With the tri-point parish, one casualty has been that, even when I want to post a sermon, I generally don’t think about it until late in the week, and by then, everyone has moved on. But I did want to post last week’s sermon. It’s an explanation of the Third Commandment. Especially given the recent spate of government mandates forbidding the church to meet (this has been tried before), and the church’s willingness to obey such godlessness (Ok, I’ll concede obeying them is new. We need to up our game a bit.) a refresher on the Third Commandment seemed like a good idea. The text is the account of Jesus healing the man with dropsy (Luke 14).
Today’s Gospel teaches us how we are to keep the third commandment. The leaders are testing Jesus. There is a man before him who had dropsy. They want to know if he will heal someone on the Sabbath. Dropsy meant he was retaining water. It could have been a number of different diseases – kidney or heart perhaps, maybe something else. But the upshot was, he was sick, possibly dying. And so they put this man before Jesus and then “watch carefully”. Because if Jesus heals the man, they have him for breaking the Sabbath, the day of rest.
What utter wickedness: To use a sick man as a pawn, firmly believing it is a sin to heal him of his disease. They can’t heal him. Jesus healing is miraculous. They know it is from God. They do not care. Jesus elsewhere points out to the Pharisees that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God doesn’t create us so that the Sabbath can be observed. God gives the command that we keep the Sabbath day for our own good. And its true. Even secular sources agree that a day of rest is helpful – studies have shown one day of rest in seven actually increases overall productivity more than working every day. But it isn’t just for the sake of our bodies that a day of rest is helpful. God gives the Sabbath to Israel so that they might honor and worship the Lord.
Let’s back up a minute though. If we’re talking about the Third Commandment, Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, what exactly is being commanded here? What do we do with the Sabbath day? In the strictest sense, the command to remember the sabbath day and keep it holy doesn’t apply to us anymore. That was a command given to ancient Israel. They were to stop all work one day a week and rest, as a remembrance of our Lord God who created the heavens and earth in six days, and rested on the seventh day. This day of rest was a permanent reminder of The Lord God who created all things. This was sufficient on its own to set the people apart from the idol worshipping nations around them. The pagan gods of the Canaanites didn’t require a day of rest. The god of this or that thing – fertility, the weather, the sheep, the mountains, the oceans – they didn’t require such devotion as this. By reminding themselves each week of who the creator of the world really is, they would be set apart from the idolatry of the people around them.
That commandment is no more. Jesus says repeatedly that the Sabbath rule is fulfilled in him. Jesus dies on the cross on Friday, and then takes his Sabbath rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday. The day of the Sabbath no loner applies. In the New Testament, the worship of the people is moved to Sunday: The Lord’s day, the day of his resurrection, the day of the new creation, the day of his triumph over death, hell and the devil.
We are no longer commanded to rest on a specific day. So why do we keep teaching this commandment to our children? We don’t do it just for some sense of nostalgia, or because we are really big history fans. This commandment does has a meaning and purpose to us today. For Ancient Israel it was to set them apart from the surrounding nations, and to take time to honor the Lord God, the creator. The specific command “Don’t work on Saturday” is gone. But the overall lesson remains. We are set apart by God as his Holy People through Baptism. And we are to take time to honor the Lord God, who not only created us, but also redeemed us by His blood, and now makes us holy through his bride the church.
The command now is not “Stop working” as if the outward show fulfills the commandment. Instead, we are to make the day holy. How do we make a day holy? Our Lord created the days. Se set up the world to run the way it does with days and months and seasons. Paul tells us in his Epistle to Timothy, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” That is how we make a day holy. The Word of God and prayer. We stop what we are doing, and gather to hear the Word of God and to respond in prayer.
In the Large Catechism, Luther explains it to the children this way:
Not in this manner, that with folded hands we sit behind the stove and do no external work, or deck ourselves with a wreath and put on our best clothes, but that we occupy ourselves with God’s Word…
…we Christians ought always to keep such a holy day, and … daily be engaged on God’s Word, and carry it in our hearts and upon our lips… At whatever time, then, this is being observed and practised, there a true holy day is being kept; otherwise it shall not be called a Christians’ holy day. For, indeed, non-Christians can also cease from work and be idle…
But God’s Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God’s Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all…
For this reason, fixed places, times, persons, and the entire external order of worship have been created and appointed, so that it may be publicly in operation. Since, therefore, so much depends upon God’s Word that without it no holy day can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose.
This is why the church sets aside a time to come together to hear and learn the word of God, and to teach that word to our children, so that they would also learn it, so that they would also honor and sanctify the Holy Day. We gather because as the church, our Lord commands to do so. Not for the mere observance, as if the outward show earns us something. But because the Spirit works through the Word preached here, faith is created and strengthened through the reading and preaching of the Word. Because the church comes together as the body of Christ, in unity joining together as one in hymns, prayers, thanksgivings.
And especially we come together because of the command of our Lord Jesus, who commanded us to observe all things that he taught. What has he commanded? The public preaching and teaching of his word for the forgiveness of sins, the baptism of all who would receive this salvation, and the eating and drinking of his body and blood. It is in the sacrament that Jesus teaches us that the giving of his body and the shedding of his blood is for the forgiveness of sins. That is the great gift of the Divine Service, that we receive the Word and promise of God, and that we eat and drink the crucified and risen body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. And when we take eat and take drink, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. We become witnesses to his death and resurrection as we obey his command. That is the churches great work of evangelism. To gather and receive the body and blood. And again, the command is not given just so that we can show our obedience. As we sing in the famous communion hymn “Lord may thy body and thy blood, be for my soul the highest good.” We are strengthened in the faith, we are given again the forgiveness and salvation which Jesus won for us on the cross.
We come together because Jesus wants to heal and restore all of us poor miserable sinners. As he himself teaches us “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” In the preaching of the word, in the body eaten and the blood shed we find our rest. Not just a rest in this busy and weary world, but a rest for our souls in Christ.
Jesus previews all of these good things in the miracle today. He does not leave that man with his illness. He heals him immediately, and then rebukes the Pharisees – turning them to the Word of the Lord. It isn’t about blind obedience he says. It is about receiving the gifts and good things of God. And we don’t presume that we are worthy of these things, or that we are strong enough on our own to do without them. Instead we receive them humbly. We come and sit in the low place, and wait for our Lord to invite us up. Come and sit here at the head table, and eat and drink and be honored as beloved friend of the bridegroom, as a child of the most high. And we respond with our praise and thanksgiving, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the sight of all people. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, World without end. Amen.”