mystery, but became “more manageable … less mysterious, less hopeful.” Is the same true of Sunday worship?
  2. I liken the persons in need in these texts to the creatures and eco-systems in need today. Is this comparison compelling? In what ways (or why) does it fall short?
  3. I say we must find ways to address the needs of creation right “smack in the middle of worship” and I suggest some ways we might begin “to drag Sabbath through the dirt.” Are you convinced? Excited? Are you ready?
  4. What else struck you in tonight’s reflection?


http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com

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