Sermon Title: “Ruts”
Scripture: Mark 2:23-3:6
Pastor Bill Knobles
When I was growing up in Stockdale and I was in elementary school, we rode the bus to school most of the time. We lived out in the country east of town. The farm to market road we lived on was paved, but most of the bus route was on dirt or gravel roads. When it rained, it wasn’t long before the road was rutted up pretty bad. The wheels packed the dirt and gravel in the ruts, while pushing up dirt, gravel and mud to the sides. Now, as long as the ruts weren’t too deep, we were ok. The driver would just drive along keeping the wheels in the ruts. But if it rained too much, the ruts got deeper and deeper and eventually we would get stuck out on those dirt roads. And then the older boys would have to get out and push, and you can just imagine how well that worked. Nothing good happens when a big ole school bus gets stuck in the mud.
The Pharisees in today’s Scripture were deep in a rut and they were stuck in the mud. They were spinning their theological wheels and mud was flying everywhere and they were going nowhere. And like the stuck school bus, nothing good was happening in their lives. We all remember the law they were struggling with.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15: Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
For a former slave people, a day of rest was an unbelievable gift. It was grace on an unimaginable scale to someone who had previously been required to work hard each and every day under the whip of their Egyptian masters. And notice how God’s grace is meant for everyone. Not just for the Jewish people-- the people of the law, but also all the folks around them. Their children, their servants, the strangers in town and even the livestock. All got a day each week for precious rest from their labor. But as years went by, the Jews had perverted the law. They turned a beautiful gift into a burden. Like good lawyers, they took a pretty simple law and added subparts, whereases, addenda and fine print until the intent and meaning of the law could no longer even be understood.
For instance, Jewish law said that you could not plant, plow, reap, carry, gather, thresh, winnow, sort, purify, grind, sift, Knead, cook, bake, shear, scour, dye, spin, make 2 loops, weave, separate 2 threads, make a fire or extinguish a fire on the Sabbath.. and the list goes on and on. In fact, there were 39 basic things prohibited on the Sabbath, and they argued over dozens of additional applications.
Was plucking heads of grain to eat one of the prohibited activities? Maybe. It could be argued both ways. But the simple fact is that the disciples must have been hungry as they walked along. Their mission was important and they knew time was short. So rather than going home for a meal that Sabbath day, they hit the fast food walk through and grabbed a few heads of grain for a meal. I don’t know if the grain was wheat or barley, but it wasn’t the carefully prepared meal usually set aside for the Sabbath. Just something to chew on and satisfy an empty stomach. And, the Pharisees were watching them as Jesus and the disciples were making their way to the synagogue there in Capernaum. And when the Pharisees accused Jesus of not controlling his disciples, Jesus reminded them that even beloved King David broke the rules a little when his men were hungry. Jesus reminded them that when King David was on the run from Saul, he had entered the synagogue, the holy place, and took the priest’s bread for his men. Good bread. Holy bread. Bread for hungry people.
And here, the Pharisees were fussing about a handful of uncooked grain? It was such a little thing, but for people who didn’t welcome change, little changes had a way of turning into big changes. And that would not do. That would not do at all. So they watched.
You remember the last time Jesus had been in the synagogue at Capernaum? It was a memorable occasion. Jesus was teaching and the people were amazed at his depth of understanding. But then came the scene as a person possessed by an unclean spirit started crying out, interrupting the church service. “Have you come to destroy us?” That was what the unclean spirit asked. When Jesus exorcised that unclean spirit, Scripture says that his fame spread throughout the region.
• And with that fame came jealously.
• With that fame came resentment.
• And with that fame came fear.
Because when that unclean spirit asked if Jesus was going to destroy them, some concluded that Jesus just might do exactly that. The Pharisees decided that this itinerant Rabbi ought to be watched.
Now, Jesus was back in the church. And they were watching. What would happen this time? And as we watch the Pharisees as they watch Jesus, we wonder just how deep of a rut they had slipped into. There was a man in the church there in Capernaum. He had a withered hand. Could have been a birth defect, or from an injury. We don’t know. But we know this. All of the Pharisees and their laws hadn’t healed that hand. The first time Jesus was in that church, what Jesus did was a surprise. Not this time. There was a sense of expectation.
Jesus called to the man. And while the man was coming forward, Jesus asked those who were watching. Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath? To save a life? They had no answer, even though they certainly knew the answer. But the man with the withered hand didn’t care. He knew that this Jesus who called him forward, who was waiting for him to approach-- this man called Jesus could change his life. So he came forward with his withered hand. His heart was beating faster with every step. Then he got there. He was standing next to Jesus, who said “Stretch out your hand”. While the man was lifting his hand in wonder and amazement, and seeing it whole and healthy for likely the first time in a long time, or maybe the first time ever, the Pharisees were turning their eyes away in anger. They were slipping out, not even bothering to look. In fact, they left the church not to proclaim the miracle, but to conspire with the Herodians on how to get rid of Jesus.
Jesus had done the thing they could never do, and that power to change lives threatened their power to rule over lives. The time of watching was over. The time for action was coming. Jesus told them a truth that day that they could not, would not, hear. He reminded them that the Sabbath was made for man. Man was not made for the Sabbath. The Pharisees could not accept that truth. Somewhere along the line, they had lost the joy of Sabbath rest. They had lost the ability to change. To appreciate the good that change can bring.
Did Jesus deliberately provoke the Pharisees? Did Jesus want to shake things up a little? You bet he did. We might climb down into our ruts, But Jesus loves us too much to let us stay in them. In Texas, we have a law called the Uniform Commercial Code. Chapter 2 has a provision that allows us to sell used goods AS IS, WHERE IS and WITH ALL FAULTS.
AS IS. In is present condition.
WHERE IS. Its current location.
WITH ALL FAULTS. Just as messed up as it might be.
People can be the same way. AS IS, WHERE IS and WITH ALL FAULTS. Stuck in a rut and without the will to climb out. Maybe afraid to climb out. After a while, that rut starts looking and feeling like home. And even when someone shouts a truth at us, and puts down a ladder for us to climb out with, we just stay. We like our ruts. May not be much, but it is ours. You ever been stuck in a rut? Spinning your wheels. I have. And I know that it can be pretty scary to crawl out. To try something new. To have a look at my life, and the priorities I had set, and see what needed to be changed. I was very comfortable being a full time lawyer. As Is, Where Is and with my share of Faults. And, as far as ruts go, mine wasn’t too bad. But God had something different in mind for me. Something that, down in my rut, I didn’t see. I was too busy to examine possibilities. But Jesus loved me way too much for me to stay AS IS, WHERE IS and WITH ALL FAULTS. It was time to shake things up a little. And I am so glad that he did.
Lent is a time to consider what might be changed in our lives. To get out of our ruts. For some of us, to get out of the mud we are stuck in. Frankly, we don’t usually get stuck on the hard pavement. Our wheels don’t slip when we are on firm ground. Just when we are in the mud slipping and sliding, seeing those ruts get deeper and deeper. Lent is a time of new possibilities. A time of hope. A time when change is possible. And those changes might start small. Like plucking a few heads of grain for a meal on the go rather than having a hot meal at home. Because, the Pharisees were right, you know. Give Jesus an inch and he will take a mile. Allow him to work a little in your life, and he will change your whole life. Because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath; the Lord of each of our days.