“When is ‘The Right Time’?”
Mark 2: 23 – 3:6, page 814, June 3rd
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words from the gospel account according to Mark, chapter two thru chapter three verse six.”
Mark 2:23 – 3:6
23 One sabbath he (Jesus) was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
“Having heard these words of scripture, let us now open our hearts as we seek out their meaning to us, in this present time in which we live.”
“When is ‘The Right Time’?”
I am half way through a six week, on line, course I signed up for. It is all about Ethics and Spiritual Care (Lebacqz & Driskill) and Just Ministry Gula). It is with the new PATHWAYS program which our denomination, the United Church of Christ is supporting. I am taking it in conjunction with my role on the Committee On Church And Ministry, here with the Florida Conference of the UCC. It is quite fascinating really. Everything is done on line, except of course for the two books I am working from and the case studies and writings I must complete each week. We interact via what is called a blog. I understand, if you are my age, you probably don’t know what a blog is! Neither did I. Well, I post one of my two weekly writings on the blog, then my 14 fellow classmates from across these United States and the instructor open-up a discussion based on my essay. The only problem with all this is I need to create space and time for these events each and every week. I am free to do so at literally any time of day or night. My dilemma, my predicament is deciding ‘when is it the right time.” Well, I am still working on that. What I have learned is I can’t do it on Sunday mornings, nor when I am working on a sermon, but there are ways to make-adjustments and exceptions. Picking the right time, to do just about anything, can be a problem or perhaps cause a problem if one is not careful.
Take for instance the situations that have been created with our weather here in Florida these last few weeks. After the rains started early this season, my yard man has been trying to find a balance with his timing for keeping my lawn and his many other clients lawns properly mowed. He has often come on a Saturday and now and then he cuts my grass on a Sunday! My neighbors don’t seem to mind when he comes on a Sunday. They are glad to see my yard is kept looking neat and well cared for. The yard guy is happy, he needs my business. Thankfully, he came this past Thursday, it had been twelve days since he had cut it and I was concerned that the Sebastian City Code Enforcement folks would be writing me a ticket soon, due to the excessive length of my grass! Likewise, if my air conditioner fails to work on a hot Saturday or Sunday morning, I will not wait until Monday to locate a repairman. Furthermore, if the toilet backs up I will call a plumber to come fix it, ASAP! Sunday is considered the Sabbath day, a day of rest. Yet, how can one rest if you slip in the shower and break a leg or dislocate a shoulder! On the way to the emergency room I sure will be praying the nurses and the doctors on duty have not decided they need Sunday as a day of rest!
Yes, when I was a young lad, I went to church and Sunday school. My parents went too, if they were not working. On those Sunday’s we would often have dinner together with our grandparents or other relatives. Of course, my mom and my grandmother and others would work hard in the kitchen to prepare the meal! Oftentimes, my dad and I would make a batch of fudge after dinner, unless of course, grandma had baked a cake or a fresh pie! My brother Fred, well he would sneak off and go fishing when he could. Yes, it is nice when families can set aside a day to get together. It is a nice custom and absolutely, setting aside a day each week in our religious calendar to worship God and fellowshipping together is a good thing as well. My parents and grandparents tried hard to set aside Sunday afternoons for family get togethers, after we had spent the morning in church and such! The memories of them are good. As the decades have slipped by, it just seems this type of fellowship and setting aside time to do ‘family’ things on Sundays, has faded for a great many people. Young families, with both parents working full time, children trying to keep up with school work and sports activities… well it just seems to be, from my observation, that it is harder and harder for families, especially younger families, to really have quality time like I remember from my youth. If the boss offers some overtime on Sundays, and you need the income, it is hard to say no. The coach says, ‘you miss the game on Sunday and you are off the team.’ How can an inspiring baseball player afford to miss a game? When the school choir or the band are asked to do a special performance on Sunday afternoon, who can say no!
Us folks from the Twenty-First Century are not the only ones who have struggled with this business of deciding ‘when is the right time’ to do something either! As we look to our scripture this morning we see, that is, we hear about how Jesus challenged the religious leaders at that time, regarding their hypocrisy surrounding the Sabbath day. It has been understood by theologians for a long time that “God never designed ‘the Sabbath Day’ to be a burden to us, therefore we must not make it so to ourselves.” /Matthew Henry’s Commentary/ From our vantage point here in the Twenty-First Century, it is ridiculous that the religious leaders at the time of our scripture lesson would pass judgment on Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath Day. It is also absurd that they would criticize Jesus’ Disciples for picking a few ‘heads of grain’ on the Sabbath Day, either! They were hungry for goodness sakes! Well, this is perhaps our viewpoint from our time in history, but it was not the accepted norm back in the time of Jesus. The Jewish customs and traditions were important to this religious sect. The Rabbis, the Religious Leaders like the Pharisees and Sadducees, they worked hard to hold the tribes of Israel together with these ancient traditions. The Ten Commandments which came about during the time of Moses were strictly adhered to, were they not? The fourth Command read: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” From these words comes this whole idea of how one is to behave on the Sabbath Day. We Christians see the Sabbath as a Sunday. Jews of our time observe Saturdays as their Sabbath Day. And Orthodox Jews, adhere to this custom very rigidly.
The Rabbi, at the Synagogue in Middletown New York, where I served a church for almost nine years, his name was Joel. Now Joel considered himself to be a Conservative Jew. As such he adhered to the rules of observance on the Sabbath very rigidly. On Saturdays he would not drive his car. He would only walk to where he was going. Neither would he conduct any type of business that involved finances. I remember when the ecumenical clergy group wanted to get together on a Saturday to plan a joint event. He finally relinquished and agreed to come but clarified he would not if it was raining as he had to walk. We tried to offer him a ride, but he would not accept, as he didn’t believe we ought to be driving either! Furthermore, he was the treasurer of the group. And he would not discuss finances on the Sabbath. I remember wondering how he got from “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” to not driving his car or doing finances? The Rabbi, he was a good man. Joel was well respected in the community. Had a solid congregation that he had served for well over ten plus years when I first arrived in town. He worked hard to be part of ecumenical activities and invited us to share in his Jewish customs when appropriate. He had a clear mind when it came to ‘talk’ about public controversies surrounding religious holidays. I remember the year it was getting to be a big movement to stop saying Merry Christmas (especially if you were a merchant waiting on customers), for fear of offending a Jew. Joel said out loud to a large group of clergies one day: “Let’s have some integrity around this subject. If you are Christian I expect you to say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ But if you are a Jew like me, Joel said, say ‘Happy Hanukkah!’” He went on to say: “saying ‘Happy Holiday’ as the merchants now do, simply says… you are not observing anything other than your retails sales!”
To me, keeping the Sabbath’ holy’, is about how I take time to be humble and thank God for the bounty, the abundance of my life. My wife and I have always tried to observe the holiness of the Sabbath, which we observe on Sundays. We drive to church every Sunday. It is way too far to walk here! My wife writes out her pledge check every Sunday, I doubt the finance department of our church wants her to stop writing her check! Also, Lois helps organize our coffee hour every Sunday, often being one of the last few to leave the church on Sunday as well. She does this out of love. This is what the Sabbath day is all about! Setting aside time, out of your busy schedule, to be about the work of God. Giving back a bit of what you have been freely given. It is, of course, perfectly OK to go home, put up your feet after stopping for a late breakfast or an early lunch on the way home. Perhaps there is some golf or a good movie on the television as well! “When was the last time you enjoyed a leisurely Sunday? What did you enjoy about the day?” /Larry Broding/