Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, August 26, 2007

The story today is a fascinating one. What is it in people that would make them begrudge a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years from being healed. There had to be a blindness in their hearts and minds that seems to be astounding to me. The healed woman immediately started praising God for her healing, but the religious leaders present immediately became indignant and complained.

It is a strange faith indeed that cares more for its animals than its people. But just like the lesson from a few weeks ago, it is so very easy to get caught up in the details and not realized the implications of what we are saying or doing.

Now animals really were important back in those days. They were critical for survival and signs of wealth. So it naturally was important to take care of them, even on the Sabbath, the animals had to have their needs had to be met. After all, they cannot care for themselves.

So I was scandalized as I read the lesson from Luke and thought of the audacity of treating a human being worse than an animal. It seems inconceivable to me that anyone could be so either hardhearted, or ignorant, or uncaring.

And then I was forced to face the ugly reality of our world. Every night in the United States thousands of people go to bed hungry or without shelter. Millions around the world do so. I have to live in the knowledge that my pets have it better than millions around the world.

Newsweek reports that this year we will pay more than $40 billion to keep our furry friends fed, adorned, amused and healthy—the latter a huge growth category, with more and more owners paying top dollar for elaborate medical treatments to forestall that inevitable last visit to the vet. By the end of the decade, we'll be spending $50 billion on pet products ... . Walk the aisles of Petco or PetSmart, past the Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses for your dog and the $140 Catnip Chaise Lounge for your cat, and you'll discover just how well-trained we Americans have become. "I don't know who's been domesticated: the animals, or the humans?" says Jeff Corwin, Animal Planet's globetrotting wildlife biologist. 56 percent of dog owners and 42 percent of cat owners buy their pets Christmas presents (OK I’m guilty too). Pets can listen to their own Internet radio station (Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" is one of the more popular songs on, post their pictures and make play dates on and, and earn frequent flier miles on United. They even have cell phones now: PetsCell is a bone-shaped telephone that attaches to your dog's collar and allows you to ring him up (sorry, incoming calls only).

It is not that I want to begrudge us all our pets. Anyone who knows me knows that. But I have to think that perhaps we are no better than the Pharisees in this story for our willingness to lavish so much on our pets. The three dogs Emmanuel and I have live far better lives that millions of people in the world.

Of course I can pat myself on the back because I don’t begrudge those suffering people of the relief efforts being made to assist them. I even help out as much as I can. But at the same time I must not let myself off the hook too easily. It is easy to distance myself from the Pharasees because my words are not their words. My actions are not their actions.

Of course, observing the Sabbath was a great idea. It is a good thing. After all the idea came from God. But as time went on from the original institution of the Sabbath more and more rules were created, trying to help people to better understood what was necessary for a good observance. But eventually the rules became the focus rather than the Sabbath as we clearly demonstrated in the story today. As Jesus points out our priorities are obviously wrong for those who are willing to tend their animals on the Sabbath, but not willing to allow a fellow human being to be healed.

It all boils down to whether it is better to observe the letter of the law as opposed to the spirit of the law. How is that played out in Christian churches today?

The people challenging Jesus were drawing lines. They tended to draw lines to keep people out. They used them to decide who was in and who was out.

Jesus, on the other hand, was always expanding the lines to bring people in. Jesus was always pushing people to be better than they were, to be more open to the movement of God in their lives.

What lines do we draw? Do we draw lines to keep people out, or to draw people in?

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