Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
January 29, 2017
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today I have a message for you about doing good.
It might surprise you, well probably not, that I am a rule follower. Always have been of both explicit and implicit rules (well except for following the speed limit in my younger days). Yet before my several speeding tickets in my early twenties, I stayed on point. In college playing field hockey we had many team rules. For instance, we had to sit in the first three rows of all of our classes. We had to maintain a certain GPA and when coaching summer camps, we could not wear sunglasses (because it is important when you are coaching for your athletes to see your eyes) and we had to have our t-shirts tucked-in.
So imagine being a college student, coaching high school students and being required on 100°+ degree days to have your shirts always tucked-in. Needless to say it was hot, but I loved it. I also would get rather annoyed with underclassmen who did not follow all of our implicit and explicit rules. I loved the rules and discipline because it made me feel special.
I was just like the Pharisees, who were following and likely loved to follow the rules. When they question Jesus about harvesting they are following what was taught in the book of Exodus (34.21), which forbids harvesting on the Sabbath. After all as one of the Ten Commandments, the command to observe the Sabbath by not working was foundational to Israel. (Ex 20.8-11 & Deut 5.12-15).
Jesus responds to the Pharisees by saying “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (v. 5). It is like my coach saying, I made the rule about tucking-in your shirts so it is okay if my new fitted shirt cannot be tucked-in. Jesus’ response seems to appease the Pharisees for the moment, and who knows maybe it was for a while when the second question about the Sabbath arises.
It was on a different Sabbath when a man with a withered hand is told to stand next to Jesus. Now the Pharisees are watching and wondering will he cure this man on the Sabbath which by law is also unlawful because it would be considered work. These Pharisees and scribes are ready to bring accusations against Jesus if he heals the man’s hand. Now, what we do not know is whether these are the same Pharisees as before. Maybe they were and now are trying to catch Jesus breaking the Sabbath because he got away with one before or maybe they are different individuals who are trying to catch him because they have heard rumors of his breaking the Sabbath law. Either way they are watching closely.
This time Jesus stands up and says “I ask you, it is lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (v. 9) No one responds I imagine they are thinking, this is a trick question, how can we possible answer it? Jesus not only stumps them on the question, but also in how the man is cure. Take notice that Jesus does not touch the man, or pray over him. Rather he simply asks the man to “stretch out his hand” and it was restored. Some theologians believe Jesus did not touch the man so the healing would not be considered “work”.
The people are furious, he has once again broken the law and he has evaded them!
Yet what if the point of the story is not about just about observing the Sabbath but also about taking every opportunity to do something good?
Have you ever had a situation where you wished you had done something? Maybe it was witnessing a car crash and you could have stopped to see if help was needed but you were in a hurry so you went on. Or maybe it was offering to carry groceries out to an elderly person’s car. I remember when I was teaching and one of my students, who was a good kid and always in class attentive state in the front row, was absent for several days in a row. I didn’t check in on him and when he came back to class I learned that his brother had passed away unexpectedly. I reached out via email but I wished I had done more to connect with that student. I think I missed an opportunity to do something good.
Jesus said "I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"
This week I came across a story from written by a Muslim woman who volunteers as Head of Publications at I am Alima, an organization aimed at empowering Muslim women to reach their ultimate potential. She wrote:
Recently I’d been feeling very hard-hearted and unemotional; I couldn’t feel anything for anyone close or far, no matter what they were going through. I couldn’t cry. I would ask Allah (swt) to soften my heart but even this asking was emotion-free. I hated this feeling. But one afternoon everything changed, and my dua [her calling out to Allah] was answered.
On a bright, sunny afternoon I sat in a fast food restaurant with a colleague. Our food had just been served. As we began eating I looked through the window and saw an elderly woman with a walking frame being helped into the restaurant by a couple who were coming to eat at the restaurant also.
The old lady slowly strolled over to the food counter. A waiter spoke to her briefly, but it seemed he was struggling to understand her. He called another waiter who spoke to her for a few minutes and then left. My attention returned to my food.
Shortly afterwards I noticed the old lady walking, slowly, towards the door, empty-handed. As she made her way to the door she looked at the food on our table. I watched her walk out the door all alone and disappear out of sight.
A few minutes later the thought entered my mind that this lady had walked into the shop wanting something but had left empty-handed. What if she’d been hungry but the waiters hadn’t understood her? What if she hadn’t had the money? The image of her eyes on our food as she walked out made my eyes swell with tears.
Why hadn’t I realized sooner? My hunger died and I couldn’t even look at the food. I could have asked her, could have brought her to our table and shared our food with her, I thought as tears began rolling down my cheeks.
I had indeed missed out on a good deed, and I had missed a chance to bring a smile to a lonely elderly person’s face. When we reached the office I went to the prayer room and cried like I hadn’t cried in many days. I asked for Allah’s (swt) forgiveness and asked Allah (swt) to give me a chance to meet this lady again and serve her for His Sake. I [asked] Allah (swt) to grant me the ability to perform good deeds for His sake, to recognize a good deed awaiting me and to hasten to perform it. Indeed those who hasten to do good deeds are on the path to success.
Our faith, just like the Muslim faith teaches is to do good. Yet what is good? Well, God is good my friends. So when we act in accordance with God we are doing good. Yet how do we know if we are in accordance with God after all what is good for one may not be good for another? The answer is in Jesus’ statement, “is it lawful to do good or to do harm” (v. 9). Does your action create harm to yourself or anyone else? If not then it is good. And on the contrary, does the lack of your action create harm? After all “the failure to do good is actually doing harm if an opportunity is lost.”
God is in the rules and order which I love, plus God is in the chaos as shown by Jesus and God is in the good we do and create.
I am a ruler follower it is in my DNA, even though I now do not always tuck my t-shirts into my shorts. However sometimes we need to step out of our rules and societal constructs to do more good. This week I invite you to take every opportunity to do something good, to not let yourself or your situation get in your own way. After all God is good, all the time.
 Robert C. Tannehill, “Luke” (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: 1996) 111.