March 30, 2014 + Lent 4(A)
Working the Works, Reverend Kinsey
Is there anyone who hasn’t been shopping on a Sunday? Anybody not stopped in to pick up that one ingredient for a Sunday meal that you thought you had, but didn’t? Or found a deal you just had to get, that was going to expire on Monday? Or, maybe even, like most Chicagoan’s, regularly do your major weekly shopping on Sundays? Sunday is the busiest shopping day of the week, here in Chicago!
In my senior year of college, when I first arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, I was surprised when the stores all closed down early on Saturday afternoon, remained closed all Sunday, and didn’t open again till Monday morning! I got used to it, of course, you had to, but that first weekend, I might have gone hungry, if the Ladenschlussgesetz, the “Shop Closing Law,” had also applied to restaurants. Thank goodness it didn’t, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to find that reasonably priced Curry Wurst – umm, one of my favorites, right up there with Wiener schnitzel and red cabbage!
Not many are old enough to remember the Blue laws here in the States, which for the most part, ended in 1961, and were much like the Ladenschlussgesetz, in Germany. Today the only remnant of it here in Cook County is the ‘No Sale’ of alcohol before 11a.m. Sunday mornings. In Israel, they close up shops Friday at sunset until Saturday at sunset, for Shabbat. In some countries with Muslim majorities, like Saudi Arabia, Friday is the day of no shopping. Though, more and more, wherever you go, the loopholes get larger, and the laws less restrictive, all the time. I’d say, the power of money, more than religion, is the real driving force here.
Jesus gets in trouble in 1st century Palestine, on the Sabbath day, for healing a man born blind. He was blind all his life, then he sees! You’d think it’d be a good thing. But it depends on your own particular lens, and how we see as institutions and societies.
A couple things were going on in this healing story. First, the Jews were in disagreement over how restrictive they should interpret the Laws of Torah. Some said, “’This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided,” as John’s gospel reports.
In Galilee, where Jesus is from, and farthest from the Temple of all the Israelites, they tended not to worry about the letter of the law. Passover and other festivals, provide a good opportunity to follow tradition, and, if you can afford it, take off from work, and pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, in Judea, a few days journey to the south.
Down in Jerusalem, the Sadducees, who are the most privileged, and in the back pocket of Herod and the ruling Roman leaders, tend to push, following the rules. And the priests and Levites, who are the true believers, take the most strict and literal interpretation. These are the ones who the neighbors of the man born blind enlist in their cause of going after Jesus.
So, the second thing going on is the conflict between Jews, and Jewish-Christians, that is, the faith community John is writing to in his gospel, some 60 years now, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. For 60 years they have been co-existing together, debating like good Jews do, and always have done, until it becomes, for that, and lots of other reasons too, intolerable. The stubborn Jewish-Christians, won’t give up what’s perceived as, this blasphemy, that Jesus is equal to God, and so, they are at the point of being thrown out of the Synagogue, in John’s community, and elsewhere.
The blind Jewish beggar that Jesus heals, is the example of all this, along with his family, who are especially terrified of being expelled and losing their status in the community. “‘We know that this is our son’,” say the parents, ‘and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. (Or maybe they just don’t want to open their eyes to see it!) Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ His parents said this because they were afraid,” and knew “that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”
So, the disagreement over the healing stems from how you interpret the Creation Stories. His opponents say, if Jesus heals on the Sabbath, he cannot be from God, because everyone knows, God created the world in six days, and on the seventh, the Sabbath day, God rested. And, from this creation story, comes the third commandment, “honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” And so Jesus is neither imitating God, nor obeying the law, therefore he must be a sinner.
Once before already, in John’s gospel, in chapter 5, by the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, Jesus healed another man on the Sabbath, one who was unable to stand or walk. “Get up, take your mat and go,” Jesus tells him, and just like healing the man born blind, the Jerusalem authorities reproach him for this. But the explanation Jesus gives is the real stunner: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, he does it intentionally, it would seem, to show that creation is still ongoing, an important – essential even – message of Jesus.
Take a moment, then, and decide. Which position fits you? Which creed do you subscribe to? The one that says, God made the universe and all that’s in it, and it was very good – therefore, we can sit back and marvel at it, and how it turned out, knowing that there is nothing more to do but rest on this wonderful gift and privilege we have, and others don’t, and assured that everyone who is out shopping, driving, walking in the park on the Sabbath, is excluded from God’s promises?
Or, the one that says, God spun the universe into being with us in mind as actors in it, and charged us with working in concert with God to bring it to fulfillment. God is working through us, inspiring us, and we are looking for where God is leading, including healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, and raising up the poor. God is still working, as are we, the people of God. And indeed, the Sabbath day is the day which best illuminates God’s work, just as the healing by Jesus of the man born blind, illuminated his world, and God’s glory. And so, on the Sabbath, we can’t help but praise and worship this God!
Take a moment and decide.
While you think about it, let me tell you another short story. One from Chicago history, which I think you know, and compliments our theme today in a very practical way. The Haymarket Affair, or Haymarket Riot, as it’s sometimes referred to, of 1886 here in Chicago, was a turning point in the movement, the worldwide movement, to make for an 8 hour work day/40 hour work week. It began long before that, and would need to continue on many more decades after. But like the Blue Laws that were let go over 50 years ago, and not without some tension and controversy, and in recognition that God is active in the world more than just on Sundays – the movement for an 8 hour work day, recognized how justice demands that all workers, including those doing the manual labor, should have the same rights and benefits that the owners and moneyed classes have. The seven day week that God made, should not be misused, or abused, by the few, over the many.
Where is God in our world today? Can we box God up and keep God within the walls of the church building, and just on Sundays? Or is God bigger than that? Is God still working today? And where are we called to work – to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with God?
At the very beginning of our gospel story, “As [they] walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me…’”
God, open our eyes, that we might see the work that is before us, and not be blind to injustice, which you have called us to reverse. Illuminate the path that leads to your realm and kingdom dawning among us every day. And empower us, through your ongoing creation, that, because of you, our best thoughts and words, may become action and deeds, for a world, begging for a chance to live fully, become healthy, and reveal your glory and justice.