Several years ago, I think it was on my second trip to Indianapolis, I had the chance to visit with a guy named Bart Campolo during a rain delay at the Indy 500. Bart is the son of one of my favorite authors and speakers of all time, Tony Campolo, and at the time he was helping run his Daddy's outreach ministry called Mission Year. His job took him all over the country to speak at churches, conferences, and denominational gatherings recruiting young adults to spend a year serving God in inner city ministry. Over the course of these trips he had come to realize how many people just couldn't do church on Sunday mornings; for work reasons, family reasons, or just because they didn't see the need in going. At one point, he said to me, a second or third year seminarian looking at a forty-year career in Sunday morning worship, “Why the Church continues to insist on meeting on Sunday morning is beyond me.” He actually said those words. I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember not having a decent answer to his question, “Why?”
Why do you come to Church on Sundays? I know some of you are excited for Saturday to be an option again, but honestly, most of you make the pretty regular decision to get up, make yourself presentable, and drive to Church. For some of you this is probably the only day you could choose to sleep in as work takes up Monday through Friday and Saturday is filled with soccer, basketball, football, art shows, and recitals. For many of you, Sunday defines your week; “six Saturdays and a Sunday” is your weekly routine. But why? What possesses you to come to Church on Sunday morning?
No doubt, many of you will base your answer in the Ten Commandments, but how many of you recall that a) the Ten Commandments are repeated twice in Scripture and b) the only significant difference between the two lists is the reasoning behind “remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.” The first list, famously depicted by Charlton Heston's Moses carrying the law etched in stone and brought down from Sinai, comes from Exodus Twenty and bases the sabbath in God's rest after the six days of Creation. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” I n the first list, we rest because God rested.
The second list is less well known, written during King Josiah's attempt at resiving the great tradition of Israel and bases the sabbath not in rest, but in freedom, “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” In this interpretation the call to observe sabbath is based in God's deliverance of Israel. In Egypt they were not allowed sabbath as they worked seven days a week, but in freedom they will be made whole by joining with their God in a weekly day of rest. Here then sabbath is about freedom, release and restoration.
So why do you come to Church on Sunday? For rest? For restoration? Or are there other reasons? I can't imagine the woman that Jesus encounters in today's Gospel lesson heading out to the Synagogue on the sabbath for rest or restoration. Think about it. For eighteen years she had been so crippled up, so bent over, that her worldview was, most likely, the area directly between and in front of her own two feet. Getting to and from the Synagogue had to have been a serious chore for this woman. It may very well have been the only day that she actually left her house. There was no rest for her on the Sabbath Day, she had to work hard to make it to the Synagogue. And, it seems, there was no hope of restoration for her either. For eighteen years she had faithfully shown up, all bent over and obviously hurting, emotionally if not physically, and for eighteen years she left the Temple feeling just as bad or maybe worse than before. Jesus is quick to notice that her condition is not a physical one alone. It isn't arthritis or scoliosis that had her bent in two, but rather as Luke puts it, “a spirit of weakness.” You can hear in those words a story. Eighteen years ago, maybe she stood with just a little bend in her back, but you know how people talk. Ten years ago, her range of motion had diminished significantly, and no one and everyone knew why. And now, the weight of so many years of heartache, abuse, gossip, and rejection weighed her shoulders so heavily that she couldn't straighten up at all. She was bound by Satan all right, but the community had done little, if anything to help her find freedom, in fact, as the story goes, they probably had done more harm then good.
So if she didn't observe the Sabbath for rest and she didn't keep it holy for restoration, why did she go through the rigamarole every Friday evening for eighteen years? Maybe the music program was excellent. Maybe the preacher was dynamic and enlightening. Maybe the children's program warmed her heart. Maybe she felt like she had to, or felt guilty if she didn't, or felt fearful of what else might happen to her if she quit going.
A mother called up to her son one Sunday morning to get him out of bed and get ready for church and he replied, “I’m not going.” His mother said, “Yes, you are going, so get out of bed.” He shouted back, “Give me one good reason why I should go.” And she said, “I’ll give you three good reasons why you should go. Number one, I’m your mother, so I say you’re going. Number two, you’re forty years old so you’re old enough to know better. And number three, you’re their pastor.” I sometimes joke that I come to Church on Sunday because that's what I get paid to do. I mean, I only work an hour a week, right? But do you really want to know why I come to church even when it feels like work and not rest, even when it is a hardship rather than restorative? I come to church because of the hope of rest and restoration. I come to church because of the possibility of running into Jesus, feeling his hands upon my head, and hearing him say, “you have been set free.”
I think the hope of rest and restoration is why the woman went through the great effort to go to the Synagogue each week. Not out of expectation, mind you, but out of hope. She mustered the strength to shuffle to the Temple and the courage to show her face, or more accurately, the top of her head, to all those who saw her as cursed because she hoped that one day God would show up and touch her directly. And one day, God did.
And that is precisely the issue between Jesus and the leader of the Synagogue. He was indignant at Jesus' healing of this woman not because Jesus showed him up, but because he realized for the first time in at least eighteen years that his motivations had been all wrong. For him it had been all about having the right words to say and the right songs to sing and the right programs to offer and he had lost sight of the hope of rest and restoration that God promises in his commandment to observe the sabbath and keep it holy.
So I'll ask you again, why do you come to church on Sunday? Is it, as the cynics say, to be entertained, to have your card punched, or to look pious in the community? Is it, as it was for the synagogue leader, to sing good songs and hear a good sermon and feel good when you leave? Or is it, as it was for the women, bent over by a spirit of weakness, because of the hope you have that one day God himself will touch you deeply, relieve you of your ailments, and set you free from all infirmities? If it is the latter, and O how I hope it is, then I invite you not just on Sundays, but on everyday and in everything you do to follow the example of our nameless friend and stand up straight and praise God.
So before we head into the Creed, let's stand up and praise God. When I say, “God is good!” You say, “All the time!” Then I'll say, “All the time!” and you respond “God is good.”
God is good! All the Time!
All the time! God is good!