On the Sabbath

Luke 13.10-17

 

Wait a minute now.Hold on there.Hold your horses.This isnít right.

Things were getting out of hand there in that synagogue on that Sabbath day.

See a woman, her back all bent over, stooped.It had been that way for eighteen years.

Woman, said Jesus, you are set free from your ailment.With that, he put his hand on her.Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God right there in the Sabbath quiet of that synagogue.

Well, then everyone else, everyone who saw what had happened, joined her in her rejoicing and praise.

Things were getting noisy, were getting out of hand.

And above the noise, hear a voice:Hold on there.Wait just a doggone minute.This isnít right.

A voice insisting, insisting over the shouts of praise to God, over the joy, the laughter, this joyful chaos.

Hold your horses now.Hold on there.There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.

A law had been broken, a commandment, even one of the Ten Commandments, the fourth one, which says: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.Six days shall you labor and do all your work.But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord God; you shall not do any work.

Hold on there.This day is holy to the Lord God.This is the Lordís Day.

But it was too late.The law had been broken.Things were out of hand.Shouts of praise to God.Joy.And laughter.

What was that like, that Sabbath day, in the synagogue on that Sabbath day; what was it like?

You know, they tell you itís always good if you can tell a story, if, in your sermon, you can tell a story from your life.They say it helps to bring your message home to people.

And I try.I try to think of stories to use in my sermons.But I have a hard time doing it.Itís not that I donít have any stories.Iíve got lots of them, lots of stories, mainly stories about how cold and snowy it was back in Minnesota.And it isnít that I donít enjoy telling stories.Give me half a chance and Iíll tell you story after story after story.

No.The problem is that I have a hard time thinking of a story that really does fit with the Bible passage Iím preaching on, one that really does fit and really does bring the message home for all of you.

But today, weíre in luck.Iíve got a story.Iím taking a bit of a chance with it, but Iíve got one.

Iíve got a story that I think might help you understand what it was like that Sabbath day in that synagogue when Jesus healed that woman with a bent back, what it was like.

This story takes place at University Christian Church in Enid, Oklahoma.From 1985 to 1987, I was the Associate Pastor of that church.Upon the resignation of the churchís Senior Pastorómy bossóthe church made me the Interim Pastor.I was the churchís Interim Pastor for about a year, until the fall of 1988.This story takes place during that year.

There was a man at that church named Julian.He was a strong man, athletic in his youth.Even though the years had not been kind to his bodyóhis back was bent with arthritisóstill was he strong.Strong was his integrity.Strong was his wisdom.And strong was his kindness.I think he was a saint.

He came by the church one day, Julian did, one day in the Spring of 1988.He came by to tell me that a young man named Paul was in the hospitalóvery illóand that I should go see him.

I did not know Paul.Julian then explained that this Paul fellow had grown up in the church and was still a member.He was the adopted son of Norman and Alice Ann.I knew that Norman, an official at Phillips University across the street from the church, had died and that Alice Ann was living in the Oklahoma Christian Home near Oklahoma City.I also knew that Norman and Alice Ann were beloved by everyone at that church, which, believe me, was no small thing.

After Julian left, I jumped into the car, went to the hospital, and found this young man named Paul.He was, indeed, very ill.

Very ill.I saw Julian a few days later.I said, Julian, did you know that Paul has AIDS?

Julianís head cocked upward slightly and his discerning eyes met mine from behind the octagonal lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses.That was all.He said not a word.

Was this Paul fellow, was he . . . ?Was he a . . . ?Yes.Yes, he was.Now, Julian had said not a word and it is my policy that, if you are a member of my church, a part of my church, I am your pastor no matter what.

So I was Paulís pastor, though I had no idea whatsoever what in the world I could possibly do for him.His life was pretty much one big mess.He was in the hospital and out of the hospital.I visited him.I called him up once in awhile.He had his good days and he had his bad days.

On one of his good days, he came by to see me at the church.He told me that, come Sunday morning, he was planning to come forward at the end of worship to reaffirm his faith in Jesus Christ and before the congregation.

Now, University Place Christian Church, even though among its members were some of the finest people I have ever known, it was a contentious place.On the one handóon the left, I guess youíd have to sayóI had all these university and seminary professors from across the street.On the other hand, on the right hand, I had town people and some ranchers and farmers.Well, spats, squabbles, and flare-ups were all too common at that church.To this day, Iím still kind of jumpy.

And I remember thinking to myself as Paul was talking with me about his plans, Oh, Neal, you are so young and your career held such promise.For I could not.I just could not say no to Paul.How could I?

And sure enough, down the aisle he came as we were singing the last verse of the closing hymn.

I asked the people of University Place to remain standing as I extended the right hand of Christian fellowship to Paul and asked him if he believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.And do you accept him as your Lord and savior?He said he did.I then asked the congregation the same question.They said they did, too.

I said a benediction.Paul walked with me up the aisle to be greeted at the back of the church.I was sweating bullets the whole way, thinking, If the roof of University Place is ever going to blow off and finally, well, today is the day.

But . . .I couldnít believe it.I stood there in my robe with my arms crossed and my mouth hanging open in disbelief.

There were handshakes; some of them were those double-handed kind of handshakes.There were warm smiles.And, even from some of the people I least expected, there were embraces.She hugged him?Will wonders never cease?

They knew.Sure they did.They all knew.And I donít know.I donít know what happened.To this day, I still do not know what happened that Sunday morning.

And there were shouts of joy, loud praises sung to God that Sabbath morning and in that synagogue.

Helplessly, one shouts over the racket, Wait just a minute now.Hold your horses.

For a law had been broken, one of the Ten Commandments, no less.

It was broken, this commandment was, by Jesus Christ.By Jesus Christ in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.It is he who broke the commandment, he in whom the goodness of God breaks forth.It busts out.

And now there is nothing.I tell you that now there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Hereís the end of my story.Hereís how it ends.

On my last Sunday at University Place, as the reception for meóa very warm and very happy affairówound down, I saw Paul coming down the stairs of the fellowship hall.Just about everyone had left, only a few people in the kitchen cleaning up.

The sores on his body were so bad he couldnít keep his arms straight at his side.Tears were streaming down his face, tear stained.If ever anyoneís face was tear stained, it was Paulís on that Lordís Day.

You donít know what youíve done for me.You donít know what youíve done for me, he said over and over, as he came toward me.He hugged me, sobbing.You donít know.Then he left.

And I donít.I donít know.I donít know what I did for him.Whatever it was that was done for him, I am pretty sure I was not the one who did it.It could not have been me.

 

Neal Kentch, Cottage Way Christian Church, Sacramento, August 22, 2010