21 August 2022
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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.
| Centering Prayer |
When I was a child,
My mother would set the Thanksgiving table four or five days prior to the gathering.
Once the table was set,
she was free to work on the meal;
Thawing the turkey,
Making the stuffing,
Baking the pies,
Pealing the squash and potatoes.
We had to be especially careful in the dining room,
Less someone bump the table and break a piece of my mother’s precious china.
The end result, of course,
Was a grand meal, attended to by family and friends,
Wrapped in love and prayers of thanksgiving
For all the Divine blessings our family and friends had received.
Delving into our wonderful Gospel lesson for today from Luke
Is a lot like setting the Thanksgiving table.
Of course, once the table is set,
The meal begins,
And like the formerly bent over woman in the story,
She “began praising God!”
So, too, this passage leads us to praise and thank the Lord.
Thanksgiving and praise are beautiful things.
There is a lot for us to consider setting the Gospel’s table.
- This is an account only found in Luke; You’ll not find this in Matthew, Mark, or John.
- We have a story of a miracle; a healing tainted by religious controversy.
- It is a narrative of a woman injured by the spirit of Satan, bound for eighteen long years.
- There is the leader of the synagogue being charged with hypocrisy as well as violations against religious law.
- There is a question of “who’s in and who is out”, who is a daughter of Abraham and who isn’t. Jesus is redefining the people known as Israel.
- And, where I’d like to start the discussion today, is the simple observation that Jesus sees this nearly invisible woman.
Where did she come from?
This woman appeared, Luke wrote.
She appeared in the crowd
In the synagogue where he was teaching,
Presumably in a village,
A stopping-off point on his journey,
From Galilee in the North
to Jerusalem in the South.
She doesn’t see Jesus
Unless she strains,
Then only out of the top of her eyes.
She is bent over.
She is looking at the ground and the legs of people surrounding her.
She can only look down.
It is only with great difficulty that she would be able to look people in the eye when speaking and listening.
Being bent over means that she had lost over the past 18 years
All social fluidity and
Ease of conversation.
This bent over woman had lost dignity and social standing in her community.
Jesus sees this woman,
Whom the world did not see.
Though she is bent over and a fraction of her height,
She would have been surrounded by people of greater height.
He picks her out in the midst of the crowded synagogue.
Jesus sees her and chooses her
Even though this woman gave no indication
That she came for any favors from Jesus.
This leads me to the first conclusion about our Gospel for today:
Jesus seeks out the lost, the least likely,
The most easily overlooked people in the world.
It is his intention to seek out those who are different than the crowd,
The last, the least, the lost,
Even though they may not want to be found.
Jesus is on the hunt.
He isn’t satisfied until his Father’s will
For healing and wellness is fulfilled.
If one searches rigorous demographic data
It doesn’t take long to discover that people with disabilities are the least likely to self-identify with a community of faith.
In short, people with different abilities
are the most unchurched people in America.
It is sad, but true.
Unlike Jesus who intentionally seeks out people different than the norm,
Congregations worship in buildings that exclude people with special needs.
Services are conducted without inclusion in leadership or music, without sensitivity to sight, sound, feel, smell, or taste.
Sadly, for many, people just freeze them out,
Or, worse yet, nice Christian people simply ask them to leave
Because of distracting behaviors.
The very people Jesus seeks to save,
Organized religion finds reasons to exclude.
Let’s not be that church.
Let’s not be those Christians.
Let’s be more like Jesus,
Look, see, and welcome
People of the world.
Jesus call’s this woman closer,
Tells her “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” (13:12)
He lays hands on her,
And she immediately stands up straight
And began praising God.
Image for a moment,
The joy this woman experienced when she stood up straight
For the first time in 18 years!
She could look people in the eye.
She could carry on a conversation.
Salvation was for her, expanded in depth and breadth.
This unnamed, previously invisible woman
had been socially imprisoned, and now,
Jesus set her free.
Her dignity was restored.
She had been imprisoned by a spirit
Jesus named as Satan (13:16),
But now, she had shaken loose of it,
Simply at the hand of a Savior who
Reclaimed her as God’s own child.
Like Baskin Robins,
Salvation is scooped in more flavors than eternal life.
What is it that imprisons or enslaves you?
What holds you back?
Where is Satan holding onto the scruff of your neck
Giving you a good thrashing as if you are in a death grip?
Where has your dignity been crushed?
It is time to experience the touch of Jesus,
To stand up straight,
And to be saved.
Salvation isn’t the only concept Jesus intends to expand upon.
Just like Jesus will soon call the traitor and chief tax collector, Zacchaeus,
A “Son of Abraham,”
Jesus enlarges the circle of who he considers people of Israel.
Jesus enlarges the circle of who he includes in the kingdom of God.
Indeed, throughout his life Jesus is constantly making the family of Abraham bigger, and bigger, and bigger.
Before long, non-Jews – Gentiles – will be added to the family.
The blood of the cross
Is inclusive of the whole world.
This sense of inclusion is very important to understand Jesus’ trajectory and ministry.
Inclusion in God’s kingdom is the foundation
Of the Christian experience.
One barrier often cited by people with different abilities, is this:
‘Jesus healed the bent over woman,
The blustering blind Bartimaeus by the side of the road,
And the guy lowered through the hole cut in the roof,
But he hasn’t healed me.’
The pastor in me, needs to pause, take a deep breath, and ask,
… meaning, that one anticipates healing at some future time.
“How do you know you haven’t already been healed?”
… meaning, can you imagine what your life would be like without Jesus?
“What does healing look like to you?”
… in other words, let’s talk about expectations.
Where do your expectations intersect with God’s grace?
This is an interesting concept
That floats to the surface
With our Gospel today:
Where do expectations intersect with grace?
Another theological barrier often cited is this:
“If I’ve been created in the near perfect image of God
Then my physical, mental, developmental, medical disability
Isn’t anything that needs to be healed or cured.”
“I’m good, just the way I am.”
Many in the different-ability community have grown confident in knowing
That God created them in God’s near perfect image.
I agree whole heartedly!
Like the first chapter of Genesis so eloquently states,
“Man and woman were created in the image of God,”
And they … “were very good.”
– Genesis 1:27, 31b
The person with Down Syndrome?
near perfect image of God.
That person with Cerebral Palsy?
Near perfect image of God.
That man with Autism,
The girl with Developmental Delays?
Yep. She’s nearly perfect, too.
The difference with our Gospel lesson today
Is the report of Satan being introduced in this woman’s past.
Luke goes to great effort
To indicate that it was this spirit that crippled her,
And that it was Jesus who named that spirit, “Satan.” (13:16)
The lesson that can be learned from the Gospel,
Choreographed with our real-world experience,
It is really important to be careful about judging others,
Especially when it comes to
Distinguishing between who is normal and who isn’t normal,
Who is in need of healing and who is not.
Our personal assumptions
Can unintentionally lead to inflicting pain and destructive trauma.
The approach Jesus takes consistently
Is to treat people as individuals,
Not as labeled groups.
He approaches this bent over woman
As a friend in need
Doing all that he can to bring her salvation.
The last item set on our Thanksgiving table
Is the miserable leader of the Synagogue.
Both in the Bible and remaining true today,
Leaders of organized religion,
Lay and clergy alike,
Can be stubborn, miserable pups
(Present company included).
This man is indignant (13:14).
He harangues Jesus to the crowds,
“There are six days on which work ought to be done;
Come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” (13:14)
In other words,
“Can’t you wait, ma’m?”
“JUST ONE MORE DAY?”
She cannot wait one more day!
She cannot wait one more second!
This helpless victim in the cosmic struggle between good and evil
Has been living in hell for 18 years!
That’s a long time;
She can’t wait one moment longer.
What points to God more powerfully
Then channeling the miraculous powers of God?
And oh, that Law you seem to love to quote,
With a pinch of spice and a dash of irony,
Is the same law you hypocrites break when
You tie and untie your ox or donkey
On the Sabbath.
If you’re spewing judgement,
Talk to the hand.
Like watching the confession of an exposed televangelist,
It is easy to smirk with the satisfaction that he deserves what he’s got coming.
Nobody loves a hypocrite
Like a publicly exposed hypocrite!
The dignity the bent over woman gained
Was the pride the leader of the Synagogue lost
When his hypocrisy was exposed for the world to see.
Translated for us today,
Our Gospel is a clear warning against legalism.
Legalism exposes the hypocrisy in our own lives.
Since all are guilty of sin,
A legalistic approach to scripture
Always does harm to ourselves, our neighbors, and to God’s kingdom.
Likewise, Jesus states
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets;
I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
– Matthew 5:17
This makes Jesus Christ the only judge any of us need to face.
Judging others becomes the height of idolatry,
For passing judgment is substitution of ourselves in place of God.
It doesn’t work that way.
Judgment is exclusively the Lord’s prerogative.
Avoid the temptation to pass judgment on others.
Examine and judge yourself,
But leave the judgment of others up to God.
Instead of judging others
Lastly, weaponizing scripture
To justify personal beliefs and opposing others
Is to turn our backs on the overwhelming gift of grace
That Jesus brings into our world.
It is by God’s grace that each of us have been saved through faith.
It is by God’s grace that Jesus died for our sins.
It is by God’s grace that Jesus brings to us salvation,
Served up like ice cream in every kind of flavor.
Christ is the human embodiment of God’s gift of grace to humanity.
Like the bent over woman who Jesus heals,
Who immediately stands and praises God,
So too should we take our place
At God’s table of Thanksgiving
And join together with our praise.
Judge not, less ye be judged; leave the judgment up to God.
Err on the side of grace.
It’s better to bite your legalistic tongue.
Treat people as individuals; each a beloved child of God’s kingdom.
Seek out people who the rest of the world does not see, or sees but ignores.
Discern the need.
If you don’t know, ask.
Observe, orient, decide, act.
(attributed to Colonel John Boyd, USAF)
Meet the needs of the world.
Beloved friends and neighbors,
Our Gospel today has set a table of Thanksgiving,
Resting solidly upon the rock of Jesus Christ,
Graciously offering to each of us a feast
For which it is incumbent
To offer our praise and glory to God.