Narrative Lectionary Reflection
January 29, 2017
Ernie is someone you couldn’t forget.
Ernie attended a church that I served at in Minneapolis. He has some intellectual disabilities which means that he doesn’t really have a sense of when to speak and when to keep quiet. It was not unusual for him to speak up in a loud voice during worship about a certain issue. Ernie just didn’t do quiet.
The interesting thing was that the congregation was not bothered by Ernie’s frequent outbursts. In the nearly five years I served at this church, I never once saw anyone make a face at Ernie for speaking out of turn. Everyone acted as if this was just a normal part of the worship experience, because in reality it was a normal part of worship. Ernie was part of the liturgy of this congregation and there was always room for whatever he was going to say.
Worship is a serious thing, but sometimes it can become a performance that seeks total perfection. In some places, Ernie would not be tolerated because he interuppted the service. This church took worship seriously as well, but it didn’t take it so seriously that it forgot the people who were a part of the worship experience.
In Luke 6, Jesus has two encounters over two Sabbaths with the Pharisees. The first encounter was when some of Jesus disciples picked off the heads of wheat, rolled them and then ate them. The Pharisees (who I guess were taking part in massive dragnet of Galilean wheatfields) asked Jesus why he was allowing this violation of the Sabbath. Jesus responds telling them about the time when David and his fighters were in need of food and all that was around was the bread of the Presence, a ceremonial bread. David broke a law, but it was for an important reason, to allow fighters to eat. For Jesus, the Sabbath was made for humanity and not the other way around.
On another Sabbath, Jesus sees the Pharisees in the audience and Jesus heals a man with withered hand. He heals the man, which might have again been seen as a violation of the law. But for Jesus what mattered at that moment was healing this man.
Jesus wasn’t dismissing Sabbath. He was a Jew, after all. But he was upset when adherance to the law trumped serving God and their neighbor.
Going back to Ernie, of course you want to have an orderly worship service. But it doesn’t have to come at the expense of welcoming Ernie to worship God.
Our faith is always about God and people. When we start to worry about other things like making sure we do all the right things in our faith, we start to lose the whole meaning of the faith we proclaim.
Ernie could be hard to deal with at times, but I am glad for having known him. He helps me not to take things so seriously and reminds me what this whole God thing is all about people and God.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.