Jersey Girls Don't Pump Gas

Sermon Preached on August 25th at
101st Street Pavillion, Stone Harbor, NJ and
on August 26th at
St. Barnabas-by-the-Bay Episcopal Church
Proper 16C

About 2 or 3 weeks after I moved to Court House, I drove down to the Wa Wa in Rio Grande. It was pretty crowded and all the attendants were helping other customers, so I got out of my car and began pumping gas. An attendant came over to me and very kindly said, “Ma’am, it’s against the law.” He might as well have told me that I had two heads and a horn because I couldn’t even imagine what he was talking about. So, I said, “I’m sorry. What is against the law?” and he replied, “pumping gas.” I said, “You’re kidding, right?” I had never heard of such a thing. I’ve been putting gas into my car or my parents’ cars since I was 16 years old living in Wisconsin. But then he pointed to the sign on the gas pump that, sure enough, told me the attendant was right. I’ve since learned that the ban went into effect in the 1940s and all of the details can be found in the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act. I also learned that if I had been stopped by a police officer instead of the gas station attendant, I could have been “liable for a penalty of not less than $50.00 and not more than $250.00 for a first offense.”[i] Yikes!

From the moment we leave our homes, we are confronted by all kinds of rules and regulations. Perhaps a speed limit sign is posted on your street, a yield sign or stop sign at the end of the block. We stop at the local store and a sign tells us that a shirt and shoes are required and that our pets needs to wait outside – more rules. With school about to begin, I checked out the Parent-Student handbook for the Lower Township Elementary School District and found a 60-page book of rules! And, I checked the shelves of the local library and found these titles: Handbook of the Nautical Rules of the Road,[ii] Robert's Rules of Order: The Classic Manual of Parliamentary Procedure,[iii] Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot-Potato, and Ha, Ha, Ha : A Rule Book of Children's Games,[iv] The New Rules of Golf[v] - a dazzling array of rules for nearly any occasion. Now the church is not to be left out because we also have our books of rules - Canons and Constitutions are rules that govern how our churches conduct business – at the diocesan level and at the national level. And, even our Book of Common Prayer is actually filled with a number of rules, called “rubrics” – they tell us things like when we should sit or stand, which Sundays of the liturgical year are particularly appropriate for the celebration of baptism, what words must be said and what words can be modified, and, believe it or not, there is even a rule about when announcements should take place: “Necessary announcements may be made before the service, after the Creed, before the Offertory, or at the end of the service, as convenient” (that’s on page 407 for those of you who want to check it out).

And so it would seem that whether we are driving down the street, fishing in the Bay, attending a business meeting, or playing a friendly game of hopscotch, we are asked to follow a set of rules appropriate to the activity. And, fortunately, most of the time, most of us follow these rules – whether they make sense to us or not. Is it our civic responsibility, a deep-seated moral duty, or does it just seem like the right thing to do? No matter, we tend to follow the rules.

However, in addition to all of these rules, we also have an often used adage in our culture that says “rules are meant to be broken.” A little bit of the rebel resides in each of us, I suspect. I’ve been known to jaywalk. Sometimes I don’t count a whiff in golf as a stroke. I know, call me a rebel! And, I confess, I didn’t even know there were rules in hangman!

But in today’s gospel reading, when Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath rule, I suspect it was not because he was feeling rebellious that day. Nor do I think he was simply unfamiliar with the rule. In fact, the rule that the leader of the synagogue sites comes from the book of Exodus which says, “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.”[vii] Why such harsh punishment for working on the Sabbath day? For the Jews, the day of Sabbath rest was understood as a sign of God’s covenant with the people and was closely linked with the story of creation which says God created heaven and earth in six days and rested and was refreshed on the seventh day.[viii]

If we go back to that creation story in Genesis, here is what we find in reference to that seventh day: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.[ix] The Sabbath was set apart by God as a day to celebrate and find refreshment in the beauty of the created order. But since creation, the created order is no longer the beauty it once was. Sin has entered the world and the world is no longer as God intended it to be. There is hatred and anger, illness and distress, oppression and divisions. And it is into this fallen world that Jesus comes. And on this Sabbath day, Jesus enters the synagogue and he sees a woman “bent over” and “quite unable to stand up straight;” a woman who has been living for eighteen years as a social outcast “with a spirit that had crippled her.”[x] And Jesus does what he believes the Sabbath calls us to do – he restores the fallen nature of this one person. He lays his hands on her and “immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”[xi] And, through this simple, yet utterly transforming, action he celebrates her release from bondage to sickness – just as any of those present would have released from bondage their ox or donkey in order to give it water.[xii]

Whereas the leader of the synagogue shows only his concern for the Sabbath law, Jesus shows his concern for the woman’s suffering. Whereas the leader of the synagogue is concerned about the proper observance of the Sabbath, Jesus as healer and the woman, once healed, demonstrate the only proper observance of the Sabbath – praising God through our actions and through our words. While the leader of the synagogue is undoubtedly able to speak about the future promises of God’s kingdom, the healed woman is able to celebrate God’s kingdom presence in her life right now.[xiii]

As we gather together now to worship God and as we continue our worship through our actions and words throughout the week, let us not be consumed and tied down by the nuances of the rules around us, but rather let us fill our time working with God and one another for the restoration of creation as we celebrate and share God’s kingdom presence in our own life and the lives of those around us.

[i] “Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act and Regulations,” State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development accessed online on August 24, 2007.
[ii] Authors: Christopher B. Llana and George P. Wisneskey
[iii] Author: Henry M. Robert ; with an introduction by Judith A. Roberts
[iv] Author: Jack Maguire; Foreward by Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan
[v] Authors: Tom Watson with Frank Hannigan
[vii] Exodus 31:15.
[viii] Exodus 31:17.
[ix] Genesis 2:2-3.
[x] Luke 13:11.
[xi] Luke 13:13.
[xii] R. Alan Culpepper, “Luke,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 274.
[xiii] Robert Karn, “The Gospel According to Luke,” The New Jerome Bible Commentary, p. 705.


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