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Pentecost 11C Sermon
Luke 13: 10-17
August
25, 2019

 

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Luke 13:10-17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I sometimes like to imagine what a cinematographer would do with the stories of Jesus’ life that we hear in our gospel readings. I think I have shared before the teachings of my preaching professor, Dr. Harms, that there are times when we read a scripture passage, it is like a camera with a wide angle lens, taking in all of the scenery; but sometimes, it is on a really tight shot, where you can see all of the detail of the expressions from the major characters involved.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus does something rather unexpected and shocking, something that everyone in the synagogue will always remember.

Unbeknownst to this little bent over woman who merely comes to the synagogue on the Sabbath like all other good Jews, Jesus has taken notice of her and is about to intrude into her life in a most surprising way! Now, taking Dr. Harms’ cue on perspectives in regards to reading the Bible, the story begins with a broad, panoramic view of this scene.We see a rather large crowd of good Jews coming to synagogue on the Sabbath, not expecting anything out of the ordinary. It is hard to imagine anyone standing out in such a scene. I imagine that standing on higher ground somewhere is the leader of the synagogue taking mental note of everyone who is there, keeping track of those who didn’t make it that day. Suddenly, there is a commotion on one side of the synagogue as a well-known figure experiences something extraordinary. It is the woman who has been bent over for 18 years. She has been blending in to the background for so long that she has been forgotten by most people. And she herself has grown so accustomed to her condition that she has accepted it as her lot in life. But today, somehow,she is standing up straight. It is at this point that the camera tightens up and zooms in really close, and we witness in her face an unbridled joy that has been missing from her life for nearly two decades.

Noticing that it is Jesus in the center of things, the synagogue leader approaches. Infuriated, he scolds Jesus for working on the Sabbath – as if merely saying 8 words and touching her is work! He basically asks the question, “Since she has been in this condition for 18 years, couldn’t she have waited one more day to be healed, so that it is not the Sabbath? And basically, Jesus’ answer is, “NO!” He calls the synagogue leader and his sidekicks, “hypocrites,” -a Greek word from the theater that literally refers to an actor who wears a mask to portray a character. He asks how many of them will not untie their animal on the Sabbath and lead it to water, then says that this “daughter of Abraham” should be set free on this day from her 18-year long bondage. I cannot help but think of Jesus’ teaching about how beautiful the lilies of the field are, and how much more God will care for you since you are his own children. As a daughter of Abraham, this woman is much more loved than an ox or donkey, so she should absolutely be set free right then and there!
And finally, the camera once more widens its view, panning out while the entire crowd rejoices at this and all of the wonderful things that he is doing. And while he has their attention, he goes on to share a couple of quick but important teachings that follow our assigned text for today, comparing the Kingdom of God with a mustard seed that someone came and sowed in a garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air came and made nests in its branches. And then to yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’” And with these somewhat cryptic parables, he leaves the people in the synagogue and goes on from town to town preaching as he makes his way to Jerusalem to die and rise again.

In this wonderful scene, Jesus givesus all something to think about: What if being part of the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with how well we follow the laws about Sabbath, etc. and has more to do with God’s intentions for all people to be part of his community? What if we keep the Sabbath by worship and rest for our own good as a response to the grace that God first showed us, and we concern ourselves more with how we love God and our neighbors, which Jesus said is the greatest commandment? What if every time we come to worship, we look for God’s work in and through our little community of Christians, just like his work through Jesus at this synagogue?
God loved this woman and wanted her to be set free on that very day after 18 years being bent over. She was not only able to stand up straight, but she was set free from all of the attitudes and obstacles that still stand in the way of people who are physically challenged today. I heard oncethat people with physical challenges are the most excluded group in Christian churches. Part of that is their own disappointment at hearing all of these healing stories in the Bible, wondering why they have not experienced that kind of healing themselves, if God loves them and wants them released so badly. But the other reason is that we able-bodied people design and set things up in our buildings for ourselves as able-bodied people. We often do not think about how those with limited eyesight, hearing or mobility are hindered by our buildings and set-ups.
These are important things for us to remember as we consider our building and the challenges that it poses to folks who come here for worship or activities, kid’s club, meetings, or whatever. The way that our building allows folks to negotiate – especially when they have mobility challenges – says a lot about our attitudes toward them. God’s desire is for all people to experience the joy of life in his presence today; God calls us to be part of encouraging that and not putting obstacles in the way of it.

What do all of these things have to do with today’s gospel message? God intends for all people to be part of the Kingdom of God. God wants healing for everyone TODAY. The barriers that we (sometimes unknowingly) put up for people to hear the good news of Jesus are just as serious as the barriers that the synagogue leader put up to prevent healing on the Sabbath. God is about eliminating barriers for healing to happen. Sometimes those barriers are physical, as in a building that keeps people away. Sometimes those barriers are attitudes and hurtful words and actions. Sometimes those barriers are well intentioned laws which are used to flex the muscles of those in power.

All of us have received the love of Jesus in our lives in so many rich ways. None of us deserve the abundant blessings that we have received. Jesus’ encouragement is to remember those blessings and respond just like the woman who is healed on the sabbath did – with unbridled joy and praise. And, s we seek to be faithful in our response to God’s grace, may we put a priority on loving our neighbors and eliminating all obstacles to the message of Jesus Christ so that we are not actors or hypocrites, but the very hands and mouth of God in our community today. Amen.