The 3 R’s of Religion

The 3 R’s of Religion:  Rescue, Restore, Rest – ELC  August 25, 2019/ bwk

Texts: Isaiah 58:6-14 & Luke 13:10-17

What does God expect of you? of us?

Keep the big ten—Ten Commandments?  

Answers that have been given:  Worship?  Read the Bible?  Tithe?  Pray?  Be kind?  

John Wesley’s advice was “avoid causing harm, do good and keep loving God.”

In verse 5 and the verses earlier in Isaiah 58 the children of God—believers in the Old Testament—complain that God does not pay attention.  Why do we fast and humble ourselves and you don’t notice or give us credit for being so good!

God’s response is to confront them with how they are living, and to tell them what He really looks for from us.  Read through verses 9b and 10 again.  

If you remove the yoke from among you, 

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 

10 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.

Unpack that a bit:  Free those who are bound, stop pointing the finger, judging and blaming others and speaking evil of them.  Give food to the hungry.  Take care of those who are going through tough times.  

vv. 6 & 7 are not printed in our worship folder, but hear what they say:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose: 

to loose the bonds of injustice, 

to undo the thongs of the yoke, 

to let the oppressed go free, 

and to break every yoke? 

and bring the homeless poor into your house; 

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, 

when you see the naked, to cover them, 

and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

Rather than performing some religious duty, what does God look for / expect from us?  To CARE. 

You might recall Ivanka Trump’s jacket many months ago when she was at our southern border.  Do you remember what it said?  “I really don’t care.  Do you?”

Most of us will not be quite that crass or blunt.  Yet, we too, can loose our focus and be more concerned about our image, our comfort, our agenda than what God looks for from us.

God, according to our reading from Isaiah expects us to rescue those who are disadvantaged and in harms way.  Give food to those who need it.  Give help to those in need.  Give freedom to those are under bondage because of injustice.  It is hard to escape the social justice message of both the Old and New Testaments.  We can wonder and wrestle with the violence of the Old Testament in numerous places, but you cannot dismiss what God says about caring for strangers, pilgrims, foreigners, refugees, etc.  

Our Gospel reading this morning is a great example of that. 

Consider the woman who has come to the synagogue to worship.  She didn’t draw attention to herself.  She didn’t beg Jesus to heal her.  Yet as Jesus teachs in the synagogue on the Sabbath He looks and sees her.  What was her problem?  She was stooped over!  Presumably at a ninety degree angle or close to it.  He saw her.  He called her to His side.  He put His hands on her and set her free.  “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

She immediately straightens up, no groaning, creaking, complaining, and begins to praise God!

How long was she stooped over?  Eighteen years!

What would that have been like?  What would she see from that bent over position?  The floor, the ground, eye contact would be nearly impossible.  What work could she do? Communication with others very difficult.  Life would be very hard indeed.  

And she had this condition for eighteen years!  

Then Jesus sees her, calls her to His side, and frees her from bondage.  That’s what the Gospel is all about!  Sometimes we are temporarily healed on this side of heaven. However, physical healing often times does not happen on this side of heaven.  Spiritual healing begins as soon as a person places their faith and trust in Jesus.  This woman is healed immediately!

The call of the Church, the 3 R’s of religion are to experience the freedom God gives us in Christ Jesus through His life, death and resurrection—to know and experience the freedom won through the cross and empty tomb.  But it does not stop there.  

God calls us to care for others, to actively be involved in working for their well being and freedom, rescuing and restoring them to the fullness of life God desires for all of us.  We are the body of Christ.  We are Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  God works through us.  Just like next Sunday is “God’s Work Our Hands” Sunday.  Only God longs for us to do that 365 days of the year, every year, all life long.  

And that can wear us out!  Notice in our Isaiah reading God also talks about the Sabbath.  What is the Sabbath for?  Rest!  But the Sabbath is not just rest from physical labor, but rest from our agenda’s our rat race to do our thing.  The Sabbath is for the sake of listening to God and retuning our hearts and souls, refocusing our vision and perspective.  Learning how to see ourselves and others from God’s point of view.  

Sometimes we need to give our pride and prejudices a rest—let go of our stubborn agendas and crooked thinking.  That does not happen automatically!  None of us can say we are “the least prejudiced person in the world.”  None of us can say we are more open and welcoming—more spiritually alive than anyone else.  We all, must of necessity, always examine ourselves, turning back to God in repentance and learning how to walk in the Spirit, fulfilling the Law of Love that Christ has called us to.  

Consider our Gospel reading again from Luke 13.  

Jesus confronts the Pharisee’s for their hypocrisy.  They are more concerned about having things done “decently and in order” — Don’t heal on the Sabbath.  There are six other days of the week.  Come then and be healed.  They didn’t scold Jesus.  They scolded the woman who had been healed.  

Jesus turns the table on them.  They are hypocritical.  They will untie their beasts of burden and lead them to water even on Sabbath days.  If they can do that for an animal, is there any reason to unloose this poor woman from her satanic affliction?  Note, we don’t know what caused her disease, but Jesus says she has been bound by Satan for eighteen long years!  The Greek word for untie is the word Jesus uses in His confrontation of the hypocritical Pharisees, and for unloosing the woman from her 18 year old affliction!

Jesus shames the Pharisees for their mixed up, legalistic thinking.  Imagine being there. You could hear the joy breaking out in the crowd.  The leading Pharisee had made a good sound point.  There are proper ways to get things done.  The Pharisee’s demand seemed logical and fair.  After all there are six days in the week other than the Sabbath.  Come then and get healed!  Why mess with the sanctity of the Sabbath! Keep the law.  The crowd was probably convinced of the Pharisaical line of reasoning.  Then Jesus spoke and applied the law of love in front of them, and shattered the hypocrisy that we all get caught up in.

If we are really resting spiritually and learning how to listen to God’s heart through worship and reading of Scripture, we will connect past what seems right and learn how to keep God’s fast, doing what God really requires from us!  Care for the people for whom Jesus came, died and rose again.  That includes us, yes.  Once we have tasted that freedom we share it with all others too.    

Let us be bold and learn to do as Jesus would have us do.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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