Scripture Reading: Luke 6:1-16
Yesterday I was listening to the CBC Radio programme, Under the Influence. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it’s a look at advertising, but not just today. Yesterday the host, Terry O’Reilly, was talking about airlines in the 1950s among other businesses over the last 60 years. The theme of yesterday’s show was “What a Difference a Difference Makes: Standing Out in the Marketplace.”
It was an interesting look at how businesses who have succeeded most, those who have gained the greatest following and made the most waves, are those businesses which stood out from the rest of the crowded marketplace. Theses businesses may not have been the most efficient, or even had the best products, but people were drawn to them by their unique advertising which helped them stand out from the competitors.
Let’s face it, the business world works hard and they want to succeed, which means they need to draw attention to themselves. Which means they need to be memorable, they need to stand out from the rest. We are bombarded with advertising all day long, wherever we turn, commercial after commercial. So companies need to be very creative in how they reach us.
If they can do that, along with a good product, then they have succeeded.
We, as a gathering of people, in this building, are called Carman United Church. At least that’s what the sign says on the outside of the building as you are walking in.
What is it that makes us Carman United Church? Other than the name, what separates us from other churches in this town? Or for that matter, what separates us from any other building in town? What makes a church instead of a gas station or grocery store or a school?
The answer may seem simple, but it could also be seen as very complex. We are different, I think we’re pretty sure of that. But with the increasing pressures from the world to look or behave a certain way, what is it that makes us different? What makes us stand out from other options on a Sunday morning?
I’m not trying to say we’ve marketing ourselves wrong. Nor am I trying to say we’ve got it all right either. I’m just wondering what are the markers which separate us as Christians from being just another gathering of people with a common interest.
I ask this because it’s pretty much what is at the heart of the debate when Jesus challenges the Pharisees in their understanding of sabbath.
It just so happens I’ve been trying to gain a greater understanding of sabbath lately. I’ve picked up this desire to learn more interestingly enough because in the new manse, the fridge and stove have settings for the sabbath. So I’ve been trying to figure out what that means, why does a fridge and a stove need to have settings for the sabbath?
It turns out that for Jews who take the sabbath seriously, they need to avoid any and all work on the sabbath day. That is from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. The sabbath setting on the oven is so it maintains a constant temperature for that period without any safety features shutting it off like automatic timers, and food can be kept in there all day for people to eat, without having to do the work of pushing any buttons to turn the oven on or off. It’s just on for that whole 24 hour period.
When I learned about this, it made sense. But the fridge, that really perplexed me. What this feature does to the fridge is to not turn on the lights when you open the door. Also, the compressor will not kick in when you open the door, which happens normally because of temperature changes. To turn on lights, or cause a motor to kick in is seen as work. So the lights in the fridge remain off and the compressor is put on a timer instead of responding to temperature changes in the fridge. Also, ice makers are disabled in sabbath mode because they are causing a motor to engage.
It’s quite fascinating when you think about how much effort goes into the design of appliances so that people can avoid the perception of work.
I also learned in my research that elevators in Jewish areas also have a sabbath mode. Since they are not permitted to push buttons to cause something to work, an elevator working in sabbath mode simply runs all day stopping at each and every floor.
For Orthodox Jews sabbath is clearly a pretty big deal.
So when we read the first 11 verses from Luke 6, we might wonder why Jesus, who is Jewish, is at odds with the Pharisees, those who are in charge of making sure Jewish law are kept, when the discussion turns to the sabbath.
Now this is a big moment in the ministry of Jesus, even though it may not actually look like much.
In our 21st century eyes, Jesus is putting down the Pharisees and their silly little rituals. We see Jesus as casting the Pharisees as old fashioned, too focused on rules, and missing the point. Which is partially true.
Before we dig in too deeply, let’s look at what happened.
Jesus is walking through the fields with his first couple of disciples. It doesn’t say what time of day it is or anything, but we know it’s the sabbath. As they are walking through the field, the pick some grain, rub off the outer shell in their hands and eat it. In short, they have prepared themselves something to eat and so they have done work on the sabbath. They have broken a law.
When the Pharisees challenge Jesus, he brings up the example of David on the run and needing to eat. So David comes to the priest looking for bread to eat but the priest only has the holy bread, the bread only priests may eat, and he gives it David and the young men travelling with him. This is clearly an example of when the rules are bent for the needs of someone else. No one is going to argue Jesus on this point.
Jesus may even be pushing the limit a little bit himself by comparing their travels among the fields as compared to David in the midst of war. But his point is made. Rules can be broken, and since Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath, then he can break those rules if he so desires.
The next story Jesus enters a synagogue on the sabbath, and he heals a man with a withered hand. Yup, he’s done more work on the sabbath and is going to be in trouble for it.
But before he heals the man, he sets it up with a question.
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9)
In the healing of the man’s hand, Jesus has really upset the Pharisees this time. It says they were filled with fury and started to debate what they could do with this rebel among them.
But they seem to have missed the point of his question.
Jesus has asked what the purpose of the sabbath is. What’s it for?
The sabbath is important for Jews. Especially at this point in their history.
It was just in the second century before Jesus was born that an invading nation banned Jewish practices, including the sabbath and circumcision. Why would someone stop people from practicing these things?
To make them look like everyone else.
If you look like everyone else, then you are missing part of your identity. You are losing sight of the fact you are different. And in the case of the Jews, they are losing sight that they are the chosen people of God if they are just like everyone else.
The sabbath law has become a resistance to the increasing pressures of the world to become more uniform. It’s a rebellion towards the increasing pressure of the ruling Romans who occupy the land where they live. It is a resistance to cultural pressure which asks them to change their identity to that which fits into the way Romans live.
When Jesus challenges their understanding of the sabbath, he’s not saying that the sabbath has lost its relevance, he’s saying it’s lost its focus.
The sabbath is a gift to the Jewish people.
One of the main reasons they celebrate the sabbath is because they realize they have been made in the image of God and remember that God Himself rested on the seventh day after creating the universe.
They also celebrate it because it’s a gift to the entire household. It’s not just for the father and his family to rest, it’s for the servants (who are foreigners), it’s even for the crop in the fields and the livestock.
The sabbath is more than just a day of rest, it is a day in which to refrain from work and trust in God to provide.
In short, this is an opportunity to celebrate and remember the life giving nature of our God. To celebrate the sabbath is to celebrate life.
Jesus is asking them if this is what they are remembering when they celebrate the sabbath.
Is it so important to follow the rules of the sabbath that you can’t even do good things?
If the sabbath is to promote and celebrate life, and life from God, then why not do good for someone who needs it? Even if it means doing a little bit of work in the process.
You might even wonder what better day is there to do good than on the sabbath?
The sabbath is a gift from God to the whole household, not just the Jewish family, but also their servants, who are foreigners. It’s a gift that allows them to celebrate the goodness of God as an entire household, no matter their nationality or belief system. The sabbath promotes life and community.
And it helps the Jewish people stand apart from the world around them.
It’s great when you all share your stories with me about what it was like when you were growing up and how families did nothing on Sundays because it was the sabbath day, the day of rest.
It wasn’t always easy was it? There were many, many things you weren’t allowed to do as children you would have dearly loved to do.
Things have changed today. The world is busy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Remember when television stations used to go off the air overnight? We’ve gone from one extreme to another, and it hasn’t taken us long to make that change.
Is it a bad thing that we’ve lost our day of rest? Yes, it probably is.
And we can sit and judge the world around us for their sin of working on the sabbath day. But are we any better? How many of you might be thinking of dropping into a restaurant after church on the way home? Or popping into the grocery store? Or is your gas gauge on E in the car?
All of these things would break sabbath laws because someone has to work. Someone has to serve the food. Someone has to stock the shelves or check us out of the store. Someone needs to pump the gas, and even doing it yourself is work which breaks the sabbath law.
But that’s not the point of this sermon. I’m not here to make you feel guilty because you might be doing some work today, or making someone else work.
I’m here to ask you the question which lies at the heart of what Jesus asks the Pharisees.
What makes you, as a Christian, distinct?
In this pressure packed, action fueled, 24×7 world we live in, what makes you, as a follower of Jesus Christ, stand out from all the non-christian actions of the world today?
I have a friend who gave up swearing a few years ago. He did it because he didn’t like how it makes him feel. He felt that when he swore it filled him with negative emotions and energy. So he decided to stop and see what sort of difference it might make in his life and in his faith.
The results surprised him. Not only did he feel differently, but others around him also began to act differently. And when they asked him why he stopped swearing, he said it was because he didn’t feel like a good Christian when he did.
Another friend of his heard about his changes and tried it for himself. He used to swear a lot this guy. At home, in the car, in the office. And he even said his wife had a bit of a sailor mouth herself. And within days he noticed a difference in his attitude and his home. His wife swore much less around the house. The attitudes of his employees changed when he stopped swearing in the office. He was amazed how this simple act changed so much in his life. Even is children acted differently.
All because one man felt he was drifting apart from God because of how he spoke.
That simple act impacted dozens of people as he stood out as different from the rest of the crowd.
Now I imagine it couldn’t have been easy, he does live in Cape Breton after all. There’s a lot of swearing around here I’ve noticed.
But he did it, and his life changed and so has the lives of others.
What makes us stand out as different, as people of God?
The sabbath was to help the Jews standout as a community, but also to help them rely on God as their provider.
What do we do to stand out and also to rely on God? What is our visible sign?
Do we even have one?
Well, one could simply look at our Sunday mornings. We’re here with an organ and a somewhat traditional liturgical service. We’re not exactly “high church” here at Carman, but we do have a traditional pattern we tend to follow. This is increasingly less the norm for churches.
If I were to plant a new church and say, “We need an organ and a traditional liturgy” people would look at me funny. New churches today all have bands and free-flowing services that could look vastly different from week to week.
That’s fine, that’s what works for them. And this is what works for us today. And I’m fine with it, because we are unique. This service on a Sunday morning is not about entertaining the masses with a rock concert, but instead I hope it’s an hour long invitation to grow intentionally with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.
In a world which says we need to be entertained every waking moment, I hope at Carman we see this is a relief from that pressure. I hope we see it as an opportunity to draw back from the pressures of life around us and sit still in the presence of our heavenly Father and feel his love envelope us.
On this Sunday morning we have chosen to be different. But does it help us stand out?
Is there something that makes us stand out from all the noise, all the competition in the world around us?
I’m not sure it does. And I’m still undecided as to whether that’s a good thing or not.
I’m not sure that today Carman really does stand out from the crowd. Maybe some of you may feel different, maybe others agree.
We aren’t supposed to be popular, so that’s not what I’m getting at here. What I’m wondering is, how do we as a people who call Carman home, how do we stand out from the crowd. I’m not wondering about the building. I think we can agree that while we have a building which is useful, it’s not the building that needs to stand out… it’s the Christians who call it home.
As I’ve said a few times, we are going to spend a lot of time this year focusing on prayer. We’ve got our Hearing God prayer workshops on the go, and we’ll continue to run them off and on over the year and beyond. We’re going to have some special prayer services. Starting in Lent we’re going to have times on Sunday mornings before the service begins which we will use as a time of prayer.
As part of our prayer times we will be asking God to show us how we are to live our lives as individuals and as a church.
This is how we’re going to stand out, because through prayer and listening to God is how we are going to change as followers of Jesus Christ.
It’s a crowded, busy, demanding world we live in. It seems like everyone and everything is competing for our valuable time. We only have 24 hours in a day, and we need to choose carefully and wisely how to spend every minute of it.
Marketers want us to spend as much of the day as possible giving them our hard earned cash, which is why they are so focused on advertising, finding new trends, and doing market research to find out how we spend our money.
God wants us to focus on His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
If we want to stand out as Christians so that others can also be drawn to this amazing, life-giving Father in heaven, then we need to stand out in such a way that people are drawn to Him just by being in our presence, by our words and our actions.
We may not be people who keep a strict sabbath, but we are people who can listen to what God may be saying to us as to how we live our lives devoted to Him.
What better way for Christians to stand out in the world than by being fully committed and devoted to the one we believe gives us life, and life to the fullest?
May we be so bold to let God speak to us and through us, and lead us into a world which needs Him more and more every day.
Let us pray,
Lord Jesus, We thank you for coming into this world so that we can see how God wants to make himself known. Not by some great marketing campaign, but by touching the lives of His children one life at a time.
Lord, may we be so open ourselves to hearing your word to us that we may be stopped in our tracks to reevaluate the decisions we make and how we live our lives, and may we be moved to make changes so we can live our lives for you.
If you would have us stand out as a people, Lord, we would be humbled and delighted to do it for you.
Lord Jesus, may we see you more and more in our lives as we are drawn closer to the Father you have revealed to us.
This we pray in your most holy name.
Amen and amen.