June 3, 2018

THE CHALLENGE OF BEING JESUS’ DISCIPLE

Mark 2:23-3:6;
Deuteronomy 5:12-15; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Today, all of us have the opportunity to affirm our faith and reaffirm the covenant of our baptism as 3 of our young people are confirmed into this community of faith.  In doing so, we recommit ourselves to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the Word of God and share in Holy Communion on a regular basis, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed, to serve all people, following Jesus’s example, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.  These five commitments cover the height, depth, and breadth of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and are a reminder to all of us that our whole life is wrapped up in being faithful to the call of Jesus by obeying his commandments and following in his way, not just on the Sabbath Day, but every day of the week.

As important as the Sabbath Day may be, the other six days of the week are no less important when it comes to living the life for which we have been created and to which we have been called by God.  Although the Sabbath Day may have been established as a day when we make sure that we rest from our normal daily earthly labor and routines, the Sabbath Day is not a day when we take a break from being a faithful follower of Jesus and pursuing the justice and peace that are the bulwarks of God’s reign.  That’s the point that Jesus is attempting to make in our gospel lesson for today as he reminds the religious leaders that the Sabbath Day is still a day when we are to make sure that everyone has enough food to eat and anyone who is in need of medical attention will receive the care that they need.

When I was growing up, keeping the Sabbath Day holy primarily meant going to church every Sunday, even when our family was out camping over a weekend on vacation.  Similarly, the opening day of the fishing season always was on a Sunday.  My Dad often would take me out fishing early that morning, but he would always make sure that we would get home in time to make it to church and Sunday School no matter whether or not we had caught our limit of trout.  As much as I might sound critical about such a narrow understanding of this commandment about keeping the Sabbath Day holy, as a pastor, I wish that going to church on Sunday mornings wasn’t as much of an option as it is today.  However, what is most important to me is that you want to be here today, and that you don’t come to church because you are afraid that you might be sent to hell for all eternity if you break this sacred commandment.

Such was the leverage that the religious leaders in Jesus’ day had over the people as the priests compiled a list of 613 deeds that the people were to avoid doing on the Sabbath Day in order to keep this day holy and stay in God’s good favor.  That’s how the religious leaders were able to get all of the people to come to the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, because the people couldn’t do much of anything else on this sacred day.  Jesus is making the point that the Sabbath Day isn’t just about God and me.  The Sabbath Day also is all about how we demonstrate our love for our neighbors in order to make sure that God’s justice and righteousness are being made complete, especially on this holy day. 

The Sabbath Day is meant to be the day when we put our best foot forward, and make sure that we are loving God with our entire being and loving our neighbors as we have been so graciously loved by God.  That’s what Jesus was doing on this particular Sabbath Day, even though it meant violating one of the most sacred laws of his day.  Here is where we are compelled to move beyond our discussion about the meaning of the Sabbath Day, and focus on the faith and courage that it took on Jesus’ part to commit this act of religious disobedience.  It’s no wonder that at the end of this day, the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with Herod’s cohorts in figuring out how to destroy this Jesus.  Jesus already was a marked man, and it’s only the beginning of the third chapter in the Gospel of Mark.

According to our second lesson for today, we also learn that the Apostle Paul was a marked man.  In his attempt to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus and strive for God’s justice and peace wherever he went, Paul has encountered much resistance and opposition from civil and religious authorities.  However, he has not lost heart because as he tells this faith community at Corinth, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; and struck down, but not destroyed.”  Despite all of the trials and tribulations that Paul has had to endure on account of his proclamation of the good news about God’s love as revealed in Jesus, Paul has not lost hope that he will be able to weather this storm and continue to serve all people following Jesus’ example by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, let me be very clear today.  If we are going to recommit ourselves to the covenant of our baptism in Jesus’ name, then we might want to be prepared for some pushback, even by people within the church who are more beholden to an institution that is governed by all kinds of rules and regulations, dogmas and doctrines rather than seeing the church as a living organism of people who are open to the Spirit who has called and gathered us together to hear the Word of God and share often in this Holy Communion so that together we might know more clearly what is the will of God and receive the inspiration, desire, and power to serve our neighbors whatever day of the week it is, just as Jesus has done today.

Having laid this foundation, I (will) come back to our 3 confirmands this morning, and challenge you (them) to hang in there and continue to stay connected with God’s faithful people—whether here at St. Mark’s or in some other community of faith, to open your (their) Bible once-in-a-while so that you (they) remain open to the calling of God’s Word, to share in this holy meal often and be strengthened by the presence and power of Jesus’ Spirit, to let your (their) light of love shine in this world that is so weighed down by fear, hatred, and violence, to keep your (their) minds focused on Jesus as the model for your (their) lives, and to be willing to speak out on behalf of those who are being treated unjustly and oppressed unnecessarily.

One such example was brought to my attention this past week.  Apparently, the City of San Francisco has a policy that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing only qualifies pregnant women for family shelter before the third trimester if they can prove that they are medically at risk.  According to this Department, very few women qualify for this Prenatal Program in their first and second trimesters.  What this means is that the vast majority of pregnant women who are homeless have to fend for themselves during their first two trimesters, thereby creating a much greater risk that the lives of their unborn children will be permanently damaged if not subject to imminent death. A letter signed by many faith leaders, including our Bishop Mark Holmerud, has been sent to Mayor Farell with a simple request that this policy be changed so that homeless women who are pregnant can qualify for family housing in their first trimester without having to prove medical necessity.

Today is Sunday and supposedly a day of rest, but before we get all caught up in our busy lives on Monday, what if all of us would contact Mayor Farrell and Jeff Kositsky, the Director of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, today, and ask them to change this policy?  Today, we supposedly are making a renewed commitment to strive for justice and peace in all the earth, and there are a zillion ways to put this commitment into effect.  However, if we just took on one or two ways today to advocate for a more just society, perhaps our joint effort could have some impact on the liberation of a few pregnant women, just as Jesus stood up for his disciples who were hungry and healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath Day.  Certainly there were many more people in this city who were famished or were in need of a cure, but according to this particular account, Jesus gave an example of what everyone could be doing on this day to challenge the restrictions of an unjust policy and improve the lives of so many people who constantly receive the message that they don’t matter. 

As I have journeyed with these 3 young women over the course of the past 16 months, I can attest to the fact that they have a heart for the well-being of other people.  They may not have completed memorizing all of the books of the Bible or learned the difference between the first, second, and third uses of the law, but they have been well mentored in what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus and in the importance of being a member of a community of faith that has love for others at the core of its existence.  Therefore, I ask you to join with me on this Sabbath Day in affirming them as beloved children of God with whom God is well pleased just as they were affirmed by God on the day of their baptism.  Amen.