A Homily for Year C, Ordinary 21
Isaiah 58:9-14 * Hebrews 12:18-29 * Luke 13:10-17
The simple phrase, “shaken, not stirred,” has been immortalized in the James Bond franchise and mentioned in almost every film which stars the unconquerable Agent 007 over the past six decades. They refer to his drink of a choice, a martini, which is always shaken and not stirred. Unless you factor in the recent portrayal of 007 by Daniel Craig who foolishly responds to the question of "shaken or stirred" with the words, "Do I look like I give a damn?" Well, he should, most of us would echo, but there isn't much we can do.
Ironically this catch phrase actually led to a scientific study in which some amazing discoveries were made. Biochemists of the University of Western Ontario* discovered that shaking, as opposed to stirring, makes a significant difference in the chemical properties of the favored alcoholic beverage. A shaken martini was found to have more antioxidants than a stirred martini as the shaking movement eradicates a higher percentage of the hydrogen peroxide. Who knew? It turns out Hollywood really can be beneficial to our health and well-being. We all need antioxidants!
Interestingly, it turns out that God likes his people shaken, not stirred, as we heard today in our readings. All three passages call us to a higher state of being, a more inclusive approach to our faith and the realization that being comfortable is simply not an option for people of faith. We have heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, the unknown composer of Hebrews and Jesus himself commanding us to a higher perception of what God's kingdom truly is and how it should function. Stirring is gentle, it causes a mild change, a little mixing, but often one can still find separate properties afterwards...a shaking however makes something new and it can often seem violent and uncomfortable.
Sunday, is what Christians often refer to as their sabbath. Technically, the religious sabbath has and always will be on Saturday for Judeo-Christian religions. However, since the day of Jesus's departure from out midst, those who followed his teachings met on Sundays to break bread with one another and reflect on his word, life and resurrection. Most continued to also honor the Saturday sabbath in their local Jewish synagogue. In time the growing religion based around Jesus separated entirely from the local Jewish places of worship and began to meet exclusively on Sunday, the first day of the week. The word Sabbath simply means "rest" in Hebrew. A day of rest, a moment of rest, a season of rest. Many theologians, in time, have come to recognize the true reality of a sabbath and accept that it hasn't been transferred to Sunday but surpasses any day and is rather an internal and external acceptance of resting in God's presence or love. I dare say that we are called to a life of sabbath rest. David the Psalmist tells us, "my soul finds rest in God, my hope comes from him."
If we accept the calling to live a life within the sabbath, the words we have heard today weigh even heavier on us, they might even shake us to our core. We suddenly see that we never have an excuse to be removed or dissociated from doing what is right and holy in the eyes of God. In Isaiah, we were told, "to refrain from trampling the sabbath, to refrain from pursuing our own interests and to not go our own way." This is the type of life Jesus calls us to. A life where we are continually open to the Spirit's leading and the still small voice calling us to grow while ceasing to be a selfish people. The call to the sabbath is not a Divine excuse to quit interacting with those who we consider to be different or on the outside but is actually just the opposite. The peaceful rest of God is found not in our own agendas but in the hearts and faces of all people kind. Especially in the faces of those we like the least. We find rest and peace when move from a place of selfishness to a place of giving and concern. Jesus came in such a way 2,000 years ago to destroy preconceived notions and he does so every day in the strangers we meet. If you want to see Jesus, if you want to meet God and have a moment of rest, then seek out the hurting or an enemy.
Our Epistle reading reminds us just how much God willingly shakes us in order to purify us. We hear the Holy One say, "I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens...until only that which cannot be shaken will remain." Contrary to the popular opinion of many religious people- faith and belief are neither shields to hide behind nor a reason to cease being shaken. As a matter of fact faith should cause us to be greatly shaken, even to the point of bewilderment where we have nothing left to rely on except God, who is simply love. Moses himself said, "I tremble with fear." Do we tremble with fear when we consider the shaking of God or do we simply think others need to be shaken? The most dangerous place to be in one's faith journey is not bewilderment, confusion or even denial but rather absolute unquestionable certainty. A true living faith is just that, living - discovering and growing continually which means it is full of doubts, changes, and developments but what will be revealed is pure, solid and indestructible at the end. Only when our faith has truly been shaken do we become acceptable to God. Paul Tillich puts its best: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
Our dogmas also known as absolute beliefs are like burnt offerings, they mean little to God if they are used to deny another love. Jesus clearly reveals this to us in today's Gospel which is all about shaking up the normal trend. We see a woman who is bent over, hurting, abused, forgotten, and different and all the local great "believers" ignore her. They see sin; they see someone who chooses to be something, someone who is paying for their crime. Jesus however sees a woman in need of love. He then decides that her healing and inclusion are of far more importance than the dogmas of his religious system. He knows something the people of his day have yet to understand: the sabbath is about love, it's about God's rest, it's about humanity. So he stretches forth his hand and says: you are free! The woman is healed and the religious are infuriated because they see only the law and not the Spirit or purpose behind the law. Jesus shows us that our dogmas and doctrines are fine until they cost someone else their freedom, liberty and health. Then the Spirit of love must take priority. He makes it clear that we are not to offer healing on our terms but rather without regard or hesitation. He shook up the religious of his day and he still does so now by means of his story which has been passed down to us. There is simply no day to not heal, there is no sabbath law strict enough, no dogma, no doctrine that excuses us from being a people of inclusive love.
When the Church, or people of faith, begin to honor the true meaning of the sabbath and walk in it as Jesus showed us we will then see the promise of Isaiah fulfilled and God will say, "Here I am." When we remove the yoke placed on others in the name of God, when we cease to point the finger and abolish the speaking of evil, offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted the light of God will rise in us and we will truly experience rest and salvation! When the Church returns to the simple command of Jesus and many of the great prophets: to love our neighbor we will be rebuilt, our breach will be repaired, our bones made strong and we will be as a spring of living water!
The question is: how will we honor the sabbath. The way of the Pharisees, the way of the institutional church or the way of the God-man Jesus? Will we allow God to shake us or do we only want a gentle stirring? Do we want a refiner's fire or the cold death of dogmas riddled in hate and misunderstanding? May our prayer, our anthem in this life, be that of Agent 007: shaken, not stirred!