14th Sunday after Pentecost 2016

Sermon Title: 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Date: 21st August, 2016
Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Luke 13:10-17, Jeremiah 1:4-10, Hebrews 12:18-29,

When you read or hear one of these stories from the Bible, depending on what’s going on for you in your life at that time, you will read something that you will respond to.  Another time, you will read or hear the story and something else will capture your imagination and hopefully touch you deeply as to what Jesus is helping you to see.

So most times, I mainly ‘see’ the crippled woman in our gospel story today.  This woman who in a crowd was invisible because she was so bent over.

Except Jesus sees her.

Why she is bent over… who knows!  But I guess some of our medical minds might go to some arthritic condition or a spinal injury and wonder how Jesus could heal with a touch! We can get stuck with the thought that this is not possible and get caught up with working out how this could happen. I don’t think this is what the story teller was wanting us to spend time on!

It’s interesting that Jesus does notice her, sees her and she doesn’t see him.  It’s very hard to see very much when your world view is so limited to what’s just in front of you especially when your head is facing towards the ground though maybe could tilt the head to see a bit further to the sides. What the woman could see was extremely limited. She couldn’t even speak to someone and have eye to eye contact.

Also, it was a common teaching in those days, that any physical disasters were punishment for sin. So her physical disability would’ve been seen as her punishment and so was, I think, outside the concern of people and outside the care of God.

Jesus saw her and calls her over and speaks to her saying “Woman, you are set free from your ailment”. He laid his hands on her and she immediately stood up straight and began praising God.

A couple of things to note for what was norm in the time of Jesus:  Jesus a man, talks to a woman in public.  Not on!

Jesus touches a woman who may be contaminated…she may be menstruating! Also not on.

So how wonderful that Jesus saw her as a child of God..Abraham’s daughter and who was worthy to be healed… to be spoken to… to be touched.

If any of us has been ‘bent’ over/crippled by something so that we are not living fully, wholesome lives, and we hear Jesus words of freedom from whatever it is, how wonderful, how liberating that is!

Surely this is what Jesus’ God is on about! Setting people free!  ‘Let my people go!’ is what God told Moses to say to Pharaoh and God keeps saying that throughout history.

In the synagogue that day, the woman stood up straight, liberated and whole and praised God who sets people free!

The story doesn’t finish with this healing of the woman’s ailment.

So is the healing the main purpose of the story?

The next part of the story we heard the leader of the synagogue talk to the crowd not about ‘let’s all praise God for the healing’, but instead, he says “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”

How do you think the woman felt? She didn’t ask to be healed that day… or did she?  We don’t know what she was thinking when she came into the synagogue to pray.

The leader of the synagogue had no problem with Jesus healing although he certainly wasn’t rejoicing at her liberation.  His problem was his timing.

Jesus responds to the leader and to the crowd as well, (whom the leader was addressing) 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?”

Please note again: it was Satan that bound her for eighteen longs years, it had nothing to do with punishment for sin.  How that has stuck over the years, that many people still think that anything that goes wrong, or they get cancer, or something, well, they must have sinned. It goes deep, but makes me wonder what their theology is and whether they have ever challenged it.

We heard the response from the opponents (changes from just a leader) who were put to shame when they heard Jesus not argue but state a clear truth of what they all just witnessed and the response of the entire crowd was to rejoice!  They got it.  They could see how blind they could be to the suffering of another human being. Such a mixed response.

I don’t want to be too hard on the leader of the synagogue.  He was theologically trained and what happens or doesn’t happen on the Sabbath, is etched into his mind.

So he knows that no work is to be done on the Sabbath…there are six other days.

So Jesus was really challenging his theology.

What is theology? It’s about the study of the nature and intentions of God.

So some questions to ponder:

“Is God really concerned with restricting the activity of people, even healing activity, on the Sabbath?  Is not God concerned with freeing people from what bends them over and bringing them to full stature? Is not God actively present, bringing about the divine dream for creation?

What Jesus has done is not a random healing. This is the restoration of the goodness of creation, cooperating with the Spirit of God who brought all things into being. As such, it is a revelation profoundly at odds with a God who enforces laws and punishes transgressors.” [i]

We all have theologies that impact our psychological and social lives and being complex human beings, we need to be aware of their limitations.

As spiritual traditions say, true wisdom is to know that we do not know.

So let’s very briefly look at some of our theologies that can bind us and others and I refer to John Shea for some of his listing of theologies we can hold and which can hold us.

“A theology that emphasizes personal sin may let structural injustice off the hook.

A theology that emphasizes God as king may encourage mindless compliance to authority.

A theology that emphasizes the sufferings and death of Christ may sap the joy of creation out of its adherents.

A theology that emphasizes afterlife salvation may encourage apathy toward the struggles of this world.

A theology that emphasizes God as Father may validate treating women as an inferior gender.

A theology that emphasizes that Christ is present in Word and Sacrament may overlook the presence of Christ throughout creation.

A theology that emphasizes there is only one path to salvation may encourage a negative evaluation of people on other paths.”[ii]   (my italics)

It is good Anglican practice that we look at scripture, tradition and reason when we are trying to discern what God is wanting us to learn.  We need to take time to think through the scriptures, the traditional teaching and see if it makes sense to us of the nature and intentions of God we know through Jesus. We are encouraged to ask questions!

So, the story of the woman with the spirit that crippled her whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath, was probably part of his teaching, since he was teaching in the synagogue when she appeared.

A teaching for us to rejoice when healing happens. Let’s rejoice when any of us have been set free from whatever it is that has kept us from being our true selves.

The challenge is also for us to check out our theologies. They may be what we first heard when we were younger.  It may have been some teaching that you thought must be right and never questioned because you thought it might be chucking the baby out with the bathwater, or going against your parents or a priests or lecturers who you admired.

None of the theologies are wrong in themselves that I have mentioned.

Certainly the leader of the synagogue was correct about not working on the Sabbath since it is straight from the Bible in Genesis and Exodus.

“So perhaps Jesus’ sharp critique is that the leader of the synagogue had forgotten that the law was intended to serve God’s people and instead revered it for its own sake. He forgot that the law is meant to create the conditions in which we can help each other live into our [true, whole selves which God wants for each one of us.]”[iii]

As always, challenging words from Jesus and so let’s keep our hearts and minds open to the God of love when our particular theologies are tested.

The Lord be with you.

 

 

 

[i]  The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers:  John Shea.  Page 242

[ii]   The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers:  John Shea. Page 244

[iii] In the Meantime by David Lose (for this Sunday)