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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 9, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
June 3, 2018

Psalm 81; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23 - 3:6

‘Shabbat shalom’

The young people are hearing a story today from the Book of Numbers. It is a story about the five daughters of Zelophehad. The daughters names are Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. In the story, the Israelite women approach Moses and present a case concerning their right and obligation as daughters to inherit property. Moses consults God and God supports the women’s case. 

In a book about liberation and a promised land (a book we might also fairly describe as patriarchal and right-wing, wherein protesting authority is denounced as “grumbling”, condemned as “rebellion”), the story teaches an ongoing or unfolding revelation of the Law or Word of God. 

The names of the five bold women ought to be remembered: Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. God be with you

So sometimes we need to ask questions about the law. Not out of disrespect, but in the name and spirit of the law itself. Taking seriously a deep-down promise of justice – freeing the law and freeing ourselves from mere legalism, mindless repetition or heartless judgement.

Our Gospel reading is about “religious” people who want to trick Jesus into failing a test of faithfulness to the law. They use the law to trap and to harm, and it makes Jesus sad and angry. 

We can grasp the story’s meaning on the basis of Jesus’ words alone: “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. That is why the Chosen One is ruler even of the Sabbath.” “Stand and come up front!” “Is it permitted to do a good deed on the Sabbath – or an evil one? To preserve life or to destroy it?” “Stretch out your hand.”

A person with a “withered hand” is healed. A person is restored – to hope and life …

There have always been provisions in Torah for saving life on the Sabbath. Jesus is claiming, against a group of fundamentalists, that restoration of health is an urgent and religious matter.

“Present Sabbath observance should not be a legal straitjacket, but a joyful foretaste of kin(g)dom rest,” writes one commentator [Brendan Byrne]. “In the person of Jesus the pledge of human wholeness associated with the kin(g)dom is already becoming effective. To have postponed the cure to another day would be to deny its onset.”

“Never see an evil and do nothing about it,” Mary MacKillop (St Mary of the Cross) reportedly advised her sisters.

An interpretation of the passage may well stop there. It is a fitting place to rest.

We might venture a little further, however, inquiring as to the Sabbath itself. What can it mean for us, this “joyful foretaste of kin(g)dom rest”? Why is it commanded of us (and not given in the mode of invitation or suggestion)?

A recent book by author Dan B. Allender is careful to distinguish between Sabbath as vacation, as a day off or day of forced quiet or devotion, and Sabbath as a day of delight for both body and spirit. “What would you do for 24 hours if the only criteria were to pursue your deepest joy?”

The author builds a case for delight by looking at the Sabbath as a festival that celebrates God’s re-creative, redemptive love using four components: sensual glory and beauty; ritual; communal feasting; and playfulness.

The book stirs me to consider the Sabbath (Sabbatical time) as a time to delight in creation and experience something of God’s delight in us. Even to consider God’s delight in me (which may be a little confronting – why do I find that difficult?).

What makes Sabbath observance crucial to good life together in the world? What do you think? If festivals and feasts, camping, surfing, birthday cakes, nights out with friends, art classes and poetry groups are crucial to good life together in the world, then how might we go about ensuring our own faithful observance of Sabbath?

Is it a question of setting aside a day each week for delightful activity, for play? Is it a matter of incorporating playfulness into our more serious work? 

Judging from photos on Instagram, the Women of Waterloo (WOW) action group enjoyed the “read-in” staged yesterday at Waterloo Library (which doesn’t mean they took the issue of a community’s right to books and study space any less seriously).

“Shabbat shalom.” “Aleikhem shalom.” Peace of the Sabbath. Peace be upon you. These are ancient and wise words. Strong, deeply respectful. When Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for people, we may hear our own tendency to anthropocentric pride or entitlement. But we might also sense the divine mind of a Creator who intends and promises a kin(g)dom of peace. A Creator who makes space for human being, becoming …

The Apostle Paul writes: “We carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus [by which I think he means the pain, the experience of rejection and violence, as well as sadness, anger, exhaustion – finitude], so that in our bodies the life of Jesus [a delight in love] may also be revealed …” 

“What would you do for 24 hours if the only criteria were to pursue your deepest joy?” … Amen.