s188o01 Somerton Park 26/8/01 Sunday 21

"If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday." Isaiah 58:9b-10

I find it interesting that the order of this passage puts first our obligation towards our neighbours - and only then our "religious" obligation towards God, in the words about keeping the sabbath.

I suppose it is time that I repeated some of the things about sabbath observance that are perhaps less generally recognised.

Weekly sabbath observance is a city ethic, where it was in fact possible for people to attend the temple or synagogue, relatively easily on a weekly basis. There is a corresponding country ethic, where people some distance from Jerusalem, were enjoined to come to the Temple three times a year. This ethic finds expression in our "Book of Common Prayer" - where parishioners are bidden to receive the Holy Communion at least three times a year. The words are: "And note, that every parishioner shall communicate at the least three times in the year, of which Easter to be one. And yearly at Easter every parishioner shall reckon with the Parson, Vicar, or Curate ... and pay to them or him all Ecclesiastical Duties, accustomably due, then and at that time to be paid." (BCP p 262) It does make one wonder which injunction is the more important :-)

We are told that the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem to worship annually. Luke 2.41 tells us: "Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover." There was, of course a synagogue in Nazareth, where he no doubt attended each sabbath, but the original sabbath regulations commanded individuals to not do certain things, not to attend the synagogue. And we too try to "keep holy the sabbath day" even though for us of course - it is a day later than the original. The sabbath was the 7th day of creation, when God rested, beginning Friday at 6 pm and ending on Saturday at 6 pm - "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." (Genesis 1:5). Our Christian "sabbath" is the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection.

When I was in the country, the crop was harvested whatever day it was. The only general exception was Good Friday.

But I think that it is important to point out the words "the pointing of the finger" for often, within the Church, fingers are pointed at others. In any community, it seems human nature that people are talked about. There often seems to be a clear delineation between who is acceptable and who is "on the outer". My mind immediately goes back to that lovely film "Chocolat".

And even the sabbath regulations can become a source of finger pointing - who does and who doesn't observe the sabbath in the "appropriate" manner ...

And I suspect that members of the Church need to hear the word of the Lord that such pointing of the finger towards those "outside" may well be the reason that the Church seems to have lost it's way, we seem frail and are travelling through parched places without provisions, without water. It needs to be said that if there was less "pointing the finger" by those supposedly "inside" the church towards those supposedly "outside" the church, there would be a good deal more people "inside" than "outside" - a good deal more people who would joyfully keep the sabbath, because they have a real reason for keeping it!

And why do we hear the word about keeping the sabbath? Because we are good at doing that! Why do we fail to hear the words about pointing the finger? Because it is far more difficult to avoid doing that! It is especially easy when we think we are pointing the finger in the name of God.

I actually think that any day is a good day to "praise the Lord" and those who are constrained to work on Sundays can worship God in their own ways on other days, and especially in how they relate towards other people.

I find it interesting that many people these days lament the loss of community - perhaps this is a "western" phenomenon. I suspect that we should not be surprised when the world is often a very hostile place, and the Church along with it. Recently my attention was drawn to words of the retired Primus of Scotland, Bishop Holloway, who recently said on Radio National: "I went (retired) when I was 67, and it was I think partly a kind of deep unconscious process, but it got a very specific kick at the Lambeth Conference of 1998 which turned into a gay and lesbian witch-hunt. It was a bit like being present at a lynching. One Bishop said it was like being at a Nuremberg rally. Looking back I can see it had a very deep effect on me, something radical turned over inside me. And I found it very difficult being in large groups of Bishops after that. I was the Primate of the Scottish Church, the equivalent of the Archbishop; when I went to my next Primates' meeting I could hardly bear it, as they were all wrestling with how to hold the institution together and how they couldn't really engage with the gay and lesbian issue because it upset so many people. I could scarcely contain my wrath at the thing, and I was becoming a kind of dysfunctional element within it, and I thought it was far better just to get out of the institutional side and just be and do and write, and not any longer have that kind of responsibility." (The full interview can be found at: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/enc/stories/s333657.htm)

It is interesting to me that when Jesus rebukes the leader of the synagogue, he talks about the animals which are cared for by their owners - even on the sabbath. Animals are owned for the benefit they derive their owners. The woman bent over for 18 years wasn't theirs. They derived no personal benefit, and therefore the strictures of the law applied to her - but not to themselves, where some personal loss might be sustained by them.

God cares for his, or her, own - and this means that there a lot more who belong to God than perhaps some religious people would care to admit.

And I also find it interesting that the religious leader did not criticise Jesus about his healing on the sabbath, as we are told he was motivated to do. He rebuked the sick people who were coming to Jesus. They not only had to remain sick, they also had to put up with being criticised for coming at an "inappropriate" time!

Again we have another example of how religious people often express their religion telling other people how to live their lives, what to do and what not to do, what to believe and what not to believe. Religious people are good at putting yokes on other people, the yoke of expectation, the yoke of fear, the yoke of intimidation.

It shows us that religious authorities, now as much as then, are actually quite content that other people remain bent over with the loads they carry - even when they themselves put it on others.

In this sense the woman who was healed was freed of the effects of whatever yoke had been burdening her over the years. She was, for the first time able to stand upright, to be fully human for the first time in ages, to be free of the yoke. Perhaps the yoke was self imposed, for often yokes are. Perhaps the yoke was imposed on her by others - "for her own good".

No, the good news is that all these yokes that are so often put on people in the name of God are already gotten rid of. They no longer exist, and Jesus helps us to stand upright, to be fully human, to be fully ourselves.

And this is surely what the Cross is all about. It is not to return us and all people into an appropriate attitude of subservience - "meekly kneeling on our knees" - as the old invitation to confession invited us to do. No, the Cross happened to enable us and all people to stand fully upright as God intended.

And it really doesn't take much imagination to realise the debilitating effects being crippled like this would have on the woman. Jesus is good news for her and Jesus is good news for us.

Again the words of Bishop Spong come to mind: our mission as the church is: "to give life, to love wastefully and to enable everyone to be everything they can be." Beautiful words indeed.

And if the Cross is about enabling us to stand upright and fully human, then the sacraments are about enabling us to stand upright, to be fully human and be fully ourselves. So Baptism and Holy Communion are not about us doing the things that christians do, our duty towards God. They are about helping us to stand, fully human, fully ourselves, knowing we are God's, knowing we are loved.

And of the essence of this knowledge is that it encompasses all people. God acted on the Cross that all people may also stand upright, fully human, fully themselves, knowing they are indeed God's, knowing that they are loved.

And to return to a theme of a couple of weeks ago, it doesn't matter what we are wearing, the badge of a Jew, the badge of a Samaritan, the badge of a Christian, the badge of a Moslem, Buddhist, or Hindu. God loves us without the badges, God loves us naked. We do not need to hide ourselves from God.

For an essential element of being bent over is I suspect one of shame. Perhaps here is the reason why so often we talk about the Cross being for the forgiveness of sins. I confess I always shy away from a consideration of sin. It can become terribly narcissistic - navel gazing - as if God is actually interested in hearing a recitation of the things we've done wrong, accurately and without any omissions! No, God is interested in us and all people being able to stand upright, without shame, fully human, fully ourselves, knowing we are God's, knowing we are loved - and no one, least of all those who act in the name of God, have the right to take this away from anyone.


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