I MOWED THE YARD last Sunday afternoon. I didn’t want to, but it rained me out on Saturday and Monday was a full day with session meeting that night. So, I mowed the yard. I feel guilty about that. I have the perception that I’m a heathen for working on Sunday. Breaking the rules to suit my needs. After all, in Exodus we are told not to work on Sunday but to rest because God rested on the seventh day.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20:8–11)
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OF COURSE, THE PROHIBITION to work on Sunday can be taken too far.
A couple of hundred years before Jesus, there was a religious rebellion in Israel. A group of men, sons, wives and livestock went to find refuge in the wilderness. Get away from fighting. The enemy discovered them. It was on the Sabbath and these refugees refused to fight. The enemy begged them to come out and surrender. They refused to surrender or fight because it was the Sabbath. So the enemy attacked them — on the Sabbath — and they all died: the men, their wives and children and livestock.
When news arrived of their deaths, a rallying cry went out:
“Let us fight against anyone who comes to attack us on the Sabbath day; let us not all die as our kindred died in their hiding places.”
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THE DEBATE over what work is permissible and what work is not permissible on the Sabbath — our Sunday — is an ongoing theological debate in Jesus’s day.
For the synagogue leader, a healing — at least one that was not life-or-death — could wait until another day.
We have our own religious rules. They might not be official. They might not be written down. But we, Christians, have them. Your set of rules might be different from mine. You must not bring noisy children into worship. No texting (even sermon highlights) during worship. Our doors are closed for people with drug problems. Only people who have their lives together are welcome. Worship is only worship if I feel good afterward. I’m sure you can add to that list.
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I’VE ALREADY MENTIONED the biblical tradition linking the Sabbath. As God rested on the seventh day so should we and all of our households and even animals rest.
There is another tradition regarding the Sabbath. It is in Deuteronomy 5. This links the Sabbath to the Exodus. Sabbath relates to freedom, to liberty, to release from bondage and deliverance from captivity.
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work…. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
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JESUS TAPS INTO this tradition. He talks of other instances of when releasing, untying, and setting free is allowed by law. The woman’s ailment is being “bound by Satan.” Jesus sets her free. Of course, it is OK to set someone free on the Sabbath. We were all captive and now are set free. Because of Christ’s resurrection, we are released from death itself.
We have been freed. We have been restored. Jesus invites us to look around and see who else might still be bound and waiting for release.
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BOLD LIONS IS A BOOK focusing on the work of Mark Hobbs, a police officer and detective for the city of Hoover police department. Within the book is the story of two contrasting brothers. Mark the cop and Larry the drug dealer. Over time Larry is arrested in California and is in prison. He has abandoned his parents, his brother, his wife. Beverly, the sister is not close to Larry, but she calls some friends in California and asks them to ask their pastors to visit Larry.
Both pastors visit Larry in prison. The first pastor started telling Larry what he should and should not do. Laying down religious law. Larry told him not to come back. We might be like this pastor. Passing judgment. Naming “you should have”s or “you must”s.
“The second pastor starts by asking Larry what he needs. Larry says, ‘I need some Marlboro cigarettes.’ The pastor says, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I’m afraid I would have gone into a lecture about how smoking is bad for his health and maybe while he is in prison is a good time to kick the habit. But not this pastor. This pastor returns with two packs of Marlboros. That simple act created a relationship between the two.
The pastor visited often. They talked about everything. Even the Bible. One day, Larry sat quiet while the pastor talked about this and that and what was going on at church. Larry began to cry. He said, “I just can’t do this anymore. I give up. I give up.”
The pastor waited a while, then asked, “Larry, if you’re giving up who are you giving up to?”
“God, I’m giving up to God.” (Bold Lions, pg 55–56)
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BOUND BY HIS PAST. Captive in his present. Larry is bent and wounded. But even in prison, Larry finds freedom through Christ because someone cared more for Larry than religious rules.
■ Sunday is about what God can do for us and what we can do for others.
■ Sunday is about remembering how God has freed us so that we might free others.
■ Sunday is about opening our eyes so we can see the bent, the bound, the captive and offer release, deliverance, freedom that comes from the One who freed the woman.