The Life of the Party [OR The Sabbath is for Delight, Worship, and Laying Aside Ordinary Work]

 

**sermon art: Pentecost Dance by Glenda Dietrich Moore at glendadietrich.com/brighter-pentecost-dance-web/

Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 2, 2024

[sermon begins after two Bible readings; there’s also one at the end of the sermon]

Mark 2:23 – 3:6 One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and 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.” 27Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3:1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

[sermon begins]

I love a good party. Party clothes. Party food. Party drink. Party people. Laughter. Music. Dancing. New People. Longtime friends. Friendly strangers. I am still me, of course. We’re talking pretty chill parties. Party timing can be tough for us early to bed, early to rise peeps. One of my personal favorites was a sunrise party in late summer complete with classical guitar. Regardless, I love a party.

In our reading today, Jesus helps us imagine what it’s like at God’s party. God’s party, a.k.a. the Sabbath, was originally for Jews until the Christians crashed it. “From sundown on Friday until Saturday’s sunset, Jews encouraged one another to enjoy a day of delight (Nehemiah 8:9–12; Isaiah 58:13–14), worshiping the Lord (Isaiah 66:23; Ezekiel 46:3), laying aside ordinary work (Amos 8:5), and fighting only in self-defense (1 Maccabees 2:29–41).”[1] God’s party was a group identity. You knew who you were when you showed up. It said something about the Jews because the sabbath said something about God. For thousands of years before Jesus was born, it was quite unique that the sabbath was for every Jew and their animals and the strangers in their towns. The party wasn’t just for the fancy people. The party was for everyone.

Observing the Sabbath and keeping holy made the list of THE 10 Commandments. More than a recommendation to nap, the sabbath command is a surprising call to delight, to worship, and to lay aside ordinary work. 500 years ago, our denomination’s namesake, Martin Luther, argued that Christian worship is a celebration, not a sacrifice. For today’s purposes, I’d like to suggest that worship is a party. Granted, our style of worship makes for a pretty chill party, but it’s a party, nonetheless. See? Party clothes. Party food. Party drink. Party people. Laughter (even if it IS hiding behind our quiet smiles). Music. Dancing (can we call swaying “dancing?”). New People. Longtime friends. Friendly strangers.

Worship is a wide tent party. No invitations needed although invitations mean more people know that they can come to the party. Along that line, please note your announcement page for PRIDE events coming up. So many of our queer family, friends, and friendly strangers have a hard time trusting that the Jesus party is for them. And with very good reason as their lives have been threatened for much less. Yet even Jesus says that the sabbath is meant for humankind. God’s party is for everyone.

Here at Augustana, we say that, “Celebrating God’s grace, we welcome everyone to worship Jesus.” For us, God’s party IS a Jesus party. Each of us may have a slightly different idea about who Jesus is, but it’s possible that we could agree that Jesus is the Life of the Party. In that regard, it’s been interesting planning my Festival Blessing and Rite of Installation that we’re celebrating this Saturday. Some of our party guests are unchurched. Some of our party guests are multifaith, meaning they are a part of other religions that not Christianity. Is it possible to throw a Jesus party that is comfortable for everyone? Unlikely. But can we throw a Jesus party that gives non-Jesus people a glimpse as to why we throw a Sunday morning Jesus party every week? Maybe. We’ll see. We’re certainly going to try. It is really nice to have something fun to celebrate with a party Spirit.

My installation, just like every Sunday morning, will be traditionally Lutheran. And just like every Sunday morning, all of us Augustana folks are both guests and hosts. Guests because it’s really a Jesus party. We come for ourselves, to delight in God’s love and mercy for us. And we come to be challenged by God’s love to love our neighbors as ourselves as we confess where we fall short. More than guests, we are also hosts because we are a public church. Anyone can come to worship. Just like when we throw a party at our home and stick around to make sure that snacks are refilled and that extra ice is available, we as a congregation host new visitors and family members and neighbors who may walk through the door not knowing what to expect.

It may be hard to fathom but my pastoral conversations with people here run the gamut from people who are showing up to the Jesus party for the very first time to people who can trace their family’s generations back to small German churches where Martin Luther once preached. Those of you who have been around awhile, imagine not speaking the theological language of grace that we take for granted. Words and ideas that seem so simple are actually layered with subtext, interpretations, and complex theological histories over centuries, generated by brilliant academic minds and, we can only hope, faithful hearts.

Those dear Pharisees in the Bible story today were highly regarded in their Jewish communities. They were the keepers of the tradition in the first century, the patriarchs of rabbinic Judaism through which Jesus learned the Torah, what we call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. The Torah contains the 10 Commandments including our First Reading from the Bible’s book of Deuteronomy. The Pharisees reaction against Jesus’ teachings parallel our own reactions when our theological hackles are raised. It’s easy to understand their conspiracy with the Herodians to rid themselves of the free-spirited Jesus when we too conspire against people’s ideas that seem the opposite of our own. And once we attach unwanted ideas to other people, it makes it easier to kick them out of the party. Instead of greeters to the celebration, we become bouncers. And it happens, just like that [snap].

So we hold our host status lightly at the Jesus party. After all, we are only hosts as Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Five years ago, we were barely talking about livestream worship. Three Augustana folks began a quiet conversation about it in the summer and fall of 2019 in order to better serve our home-centered folks. The discussion and the quality of the cameras picked up steam when the pandemic hit. If you had asked me five years ago whether I’d be presiding over communion, in which livestream worshipers were invited to commune at home with bread or cracker and wine or juice, I would have said “no” and questioned the theological premise for such a thing. Today, I talk to people who utterly depend on livestream worship to be a part of our Jesus party. Their gratitude knows no bounds. I talk with other people for whom livestream worship is how they find us and get comfortable worshiping before they ever step through the doors. In a world where the church has done so much harm, it’s helpful for some to find a quieter worship entry.

We still need to be in person together as much as possible – to sing, to serve and receive communion, to greet, to usher, and to welcome new people to the party. Robust and thriving worship means showing up together and being community together. And…AND, much to my surprise, we’re trusting that the Holy Spirit can expand the Jesus party, the party food, into people’s bellies we don’t get to see or haven’t met yet. As the writer of Second Corinthians puts it, “For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; but we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

In other words, what’s to stop the Holy Spirit from blowing where it will to include people in the Augustana community that we here in person don’t get to see? Nothing. The Holy Spirit will stop at nothing to shine God’s light into the darkness. It goes a long way to remember that we are both guests and hosts of the Jesus party on the sabbath. All of us enter the party by the grace of God. Every single one of us. It can be hard to remember that we host on behalf of the One who calls us to the sabbath to delight, to worship, and to lay aside ordinary work – the Holy One who is the Life of the Party…or, more accurately, the Life – Death – Life of the party. Thanks be to God. And amen.

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[1] C. Clifton Black, Professor of Biblical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, NJ. Commentary on Mark 2:23—3:6 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary. For June 2, 2024.

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2 Corinthians 4:5-12 We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.