Improve your sermon prep with our brand new study tools! Learn all about them here.
Preaching Articles

There are two sides to every story, and that includes this one. Maybe especially this one in Lk 12:49-53. One way to preach a meaningful sermon on this passage might be to help us spend more time and sympathize with each of the two characters with whom Jesus interacts.

Let’s start first with the leader of the synagogue. That may be challenging, both by habit and because of the way the story runs. But inviting a sympathetic reading of this character is crucial to inviting people into this story. Why? Because what he offers is a clear and compelling reading of the law. He is, in other words, right: you are not supposed to do any work on the Sabbath.

Sabbath is a day for rest and renewal, and the rather negative view we take toward the various “restrictions” associated with the Sabbath would have been very foreign to the Israelites. Keep in mind that the law—including laws about the Sabbath—were given to the Israelites after their Exodus from Egypt. You remember Egypt—where the Israelites were slaves and worked whenever their masters commanded them, likely never getting a day off. And so when they receive a command to rest—to actually set aside one day of the week to rest their bodies and their livestock and retreat for a time of renewal and prayer—trust me, they heard this only as good news.

Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together.

Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off taking Sabbath more seriously. We aren’t slaves, certainly not in the way that the Israelites were or some people still are, but certainly plenty of our folks have to work long hours and sometimes more than one job to make ends meet. And many more of us have a harder and harder time disconnecting from work—from emails or texts or the endless grind of a 24/7 world that never stops. Life, for people at all levels of the economic ladder, is both hectic and demanding. Might we also benefit from a proscribed time of rest?

Which is what the leader of the synagogue is worried about. Once you start making exceptions for this reason or that, pretty soon no one is really keeping the Sabbath and it’s lost its point altogether. And it’s not just the Sabbath. The whole law is like that—keep making exceptions and it’s not really a law anymore; it’s more like a suggestion, with little or no power to protect and preserve us.

Truth be told, we regularly agree with this leader. Perhaps not about the Sabbath, but most of us have laws that we think are particularly important and we get nervous if we see people not respecting them. Maybe it’s little things like eating only organic foods, our children’s bedtimes, refusing to take any calls on our day off or not singing Christmas carols during Advent—OK, maybe for some that’s not so little. Or maybe it’s a much larger issue, like traditional gender roles or human sexuality. Whatever it is, there are some laws we feel you should just keep. Period. And if you don’t, who knows what will unravel next?

And that’s exactly what this well-intentioned, law-abiding leader of the synagogue believes. But his isn’t the only perspective.

So now let's turn to the woman, she who has viewed the world from waist level for years, she who hasn’t been able to look anyone in the eye for as long as she can remember. She is, I imagine, also a faithful, law-abiding member of this very synagogue. After all, she’s right there that Saturday, in spite of her condition, worshiping with her community.

And who knows, perhaps she also harbored concerns about keeping the Sabbath. Perhaps she was downright conservative in her approach to the law more generally. Yet whatever principles or resolutions she may have entered with, I have to imagine that they all took a back seat to a sense of overwhelming relief and gratitude when Jesus approached and healed her, when he called her a daughter of Abraham and restored her to full health. What were those first breaths of air like, taken in by lungs no longer cramped from stooping over? And whose eyes did she first meet, as she stood up straight for the first time in anyone’s memory?

Or maybe, more importantly, what happened to all those laws and rules and concerns and regulations? Did they fall away, as if they were of no importance? No. They were just suspended, perhaps temporarily forgotten, in those first few moments of sheer grace and gratitude.

Which is always the way it is with law. The law matters because helps us order our lives and keep the peace. The law matters because it sets needed boundaries that create room in which we can flourish. The law matters because it encourages us — sometimes even goads us — to look beyond ourselves so that we might love and care for our neighbor.

But as important as law is—and notice that Jesus doesn’t set aside the law but rather offers a different interpretation of it—it must always bow to mercy, to life, to freedom. Law helps us live our lives better, but grace creates life itself. Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we’ve failed in the law.

Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, and while the law helps us make sense of and get more out of life in the kingdom of the world, it must always bend to the grace that constitutes the abundant life Jesus proclaims. For above and beyond all the laws ever received or conceived, the absolute law is love: love God and love your neighbor. Or, perhaps, love God by loving your neighbor.

And so, of course, Jesus heals on the Sabbath. And of course she gives thanks. And of course the crowd rejoices. That’s what always happens when grace invites us simultaneously to value the law and at times suspend it out of mercy, compassion and love.

So invite your folks to sympathize with both of these characters, Working Preacher, whether through imaginatively retelling this story from the perspective of each, or inviting them to role play or simply identify with one or the other character.

But then also announce to them the good news, the good news that:

1. God gave law out of love to grant us freedom from the tyranny of all manner of slavery, whether external or self-imposed;

2. God forgives us when we fail in the law and invites us to try again; and

3. Finally, God insists that the law does not and will not have the last word, for there will always be times when law must bend to compassion and love.

And then, from this place of good news, also challenge us, Working Preacher, challenge us to look at those around us as children of the same heavenly Father, to resist the urge to assume we know the law better than others, to sympathize with those who are living with very different realities than we are, and to wonder how Jesus is inviting us even now to release others from bondage and set them free, even if it means suspending or revising our sense of the law.

I know this last part is scary. When to insist on law and when to suspend it? For whom? Will things fall apart if we get it wrong? And all the rest. That's the way it is with love: no guarantees, no assurance of having it turn out the way you thought it was supposed to, no absolutes. Except this: the God who gave the law out of love continues to love us and all the world, no matter what.

So there it is, Working Preacher: Commands and promises, good news that comforts and challenges, law and gospel. This is the stuff of our proclamation, and I am so grateful that you will once again dare to speak it into being. Blessings on your life and ministry.

David J. Lose holds The Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Biblical Preaching.

Browse All

Related Preaching Articles

Talk about it...

Irene Allen

commented on Sep 10, 2013

I am really trying to understand this well written article, but I am confused with the terminology- "Grace invites us to simultaneously to value the law. When to insist on law and when to suspend it." I guess what I am asking is. Are you making reference to the Mosaic law or the absolute law of love? What puzzles me even further is point number two. "God forgives us when we fail in the law and invites us to try again." The law according to Moses could not bend if this is the law being referred to in the article. That law demanded payment when broken, and payment was nonnegotiable under the Old Covenant. It is either all grace, and if not all grace, it is all law. The believer cannot begin in the Spirit and down the road lend themselves to become complete keeping laws, as if by doing right is what maintains their right standing in, and before God in the earth. I am sorry, but your last part is scary when it reads.. When to insist on law and when to suspend it and the reading that follows- Your way of explaining how God operates could possibly heap condemnation on the heads of sincere believer's and keep them in a state of always questioning their salvation. Jesus came and sealed the entire law in his body so we wouldn't have to. God knew we, nor the Israelite's could fully obey law no matter how well tried- Breaking one meant all were broken, so therefore, trying to keep the law becomes a no win position. We cannot sync grace and law if you are referring to the law of Moses. Not only is that type teaching confusing, but it also cause those who are newbies in the faith uncertain about God and their salvation. With some of the oldies too!

Frank Gant

commented on Sep 10, 2013

You start the article by saying, "So one way to preach a meaningful sermon on this week?s passage might be to help us spend more time and sympathize with each of the two characters with whom Jesus interacts." And then you start to talk about some story in the Bible but you never give a reference. How can I understand your comments on a passage of scripture when you don't tell me the scripture you are commenting on?

Clay Gentry

commented on Sep 10, 2013

Here's one law you should follow... Cite scripture. It's Luke 13:10-17.

Clay Gentry

commented on Sep 10, 2013

On another note: Friend, you totally missed it on this passage. Jesus was not bending His Father's law, rather He broke the Pharisee's traditions which did not allow healing on the Sabbath. God's word does not bend, men's traditions should always be broken when the prohibit the free expression of God's grace. I'm sorry, but this lesson was an absolute dud!

Dean Johnson

commented on Sep 10, 2013

I join Irene and Clay in questioning the theological handling of this passage.

Chaplain Dodie

commented on Sep 10, 2013

David your artical is life on! I would have only changed one word.. the one LAW you must include in your LIVING. Jesus gave only 2 commandments in the New Testiment. 1st LOVE your God with all your hearts ability, and the 2nd is just like it.. LOVE your neighbor as yourself. JESUS said doing these 2 commandments FULFILLS ALL of the Law. Christ is the Living Word and Love. Eat His Word daily... If you don't know where a scripture is??? Get a Strongs Concordance and find it... it's like a treasure hunt of the Supernatural kind!! All be blessed in Jesus Name.

Chaplain Dodie

commented on Sep 12, 2013

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. Under the New Covanant, when we spend our hearts time with Him as our most important and cherished time, that is keeping the Sabbath Holy. It is having no other gods (things, distractions, worldly issues) before Him. And yes I agree with David in that we should take the Sabbath very seriously, as our Lord should be first above all else...... And so here we are once again, it ALL points back to LOVE.. And by the Blood of the Lamb, that paid for our sins, that we can walk in Grace. Be Blessed

Dave

commented on Sep 10, 2013

i think the point he's making is in reference to (Truth be told, we regularly agree with this leader. Perhaps not about the Sabbath, but most of us have laws that we think are particularly important and we get nervous if we see people not respecting them. Maybe it?s little things like eating only organic foods, our children?s bedtimes, refusing to take any calls on our day off or not singing Christmas carols during Advent?OK, maybe for some that?s not so little. Or maybe it?s a much larger issue, like traditional gender roles or human sexuality. Whatever it is, there are some laws we feel you should just keep. Period. And if you don?t, who knows what will unravel next?) And then goes on to say, (But as important as law is?and notice that Jesus doesn?t set aside the law but rather offers a different interpretation of it?it must always bow to mercy, to life, to freedom. Law helps us live our lives better, but grace creates life itself. Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we?ve failed in the law.) In other words there may be things that we absolutely refuse to allow bending to but don't forget about Grace within it! That's what i read, but hey i may be wrong

Art Braidic

commented on Sep 10, 2013

I believe Mr. Lose is finding pieces of truth and trying to share them with people whose theology won't allow for it. For example, Irene cannot sync grace and law. But anyone can. Just look grace up in Strong's. It is "the divine divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life;" Therefore God's grace does not excuse us from the Law, but inspires us to keep it. To say we can't keep God's law is really mistaken. We don't have to lie steal, commit adultery, or have false gods unless we want to. The Sabbath was the final part of creation week. It was designed to be a sign between God and His people. Thus, He punished Israel for not keeping it. Christ kept it, and was Lord of it. Why keep a different day than the one He is lord of? The apostles kept it. The Gentiles were expected to hear Moses preached on that day (Acts 15:21). They were at the synagogue. It has been kept and will be kept to the end of the age (Mat. 24:20-21. When Christ comes, He will enforce keeping it. (Acts 17:2;18:4; Luke 23:56;Isa. 66:23).

Ron Hietsch

commented on Sep 11, 2013

Suspend the law sounds like antinomianism. We break the law daily and we repent daily. Who are we to suspend the law? This becomes defiant sin (Num. 15:30) Let me guess - You are referring to Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9 , 1 Tim 1:10. May I refer you to 2 Peter 2:19-22.

Ernest Laxton Jr

commented on Sep 11, 2013

I posted a comment but I do not see it. Not sure if I did something wrong.

Ernest Laxton Jr

commented on Sep 11, 2013

Ok, I must've done something wrong first time. Let me see if I can remember my former comment. I like the article it is thought provoking whether you agree with it of not. My understanding is the argument is that love, mercy, compassion can override the law. For example: Is it right for an emergency responder to break the speed limit when responding to an emergency? You might say well that is a man-made law so it is ok to break it under certain circumstances. Never mind that for a minute... If an emergency responder "speeds" while responding to an emergency and is involved in an accident they are responsible for the circumstances regarding their actions. You may want them to "speed" thus breaking the law if they are responding to you in an emergency. However if they operate within the law and maintain the proper speed limit and do not arrive in time to benefit those involve what if anything is their liabilities? Just saying...

Japhe Jean Claude

commented on Sep 12, 2013

My friend, ,I took the time to read everyone's comment to David Lose's article; in my opinion you are all trying to prove a point that is not necessarily based on the Word of God rather on theological and philosophical knowledge. The question to ask is what does all this have to do with our salvation. Are we saved be cause we kept the sabbath, or are we saved because God graced us? I would like you all to look at these passages in Romans 5:20 and Romans 14:5-6. By the way, I would like to remind you all that the days were named by Catholic Roman Church; if you do some research, you will find out that the days have certain astrological quonotation behind each of them. The Bible talks about first, second, third, etc.; this is another reason not put too much emphasis on days as if one is wrong and the other is not. Our purpose on this earth as Christians is not to argue about trivial things; our mission is to preach the Word of God. Those who were called to receive the word, will receive it regardless.

Guy Landers

commented on Sep 14, 2013

I have a strange way of looking at this I guess, and I know there are lots of pastors who do not agree but I can't help sharing my thoughts. To me it all stems around the dividing line between the old and the new. The cross is clearly the separation between the two because it is a blood covenant. When Christ walked on earth He was still under the old covenant. He had not fulfilled the law yet. If you look only at scripture following the cross it clearly states that we are no longer under the law, period. Galations 3:10 is very plain and to the point. If you are under the law you are under a curse, for if you keep one you have to keep them all. Colosians 2:16 says not to let anyone judge you for what you do on a Sabbath Day for it was a shadow of the things to come which is Christ. Besides Saturday was the Sabbath. Where in the Bible does it say that Sunday is the Sabbath? Not many people know that "remember the sabbath and keep it holy" is the only ten commandment not repeated in the Bible after Pentecost. Why is that. I believe that it is because that after Pentecost we as Christians now have the Holy Spirit living in us 24/7 not as before Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and went from individuals. Now if the Holy Spirit dwells within us wouldn't every day be the Lords day and not just one day a week. Wouldn't it be better to have our churches full of people because they "wanted" to be there and not because they felt they "had" to be there because of a guilt trip put on them by a law that by scripture we are no longer under.

Minister Sanders

commented on Sep 24, 2013

Jesus giving his life on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice, thus fulfilling the law and bringing us under Grace. It is for this reason we no longer have do the ceromonial rituals of the law such as offering burnt offering or sacrifing animals. But in our daily Christian walk with Christ we are still to live our lives according to the moral law of God's commandments summed up best by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." The moral law of the 10 commandments hangs on these two commandments, for if we truly love God and love our neighbors then we won't morally break any of the 10 commandments just by living our Christians lives obeying the two Jesus gave us because the 10 commandments are in the two commandments! Amen! God Bless All of you on the panel and I exhort you to continue standing on the wall for Christ!!!!!

Join the discussion