Reading for the Ninth Sunday after Epiphany:
And it came to pass, that Jesus went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and the disciples began to pluck the ears of corn as they went. And the Pharisees said to Jesus, Why do your disciples do that which is not lawful on the sabbath day? And he replied: Have you never read what David did, when he had need and was hungry, he, as well as those who were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the show bread, which was not lawful for anyone but the priests to eat, and gave it also to those who were with him? And Jesus said to them: The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:23-27)
May I repeat?
The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath!
Have you ever met people who were so “holy” you just wanted to hit them your purse!? I have!
People who just love to quote the Scripture AT you, and tell you exactly how and where and why and when you are, in their opinion, missing the mark of God’s standard. I have!
Well there’s good news today! If your hungry, you can eat the show bread! If your hungry, you can gather corn on the Sabbath! Cause you see, The sabbath was made for you, and not you for the sabbath! The Bible was made for people, not people for the Bible. So if you’re hungry for God this morning, God invites you to reach out and take the fruit of God’s love for you!
Now, don’t misunderstand me here, I love the Bible! I read it, I study it, I honor it, but, as Reverend Elder Perry, the founder of [my previous] denomination, said on his last visit to Santa Cruz, “The Bible didn’t save me, Jesus did!”
The Bible didn’t save me, Jesus did!
Nonetheless, some well meaning Christian people still like to take the Bible and try to control and legislate the lives of others based upon their understandings of it. They try and make people live for the Sabbath instead of allowing the Sabbath to be a blessing and helper to us! They condemn our natural sexual orientations and say we must be who we were never created to be! They say people must change the color of their skin, must deny their understandings of who God is, must reject their loved ones, and so on, if they would know God’s love. Nonsense!!! That would be Bad News, not “Good News” and the Gospel means “Good News”!
Not picking on anybody here, but in 1856 the Reverend Thorton Stringfellow spoke for the Southern Baptist Convention when he proclaimed:
“…Jesus Christ recognized the institution of slavery as one that was lawful, and he regulated its relative duties…I affirm then … that Jesus Christ has not abolished slavery.” [A Baptist minister of Culpeper County Virginia, author of the extensively distributed “A Scriptural View” – 1856]
And believe it or not, it was not until the 1995 that the Southern Baptist Convention issued a formal retraction and apology for this denominational teaching! Again, I’m Baptist at heart, not picking on them!
And again, in 1991 Reverend Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition and 700 Club said the following concerning Jewish people:
“The New Testament reveals that Jews both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men. History records the terrible sufferings the Jewish people have experienced as a result.” [From an editorial in the Christian Coalition’s newsletter, July/August 1991]
In 1992 Reverend Jay Grimstead, director of the ecumenical Coalition on Revival wrote:
“Homosexuality makes God vomit.” [quoted in the Advocate, Oct. 20, 1992]
Such hateful intollerance and Biblical abuses remind us of those immortal words of the bard, William Shakespeare:
“Even the devil can cite scripture for bias purpose.”
Yes, indeed! For far too long too much of the Christian Church has missed the central theme of Jesus’ message. What did the Master stress time and time again? What was his central message? Was it to Blindly obey the Bible? Was it Law over Grace, Justice over Mercy? No!
Recall the woman caught in the act of adultery? The religious people wanted to stone the her to death. And this was the Biblical teaching under the Law of Moses! They correctly cited the Bible as their authority to kill this woman. But recall Jesus’ words to her accusers,
“Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus teachings are that we must love our enemies, that we must turn the other cheek to those who would strike us, that we must judge not, least we be judged.
His message is:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
As we read Jesus’ words in our Bibles we find, at places like Matthew 7:28 and 29, that those who heard his teachings were astonished by them! He spoke from the heart with power and wisdom.
When the Pharisees had heard that Jesus had put the Seduces to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, who was a lawyer [meaning an expert in the Law of Moses], asked him a question, tempting him, and said: Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, You must love the Sovereign your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, You must love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Simple! And yet utterly profound and impossible to realize in our own power and strength.
How can we love our neighbors as ourselves?
One way we can love our neighbors as ourselves is to stand with them when they face persecution and bigotry; realizing that together we stand but divided we will surely fall!
We can love our neighbor as ourselves when we commit ourselves to paths of non-violence in their defense.
We can love our neighbor as ourselves when we commit ourselves to honoring diversity.
At the heart of it all, I believe, is the message that we can love our neighbors as ourselves only when we allow ourselves to be truly human. When we lay aside the walls and lables we use to define and divide humanity: I am Christian, I am Hindu, I am Jewish, I am Pagan, I am gay, I am lesbian, I am straight, I am bisexual, I am American, I am Iraqi, I am Asian, etc. etc.
NO! First and foremost, I am a human being! First and foremost I am a child of God. When I understand this, then I can understand that first and foremost you too are a person! Unique and wondrously made! As I look at the person who is you I can the see and appreciate such diversity, such beauty. God’s diversity, God’s beauty! Seeing this, how can we remain divided? How can hate one another? ‘Love is of God and everyone loves knows God’ to paraphrase the Scriptures.
In you I see the hand of God at work. The color of your skin, your sexual orientation, the language you speak, the paths you have walked. In your diversity I see my own Path, my own fears and loves, dreams and failings. In you I see God at work. It is then that I can truly reach out to you and love you even as I love myself, or at the least, that I come to develop a true desire to want to do this!
“If I be lifted up, I will draw all peoples unto me.”
What did Jesus mean by this? He taught that when we feed the poor, we’re really feeding him; when we minister to the hurting, we’re ministering unto him, when we welcome to rejected, we’re really welcoming him. This is the heart of Christianity!
Yes, there will always be those who seek to divide people into groups and subgroups, who abuse the Scriptures to their own ends. But when all is said and done:
We are to: Love the Sovereign our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. And to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Everything else is given to help us accomplish this end.
Jesus charges each us today:
God’s best to you all
John Phillips served as assistant pastor of Lavender Road Metropolitan Community Church in Santa Cruz and Monterey, Calif.