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2nd Sunday after Pentecost          ___      Mark 2:23-3:6        ___              June 3, 2018

Prayer: May our hearts and minds be like the young boy Samuel, who didn’t know the Lord yet earnestly waited to hear your word. Speak to us, O Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, for your servants are listening. Amen.

Most everyone in the health industry will tell you that heart disease and heart attacks are a leading cause of death. These same folks will tell you that our physical hearts become diseased gradually through poor dietary choices and a lack of exercise. In other word’s a steady diet of Big Macs and excessive lethargy is a sure way to end up in the back of an ambulance heading for the ER. Conventional wisdom suggests we take better care of our hearts with a healthier diet and perhaps a bit ore more exercise. The alternative can be fatal.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear something about our hearts as well, our spiritual hearts more specifically. We are told that on two separate occasions, in a grain field and then in the synagogue, the religious leaders of the day were keeping a close eye on Jesus, hoping to catch him coloring outside the lines of the religious practices and traditions of the day.

In the grain field they got whipped out of shape over the disciples gleaning grain on the Sabbath. Then in the synagogue they make a fuss when Jesus heals a man with a withered hand, also on the Sabbath. In short, the religious leaders were irritated because he made sure his disciples were fed and a man was healed. Apparently, this was not, in their eyes a responsible or acceptable thing to do on the Sabbath.

And this leads to the heart of today’s reading where we read that,” He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at the hardness of heart…” It was the reference to their “hardness of heart” that caught my attention. So what are we to make of this talk of a, hardness of heart?

As I pondered all this it brought to mind those times when I know that I am feeling cynical and cranky, it involves those time when I just can’t seem to stir up anything resembling a caring attitude toward others—let alone myself. In short, when my heart is hardened I am a slug, I am not living out my life as a child of God, and it isn’t pretty. Any of this sound familiar?

As I read the morning paper, or watch the evening news, or when I am listening to random conversations, or wasting time on Facebook-- I see and hear example after example of hardened hearts, hearts that are callous, insensitive, abusive, racist and misogynist and it is not pretty. In fact, it is pretty discouraging.

So how does this happen? How do our hearts become so hardened? Well, just like a physical heart disease, it is often gradual and it often involves a less than healthy diet of circumstances and attitudes.

· Perhaps you have experienced some unresolved conflict which has turned into bitterness toward others.
· A hardened heart can be brought on by fear, and fear instils a lack of trust in others and increased suspicion. This too can also bring out the worst in us.

· Perhaps you have been hurt and this hurt makes you want to avoid not only others, but God as well. The end result is isolation.

· Disappointments and setbacks are also notorious for hardening hearts. Proverbs 12 tells us that disappointments can make our hearts “sick” when things do not turn out the way we hoped or expected. The truth is, no one is immune to the trials of life, yet, just as steel is forged by a blacksmiths hammer, so, too, can our faith be strengthened by the trials we encounter.

· And then there is pride, a prime cause for hardened hearts. We encounter this kind of hardened heart in the story of Moses and Pharaoh whose heart was hardened by his pride and arrogance.

· And last but not least, there is sin, that persistent nagging force that draws us away from God, that separates us from others, that turns us in on ourselves with the illusion that we are the only one or thing that matters.

These are but a few of the causes of a hardened heart and just as a bad case of physical heart disease can kill you, so can a spiritually hardened heart lead to into a life as a spiritual and emotional zombie. So what are we to do about this ailment? What is the cure?

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy allow me to offer these observations. The first is this: Sabbath is the Cure for a Hardened Heart. In Mark’s reading we are told that Jesus response to the Pharisees was a simple observation that “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” So, what does this mean? I believe Jesus was using the events found in today’s reading to redefine the proper function of the Sabbath as a time set aside, holy time to promote and extol God as the liberator of life. This redefinition makes all the difference. The cure begins when we let go of the notion that Sabbath is something more than yet another expectation, another thing we got to do, another burden, or an obligation to be fulfilled. God did not give us the commandment to “remember the Sabbath and keeping it holy” as a means to simply get us up out of bed on a Sunday morning and begrudgingly drag our sorry butts into church for an hour or so. Instead, God gave us this commandment as a gift, as an opportunity to set aside holy time for reflection, renewal and maybe even some renovation, as needed.

Who among us could not use some quality time to reorganize our lives, to reconnect with our God and with our neighbor? And we all know that we are also all in need of times for repentance, seeking forgiveness, extending forgiveness and celebrating that gift of forgiveness. At the heart of all this is the good news that:
· You are loved—a beloved child of God. I am convinced that frequent reminders of this good news has a profound effect on our lives and ideally on the lives of others as well. This good news, this gift, has the power to cure and re-shape any and every relationship we encounter.

· You are forgiven—and there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God—and while we may continue to sin and even disappoint our Lord with our self-centeredness—God promises to banish our sins and give us a clean slate thanks to the obedience of Christ on the cross. Forgiveness is a healing balm on our broken lives and relationships.

· You are not alone—much like the previous sentiment regarding forgiveness—God promises to seek us out like a good shepherd when we wander, when we behave like spoiled prodigal sons and daughters. The promise that we will not be alone can heal and cure our fears and our mistrust.

Sabbath time is set aside to hear and be reminded of these gifts in the hopes that we might actually claim them and as God has intended—share them with others.

In her book: Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott writes, “There’s a lovely Hasidic story of a rabbi who always told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put Scripture on their hearts. One of them asked, “Why on our hearts, and not in them?” The rabbi answered, “Only God can put Scriptures inside. The reading of sacred texts can put it on your heart, and then when your heart breaks, the holy word will fall inside.”

Let’s be honest, we have all experienced a broken heart from time to time, we have all experienced hurts, disappointments, conflicts—all of which has hardened our hearts to the point of breaking. The question is—has the good news of being loved, forgiven and not abandoned been placed on our hearts thanks to a steady, healthy diet of Sabbath induced grace?

Here is the second schmaltzy observation: The Sabbath is not about Rules, it is about Relationships. When God gives laws, it is not for the purpose of individual piety. Law is not for the sake of having a checklist of righteousness. Rather, the purpose of law is to be in right relationship with neighbor and with God. Jesus clarifies this to the Pharisees when challenged on which is the greatest commandment.

He says that it is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. On this hangs all the Law and the prophets. In other words, if we are loving God and loving our neighbor, these things will fall into place. This is the purpose of the law: to live in loving relationship. Just like all other laws, this Sabbath-keeping law is for wellbeing in community and not for self-righteous piety. Sabbath is a gift of grace. It is about rest and healing so that we can be refreshed and renewed for this work of loving God and loving our neighbor. Yes, loving can be work because we are broken and essentially just suck at this sometimes. But it is the most worthwhile work we can do!

Sabbath rest is a gift from God; a time to be aware of the abundance of love and grace that God is constantly pouring into us, so that we can continue that work. But it is not meant to be at the detriment of another. How can one feel filled by God’s love while watching another continue in suffering? When our hearts are hardened, we cannot see the grace and the gift of the Sabbath or of the law. When our hearts are hardened, we stop seeing the freedom and healing of another as important. When our hearts are hardened, we are blind to the depth of the truth of who Jesus is and what he is up to in the world. So perhaps we too, like the Pharisees and disciples and saints who have gone before us, have hardened hearts.

But the truth is that in spite of (or even in light of) our hardened hearts, eventually they will crack wide open and words of grace and love and gentleness will fill them and heal them again. Because God’s acts of grace and love and healing not only continue on the Sabbath, they are essential to the Sabbath. Amen

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