Sundays: Sleep In, Work, Or Church?

Text: Luke 14:1-11

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

There is a habit among those of us in the church to either add to God’s Law or subtract from God’s Law.  That is to say, we take God’s Law and expound on it in such a way that we make God’s Law do all sorts of things that it was never intended to do, by adding our own manmade human traditions to it.  If we are not doing this, then we are taking God’s Law and deconstructing it – we are excusing it away.  Yes, we either add to God’s Law or we subtract from God’s Law, so that God’s Law has no application or relevance in our lives or the life of the church.

But why are we so prone to do this? 

Well, we like to take God’s Law and add our own human traditions overtop of it, because we want God’s Law to work for us.  That is to say, we do not dismiss the Law, but we take ahold of it and then build human traditions and opinions over top of it in order to impersonate it.  More specifically, the goal is to make sure our manmade rules look like, sound like, and act like God’s Law, when they actually are not.  Once we have successfully constructed our manmade rules, we then neglect God’s original commandments and then proceed to condemn those who do not follow our made up laws, whereas, those who honor our new manmade laws are congratulated and accepted as our equal.  It is true, those who do not honor our human traditions, we condemn them as being rebellious, liberal, and sinfully evil, when often times they are not.

If we do not go this route, we then try to excuse God’s Law away by deconstructing it or writing it off as if it is not relevant.  We will say things like, “Well, Jesus never specifically spoke about that particular Old Testament Law, so he obviously saw that as a non-issue.”  Or, we say things like, “Well, that was true for people in the New Testament, but it is the twenty-first-century and surely we have evolved to be more sophisticated than these old backwards individuals.”  Then there are those other times that we will simply not talk about God’s Law at all – it gets buried underneath all the sappy talk of tolerance and love. As a result, we subtract from God’s Law – we actually reduce it to nothing more than some mere guidelines that are kind of there for us if we want to follow them.  Tragically, this way dismisses God’s Law and puts it off to the side as well.  We reason in our mind that those who challenge our dismissal of the Law are nothing more than legalistic religious nitpicks who have exchanged so-called Christian love and tolerance for mean-spirited hate and bigotry.  

With all of this said so far, we still have yet to identify the reason why we try to add to God’s Law or subtract from God’s Law.  Why do we do this? 

Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading shows us what is going on with this kind of thinking.  Jesus is in the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, where He is a guest.  While in the house, a sick man heard that Jesus was nearby, so wanting to be healed, the man went into the house without being summoned, not really caring whether people gave him harsh looks or not.  You see, the man had dropsy; it was a condition that caused swelling when water pockets collected in the body tissue.  Here is the catch though; it was the Sabbath, the day of rest, which means: was it legitimate for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath? 

It seems that there are only two options for Jesus.  If Jesus honors the supposed Sabbath by not healing the man with dropsy, then Jesus would be accused as being an unloving and ungracious jerk who refused to help the poor sick man.  Equally, if Jesus goes the way of showing grace to the sick man and healing him, then Jesus would be charged as doing work on the Sabbath.  He would be accused as one who was trying to destroy the Law of the Sabbath.  Either way, Jesus would be damned by the Pharisees.  Should Jesus not do a miracle, not do supposed work on the Sabbath and uphold the Law of the Sabbath?  Should Jesus be a supposed jerk?  Or should Jesus heal the man and be considered radical liberal who apparently breaks the no work rule on the Sabbath?    

Jesus knowing that He was in a poisonous plot turned the tables on the Pharisees.  He asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  Jesus was putting the pressure on them to answer the question; however, they would not give Jesus an answer.  They were put to shame before Jesus. 

So, in front of the silent and shamed Pharisees Jesus took the man and healed him and sent him away.

This might cause you and me some confusion today.  Did Jesus violate the Law of the Sabbath?  Is Jesus some radical liberal who rejects God’s Law for the sake of love and grace and compassion?  No, this is not the case. 

Dear friends, Jesus did not break the Third Commandment by healing this man, but He did break the Pharisee’s traditions and manmade laws that they had applied overtop of the Third Commandment.  You see, the Pharisees had numerous traditions attached to the Sabbath day.  For example: they had specific categories of work that one could and could not do on the Sabbath.  To the point though, the Pharisees were acting like they were fulfilling the commandment of the Sabbath by doing no manual work whatsoever. 

Oh, how they were so mistaken!  How easy it is for all of us to fall into the same trap as well.  Mankind was not created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was created for mankind!  In other words, the Sabbath is not some sort of mean-spirited command that is given in order for you and me to check it off the list and prove to God that we are worthy.  Furthermore, the Third Commandment is not some sort of oppressive command that is imposed upon us, where God punishes you and me by making us get out of bed early to come to church.  It is not some sort of command that we need to diminish or explain away in order to prevent it from ruining vacation plans or weekend lake trips.  No, this is not the case.  God’s Law is not evil, but it is good.  Dear friends, we must repent of making God’s Law out to be as if it is evil and not good.  The Law is God’s way of protecting His gifts to us.  We though, make it into something evil – something that we either need to resist and escape from or overcome by putting our own twist on it.  We must repent. 

Dear friends, too often God’s Commandments and especially this Third commandment about the Sabbath are misunderstood.  That is to say, we fool ourselves when we think the Third Commandment is speaking only about a certain day of the week when we have church, or that it is speaking only about not doing any physical work at all on Sunday, or that it is speaking only about the day of the week which the old Blue Laws did not allow businesses to be open on Sundays.  It is not about this. 

We need to grasp that we do not keep the Third Commandment –honoring the Sabbath – by restraining from work on this day, as if our inactivity somehow earns us kudo points before God.  Furthermore, we do not dismiss the Third Commandment as if it is some irrelevant command that is not applicable in our 18 trillion dollar economy that runs 24/7.   But rather, we can correctly confess this day that the Third Commandment is a gift from God, it is God’s way of protecting us from physically overdoing ourselves – it is a calling to us to physically rest at least one day a week, so that our bodies can be refreshed.  It is a gift for us to rest from our labors, just as God rested on the seventh day from all His work in creating the world.  Simply stated, the Lord gives us this Third Commandment as a gift because he does not want us utterly worn out with constant work. 

With this stated, even though rest is needed and provided by this Third Commandment, it is not the main point of the Third Commandment.    So, what is the main point of the Third Commandment?  The main focus is really on God’s Word, His Word for you and for me.

Every day is intended for hearing God’s Word; it isn’t limited to just Sundays.  And every day is holy because God’s Word makes every day holy.  But we set aside certain days, mainly Sundays, for the purpose of hearing God’s Word.  We do this so that everyone may have the time and opportunity to attend public worship.  And that’s the main point of the Third Commandment.  It teaches us that public worship services are ultimately about hearing and learning God’s Word, receiving His gifts of life and salvation.

The Sabbath day of rest is the day for you and me to receive from the Lord.  It is a day of rest in which we are given the freedom and time to attend divine services, so that we can come together to hear and receive God’s Word and Sacraments, and then to praise God, to sing and to pray. (LC I:84)

Keep in mind that on that Sabbath day some two-thousand years ago the Lord Jesus’ grace and mercy and healing were applied to the man with dropsy.  It was a day where the man with dropsy received Jesus and Jesus’ gifts.  The same is true for you and for me today.  Today is a day set aside for you to receive Jesus and Jesus’ gifts in His word of Absolution, in His proclaimed Word, in His sung Word, and in the Body and Blood, which are given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all of your sins. 

Today is not about restricting any work that comes up, which cannot be avoided, and it is not a day that we can casually write off and sleep in. But rather, it is about a God who wants nothing more than to come to you and me to serve us, heal us, and give us true rest in His gifts of life, love, and forgiveness. 

Calling you to rest, so that the Lord can give you gifts, this is what it is all about!  This is what it’s always been about.  This is why church exists.  This is why you are here today. 

Baptized Saints, nowhere else in the world are you called to rest, in order to receive free gifts, except right here in Christ’s church. 

Baptized Saints, rest this day.  Receive this day, for this is the day that the Lord has made to give you His forgiveness, life, and salvation.   

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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