What’s your favorite day of the week? When people answer that question, they usually go with a day that is the least stressful.
One of the weekend days is a favorite choice because for many people, it’s the end of the work week. Wednesdays are popular because it’s also known as “hump day” when the weekend isn’t that far away.
We preachers might be the only ones who like Mondays until we realize that we have another sermon to write.
Penny and I love it when we have a free Saturday morning together. That’s our time to sleep in and then go for a walk in a park with the dogs.
I kind of feel bad for Tuesday. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of love for Tuesdays.
In Jesus’ day, there was no question which day was the favorite. It was Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.
The Sabbath was the 7th day of the week when God rested from creating the world. It’s also a big deal because it’s the only day of the week that makes it into the Ten Commandments. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
What does it mean to keep the sabbath holy? It means don’t work.
But what does that mean? How do you know if something is work or not? Am I not allowed to check work related emails? What about mowing the grass? Or moving furniture?
I started out in ministry as a student intern at a church. I was a seminary student. I was only at that church for ten months when another church opened up, one that was closer to the seminary so I took it.
I only had one day to move out from our apartment which was next to the church where I was serving. It was a Sunday afternoon and Penny and I were loading up the U-Haul truck when the Senior Pastor of that church stopped by to inform me that it was the Sabbath and I shouldn’t be doing that.
With sweat dripping off my forehead and with a little snarkiness in my voice, I kindly told him that he was off a day because the Sabbath was actually the day before if he wanted to get technical about it. He left from that little conversation muttering something not so nice about me.
Sometimes we use the Bible to meet our own ends. For example, I was using the Bible to defend myself for moving out on a Sunday. This Senior Pastor was using the Bible as one last dig at me because he was upset I was moving to this other church.
And by the way, I get it. Even though the Sabbath is really referring to Saturday and not Sunday, this Senior Pastor was not happy with me because we both knew that most people think of the Sabbath as Sunday because that’s the day we go to church.
And in today’s Gospel reading, the Pharisees were using the Bible to prove their point as well. The Bible clearly says that we are not to work on the Sabbath.
Before we get too critical of the Pharisees, you gotta hand it to them. They are being biblical. And they have been noticing how Jesus seems to have a complete disregard for following this commandment.
They even catch Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath and they call him out for it. By the way, this happened way before the whole WWJD craze. Back then, it was WWPD. What would the Pharisees do?
Well, the Pharisees would do whatever their interpretation of the scripture would tell them to do and they expected others to fall in line. And their understanding of observing the Sabbath meant to not pick grain even if you are hungry.
Jesus has a very different approach to interpreting scripture and specifically on this topic of obeying the commandment about observing the Sabbath. He points out how one of their heroes of the faith, King David from the Old Testament didn’t have a problem with feeding his fighting men on a Sabbath when they were hungry.
And they didn’t just pick grain from a field like Jesus’ disciples had done. David and his men actually went into the house of God and ate the bread of presence which was seen as holy and sacred.
By reminding them of this story from the scriptures, Jesus isn’t just being snarky with the Pharisees. He’s trying to help them to see their own bias in how they were interpreting scripture.
But let’s face it. We’re all biased. We all have our own lenses in how we think the scripture should be interpreted. That’s why we need Jesus who is able to help us see scripture beyond our own biased views.
Notice how Jesus uses the Bible itself to show that there is more than one way to look at a commandment or a bible verse. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said began each of his teachings with the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I tell you.”
Our tendency is to want the Bible to be an answer book that clearly spells out exactly what we should do and believe on any given topic, but that’s not how the Bible works.
What the Bible does is to invite us to enter into the scripture, study it, think about what it meant in the time that it was first told, reflect on our present day context and how it might speak to us, and be aware of our own biases on how we think it should be interpreted. And then to pray about it and wrestle with what is God wanting to say to us today through that scripture.
If you we can do all of those things with a spirit of humility, integrity, intentionality, self-awareness of our biases, prayerfulness, and Christ likeness, and I know that’s a mouthful to say, then we will be well on our way in seeing how the scripture relates to us in new and fresh ways.
This is what Jesus is teaching us to do in reinterpreting the meaning of observing the Sabbath. But it’s just not how we interpret what it means to obey the Sabbath. It also relates to how the church has wrestled with all kinds of issues over the centuries like the issue of slavery, the issue of women in pastoral ministry and leadership roles, divorce, dancing, card playing, and today’s current debate regarding human sexuality.
Peter Enns is a Bible scholar and he’s written the book, The Bible Tells Me So. In his book, he makes this important point: “The Bible is not a Christian owner’s manual but a story—a diverse story of God and how his people have connected with him over the centuries, in changing circumstances and situations.”
Our Gospel reading this morning is a great example of this. It’s scriptures like this that remind me that every generation needs to roll up their sleeves and wrestle with what the Bible is saying to them. I can’t just rely on how my grandmother read and interpreted the scriptures throughout her lifetime. I can learn from how she applied it to her life based on her life experiences, but then I need to see it in light of my own.
As the famous Christian quote says, “God has no grandchildren,” just children who are called to live out our faith in our own day and age. That is both challenging and exciting at the same time and how awesome that we get to help each other do this together.
My new favorite prayer is one that I stumbled upon a couple of months ago. It’s actually a prayer found in our United Methodist hymnal. It’s meant to be prayed before we read a scripture passage. Here it is:
“From the cowardice that dares not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver me. Amen.”
I can’t think of a better prayer to say before reading a scripture passage.
Many of you might be aware that our Council of Bishops will be unveiling their recommendation this summer regarding “A Way Forward” with regard to our denomination’s stance on homosexuality. Our Council of Bishops can only recommend because in our denomination, only the General Conference which will meet in February and includes clergy and laity delegates from all over the world can take official action on these kinds of issues.
Currently, our Book of Discipline states that United Methodist clergy are not permitted to officiate at a gay marriage. It also states that those who are openly gay and non-celibate are not permitted to be ordained ministers.
I mention this because this issue of how to interpret the scriptures related to human sexuality is a perfect example of how the church is not of one mind on this. We’re not of one mind because people have different theological perspectives on how the scriptures should be interpreted. I have several clergy friends who are on different sides of this issue.
My point is to not debate this issue here, but to highlight it as the pressing issue facing our denomination today as it relates to our interpretation of scripture. I also mention it to invite you to continue to pray for our Council of Bishops as they prepare to make their recommendation public this summer.
It’s not just the issue of human sexuality that we are called to discern in our day and age. It’s a whole host of issues. The Pharisees thought that their biblical interpretation of what it means to obey the Sabbath was clearly the correct way, the only way to look at it.
And so, immediately after the Pharisees confront Jesus about his disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, a man in need of healing approaches Jesus in the synagogue, also on a Sabbath.
You know, the day where the Bible clearly says that you’re not allowed to do any work, even if it means healing someone. The Bible tells us so, right? Or does it?
Once again, Jesus turns their understanding of what is allowed and not allowed on the Sabbath upside down and heals this man.
I wish this story would end with the Pharisees having an open mind and praising God because of this new understanding of the Sabbath, but it’s actually the opposite. In their attempt to remain biblical, this is when Mark tells us that they began to conspire with the religious leaders to destroy him. Long held biblical beliefs even if they are misguided don’t die very easily.
Several chapters later in Mark’s Gospel, we will find Jesus in an Upper Room with his disciples.
You know, those same twelve men who apparently violated the Sabbath commandment when they picked grain from the fields, at least according to the interpretation of the Pharisees?
It would be during that Passover meal when Jesus would reinterpret the scriptures yet again. This time, he will have the audacity to go off script and say “this is my body broken for you.” He would also say, “this is my blood shed for you.” Sometimes, when it doesn’t sound very biblical, it really is.
This is the challenge to each of us whenever we read the Bible. We are called to interpret the scriptures with the mind of Christ. And that means with all of our heart, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength as one bible verse puts it.
How do we know that? Because the Bible itself tells us so.
The Bible Tells Me So
Small Group Discussion Questions
May 6, 2018
What is your favorite day of the week and why?
In Jewish thought, the Sabbath (Saturday) is the most important day of the week because it reminds us that this is the day that God rested after creating the world. It was also believed that if everyone observed the Sabbath by not doing any work that God’s kingdom would fill this earth. This is the main reason why the Pharisees didn’t like it when Jesus’s disciples picked grain on the Sabbath. They also viewed any healings on the Sabbath as work.
Do you think we should observe the Sabbath today by not doing any work? How do you define “work?”
As Jesus so often does, he reinterprets scripture. He points out that the Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath. Jesus would also begin many of his teachings with the words, “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you…” Jesus was helping us to see that the Bible should be interpreted in a more wholistic way and not in a very narrow and rigid way.
Can you share any examples of where you have seen the Bible interpreted in a very narrow and legalistic way?
Bible scholar, Peter Enns offers this quote to help us interpret various passages of scripture: “The Bible is not a Christian owner’s manual but a story—a diverse story of God and how his people have connected with him over the centuries, in changing circumstances and situations.”
The Pharisees who were seen as the most biblical people in their day were convinced that they had the only correct interpretation of scripture. One of the ways that can help us to be more open minded in how we approach scripture is by praying this prayer found in our hymnal. Pray this prayer together as a group:
From the cowardice that dares not face new truth, from the laziness that is contented with half-truth, from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver me. Amen.