This is my sermon text from January 29. The text was Luke 6:1-16.
Grace, Peace and Mercy to you from God, our Creator and Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Our Savior. Amen.
Have you ever watched a sporting event and thought that the rules were not being applied equally? Sometimes, one team is called for breaking a rule, but when the other team does something similar, they are allowed to do it. Or what was a penalty or violation early in the game is no longer being called late in the game. You’ve noticed it too?
When I was coaching high school football, I remember wanting to have a conversation with one of my lineman who had been called for holding twice during the same drive. I wanted to talk to him, before the other coaches could scream at him. He told me he was doing what I had taught him, and that he wasn’t holding. I said, “You must be, or the man in the stripes wouldn’t have thrown his flag.” Before the timeout, I asked the linesman on our sideline to have the official who threw the flags come over. I asked the ref what my lineman had done. The difference was over hand placement. If you keep your hands on the opponent’s chest, you can grab as much jersey as you want, and will never be called for holding. If you get under the arm, or onto the arm, you are going to draw a flag. When I told that to my lineman, he realized his mistake. He went out and grabbed the opponent’s jersey the rest of the game. But did so in a way that was not going to be called.
There is the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. There is what the law or rule says, and there is what it means.
In the Commandments, God commanded: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20:8-10) On the Sabbath, we are not to work. The Commandment goes on to list all who are not to work: “you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” (Exodus 20:10b) The Sabbath is a day to rest, even the animals are to be given a day off.
But who gets to decide what “work” is?
In the current Orthodox Jewish tradition, things considered “work” include:
That is what Jesus is dealing with in the two encounters in today’s lesson; people who want to enforce the letter of the Law. First, the disciples violate the Sabbath restriction against gathering food, and are reprimanded by Pharisees. Second, on another Sabbath, Jesus confronts Scribes and Pharisees by healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath.
It was the Pharisees responsibility to interpret the Law, and to decide what was allowed and what was not. By the letter of the law, by their interpretation, what the disciples did and what Jesus was considered to be work.
But Jesus asks them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” This gets at the spirit of the law, rather than strict adherence to the letter of the law.
The Sabbath was meant to provide a day of rest for workers, to keep them from being overworked by the employers or supervisors. It was meant to give them a time to enjoy the fruits of their labors. It was meant to let them enjoy their life.
Surely, saving a life, or restoring a life, would not be considered to violate this Commandment?
It depends upon who is interpreting the rules, and who is calling the penalties.
Jesus tells one group of Pharisees that “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath,” and heals in front of another group. He believes these actions are in keeping with God’s blessings. They believe it is a violation of God’s laws.
This happens today in all sorts of forms. One group of people are ready to condemn another group because of their actions. The first group wants to hold the other to the letter of the law. But in doing so, they reject the spirit of the law. Sometimes, we are the group acting as the Pharisees.
We reject people because we think they have violated the laws and commands God has given us. They have stolen. They have lied. They have cheated. They have broken promises. Some have even dared to love other people. And the way that we read Scripture, they are guilty as sinners. And we bask in our superiority.
And we forget that Jesus said, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” And we forget that the Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive others.” We forget that Jesus dined with tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes, and think we cannot share the Lord’s Table with someone who we think is sinful. We need to get over ourselves if we think we are better than someone.
We are all sinful, broken people. We all should be condemned by God for our thoughts, words and deeds. But we are forgiven for all of what we’ve done because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lord of the Sabbath, died on a cross for us, for you, for me, and for those whose sins you want to hang onto.
The Law and the Commandments are given to us as a model to live by, do things this way. They were not given to be a stick with which we should be beaten when we fail. The letter of the law doesn’t trump the spirit of the law.
The spirit of the law can be found in Jesus’ words. When asked what the Greatest Commandment was, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” When preparing his disciples for his arrest, he also gave them a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
When Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he is quoting Leviticus 19.18. Just 16 verses later is a similar command. “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”
You must love the immigrant as yourself, says the LORD our God.
There will always be people calling for flags to be thrown on others. There will always people wanting to hold others to the letter of the law, while holding themselves out to God’s grace.
I pray that we will take our animosity, our feeling of superiority, and our judgment and throw them away, to give them up. I pray that we should share God’s love in the form of forgiveness, mercy and grace. I pray that we remember that our words and actions can hurt. I pray that we ask God to take our lips and let them be filled with messages of love. AMEN.
 John 8:7
 Luke 10:27
 John 15:12
 Leviticus 19:33-34 CEB
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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