Epiphany 4 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 6:1-16 January 31, 2021


Anybody remember ... "back in the day" ... when everyone was wearing those WWJD bracelets??

Now for those of you who are uninitiated ... WWJD stood for "What would Jesus do?"

And WWJD bracelets were these simple bracelets ... sort of akin to those ‘Livestrong’ bracelets that would appear a decade or so later ... which Christians slid onto their wrists as a daily reminder that there is a moral imperative that's part of our faith.

Personally ... I was never a big fan of those WWJD bracelets ...

• In part because I'm just not a big fan of any sort of jewelry ... except maybe for my wedding ring ... AND

• In part because I’m embarrassed by some of what some people have done and said in the name of Jesus over the ages.

But ... at least as I remember ... there were two big complaints ... in pastoral circles at least ... with those WWJD bracelets:

One having to do with how people would put them on or slip them off depending on the situation they were in ...

So ... for instance ... youth group kids would put them on when they went to church ... and slide them off when they went to a party.

And the other having to their lacking an actual behavioral imperative for their wearers.

WWJD meant thinking about what Jesus would have done in a given situation ... and only by extension considering if we’d align our behavior with his.

Actually ... WWJD bracelets were irksome enough that a buddy of mine who was a pastor in Phoenix at the time who cranked out a bunch of t-shirts emblazoned not with "WWJD?" ... but with "WWJHMD?" ... as in "What Would Jesus Have Me Do?" ...

Because he insisted that faithful discipleship wasn't just about knowing what is right ... but doing it as well!

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In a certain way ... this week’s Scripture lesson feels to me like one which sort of begs that WWJHMD question ... "What is it that Jesus have us do?"

You see ... it begins with Jesus and a group of his followers out for a hike through the hillsides ... in and among the grainfields ... on the Sabbath.

And while they’re out on their hike ... one of them reaches out ... plucks an ear or two of whatever cereal grain is growing in that there field ... rubs it in his hands to knock off the chaff ... and has a bit of a snack.

And you're thinking to yourself "No big deal."

But at least a couple of his hiking buddies that day are numbered among the Pharisees ... and they say "You know you can't do that!"

You see ... the ancient Jewish law declared

• that it was lawful ... when you were out walking amid the fields ... to partake of a bit of a snack ... as long as you were just using your fingers ... whether is was your field or not ...

• but that it was NOT lawful to harvest grain ... "using tools" ... in a field that wasn't your own.

So ... for instance ... picking a single apple off your neighbor's tree in the front yard was legal ... but picking a basket-full of apples was not ... because you’d used a tool ... a basket ... in the process.

• “Picking grain” ... individual grain by individual grain ... was lawful ....

• “Processing grain” ... rubbing it together in your hands ... was NOT.

For THAT entailed work ... and "work" was something you weren't supposed to do on the Sabbath.

So ... it turns out ... what these Pharisees were objecting to was not that Jesus’ followers were having a snack-attack while they were out for a hike ... but that they were working on a Saturday.

To which Jesus says "Get over it!"

Then again ... on another Sabbath ... Jesus enters this synagogue ... and is teaching .... and he happens to notice a man whose right hand was withered.

Now ... just so we’re clear here ...

• Jesus is fully aware that it is the Sabbath ... and

• Jesus is fully aware that some of Pharisees are watching to makes sure he doesn’t pull any more Saturday-shenanigans ...

Nonetheless ... he turns to the man with the withered hand and says "Could you come over here?"

And the man comes over ... and Jesus invites the man to stretch out his hand ... and heals him.

And then he turns to his detractors and says ... "Get over it!"

Thus far the story.

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But now here's the hard part.

We’re not just called to ask “What is the point of these stories?” ...

For it seems pretty clear that there point has to do with the assertion that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath ...

Rather ... we also need to ask “What is the point of these stories FOR US?”

• Is the point that we ... like Jesus ... are supposed to take all the laws of the Old Testament and throw them in the trash and just say "Get over it!"???

• Or is the point that Jesus can say "Get over it!" to the laws and decrees of the Old Testament ... but that we do so at our own peril???

• Or is it something else?

I mean ... are we to take them to mean that we too are Ladies and Lords of the Sabbath ... that the Law of God somehow doesn’t apply to us .... or does it mean something else?

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Actually ... maybe the best way to answer this question is to look at something Martin Luther once said.

And I say this NOT because I'm a Lutheran pastor ... or because ours is a Lutheran church ...

But rather because it was this very issue that was at the heart of Luther's big personal theological struggle ...

• What is the relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘good works’???
• What is the relationship between ‘love’ and ‘the Law’???
• What is the relationship between my profession of faith and my behavior?

And what was Luther's response to the WWJHMD question?

He looks to a Bible verse from the letter to Titus that calls us "to live lives that are sober, just and devout" ... and goes on to explain that:

• when we say "Sober" ... we mean holding our own passions and obsessions in check ... and not giving into all those selfish temptations that come our way day-to-day ... and

• when we say “Just” ... we mean making sure that we have our neighbors' best interests in need and not just our own ... and

• when we say "Devout" ... we mean living in the humble awareness that God is God ... that we are NOT ... and that the Trinity we are called to worship is NOT ‘me, myself and I'.

Now I KNOW that those words sober, just and devout aren’t the sorts of words that get bandied about very often but much of anybody these days ...

But that’s WWJHMD ... THAT'S what Jesus would have me ... would have us ... do!

Live soberly ... and justly ... and devoutly.

So maybe what it is that Luke really wants us to see in these stories of Jesus and the Sabbath is simply this ...

That whereas the Pharisees thought that you love God and your neighbors by living out the Law ...

Jesus declares that by loving God and your neighbors you live out the Law of God!

That what Jesus would have use do is keep trying ... keep striving ... not to live the Law ... but to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

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Think about it this way.

A number of year ago now ... Bethany and I decided we wanted to encourage our kids to learn how to make music ... not just “love” music ... but “make” music.

And so ... in order to help make that happen ... we went over to Best Buy and bought one of those snazzy, jazzy electronic keyboard sorts of things.

• It was fairly portable ...
• It laid down rhythm tracks to help you keep the beat ...
• It wasn't TOO too loud ... and
• It was capable of "playing" a whole range of follow-along sorts of tunes.

And so we brought it home ... set it up and the family room ... and let them have at it.

Anybody want to guess how that went???

To my recollection ... the only song any of them actually learned to pay on that keyboard was some called "Demo".

For by hitting this one "Demo" button ... the keyboard would immediately launch into this annoying, driving, electronically-enhanced Techno tune that would run ad nauseum.

And they even learned how to change the speed and volume of the "Demo" song ... just for variety.

We had HOPED that keyboard would invite them to make music on their own ...

• The only thing it actually GOT them to do was get the keyboard to make music for them!

• And the only thing it got us ... as their parents ... was ‘frustrated’!

But maybe the point of that story is nothing more than this!

Whereas Jesus invites us to discover what it means to ‘make music’ .... by daring to love the Lord our God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We’re perfectly content trying to let something or someone else make the music for us.

Which is definitely NOT what Jesus would have us do!

No ...

OUR calling from Jesus is NOT love God and our neighbors by living out the Law ...

But to live out the Law by loving our neighbors and our God.

“WWJHMD” was a sermon prepared by Pastor John Valentine for the week of January 31, 2021.  The text upon which it was based is Luke 6:1-16.