St. John Lutheran Church-Drake
Sabbath Day's Journey
what is a sabbath day's journey?
What is a Sabbath day's journey? First of all, it is a Jewish expression. We measure distances in meters or yards. The Jews had a certain distance that they could walk on Saturday before it would be considered work. So their synagogues that they went to on Saturday could not be very far away. The word appears only in Acts 1:12 and indicates a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.
With that in mind, I think it is important to remember the origins of Christianity. Just because we have an Old Testament, it does not mean that we call it the 'Outdated Testament'. Much of the Old Testament has a literary structure that we are not aware of because of our modern emphasis on chapter and verse divisions. Within many of these blogs, I try to get the reader to see a bigger picture, a larger perspective that often includes the Old Testament and the environment that was present when the New Testament was seeing the Light of the day.
Second, a Sabbath day's journey is intentionally short. These 'journeys' with a text, almost always one of the three readings for that Sunday, are deliberately brief discussions. This blog was never designed to be a comprehensive look at any text. Sometimes a specific word is studied in detail. But, as a whole, a blog entry, by itself, is meant to be quite brief.
Finally, since the term 'Sabbath day's journey' appears in Acts, it is meant to appeal to a wide variety of people. This blog is meant for those who cannot come on Sunday mornings. And it is also for those who do come on Sunday mornings but would also like a further study of the text. It is also for those who live somewhere else in the world (besides Drake and Freedom, Missouri, USA) and would simply like a further study of the text. It was meant to get these different groups of people to start thinking about the biblical texts. Part of the reason for this blog is that I am not able to have a bible class on Sunday mornings with either congregation, and so, to have a blog like this seemed like a good idea. I hope it is helpful for you, in whatever situation you may be.
Reading for February 23, 2020
The last Sunday in the Epiphany season is traditionally Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday with a big ‘manifestation’. Since this year we are looking at the Gospel according to Matthew (17:1-9), it would be nice to make a connection between this first gospel account and the first book of the Old Testament, the book with the big beginning, the book of Genesis.
Each gospel writer describes the face and clothes of Jesus on that special mountain in a special way, and in the Gospel according to Matthew, we have that description in a way that makes me think about the creation account. When the face of Jesus is compared to the sun and the clothes of Jesus are described as white as light (verse 2), and these two created items seem to be starting points within the creation account.
The creation happened in six days—and it is important to take that literally. And it seems to be broken into two sets of three days. For the first three days, God created the light, and then the waters, and then the land. These three things seem to set the stage for the next three days. For the next three days, God creates the sun, moon and stars on the first day, the birds and sea creatures on the second day, and all the land creatures on the last day. The two parts of both setting the stage and then filling it are helpful to see the importance of the salvation story that the book of Genesis begins to relate. This story is not about INFORMation; it is about SALVation.
Another way to look at the creation account is to see only ONE starting point, that of God speaking. God did not have to say any of those things for them to happen. There were basically no persons to hear him anyway. But he spoke everything into existence.
Perhaps you knew that there were other creation accounts from other cultures and civilizations. They also have significant starting points, and you can tell a lot from the place in which they start.
There is quite an unusual, ancient ‘creation’ account with a particular Babylonian ‘theogony’. The starting points are two gods, a male and a female. And you can imagine that with such a starting point, there is a chance of things going wrong in some significant ways.
With this particular creation account, other things are, of course, eventually brought into existence. When male and female work together, there is a certain amount of power there. But with that power, there is a great potential to misuse that power. Within that account, there is a lot of talk about killing, and there is also a common refrain that speaks about sovereignty and lordship. So, it is interesting that there is one ‘quotation’, one use of words, within this Babylonian ‘creation’ account, where the earth, as a woman, turns her attention toward the god of wild animals, her son, and wants to have a serious relationship with him. And you thought that people did weird things only in recent times! (The Ancient Near East Supplement: Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton University Press, 1969, pages 81-82).
In such a different way, the true God of the universe speaks. There is a selfless, gentle, patient love, with which he says, ‘Let there be light.’
How long would he have to wait for his only Son to say the words, ‘I am the light of the world’? (John 8:12). It also took a while for Jesus to tell his disciples that THEY were ‘the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).’ Was he contradicting himself with this statement? Certainly not! At the end of his point, he says that your light should shine so that people may see their good works and give glory, not to themselves, and not to Jesus, but to YOUR Father in heaven.
The starting point of YOUR Father in heaven is certainly a significant one.
- Rev. Paul Landgraf