When I was in high school, I loved math. I know that some of your nerd alerts just went off, and I’m willing to accept that. But I had some great math teachers and it’s something that came fairly easy to me. So I really loved math.
The one thing I got tired of was showing my work. I hated doing proofs in Geometry where I had to list out the steps from question to solution. Most times I could see the correct answer and wanted to jump to the end. If I knew the answer, why couldn’t I simply jump to the end? Wasn’t this just busy work? Unfortunately most of my teachers disagreed.
Until I took Mr. Nemecek for Algebra II. That guy was an amazing teacher. Seeing that I was normally working ahead in class, he made a deal with me. He would accept my homework with just my answers, no need to show work. Only 2 stipulations: 1) If I missed a problem, I had to turn it back in showing my work to correct it and 2) I had to show my work on 1 problem for each assignment.
Thinking this was a pretty sweet deal, I agreed to the terms. I turned in many assignments this way. Until one day when it finally occurred to me to ask — “I see why you would want me to show work on corrections, but why do you want me to show my work on 1 problem every assignment?”
His answer stuck with me: “I want you to learn 2 things. First, the steps are not the destination – they are not the answer. Second, the steps are important because they help you remember how to get where you’re going. Remembering the rules and principles always helps you find your way when you’ve lost it.“
Our readings this week call attention to the fact that we can become too focused on our religious activity. We can start to believe that they’re an end unto themselves. And in the process we can lose our way.
And yet those activities do have a purpose and are intended to remind us of our identity and purpose in this world. We do not read and pray and worship because they are the point. We do it so we do not lose our way.
One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!
But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”
But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”
This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
“Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
Then the Lord will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The Lord gives righteousness
and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses
and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
You have not come to a physical mountain, to a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai. For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”
No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering. You have come to the assembly of God’s firstborn children, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God himself, who is the judge over all things. You have come to the spirits of the righteous ones in heaven who have now been made perfect. You have come to Jesus, the one who mediates the new covenant between God and people, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks of forgiveness instead of crying out for vengeance like the blood of Abel.
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven! When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain.
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.
Thank you for showing us the way
in a world so confusing and dangerous.
Teach me the right steps to find grace and peace.
But never let me forget the reasons for each step —
so I may act as Jesus acted,
so I may love as Jesus loved,
so I may live as Jesus lived.