Luke 13. 10-17
It’s not the principles or the values that inspire and motivate;
it’s Jesus and it’s love!
Practical Godliness! That’s what the preacher called it. Down-to-earth! Matter of fact! A real roll-up-your-sleeves, dirt-under-your-fingernails kind of thing! None of that highfalutin, hoity-toity stuff that passes as believing, nowadays. That sounds good but changes nothing. Changes no one. But the honest-to-god kind you can sink your teeth into! Popular opinion has it that Jesus’ disciples were just plain, old, everyday good old boys! How’s the song put it? Such happy, simple fisherfolk! Contented! Peaceful! With disciples like that, the church deserves, demand, an equally happy, simple godliness! Step-by-step! User friendly! So that’s just what the preacher gave them. A good, sensible dose of practical godliness.
On this particular day – the first of a new series of sermons – he spoke on patience. Well, not exactly spoke. More like encouraged … exhorted … inflicted … Word-by-word, syllable-by-syllable, letter- by- letter, he made his way through the bible. From Genesis to Revelation! God wants us to be patient! God wills us to be patient! That’s what Christians are! They’re patient! So, try harder! Do better! Because it’s not just god who’s watching. It’s all the people around you, as well! Watching to see if you stumble and fall!
I listened to the end. All thirty minutes of it. And that homily, that discourse, gave me a lot to think about … being a preacher myself. When I got home, I did a little research. For the record, there are somewhere around three-quarter of a million words in the bible, both parts. Give or take, seven hundred fifty thousand words. And the family of words formed around the word patience – that’s nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs – the word family related to the word patience occurs … only forty times! Only forty times out of seven hundred fifty thousand! Now, it is interesting that the word is only used only six times in the Old Testament; thirty-four in the New. But it’s hardly worth the focus of a half-hour presentation! Just for comparison, the word family of faith and its kin – not counting believing or trusting – is used nearly five hundred times. And the word family of love and its relatives – not counting grace or charity – is used nearly eight hundred times! So, patience, as a word, not so much. But we preachers are known for chasing squirrels, now and again.
But, like I said, he did get me thinking. Because once again, in all that talk about practical godliness, two things were missing. Can you guess what they are? Charity and Christ! Christ and Charity! Sure, he mentioned Jesus, but more as a Moses than a Christ! More as a lawgiver than a savior! That preacher didn’t say much of anything, though, about the thing that matters most! Love! Charity! Grace! Yes, he was practical. And yes, he was godly, at least from the popular perspective. Patience was, indeed, one of those biblical principles, one of those Christian values, so many want to apply to everyday living. There, just, wasn’t any love!
Which meant that there was one other thing missing from that sermon. People! People, other than just me! In all fairness, he did mention people who drive us up a wall! People who make us absolutely crazy! People who motivate and inspire our impatience! And he talked about all the people who watched as we “Christians” behaved as we did! Who would question what we believed. Who would question whom we believed in. But patience, itself, was strictly about us, not them. Our self-control! Our restraint! Our willpower! It had no part of our relationships with others. We could do it fine, all by ourselves, thank you very much. We could be a monk in a monastery. We could be a hermit in a cave. Whether or not someone else was around was beside the point!
Practical godliness! The sermon he preached, on that particular day, was on patience. The next week, it could, very well, have been on the Sabbath! Commandment number three: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. And practically speaking, he, probably, would have talked about all the usual stuff that comes to mind. Going to church. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. No sports competitions. No movies. No alcohol, wine, or spirits. No shopping. You’ve heard it all before. Well, that’s practical godliness! Down-to-earth! Matter of fact! No-nonsense! And people … people are optional. Actually, people just get in the way.
We know, exactly, what it means to remember the sabbath day, what it is to keep that day holy. And only two things were ever left off the list of blue laws. Jesus and love! Love and Jesus! And, of course, the people Jesus loves! That’s where the conflict comes in. That’s where it came from in today’s gospel. Jesus shows up at church on a Sunday morning and does something any self-respecting Christian knows better than doing. He heals a woman! A woman who had been crippled for as long as I’ve been a pastor, here in Midland! Bent over! Unable to stand up straight! And at a glance … in a touch … he changes all that! He loves her! And he places her higher than the preacher’s practical godliness!
“You have six other days to heal that women,” the preacher tells Jesus! “And this isn’t one of them! You could have waited! Until tomorrow! Until the day after!” Jesus says, “Love can’t wait.” Love can’t wait. Sabbath or no. Besides, what better day? What better hour? But that’s not practical godliness. We know what we should and what we shouldn’t. What we ought and what we ought not. But truth is, there are only two things that make us “godly.” Only two things that make us “holy”. Jesus and Jesus’ love! Jesus love and Jesus!
There’s Charity and there’s Christ! There’s Christ and there’s Charity! And, of course, there’s the people! All the people! Just like that woman, in church, this morning. It’s not the principles! It’s not the values! It’s the flesh and blood, the heart and soul! For us, faith, trust, believing, has never been about commandments chipped in stone! For us, right from the start, from the very beginning, it’s been a body broken and blood shed! For us, it’s not Sinai that matters! It’s not Zion! It’s Calvary! Golgotha! For us, it’s always been the cross. In that simple sign, in that unsophisticated symbol, we see everything we need to know! We see Jesus! And we see the love! And, of course, we see each other, too! Reflected there in Jesus eyes!
Is it practical? Pragmatic? Far from it! It’s naïve! Naïve and unrealistic! But it’s what raises us up! Raises us up and makes us new! It’s not biblical principles that change the world. It’s not Christian values that transform lives. It Jesus! Jesus and his love!