I’ve been wearing one of these fancy “FitBit” devices now as I’ve been engaged in trying to improve my overall health.
Grandkids will do that to you, make you want to stay around longer.
Anyway, this little marvel counts my steps, lets me know if I’ve gone up inclines or stairs. It monitors my sleep cycle reminding me to get adequate rest. It even tells me the time and date. It will also monitor my heart rate, which is a useful tool for seeing if you’re working hard enough to get your body working on improving your stamina during exertion.
Just as important as monitoring when the heart rate goes up however is the feature of monitoring your “resting heart rate.”
“Resting heart rate” is important. It lets you know that you’ve recovered from your exertion and that you are back in the realm of maintaining balance and health. Your heart, (as it turns out) doesn’t like to keep working at peak rate. It seeks that “resting rate” and the rhythm of life that rate affords and provides.
For some reason “Resting Heart Rate” made a connection for me with this somewhat obscure Gospel reading for today.
Jesus is at odds with the Pharisees over proper keeping of the Sabbath, the proper keeping of the “rest” prescribed by God in the third Commandment.
Jesus and his disciples were well aware of the Sabbath laws concerning both the events in the field, and the man with the withered hand in the Synagogue. It is not the case, (as is so often recounted incorrectly) that the Pharisees are just upset with the activity of Jesus or his disciples here, plucking grain as they walk, healing on the sabbath.
No, what really upsets the Pharisees is that (having pointed out) Jesus’ transgression of the sabbath law, Jesus didn’t just apologize and amend his or his disciple’s actions.
Instead, Jesus assumes and presumes the role of teacher. He counters the Pharisee’s citing of the Sabbath laws with an argument from scripture as to how such laws should be open to interpretation and mitigating circumstances.
Jesus, in other words, sets himself up as a more reliable authority on the matter of the Sabbath than the Pharisees.
This is what ticks them off.
“What’s the point of Sabbath, if it’s not really restful?” Jesus implies.
What’s the point of keeping the Sabbath if you’re so wrapped up in making sure the Sabbath laws are legalistically adhered to that you can’t “rest” from being a Pharisee and rendering a judgment to someone about something?
What’s the point of Sabbath if it cannot give the man with the withered arm what he most needs, which is a break from the deficit this affliction causes him?
He can’t really celebrate Sabbath (a break from work) if he can’t work in the first place, and he can’t work if he doesn’t have an arm, and so let’s put balance back into the equation, shall we?
“Stretch out your hand….” Jesus says to him.
These two stories told in tandem reveal the central concern. The Pharisees are quick to point out what they feel others are doing wrong, and they are far too silent on rendering any kind of helpful interpretation of the Sabbath law that would lead to better health in the community.
What both grieves and angers Jesus (we are told in no uncertain terms,) is “the hardness of their hearts.”
“Hardness of their hearts” is a phrase that ought to have rung in the ears of the Pharisees.
Who was it that had a “hardened heart” in their history? Whose “hardened heart” brought about the giving of the commandments in the first place?
Was it not Pharaoh, with his insistence on work with no time for rest or for worship?
Was it not Pharaoh who had a hardened heart when it came to managing the population problems of Goshen, with his “just kill the males born, lest this people become too great” policy. Pharaoh’s cold, calculated approach to a people that made of them just another commodity rather than God’s beloved creation.
It was Pharaoh who was quick to point out offenses and transgressions and who was slow to consider the consequences of his own actions upon himself, his own people and the people of God.
Jesus calls out the “hardness of heart” of the Pharisees, and as such then introduces once again the heart into the matter of Sabbath laws.
The Sabbath was created for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. This matter of “rest” is important not just to God as some legal requirement, but God knows it is important for the overall health and wellbeing of people.
It was God who had first rested from the work of creation as a conscious act of taking in what God had done, providing space for gratitude.
God had declared that rest was “good”. It gave one perspective from which to move forward.
After the flight from Egypt, God had commanded rest and sabbath, precisely to break what was the “perverse economy of Pharaoh,” as Walter Brueggeman puts it.
Pharaoh, who heartlessly exacts and extracts, more and more, without giving anyone time to rest, to worship, or to consider what they have done.
“Resting” in God’s economy provides a rhythm of life.
“Resting” in God’s economy is not commanded because it’s something you do for God, something required of you, or something God expects out of respect for God.
No, rest is something God says you need to do for your own sake, and for the sake of your relationship with God and for the sake of relationship with your neighbor, because where there is no proper understanding of “rest”, or “sabbath” there is no proper relationship with God or neighbor.
You get cranky.
God gets grieved and angry.
People and creation suffer, when there is no “rest.”
It is here, early on in Mark’s Gospel that the matter of the Sabbath begins to show itself as a place of contention because Jesus presumes to teach on it’s importance. For all the “rush” Jesus seems to be in throughout Mark’s Gospel, all the quick moves that Jesus makes from place to place, it is also in this Gospel that we see Jesus doing the most “resting.
Here we find Jesus’ “come away” invitations.
Come away to a lonely place.
It is in this Gospel that Mary and Martha are contrasted, and Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better thing, to sit at Jesus feet and it is something that will not be taken away from her.
The teaching that Jesus engages in right here sets the tone for the rest of the Gospel. Sabbath, rest is prescribed, and returned to, and modeled by Jesus over and over again so it must be important.
Teaching on the Sabbath is the first thing that sets Jesus and the rest of the world at odds with one another. It is Jesus’ desire for balance and interpretation of this matter that becomes the heart of his message, as the Kingdom of God comes into direct conflict with the way the Kingdom of this world is ordered and executed.
So I got to thinking, Congregation, how is our “resting heart rate?”
Oh, I know all about our exertion heart rate, but much of that is modeled on the expectations of this world, and in the Kingdom of this world.
I’ve watched the blood pressures rise in this place over this concern or that, had more than one tense meeting where reminders were given of what can/should/ought to be done. Impassioned discussions were engaged, necessary reminders of how things ought to be done in good order, but moments that made that clearly made hearts race, and not in a positive way.
Oh, we have plenty of positive heart rate raisers here as well.
I’ve witnessed the exertion of Sunday School teachers, and of TLC workers, and of Pantry volunteers, and Arts in Ministry folks decorating and planning.
I’ve seen the sweat of musicians hauling equipment around, playing and leading worship.
I’ve seen the scramble of ushers, altar guild and communion assistants.
I’ve watched the responsibilities of putting together slide shows, and providing coffee hour refreshments, and the clean up crews that assemble in the kitchen after events or in time of need.
We are a place that has put “Enter to Serve” on our doorsteps as we leave this place. That is meant to be a reminder that God calls us to serve others in the mission field of this world, and that our service begins as soon as we exit those doors.
We end our worship with “Go in peace, Serve the Lord” as a reminder that God wants us to get out there and to get busy on the Kingdom work out there in the world.
But all this still begs my initial question. “How is your ‘resting heart rate?’” That is to say, how good are you at keeping the Sabbath in the way that Jesus encourages in the Gospel?
Do you take the time to retreat and to rest yourself, to “come away” to a lonely place or to sit at the feet of Jesus, or is your life just one continuous plunge from activity to activity? (Either church related or work related or family related or… whatever.)
Do you feel able to set aside the letter of the law in order to make the spirit of the Sabbath take root in your life?
Do you pause to consider the circumstances? Consider the lives or others, the situation they find themselves in, the mitigating factors that may be at play in the lives of that person, or do you doggedly point out the rules and the regulations and demand adherence to the economy of established practice?
If you find yourself frustrated and frazzled, could it be that you’re using your Spiritual “fitbit” only with a setting to see how much you can serve, how fast you can go, how high you can get your activity, all the while neglecting the equally important matter of “Spiritual Resting Heart Rate?”
What would it take for you to find your “resting heart rate” when it comes to following Jesus?
I tease that maybe we should have door mats made up to place at the entrances facing in that say “Enter to Rest.”
Would that remind us of some things?
Go ahead, wipe your feet before you come in.
Come on in and wipe away the weariness of this world away and its frenetic pace in confession, in worship, and granting forgiveness and finding forgiveness.
Be refreshed, take and eat and simply be for a bit. Feel your heart rate descend into that resting rate that signals health and wholeness.
If you can’t find that in this place, then perhaps you should ask “what is keeping me from it?”