Proper 4, June 3, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6
There’s a lot going on in today’s readings. Samuel is called by God to serve as the next great prophet. It seems from the reading, that he hasn’t even reached an age to know what God might want of him. By the end of the reading, though, he is ready and speaking out.
And then there are the two stories of Jesus breaking the “no work on the Sabbath” law. By Jesus’ time there were many rules about what work you could or couldn’t do on a Sabbath. Jesus points out that what the Pharisees insisted on were man-made fussiness, and not God-made. He will continue to break rules in favor of compassion from now on. The Sabbath was a day of necessary rest. For the good of all creation, every living thing needs rest as well as nourishment to thrive. But even in the Jewish rule book, emergency situations could allow a bending of the laws.
St. Benedict even made it a requirement for his monks and other followers to include rest in their individual rule of life, along with prayer, worship, food, work, and recreation.
So whether we take Sundays off (not realistic for most of us) or some other time during the week, we ought to take time to rest and worship. For some, that might only come during vacations, but we do need a Sabbath time.
What about the real issue of breaking God’s or human law? We do least little “bends” pretty frequently. And then there are the more subtle things. Actions that go against expectations that people assume are rules. When Fons got a diet from his doctor, he asked “How often can I sin?” As a new librarian, I would ask, “what rules can we break or bend, and which ones are absolute?”
I got that from my father. His birthday was June 3, 1915, so 103 years ago. I still think about him often, even though he died in 2002. His mother was a German immigrant who never learned to speak very much English. His father died when he was 6 months old and his mother remarried and had another son. Her new husband was a merchant marine, so basically she was a single mom for most of the time. She was determined that both boys would have successful lives. Dad was expected to tutor his brother so that he could stay on top of his classes. Dad was a totally brilliant nerd. He finished Columbia College on full scholarship in 4 years, going to school at night, working a day job to help the family, and studying on the subway. Then on to grad school, same routine.
Responsible, very smart, and very observant. Also very independent. He never liked being told what to do. He grew up Lutheran, my mom was Episcopalian. After World War II, they moved to a town that only had a community church. He loved it – no prayer book, no one was telling him how to pray. He was even lucky during the war. Out of duty he followed orders, but hated it when they didn’t make sense. He was in charge of training other CPA/soldiers to handle the discharge paperwork for the all soldiers. His commander wanted to promote him by giving them a qualifying test. Dad said with a straight face, “Sir, we are creating that qualifying test”. They got their promotions. His assignment in the accounting division of the Army was longer than most – 6 months longer to work on soldiers’ discharge benefits. When he got out, the CPA jobs at corporations were filled. He became self-employed – actually perfect for him.
Because of his sense of responsibility, he was often on our town’s council, and of course the church board. He made interesting decisions. A Jewish congregation in our area wanted a place to worship while their new temple was being built. They asked our church for the use of the Parish Hall. My dad said no – use the sanctuary – it is already sacred space. A surprise (and perfect) response that everyone agreed to. Breaking or bending what seemed to be the rules?
He loved creating, imaging, encouraging, and helping businesses and individuals plan their futures. Not a prophet, not visibly spiritual, but likely to be the kind of person Jesus would have us be. Not afraid of doing what he thought was right. Dad knew which laws could not be challenged, and which ones to bend.
I wonder if he felt he had a calling. Once I asked him if he found it boring to sit at a desk working with numbers all day long. He said that the numbers didn’t matter – he just had a skill that helped people. And he did that as a CPA earning a living for his family, he did that for the church and for the town. That sounds like a calling. Nothing very exciting, or dramatic, just what he did.
Sometimes we dismiss our own calling because it seems to normal, too unexciting, too easy. We may have to ask ourselves – how does what we do help others? Is it our professional skill, our hobbies when we share them, our prayer life when we bring our concerns for our family and friends to God? Do we invite the ‘wrong’ people to dinner? Is it when we protest rules that have no compassion?
During the next few weeks we are setting up lists of people to take various ministries around the church as we move into a time of transition. Think of all the things you normally do in any given day. Can they help other people? Can you do them for the church?
This is a transition, not a Sabbath. No time to rest and wait. Life goes on, and it is the vitality, the energy, the spirit of the community, the people, the congregation, that keeps this place a holy gathering.
It is time for each of us to say “here I am, for your servant is listening.” And follow what you hear.