Sermon:         Inhibiting Structures, Inhibiting Thoughts. Scripture:       Mark 2:23 – 3:6 Preacher:       Rev. Michael Bodger Location:        First Presbyterian, DeLand Date:               June 03, 2018   Today, we find ourselves in Mark’s gospel. Mark’s Gospel, as you have heard me say before is a gospel of urgency, things happen and they happen fast. There is an immediacy to nearly all that takes place. Mark is not concerned with details about how Jesus came to be, just that he is here on earth and the gospel starts at the point where John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus. Our text can be found at the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3 and it contains two stories that on the surface relate to the Sabbath,   but ultimately relate to Jesus’ authority. We find Jesus in the grain fields with his disciples, as well as in the synagogue and he is pitted in both instances against the Pharisees. Jesus has already confronted some of the leaders of the day back in Chapter 1, when again he was in the synagogue and healed a man possessed by demons. The battle lines were drawn in that encounter as to whom Jesus was coming to defeat and today brings added detail of who’s on what side. From that first episode in the synagogue Jesus has grown in popularity by what he has done and said. People are flocking to see him and the Pharisees are all too aware of the situation.   So open up your bibles today as we read from Mark 2:23-3:6 which you can find on page 814 of your pew bibles and listen to what the Spirit is telling the church today.   Two encounters. Both have in common a number of things. They both take place on the Sabbath and the two encounters are concerned about what is and isn’t permissible to do on that day. They both contain the Pharisees, who are acting somewhat strangely. Do they have nothing better to do than be walking around a grain field on the Sabbath and were they themselves defying the Sabbath rules by being there? Did they follow Jesus or was it just by happenstance that they happened to be at that particular grain field that Jesus and his disciples were walking through? Did they know Jesus was going to be at the synagogue? And the man with the withered hand, was he planted, there to act as bait for them to see what Jesus’ reaction would be?   Lots of questions abound in the circumstances that brought both these confrontations to the fore.   What can be answered is that Jesus is confronting those who are considered the authority of the day and he challenges them to a new understanding. He challenges them to take a look at just how they lead the people, and at his challenge, they stay silent.   Have you ever done anything absentmindedly? Find yourself doing something before you even realize it. Maybe it’s just a habit. It’s how I think about the disciples going through the grain field, simply walking in the sunshine, reaching out and plucking corn. The text has suggestions of the fact that the disciples were not concerned so much about eating the grain, but were going ahead of Jesus and making a path for him through the grain field. Regardless of what they intended to do, the moment they began to pluck heads of grain, the Pharisees pop up and ask a question.   Did Jesus and the disciples know that they were being watched, or was this entourage of Pharisees hiding below the height of the corn and the moment the disciples did anything, their heads suddenly popped up above the grain and they shouted out “We saw that.”   Notice they pick on Jesus, not the disciples. “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”         The Commandment says, ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.’ The Pharisees know that those in the field are disciples of Jesus. That being the case, Jesus should be the one who controls their actions, and is therefore now responsible for what they do. ‘They’re following you,’ the Pharisees state, and so you need to make sure they are doing the right thing.   What’s also strange is that they do not accuse the disciples of stealing grain as well – it surely was not owned by any of them. There is however provision in scripture that the farmer should leave the edge of the field that others might help themselves. Maybe that was enough for them not to be accused of stealing. Anyway, breaking one commandment was enough.   Jesus does not respond directly, but instead goes to a precedent from scripture. Remember your scriptures, in fact let me liken these circumstances, to those that David experienced. So Jesus tells them a story that they knew well. It wasn’t a story of the Sabbath, but rather a story of David taking action to address human need. David’s men were hungry, David was hungry and so he “ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”   Was that the motivation for Jesus’ disciples, that they were simply hungry? If so, David’s circumstances, being pursued by Saul who wanted to kill him and being desperate for food, were quite different from a stroll through a grain field on a Sabbath day.   Regardless, there is no come back from the Pharisees and Jesus carries on and says,  “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”   Jesus has already used the term Son of Man and his use of it again is a direct challenge to the Pharisees and their authority. You’ve reversed the intent of the gift of Sabbath that God gave, but I am lord even of the Sabbath.   [1]Dr. Jack Mezirow, professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, believes that an essential element in adult learning is to challenge our own ingrained perceptions and examine our insights critically. Dr. Mezirow says that adults learn best when faced with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma”—something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired” (Barbara Strauch, The New York Times). This is the opposite of saying, “My mind is made up—don’t confuse me with the facts.”   Jesus presents the Pharisees with a “disorienting dilemma” and they cannot fathom it and they refuse to allow it break into the mold they find themselves in which is that their minds are already made up.   So once again, their answer to Jesus is silence. Jesus in a single sentence, points out to them the significance of Sabbath and refutes what they have turned it into and they have no answer.   Jesus does not abandon Sabbath practice, he re-frames it to its original intent - sabbath was made for humankind. It’s for our benefit – so what do we use it for? Do we use it for our benefit? Or are the demands of living in today’s culture and society akin to the rules and regulations established by the Pharisees? Sabbath was made for humankind. Jesus says, God gave the Sabbath for the well being of humanity. So, where are the places we take our Sabbath today? It’s not easy to answer – in fact we too could answer in silence.   If it was important for Jesus in establishing his authority, that he engaged the authorities of the day about their implementation of Sabbath meaning, then shouldn’t we take notice that it is given unto us for a purpose?   It is also not right for us to turn around and say we are free to determine what Sabbath should look like. Jesus follows on his statement by saying, so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Sabbath observance still falls under God’s determination and that should be the driver of how we approach it.   If this were a game of any kind, Jesus would already be so far ahead of the opposition, and yet he is not finished yet, because the opposition hasn’t reached a certain point, but it’s coming!   We move to the beginning of Chapter 3 and here, strangely for Mark, there is no indication with respect to timeframe. Other than we find out it is Sabbath once again, it is unclear if the next engagement with the Pharisees took place immediately or if it was a week later or even longer. Again, inconsistencies are apparent – what is a man with a withered hand even doing in the synagogue, it’s not a place he would have been allowed to go into. Yet he is there and so is Jesus and so are the Pharisees. A set up, you might ask?   Notice that there is no question as to whether Jesus can heal the man. We are told, they watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. Would, not could cure him! They, the Pharisees have already witnessed that Jesus is capable of healing, their intent is to entrap Jesus so they can get rid of him – Why, because of the challenge that he represents to all that they hold dear.   Once again silence is their chosen ‘modus operandi.’ The scene is set, they watch, they say nothing. We have already experienced a moment in Mark whereby Jesus knew what was in the hearts and minds of those he faced and it is no different here. It happens back in Chapter 2:8, Jesus is speaking to a paralytic man and forgives him his sin and the scribes begin to discuss it, and we are told, At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?   I our text, Jesus knows they are waiting for the moment he acts and so he does not disappoint them. He beckons to the man “Come forward.” Then Jesus poses a question, which must have caught the Pharisees short - “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?”   It’s rhetorical – there was no need for an answer, because the answer was obvious and it sets the Pharisees up for what Jesus does next.   In between, comes a revelation of Jesus’ state of mind with regards to those who oppose him. When they respond with silence this time He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart.   His anger for the Pharisees was at their inability to accept not just Jesus, but an interpretation of what the right thing to do was. What does the law say, asks Jesus. They can’t respond, because they have changed it into their own understanding, to suit their own needs. Jesus asks is it lawful….. to save life or to kill, knowing what they had in their hearts. Jesus simply says to the man,   “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.   No confrontation, no immediate arrest of Jesus – what we get is the culmination of the Pharisees being in opposition to Jesus. This doer of good, this healer amongst the people, this one who claims to be the Son of Man – their response is not joy, their response is that The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.   In the face of having to look at themselves and answer the questions that Jesus posed, they sided with a group who were in direct opposition to them with regards to who they thought should rule Judea. A long period of animosity between the Pharisees and Herodians vaporized when Jesus came into view, such was the potential disruption to the status quo that Jesus presented.   As I said, our text today is ultimately about Jesus’ authority as it is about Sabbath observance.   Jesus was going to expose the Pharisees for what they had done in taking God’s desires with humanity and turning it into something that served their own purposes and needs. Whilst they intended to trap Jesus, they had fallen into the trap of following human traditions against God’s desires and Jesus set them straight.   They had established Inhibiting structures, Inhibiting thoughts about what it meant to worship the one true God and Jesus said, ‘you’ve got it all wrong.’ Let me show you the way, but - He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart.   They were so entrenched in their positions that there was no capacity to find another way, even if it came with the fulfillment of all that they believed in!   Who is the authority that speaks into our lives today? Does the truth of who we are, of what we do and say, our value come from a world that demands we conform to human traditions, old and new, or does truth come from God’s authority.   [2]In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a respected small-town lawyer in the segregated South during the 1930s. When he takes on a case that pits an innocent black man against two dishonest white people, Atticus knows he will face terrible prejudice from the jury. But his conscience compels him to speak the truth boldly in the face of opposition. Old Testament prophets were often sent to preach the truth to a stubborn people. “[God] sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the Lord; and they testified against them, but they would not listen” (2 Chron. 24:19). Their message often resulted in persecution and sometimes, even death (Heb. 11:32-38). During Jesus’s ministry here on earth, His message resulted in opposition. Yet, in the sovereignty of God, the terrible miscarriage of justice that sentenced Jesus to death on the cross purchased our redemption. Now, as Christ Followers, we are representatives of the risen Christ in this world, ambassadors no less, and we are to promote reconciliation, justice, and integrity in living life and not succumb to the human traditions of the world. In doing so, this may mean speaking the truth in the face of opposition. This is the charge to every believer until that day when Christ comes again and sets all things right (Rev. 20:11-15). There are things that are not right today. They are all around us and within us. We have within us ingrained things that need to be challenged. What are the Inhibiting Structures, Inhibiting Thoughts that we live our lives by today? We have to embrace the “disorienting dilemma’s” that present themselves to us by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that challenge the assumptions we live life by. When we do, we are to listen to the ultimate authority in our lives, truth that comes from God alone and we are to speak out regardless of the implications of what that means and all of God’s people said - Amen       Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720  © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.       [1] https://odb.org/2011/09/22/beyond-the-status-quo/ [2] https://odb.org/2009/10/10/speaking-the-truth/