Sabbath Generosity

The Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist (1525)

Pentecost +12
Rev. Doug Floyd
Sirach 10:7–18, Psalm 112, Hebrews 13:1–8, Luke 14:1-24

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Aidan, the Apostle to England. A few weeks back, I mentioned how King Oswald asked the monks of Iona to send help as he sought to bring the Gospel to the region of Northumbria. Aidan heeded the call and came down to this pagan region with a heart to share the Gospel of Christ. He built a monastery at Lindisfarne and established a community rooted in prayer, teaching, farming, and service.

Saint Bede highly praises Aidan who did so much to bring the Gospel to his Anglo-Saxon brothers. Bede writes, “He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.”

Today we meditate upon the generous hospitality of God as revealed in our readings and in our collect, “O Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” May St. Aidan’s life of continuous outpouring inspire us to open our hearts and lives to a world in need all around us.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is invited to dine at the ruler of the Pharisee’s house on Sabbath. The text tells that “they were watching him carefully.” Luke Timothy Johnson has said that whenever you see Jesus, Pharisees, and Sabbath together to expect conflict. This regular Sabbath conflict might make it easy to discount the place of Sabbath in these stories, but I believe Sabbath is striking at the heart of how God’s instruction takes shape in the life of God’s people.

If we think of the Ten Words or Ten Commands, there are three specific commands about approaching and worshipping God. There are six commands about living with people. Then one command stands out separately. The Sabbath touches upon themes related to God and to people as well as all of creation. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that Sabbath speaks of ordering time and space before God.

On every seventh day, the people of Israel pause, celebrate, and worship God in His generosity.  In times of abundance, the Sabbath reminds Israel to thank God for the blessings and to share them with those in need. In times of want, the Sabbath reminds the people to trust that God is faithful and He will make a way.

Sabbath commands begin appearing during the pilgrimage from Egypt toward the Promised Land. They reappear throughout Israel’s history even through the exile and the return. The two clearest expressions of Sabbath commands appear in the Ten Words: first in Exodus and then in Deuteronomy.

Listen to Exodus 20:8-11:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Every seven days Israel is to pause, to rest, and to remember and enjoy God’s good creation. The Exodus version of the command links Sabbath to the creation story where God blesses the seventh day and makes it holy.

At the end of the creation story in Genesis 1:31-2:2, we read,
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

This short passage summarizes a pattern in creation.

God creates.
God assesses. “It is good.” And, “It is very good.” Later God will say that “It is not good that man should be alone.”
God blesses. He sets apart the seventh day as a day to rest and celebrate His abundant world that is very good.
Later God gives this day to Israel. It is a day to celebrate God’s complete work, God’s very good creation, God’s abundant generosity.
Even at the beginning of their pilgrimage, the people celebrate God’s completed work. On the seventh day, they pause, they remember God’s goodness and faithfulness, they rest and enjoy, they bless God, and they share this gift with the servants, the animals, the land, and even the sojourner in the midst.

This little pattern of pausing, remembering and assessing, resting and enjoying blessing, and sharing is rooted in the very fiber of how God made us. For instance, Kelly cooks a batch of cookies. She pauses to taste the cookies and judges them. They are good. She enjoys them. And then she shares them. She gives me a cookie and tells me to taste it. She extends the gift of the cookies to me and to others. This pattern is repeated is every aspect of our lives. It is the repeated pattern of God’s generosity in creation.

This is just one aspect of Sabbath, but it reminds us that Sabbath is a celebration of God’s abundant gifts that shower us every moment of every day.

In the Deuteronomy command, there is a slight difference in what the people are to remember.

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)

In both versions, the of Sabbath command, they are to extend rest to family, servants, animals, the land and even the sojourner. The sojourner is an alien. A person or family from another culture: they are a refugee. Most often sojourners were people who left their homeland due to famine. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all sojourners at some point. Jacob’s family finds refuge in Egypt due to famine. But Egypt violates this hospitality by enslaving the Hebrews. The Lord rescues them and leads them to the Promised Land.

When the children of Israel are finally about to enter the Promised Land, Moses rehearses the commands. He calls them to remember that they were slaves and that God rescued them. This is in the very same place where he tells them to extend Sabbath hospitality to the sojourner. Israel must never become Egypt, but always demonstrate the generosity of God to those in need.

Now we come to today’s Gospel reading. The ruler of the Pharisees is showing Sabbath hospitality by hosting a banquet on this day of rest, of celebration. Jesus is invited but it appears that the Pharisees are watching for him to violate the law. In today’s reading, Jesus performs a miracle, tells a parable, and offers instruction, but every aspect of His engagement is parabolic in that He is revealing several deeper truths.

First he heals a man with dropsy. This is a swelling disease that could have to do with heart or kidney failure. I know firsthand how kidney disease can cause your ankles, stomach and face to swell. I have mostly experienced this in my feet. If someone’s face swells, his face becomes moon-shaped and could even become discolored. It is very obvious. The Pharisees would treat dropsy like leprosy: it is probably a sign of sin and the victim is unclean. Here is someone outside the Sabbath feast because of his ailment. Jesus extends the hospitality of God and heals and forgives this man. On one level, Jesus is welcoming the man into the abundance of God’s grace. On another level, this parabolic in that Jesus will reveal the hospitality of God by fully entering into the sin and uncleanness of all humanity on the cross.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Though they fail to see, this is a sign to the Pharisees that Jesus has come to cleanse them as well as the man with dropsy. Next Jesus tells a parable about going to a wedding feast. Instead of seeking for the seat of honor, it is better to take the lowest place and allow the host to invite you up higher. This is a call to the virtue of humility. Though the Roman culture did not consider humility a virtue, they ancient Israelites did emphasize humility in their writings. It is a reminder that our life, our place in this world is all gift. We are all slaves who have been freed, who have been invited to step up higher.

At the same time, this parable images the very life and action of Jesus Christ as revealed in Philippians 2. The Son of God humbles himself and becomes a man, a servant. Then humbling himself even further, he enters into the humiliation of all creation and dies accursed on the cross. In this humiliation, He fulfills the Exodus story by freeing those held captive by another Pharaoh, the Evil One. As Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and ascends to the right hand of the Father, he leads those captives upward into His glory, His joy, His fullness.

Finally, Jesus has two last words of instruction. Both of these involve inviting people to the feast, the banquet who are outsiders, who are weak, who are marginalized, who are poor and crippled and blind and lame. On one level this speaks of extending the Sabbath generosity to those in Israel who are overlooked because of their poverty, their illnesses, their class. At the same time, Jesus reveals the generosity of God extends to His people Israel and beyond to the sojourners, the aliens, the Gentiles who lives in a world of spiritual famine. They are being welcomed to the feast of God.

At the Sabbath feast, Jesus uses parabolic actions and stories to reveal that He, the Lord of the Sabbath has come and is fulfilling this expansive Sabbath generosity in His very life. Sadly, many of the sons of Israel will not recognize this great day of Sabbath celebration and turn away. Distracted by their own petty concerns, they are missing the day of visitation.

How do we hear this Gospel passage? First, we recognize that we are the sojourners, the refugees, the unclean, the outsiders who have been welcomed into God’s great Exodus by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We trust in Christ who has rescued us from slavery and leads into the abundance of God’s generous love.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on the day after Sabbath led the church to celebrate the Lord’s Day, the eighth day so to speak. The eighth day is the first day after Sabbath, after the last day of old creation. For in Christ, we have stepped into a new creation and we ourselves have become a new creation.

In Christ, we still practice the Sabbath rhythm of pausing, remembering, resting and enjoying, blessing or giving thanks, and sharing. We take moments like the rising in the morning or at mealtime or at bedtime to pause and simply behold that gift before us. We remember God’s goodness to us. We enjoy it. We give thanks. And we remember that this gift of food, this gift of life, this gift of rest is for sharing. Lord help us to share your generous love and redeeming life with the world around us.

This same pattern of pausing, remembering, resting and enjoying, blessing or giving thanks, and sharing can take shape all through the day, in weekly times for extended celebration, in monthly or quarterly retreats and so on. It always carries with it the sense of enjoying God’s generous gifts, thanking God for His goodness and extending that gift to the world around us. We are called to become patterns of His generous love.

O Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow after us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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