“When Our Religion Misses the Point”     Luke 13:10-17
Delivered to Church for the Highlands      John Henson
Sunday, August 21, 2016

huntingdogSome of my greatest memories involve dogs. I’ve always had one at least one, and I can easily say that dogs truly are a man’s best friend. They are also great partners, especially those bred and trained to hunt. While living in South Texas, I had the privilege of being able to quail hunt as much as I wanted.  A Pastor of a neighboring church had several American Pointers, and he was always at the ready to get them out in the field and hunt. American Pointers are 100% hyper and out of control at any time other than hunting. But when they are out in the field, they are focused on one thing: finding quail. If you have ever hunted them, you know that they hide in the cover of brush and will run along the ground until you are right on them. Pointers find them and point (as you see here in this picture). Holding the point is crucial. An overanxious dog who breaks point will break the covey of quail and ruin the hunt. Out of the three dogs we hunted with, only two could hold the point. One of them was always missing the point.

That’s what the leader of the synagogue did, as we have heard in our Scripture text for today.  He missed the point. More specifically, his understanding of and malpractice of his religion was missing the point. As Luke described, it wasn’t just the man who was missing the point; the people in the crowd must have shared in his view about the Sabbath.  So Jesus had words for them all.

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The day Jesus healed the woman was the Sabbath, a day Jewish law required to be one of rest.  Work was forbidden. This, after all, is one of the Ten Commandments. The command seems simple enough. Take the day off. Don’t do anything but rest. But, like with most anything we religious people do, the simple command became anything but simple.  Jewish Law forbids any work that fits in the 39 Categories in the Talmud. A helpful summary of all 39 is listed on Wikipedia, mentioning such things as planting, plowing, reaping, cooking/baking, laundering, measuring, writing, building, and others.  One exception, though, was the saving of life, which was a requirement that trumped Sabbath laws.[1] Different groups within Judaism have differing interpretations and applications ’s time.

The leader of the synagogue objected out of his understanding of the law and how Jesus was breaking it. Jesus responded out of his understanding of the law and how the man was mistaking it. He was missing the whole point of the law: God’s care for people. Jesus reasoned how ridiculous it was to think it acceptable to break the Sabbath law to loose an animal who was stuck but not acceptable to loose a woman who was stuck in more ways than one. No wonder the woman was praising God. No wonder at all why the crowd was “rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” (verse 17)

The world Jesus lived in sounds a lot like ours today.  We religious people still so often miss the point, don’t we?  Perhaps this is why the Millennial generation doesn’t even think about attending a church or religious group. Or, missing the point may be the reason so many kids who grow up in church never come back after leaving home. I think you’ll find this trend in all faiths, but certainly, it is true within western Christianity. Examples of how we Christians miss the point these days is when we refuse to allow Jesus to free women in our world; when we care more about conception than end of life; when we care more for church buildings than those who are outside of them; when we take a sacred view of creation yet pollute the environment as though we don’t; when we say Jesus still heals but work against providing health care for people who can’t afford it; when we preach and teach that God loves everyone but then argue who is “everyone”; when we sing and celebrate our doctrine of grace on Sunday but judge and condemn on Monday; and, when we are rescued by God’s forgiveness but are unwilling to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us.

If we are missing the point, how do we find it?  We see it in the Jesus who stands in our midst and shares the words and actions of life just like he did with the legalistic objector and crowd we hear in our text this morning. The words, actions, and life of Jesus are before us still today, revealing what the point is: that God was more interested in people than their religion; that God cares more about the person who is tied up than the ox who is in a ditch; that God is more concerned with people who are oppressed and in bondage than our devotion to a checklist of 39 categories. Jesus stayed on point. He showed it, lived it, and shared it.

The question for us, then, is: do we have Jesus? Have we allowed the point Jesus made with his life change our lives?  If we do, we will approach our religion differently. We will relate to people of other religions differently. We will approach our upcoming election and issues differently. We will treat one another in the church differently. We will treat others outside our church differently. We will respond to the needs of our community and the world differently. We will spend our money differently. We will live our lives differently. All of this matters, to a point.

Have you gotten the point?

[An audio version of this sermon is here]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Activities_prohibited_on_Shabbat

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