My scripture today comes from Luke: 13 : 10-17One Sunday morning a stranger entered a small country church in the middle of the sermon. The man was unkempt and dirty, and clearly smelled of alcohol. The usher attempted to seat him in a far off corner but instead he walked to the very first pew and sat directly in front of the preacher. Then to the congregations horror the man began to make loud comments to their pastor’s sermon. “Amen. That’s right! Preach it brother.” The minister gave the man a nasty look, but it was to no avail. The stranger just continued, “Praise Jesus, Hallelujah!” Finally the usher approached the man and whispered in his ear, “Sir, we don’t act like this in church.” “But I’ve just got religion,” said the stranger. “Yes sir,” said the usher, “but you didn’t get it from here.” When you walked into church today what were you expecting? Hymns, a sermon, a time for fellowship. We all come to church on Sunday morning with expectations, anticipations, of what we will encounter once we get here. As a minister I periodically run into people who are out church shopping. Individuals and couples who are going from Church to Church shopping for a congregation that possesses everything that they are looking for in a church. Expectations, we all have them. But in the midst of all our looking for what we expect, what we anticipate, what we want, how many of us have ever taken the time to ask what does God expect from Sunday morning worship? What is God looking for in a church? After all, we should ask ourselves, is what we expect from church and what God expects from church necessarily the same thing? I’m sure you know the answer to that! Not hardly. When our purposes and God’s purposes, our desires and God’s desires, our expectations and God’s expectations, find themselves at cross purposes, and I tell you there will be times when they are. At those times we need to ask ourselves why are we here, after all and who really is supposed to be calling the shots around here?
One day while Jesus is teaching in one of the many synagogues he beholds a woman who for eighteen years had been bent over and could not straighten up. Having compassion on her infirmity Jesus lays his hands upon her and immediately she stands up straight and is healed. As a result of her healing the women begins to praise God. Not bad, wouldn’t you say. But not everyone is happy with the results. The ruler of the synagogue becomes indignant righteously angry at what has just happen in his congregation. But unwilling to chastise Jesus in front of the people gathered the ruler instead chastises the woman and those who had gathered for the services. “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” the rabbi cries, “come on those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath day.” What’s bugging this guy? Oh he’s just getting a little historical. You see, centuries ago the Jewish people didn’t listen to God very well. They turned away from following His will. So God sent the nation of Israel into captivity in Babylon for 75 years. When they finally returned to Israel those who were religious wanted to make sure that this never happened again. Out of fear of future failure and judgment the Pharisees were created. Religious lawyers whose purpose was to interpret God’s law and make sure that this time God’s people obeyed. So to the Pharisees God had commanded to keep the Sabbath holy and holy they would keep it. Since God had rested on the Sabbath man must also rest from all work. That included even the work of healing. There are six days on which work is to be done. Healing was OK, if you were healed on one of those days but not the Sabbath that is a day of rest. His goal is to honor the Sabbath, isn’t he? He’s just trying to be obedient to the will of God, right? But Jesus won’t buy it. He will not accept this religious expectation. He hits them between the eyes. “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not his woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” The Pharisees had every intentions to honor God, to do the will of God so what was it they missed that deserved such harsh judgment from the Son of God? What is it that Jesus understood that made this man’s expectations for the Sabbath so reprehensible to Christ? The Pharisee’s intended to “love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.” Even to the extreme. Wouldn’t Jesus find that acceptable. Apparently not.
So what was Jesus’s expectation? Obviously Jesus wants us to love God, he wants us to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But he did not think this was the result of our labors, to keep the Sabbath or any other law. No. Knowing God, being a child of God’s kingdom is not our accomplishment, it is God’s blessing. A gift, undeserved and unachievable, but ours never the less. By the grace and love and mercy of God. The Pharisee’s believed ‘if we do it right, the kingdom of God will come.’ But Jesus grasped the truth that the kingdom of God is among us, here and now. He healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath because it was an assertion of the kingdom, on the Sabbath. It wasn’t work, it was joy. Joy in the Lord, in his presence and goodness. The Pharisee’s were so focused on fulfilling the dot and title of the law of God’s they were unable to live in the kingdom and they even failed to recognize the presence of the Lord, in that most holy day. Emmanuel, God with us in the here and now. Not wanting to disobey the God of judgment they missed an encounter with the God of all mercy. The woman received what the Pharisee could not grace, poured out, overflowing, unending grace from the hand of God Himself. They were more than hypocrites, they were fools. To look into the face of your creator, to receive from God forgiveness and healing, steadfast love and mercy, now that is Sunday morning worship. That Midway, is the purpose of God’s church.A minister passing through his church in the middle of the day,
Decided to pause by the altar and see who had come to pray.
Just then the back door opened, a man came down the aisle,The minister frowned as he saw the man he hadn’t shaved in a
while. His shirt was kind of shabby and his coat was worn andfrayed,the man knelt, he bowed his head,then rose and walked
away. In the days that followed,each noon time came this chap,each time he knelt just for a moment,a lunch pail in his lap.
Well, the minister’s suspicions grew,with robbery a main fear,He decided to stop the man and ask him,“What are you doing
here?" The old man said, he worked down the road. Lunch wasonly half an hour.Lunch time was his prayer time,for finding
strength and power. I stay only moments, see, because the factoryis so far away; as I kneel here talking to the Lord, this is kind of
what I say:
"I JUST CAME AGAIN TO TELL YOU, LORD, HOW HAPPY I HAVE BEEN,SINCE WE FOUND EACH OTHER’S FRIENDSHIP AND YOU TOOK AWAY MY SIN. DON’T KNOW MUCH OF HOW TO PRAY, BUT I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERY DAY. SO, JESUS, THIS IS JIM, CHECKING IN TODAY."
The minister feeling foolish, told Jim, that it was fine. He told the man he was welcome to come and pray just anytime.Time to go, Jim smiled, said "Thanks." as he hurried to the door.The minister knelt at the altar, he’d never done that before. His cold heart melted, warmed with love, and met with Jesus there. As the tears flowed, in his heart, he repeated old Jim’s prayer:
"I JUST CAME AGAIN TO TELL YOU, LORD, HOW HAPPY I’VE BEEN, SINCE WE FOUND EACH OTHER’S FRIENDSHIP AND YOU TOOK AWAY MY SIN. I DON’T KNOW MUCH OF HOW TO PRAY, BUT I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERY DAY. SO, JESUS, THIS IS ME CHECKING IN TODAY."
Past noon one day, the minister noticed that old Jim hadn’t come. As more days passed without Jim, he began to worry some. At the factory, he asked about him, learning that he was ill. The hospital staff was worried, but he’d given them a thrill. The week that Jim was with them, brought changes in the ward.His smiles, a joy contagious. Changed people, were his reward. The head nurse couldn’t understand why Jim was so glad,when no flowers, calls or cards came, not a visitor once he had. The minister stayed by his bed, he voiced the nurse’s concern: No friends came to show they cared. He had nowhere to turn. Looking surprised, old Jim spoke up and with a winsome smile: "The nurse is wrong, she couldn’t know, that in here all the while, every day at noon He’s here,a dear friend of mine, you see, He sits right down, takes my hand, leans over and says to me:
"I JUST CAME AGAIN TO TELL YOU, JIM, HOW HAPPY I HAVE BEEN, SINCE WE FOUND THIS FRIENDSHIP, AND I TOOK AWAY YOUR SIN. ALWAYS LOVE TO HEAR YOU PRAY, I THINK ABOUT YOU EVERY DAY,AND SO JIM, THIS IS JESUS=CHECKING IN TODAY."
Real worship, is not singing hymns, although they are lovely, it is not in praying prayers or hearing a sermon, The Sabbath God wants is to meet you here, meet you in your home and on the streets with joy in the friendship we share. And then to share that blessing with all the world. Now that is a great expectation.