This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
Monday, January 28, 2013
A New World: An Honest Mirror
Preached on Sunday, January 27, 2013
Scripture readings: Isaiah
58:1-14; Mark 3:1-6
I know someone who refused to look in a mirror. In
their bathroom the mirror had a sheet draped over it. They so very much did not
like to see what they saw.
Toadstools on the Family Place
and Some Pictures in the Country around Live Oak
I’m not a big fan of mirrors, myself; but a mirror is
almost a necessity of life. I wouldn’t want to shave without one. I’m not sure
I could properly knot my tie without one. If I get something stuck in my eye, I
need a mirror to see what it is. As I get older, I have more trouble with nose
hairs; and I need a mirror to help me get them.
If I could ask someone to take care of these things
for me then, maybe, I wouldn’t need a mirror. You might say that such a person
would actually become my mirror. Instead of seeing my reflection in a mirror, I
would see myself through them; through their eyes.
Maybe you have such a mirror as that.
My bathroom mirror serves a couple of other purposes.
When I look into my mirror, I find myself able to see a man who needs a lot of prayer,
and the mercy and strength of God. I don’t think I would know how to live
without seeing that.
I also look into my mirror and see many other people
who need prayer. They need grace, and faith, and transformation. They need
guidance, and healing, and courage, and peace.
Half my mirror is covered with sticky notes with the
names of people for whom I have been asked to pray; or I know to pray for them
without being asked. I see them when I look in my mirror. I see people there
whom I have never met. I may never meet them this side of heaven.
You are mirrors too. When I look at you, I admit
being tempted to think more about myself, but I know, from experience, that
there are much more important things to think about when I look into the mirror
that is you.
I should see in you so many other people that I will
never meet, and so many places and situations that I will never know. And I
should be able to look into you and see a person who needs prayer; prayers for
grace, and faith; prayers for transformation, and guidance; and prayers for
healing, and courage, and peace.
Jesus is the perfect mirror in which we can see the
face of God; and we can see the human face, as well. We can see our true face,
and the faces of the people of this world. Only we may look into this mirror
named Jesus and not see what we want to see. We may not see our reflected face
as we desire to see it. We may decide to avoid the mirror, or cover it up, or
pretend that it has shown us something that is not there. We may desire to smash
it to pieces.
There were a lot of people who wanted to smash Jesus,
the perfect mirror. There was a political party in Galilee
called the Herodians. They wanted the Herod family to rule the people of Israel as they
had once ruled, under Roman authority, through Herod the Great, the king who
was visited by the wise men and who tried to kill the baby Jesus. The Herod
family still ruled in Galilee, with the Romans’
Having the Herod family as rulers was a way to be the
people of Israel, but with
the benefits of the superior culture, and stability, and prosperity of the Roman Empire. And the Roman power, in the tradition of
the Herod family, would be used to keep the faith of Israel and the God of Israel under
control. The Herods would see to it that the faith of Israel and the
God of Israel would not interfere too much in their ordinary lives.
Jesus, to their eyes, brought God and the life of
faith even closer to them than the Jewish Law. Jesus would not only be telling
them what to do and how to do it, the way the Pharisees wanted to do. Jesus
would have them looking deeper, at their priorities in life. He would have them
looking at the integrity of their own hearts. Jesus would have them care about
the poor and the needy. Jesus showed them the essential emptiness of wealth and
power, and everything they valued, compared to truth, love, and compassion.
The followers of Herod loved the world as it was, and
they wanted to be a part of it. Jesus showed them the possibility of a new world,
and a new life, that held nothing of value for them.
They would cover up Jesus, and the God whom Jesus
reflected. They would hide from this God and this Jesus, if they could; and
they were more than willing to dispose of him.
The Pharisees were also learning to hate the
reflection they saw in the mirror named Jesus. Pharisee is a word that comes
from the meaning “to separate”. They were “the separated ones” in the sense
that they separated themselves from everything and everyone impure or unclean;
meaning everything and everyone that did not conform perfectly to the laws of
Moses in the Old Testament.
If a Pharisee touched a pagan Roman or Greek (which
is probably what you and I would be if we lived in that time and place) he
would have to go home and take a bath. The touch would be degrading to the
Pharisees, and the thought that the Pharisee would have to take a bath, from our
slightest touch, would be degrading to us. You can imagine what kind of world
the Pharisees made for themselves.
It was as if the Pharisees lived in a diseased world,
where they were the only ones who remained uncontaminated by some world
destroying plague. Leprosy was treated as the visible picture of the
contamination of sin; if sin could be considered as a contagious, and disfiguring,
and fatal infection.
Leprosy is a sickness that was common in Jesus’ day.
It was considered highly contagious. It was also considered unclean. If you
were a Pharisee and touched a leper, you would have to go home and take a bath.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, in the ancient world where no
really good disinfectants were available except, perhaps, for wine and salt.
Mark tells us, in his first chapter, that Jesus deliberately
touched a leper and that (afterwards) he couldn’t enter the towns. This may not
have been only because Jesus was surrounded by such big crowds that there was
no longer room for him in the streets of any town. The Pharisees may have tried
to keep him out of their towns because he had touched a leper and so he shared
a leper’s uncleanness. Lepers were not allowed in towns, and neither was the
Jesus who handled them.
Other people came to Jesus for healing besides
lepers. Even if they were not lepers, they often had wounds or illnesses that
oozed, and bled, and discharged, and leaked: and Jesus touched them all. He
brought them the message and the good news of a God who came into their towns,
their streets, their homes, their rooms, and touched them where they needed it
Jesus reflected a God for whom lepers, and the people
who leaked and oozed, were the very people you did touch; but that was unclean
and unacceptable. The Pharisees would not consider such a God. In Jesus, they
saw the world of such a God, and they saw where they would stand in such a
They saw it, reflected for them, in an uncompromisingly
honest mirror. They wanted, with all their heart, to smash that mirror. They
wanted to smash Jesus and make him stop.
Sabbath means “stopping”. On a Sabbath, almost
everything stops. Everything stops: all working; all carrying; all making.
There is no lighting of lights or fires, and no putting them out. There is plenty
of food, but no cooking. There is reading, but no writing. There is no tying of
knots, and no untying. There is no carrying of burdens. There is only what is
needed for life.
The Sabbath is a day for life in the presence of the
living God who does not need to work in order to live. To be holy as God is
holy means obeying the command, one day in seven, to radically stop in the
presence of God.
If a life is in danger, you may stop your holy
stopping in order to save that life. Only you can do nothing beyond saving it.
If a wall collapses on a person, you can dig through enough
of the wall to see if that person is still alive, and if he or she is still alive
you may save them, but if they are dead, you leave the body where it is until
the Sabbath is done. If a person is wounded, you may bandage the wound to stop
the bleeding, but you cannot put medicine on the wound, because that is not
needed to save a life.
The reason for this was the law. The law of Moses did
not say not to dig the body out of the rubble. The law did not say to put no
medicine on the wound. The law did not say to cook no food. But the law said to
stop and do no work.
How far can you go before you stop stopping? How far
can you go before anything you are doing becomes work? If you cannot answer
this, the safe thing to do, according to the Pharisees, in order to keep the
law to the letter, is to do nothing, because the law must be kept above all
Jesus did nothing but to speak, and to have the man
with the withered hand stand up and stretch out his hand. None of this broke
the holy stopping of the Sabbath. If Jesus did any more than this, it was
nothing they could see or hear; but how could they be sure that he had done
Perhaps Jesus had exerted great powers to achieve a
healing, when the life of the man did not hang in the balance. Jesus must have broken
the Sabbath. He must have made the day of blessing unholy and unclean when he
healed a human being created in God’s image, when that human didn’t need to be
The Sabbath is part of the Ten Commandments, and
those commandments are found in two places: the twentieth chapter of Exodus and
the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. In Exodus the Sabbath rest is a mirror of
God’s blessing of the creation. In the early centuries after Christ came, the
Jewish rabbis wrote this about the day when God rested: “What was created on
the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose!” (third century, Genesis
Rabbah 10:9) The rabbis, themselves, knew that the Sabbath was about
perfecting, and blessing the creation.
In Deuteronomy, the Sabbath is holy because it is the
mirror of the day when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt. Deuteronomy
tells us that we are to give rest to others, because God has set us free.
This freedom from slavery is the Old Testament
picture of salvation and grace. The Sabbath is holy because it is a day for
giving blessing, bringing grace and deliverance into the world.
For the Pharisees, the law of stopping was more
important than the law of saving, and blessing, and giving grace to others.
They saw the stopping as the only blessing, and as an end in itself.
Even they should have known that it was a day for
giving Good to the man with the withered hand. They wanted to put a cap on the
blessing power of God. In that sense they were willing to do evil rather than
good, for the sake of the law of the Sabbath.
In this way they were more concerned about stopping
Jesus from working than they were about the blessing of the man with the
withered hand. The Sabbath became a weapon against Jesus and against goodness. On
that Sabbath day they thought more than ever about killing; killing Jesus.
When Jesus healed the man, he was giving him a new
life. He was giving goodness. So the question of Jesus was to the point, “Which
is lawful on the Sabbath: to do Good or to do Evil, to save life or to kill?”
They had already killed Jesus in their hearts. They had broken the Sabbath
themselves and made it unholy and unclean.
This warns us about taking what we think of as holy
and making it into a weapon against the Lord himself. Do we use our prayer, our
music, our worship, our church, as standards for judging others? Do we use what
we think of as our holy ways as an excuse to keep others from experiencing the
love and the power of God among us? Do take the good things that we claim come
from God, and make them into walls to shut others out; or into clubs for
smacking them into agreement with us?
Jesus worshiped on the Sabbath with all his people.
He was always found whenever and wherever they gathered to pray, and to study,
and to listen, and to learn, and to rest in the blessing of God.
Jesus was also always found with those who needed
healing and forgiveness and a new life. Jesus was to be found whenever and wherever
the unclean and the unforgiven gathered.
The Sabbath is not so much about a day in time (one
day in seven) as it is about the nature of God himself and his purpose to
complete us as his creations, and to save us and give us a new life. There is
no unit of time where seven days represent anything that happens in our world
of time and space. The Sabbath has nothing to do with the motion of the sun, or
the moon, or the earth, or the universe.
The Sabbath represents the grace of God working in
time. The Sabbath is the work of God who creates us and promises to set us
free, and to give us healing, and deliverance, and rest beyond this world of
time and space.
Jesus died on the cross to give us a better Sabbath
than any one day out of seven. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead
to bring us into a new world that is devoted to blessing, and to caring. When
we create blessing, we create the Sabbath; not as a twenty-four hour day (not
as one day in seven), but as a state of being and a way of life. Jesus died on
the cross and rose from the dead to give us a new world where there are only
beginnings, and never any endings, where there are no more things that come to
The man, who stopped having a withered hand, stopped
having a hand that stopped him. Now, no matter how hard he worked, and no
matter what day he worked, he would always be at rest, because he had been
blessed with the blessing of work. He could work and know the joy of work. He
could laugh at his ability to work.
Now he could work and he could play as much as he
could, because Jesus had refused to be told when to stop. Jesus had refused to
agree that stopping, in itself, was holy.
When we look into the mirror of Jesus, we can see who
we are and how we must let him change us in order to find our true rest. Our true
rest, in Jesus, is found in creating blessing, and in being a blessing to