Freedom

There has been a debate since at least the time of the Judges in Israel, more than three thousand years ago, as to where we should draw the line between Communal Faith and Personal Faith: Should our personal faith and practices take precedence? Or, should they be subservient to those of the community of which we are a part?

article-2544061-140565F4000005DC-472_634x667This morning’s reading from Luke is part of a sequence of parables that all have to do with how to live a life that reflects one’s devotion to the Torah; or, in other words, how to live faithfully.

At beginning of Luke 13 we read of Pilate murdering Jews at sacrifice and the deaths of others at the collapse of the Tower of Siloam; and the people ask “What sin did those who died need to repent of?” Jesus responds by teaching that we are not called to worry about others’ sins, just our own: and that repentance is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

The remainder of this chapter contains the Parable of Mustard Seed, among other parables, in which we learn that the seeds of the Kingdom of God are all around us: hidden, but ready to spring forth in a wonderful way without warning, and that we cannot stop it.

All of these stories and parables are used here to show us how to live a faithful life – one that is conforms to the faith traditions, laws and customs of the community, or the Torah, which is far more than merely the Law. But, this morning’s story about the crippled woman, in the middle of this chapter, is unique in the Gospels, and presents a different lesson. …So, why is it here, in between these other two sequences of stories?

But first, let’s talk about Sabbath.

The Sabbath is a day of “Rest” although it’s hard to get agreement on what a “Sabbath Rest” actually is. All would agree that it is more than merely a day to not work. It is a break in the rhythm of our week, intended to get our minds and spirits off of the drudgery and challenges of life that we face each and every day. Sabbath is meant to give us room to reorient ourselves, to focus on what is really important rather than on what keeps us busy.

Many through the centuries have tried to enforce “Sabbath” practices through the law and stern teaching. The Puritans did so: forbidding all “nonreligious” activity on the Lord’s Day. Meals had to be prepared the day before; only the Bible and other religious texts could be read; and games and sports were banned.

The problem with this approach is that it enforces the appearance of Sabbath without necessarily making room for what is at its heart; and so for many, the Sabbath is a day of dread. Those who impose such rules, often even on those who are not of the same faith, are resented and sometimes even feared. Legalism supplants Grace; oppression overwhelms joy.

And, this is not just some long-ago quirk of our ancestors. Some of us may have ovens with a “Sabbath” setting, included so that observant Jews can have a hot meal without having to do the work of cooking on the Sabbath – it cooks itself. And, how many of us have been given a guilt trip at one time or another for not attending church on Sunday? Or worse yet, for going to a sports game, or even one of those godless rock concerts, instead?

Continue reading “Freedom”

Sermon: What About THEM?!!

It isn’t about them. … It is about us. Jesus is teaching us that to change the world, to make the Kingdom of God here on earth a reality, does not require that we change others; but rather requires that we change ourselves. This is part of the great journey of Lent after all, a time when we remove distractions. We look inward, taking a realistic look at our flaws and our failures. We repent, and ask God to help us.

shame-finger-pointing-320x198Do you remember, when we were kids, when someone whom we sometimes barely knew approached us in class, on the playground, or maybe even at church, and said “<So and So> just said something terrible about you!” or maybe “Did you hear that <So and So> just said or did some unimaginably awful thing?!”

Admit it, we’ve all not only experienced this, but have done these same things ourselves. (Hopefully less often now than we did as kids!)  We’ve all heard and then unthinkingly repeated things that we’ve heard someone else said or did, something that confirms what we knew about them all along, something that we feel validates why we cannot support them, or why they cannot be our friend, that proves they really do believe or represent something that is completely against the obviously right and true things that we believe.

Continue reading “Sermon: What About THEM?!!”

A Message for All Ages: “Garlic Mustard”

The seeds of the Kingdom of God always surprise us – often originating as what others see as a weed or a nuisance. And yet – they grow and grow and grow, and are unstoppable. … This is how our faith is: small beginnings that produce wonderful results we didn’t know could happen!

Garlic Mustard Plants in Full Bloom
Garlic Mustard Plants in Full Bloom

This particular lesson looks at the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which is found (with only minor differences) in Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32, and Luke 13:18–19.

This lesson works best when presented at the time of the year (May or early June) when the “Garlic Mustard” plant – an invasive weed here in the U.S. – is in blossom.  It is often widespread in the understory of forested areas, and can also be found growing in disturbed soils, including along the edges of roads, paths, fences, etc.

Continue reading “A Message for All Ages: “Garlic Mustard””