[A sermon on the Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath in Luke 13]
Luke 13:10-17 • August 21, 2016
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I just returned a few days ago from the 2016 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wasn’t attending as a voting member though. I was attending as a musician. I was invited to be part of the worship team that led a couple thousand people in worship during each day of the assembly. For followers of the risen savior Jesus, our life of faith is centered in worship. Even during a legislative business meeting of our church, worship was central to the assembly’s work.
Worship is always central to the work of the church – whether it’s the national expression of the church at a Churchwide Assembly that only meets every three years or the local expression of the church in congregations like Good Shepherd that meet every week.
Worship is at the heart of what we do together as part of the body of Christ.
The theme of this year’s Churchwide Assembly was “Freed & Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action.” In so many ways, I think today’s gospel reading speaks directly to the Churchwide Assembly theme of being freed and renewed in Christ.
And I do not believe the woman in today’s gospel text is the only one who is bent over and in need of the freedom and renewal that only Jesus can offer. The leader of the synagogue, all of Jesus’ opponents who are shamed and even the rejoicing crowds are all bent over and in need of freedom and renewal from Jesus. But this isn’t just about us looking at these poor, poor people in this quaint little bible story from Saint Luke. This story is about you and me too.
You are bent over.
I am bent over.
Every living human being walking on planet earth today is bent over. Bent over with something or by someone that only the savior of the world Jesus the Christ can set us free from. Setting us free from the evil that bends us over and holds us in bondage. Renewing us in ways that are impossible for us to receive without Jesus.
Luther Seminary New Testament Professor Dr. Matthew Skinner believes that there are two different views that run throughout the New Testament and are present in Christian tradition across denominational and historical boundaries.
“To put it rather simply,” Dr. Skinner writes, “one of these views commends patient endurance as people wait in expectation of what God will bring to fruition in the future. The other view expresses a restless desire to see God’s intentions for human society spring into existence now. Both views agree that something new has happened through Jesus, and that God has set the world onto a new course, but both views also know all too well that life continues to be filled with misery, oppression, pain, and loss.” Dr. Skinner sums up his thought by stating that “The first view says that faith in God makes people content to endure the current miseries. The second view says that faith in God makes it crucial that we can’t wait.”
All of us can attest to times that required a bit more waiting and patience than we felt was necessary. And equally so, I think most all of us can attest to times when we simply couldn’t wait any longer. When something had to be done. Waiting longer was not an option.
In our gospel reading today – which by the way, is a story that is only found in the gospel of Saint Luke – in one sense Jesus is breaking the Sabbath in the present moment. Disregarding all of the rules that one is supposed to follow for proper Sabbath observation. In Jesus’ opinion, this woman’s suffering has gone on long enough and she simply cannot wait another day for healing to take place. Her future begins now. Even though, as the woman stands up straight for the first time in nearly two decades, I’m guessing she sees that she has been raised up into world that is still quite broken and filled with people who are bent over.
In another sense, Jesus is not breaking, but fulfilling the commandment of Sabbath. Fulfilling the commandment of the Sabbath in ways that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day couldn’t understand because they were trying to hold on as tightly as they could to the rules and regulations of the past. Rules and regulations that Jesus, the savior of the world, came to fulfill. Imagine the relief that the woman in our gospel reading must have felt after 18 long agonizing years of being crippled by an evil spirit.
Please take note that this woman doesn’t ask Jesus to heal her.
Please remember that.
The healing that Jesus offers this woman and the way it takes place is so significant to our understanding of how we as Lutheran Christians believe to be in relationship with God. The woman doesn’t act or beg or even reach out to Jesus for anything. Jesus acts first – freeing and renewing the woman in Christ. Jesus simply noticed that she needed rest. Sabbath that couldn’t wait any longer. In spite of the rules of religious tradition that thought it could wait another day.
What needs rest in your life? True Sabbath. What cripples you and I so much so that we are not able to stand up straight and gaze into Jesus’ eyes?
The woman was bent over with an evil spirit. Without even asking, Jesus freed her and renewed her.
The leaders of the synagogue were bent over by rules and regulations about what the Sabbath even sax and how it was to be observed. Rules and regulations that caused them to focus on the past instead of looking toward the future. A future with Jesus standing before them to bring freedom and renewal into the world. A future with Jesus that continues to bring freedom and renewal into the world today.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when God is up to something, prepare to be made new – whether from a debilitating disease or social stigmas about persons that are different from you and I or even holy pieties that keep you and I from being fully present to one another as brothers and sisters in the same body of Christ.
In a commentary on our gospel reading today, Elizabeth Palmer shares that in “Reading this healing story, our tendency is to side with Jesus and the woman and the crowds, and against Jesus’ opponents, even to be glad about their shame. But perhaps,” Palmer offers “instead of rejoicing in one person’s exaltation over the other, we could simply aim for kindness and healing in this complex, broken world, where everyone needs simultaneously to be exalted and humbled. Perhaps grace could replace judgment in our assessment of those who appear to be our opponents. Rather than aiming to be lifted up while our enemies are stooped down, perhaps we could focus on seeing what God reveals to us no matter where our gaze is aimed, no matter how tall we stand. When we notice the person next to us stooped down, we might take on some of her burden without judging her worthiness. Perhaps that’s where the real healing begins.”
During my time in New Orleans at Churchwide Assembly, over and over again, I heard voices raised in praise for God’s presence in our lives through Jesus and witnessed healing taking place as our church gathered in assembly freed and renewed in Christ.
I can’t help but hope and pray that the same thing can and is happening right now at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. May you and I live into the freedom that only Christ Jesus gives. And may we never stop offering God our thanks and praise for the gift of being renewed in Christ in all that we say and in all that we do. Amen.